In the Western world, we prefer the notion that we have free will and are the creators of our destiny. In the East however, the notion of fate is very strong. How does Vedic astrology reconcile these two notions?

Vedic astrology or Jyotish as it is called in Sanskrit, is the science of tracking the movements of astronomical bodies and making predictions based on these movements. It is one of the six ancient Vedangas, or auxiliary sciences connected with the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. In ancient times, Jyotish was primarily used for selecting auspicious times for Vedic rituals. It included the study of astronomy, astrology, the art of prediction and good timing. Jyotish comes from the word Jyoti which means divine light, referring to the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies. Thus, it is the “science of light” that sheds understanding on our life path based on our karmas, as depicted by the planets and the stars.

Having taken birth in India, the cradle of Hinduism, Vedic astrology is based on the law of karma (literally “action”), referring to the spiritual principle of cause or action and the effect each action has on the future of an individual. In Hindu philosophy, the purpose of each birth is to allow the soul to evolve through various myriads of experiences facilitated by rebirth. This leads to the cycle of reincarnation where we are reborn in different forms, and/or under different conditions. This rebirth and consequent lives are all dependent on our karmas. As we die, we carry the seeds of our past and present unresolved karmas into our other lives. This cycle continues until it is broken when we reach moksha or liberation from this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara). Liberation can only be achieved once the soul has exhausted all its karmas and desires and becomes aware of its oneness with the Supreme Soul and Creator, and realizes that there is no space between the “I” and the “Other.” The analogy can be that of the drop of water that merges with the ocean.

Astrology maps the position of the planets in respect to the background stars at the exact time, date, and place of birth. This chart becomes the blueprint of the karmas, and physical and psychological tendencies that we bring into this present life. In quantum physics we learn that the entire universe is a series of probabilities. Vedic astrology also recognizes that there are a number of possible outcomes for the directions our lives can take. But which one of these probabilities is more likely to take place depends on confluence – how many astrological factors pointing to the same possible outcome are present in the chart. The more confluence is shown in a chart, the stronger the likelihood that a schedule of events will happen in our lives.

So if we are born with this blueprint, is everything fated? Is there any likelihood that we can change our destiny through the application of our will? It is not as simple as a yes or no answer, as it is a mixture of both. There are some fixed karmas with which we are born, such as for example, the birth in a specific country, within a specific family and under certain socio-economic situations, and with given physical strengths or vulnerabilities. These all condition our behavior, psychological patterns and choices in life. Our horoscope indicates the karmas we have brought into our present lives in various areas such as physical health, family, relationships, financial situation, career, education, desires, and spiritual growth. It also shows when particular karmas of the past are more likely to manifest themselves in this life. For example, let’s imagine that for a given person one of the major lessons to be learned in this lifetime is in the area of relationships with co-borns. This might lead to a series of challenging events with siblings which can have different transformative consequences depending on how the person reacts to these situations. If the person reacts with awareness and maturity, those situations can be resolved, and therefore a cycle can be broken. This is where free will can be exercised.

At any given time, depending on our level of spiritual growth, we can see various options in front of us that can either lead to further entrenchment in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, or liberate us from certain conditions. Even when there are no options, we can still exercise the option of how we react to certain situations. Let’s say you are caught in dense traffic and there is no escape but to wait until it eases. You can either fume with rage, honk your horn, give the finger, roll down your window and throw expletives at the next driver, try to force your way in front of the car ahead even when it does not get you far. Or you can accept the situation, turn on music or a radio program you like, do breathing exercises, recite your mantras, or if you have a passenger, engage in some meaningful conversation. In the first instance, you might incur a bumper to bumper accident, or get home stressed and in the foulest of moods. Choosing the second option might help you get home safe, and relatively stress-free. Your choice did not change the fact that you were stuck in traffic for three hours, but it did change the way you reacted to the situation and how you feel.

The more we make choices based on awareness, wisdom, compassion and maturity, the more likely that we can break certain cycles in our lives. It is said that at the time of death, we revisit in high speed the sum of our life. It is the final impressions, images, and emotions that we carry with us that carry the seeds for future karmas.

According to the eminent Western astrologer Alan Leo: “The idea seems to be prevalent that astrology teaches fatalism. Those however who have studied the subject, know that it does not teach absolute fatalism. We are not utterly bound: neither, on the other hand, are we entirely free. We are limited and restrained by ignorance. All our misfortunes are the result of our imperfect knowledge. Had we even but a little more knowledge, there would be much less suffering.”


© Yatrika Shah-Rais –