Where Did Astrology Come From?

Astrology has existed in several cultures for thousands of years. What we call modern astrology in the West is based on the bare remnants of astrological teachings from previous times. More recently, the translation of classical Greek texts on astrology has given birth to a rich rennaissance of Hellenistic and Classical astrology. India has maintained an unbroken lineage of jyotish, or Vedic astrology, which bears remarkable similarity to Western astrology. The Chinese had a different system altogether, although deep study reveals that in many aspects, they had a different to talking about the same underlying reality. Tibetan astrology combines the Vedic and Chinese systems, adding a layer of the indigenous Bön tradition, with teachings from the Kalachakra Tantra.

Arising in 625 AD, the Kalachakra Tantra (literally, Wheel of Time tantra) is arguably a Silk Route text, informed by the perspectives of the many teachings that came together as merchants traveled from the Near East to the Far East to trade goods. It has detailed astrological teachings presented from the tantric perspective—the perspective of adopting practices that liberate us from the prisons of our minds and samsara. Within the Kalachakra Tantra, one finds teachings that Aries is found here in the body and Taurus is found here. They are connected to the subtle channels that compose the subtle, or vajra, body. Similar teachings can be found in the taoist, classical medicine / astrological system. Both of these systems present a profound, nondual view of astrology, which stands in stark contrast to those who would declare that I am an ego here being acted on by the capricious ego of Jupiter or Saturn there. Many of us assume this the view of medieval and classical astrologers, but the truth is, that although we can read many writings, which help us formulate astute conclusions, these conclusions are based on the perverted and imbalanced worldview we have been developing since the time of the Enlightenment, that holds the supremacy of the logical mind. The logical mind is notorious for putting labels on everything in the universe, confusing these labels for the object themselves, and above all, holding and projecting the illusion we are actually existent egos, surrounded by actually existent objects.

This blindness and arrogance—bordering on psychopathic idiocy—of the logical mind is summed up in a scientific article I read a couple of years ago, which declared, “Now we know what it feels like to be a bat.” The declaration of a further conquest in the hopeless cause of the rational mind to try to understand everything in the universe always begins with “Now we know.” But it’s declaration that through using the unfeeling, rational mind, it will now know what it feels like to be a bat, is absurdity beyond belief.

In short, we may never know what the actual experience was of the people who formulated the profound, intuitive astrological systems many millennia ago.

But one thing I strongly sense—based not only on what I’ve read, but on the practices I’ve done in the Tibetan Vajrayana, Shambhala, Bön, Huichol, and Persian traditions, where the rational mind is viewed as a lower-level faculty to the direct-perceiving, knowing mind (jñana in Sanskrit; yeshe in Tibetan, heart in many other traditions), is that the astrological systems—though containing a lot of math—were not developed by the rational mind. There are too many congruencies, paradoxes and synchronicities for this to have been mind-produced.

In short, the mind was acting in service to the heart, and the heart was listening and attuning profoundly within and without for sparks of insight. These sparks may have been later looked at by the mind, but it did not invent them—at least not at first.

Two Approaches to Astrology

This brings me to two approaches to astrology that I don’t really hear being distinguished. One is of the chart defining your gifts, potentials, obstacles and curses. Many astrologers will do nothing more than point these out to you—which can be revealing on its own, opening up a world of insight about your life. Some astrologers, who have been called to be healers or counselors, will also point out ways of navigating certain things. (By the way, we won’t even mention the pop astrologers who either tell you what you want to hear or who tell you what they think will make themselves look better.) From this perspective, the astrological chart shows you the remedies for having a good life, learning your lessons, avoiding pitfalls, and taking advantage of strengths in your chart.

This can be invaluable to an individual.

But for those who have been called to the path of realization and awakening, this might not be enough. By saying this, I’m not saying the above is not helpful and necessary. But what I’m pointing to is what the configuration of elemental forces at play in the astrological chart actually is. We could say that in their basic nature, these forces are infinite and unbound—unconfined by whatever squares or oppositions enchain them, unblinded by ease of the trines and sextiles, and unfiltered by the signs they happen to be in. For these people, the chart represents the karmic map of one’s life—the map of the subconscious habitual patterns, from which those on the path of liberation which to free themselves.

Those working with the five Buddha families, or dhyani buddhas, or with the 4 karmas of the tantric tradition, will recognize that those energies are the energies of the planets, the signs, and the aspects. From this perspective, the entire chart is a map of how you are imprisoned, and the study of the chart is to recognize imprisoned energies so you can liberate them, awaken them, be one with them, and benefit others by knowing them intimately.

Presenting these two approaches is not a one-or-the-other scenario. Unless you are on the edge of enlightenment, you need both of these. I don’t know anyone who does not. They are the equivalent of the absolute and relative truths presented in the buddhist tradition. We live in the relative world. In this world, we need to understand our gifts to play our role in life. But it is equally important to not turn our astrological study into an increased ego perspective, where we adopt an astrological ego, saying things like, “I’m a Virgo moon.” Or, “He’s right; he’s a Scorpio.” Or, “That’s my Mars-Venus opposing your Saturn and squaring my moon.”

Yes, these things may be true, but we must practice the art of NOT LYING TO OURSELVES. Not believing the stories our mind keeps concocting about the world in order overcome its fundamental insecurity—the security that it know all its conceptions of me, mine and other are all just made-up fantasies. As the buddhist teachings say, “You don’t exist.”