Disciplic Succession &
by Dean Dominic De Lucia
Planetary Gemologists AssociationIn the Bhagavad Gita, Shree
Krishna establishes the concept of disciplic sucession, or
Param-para. In fact, the second verse of the fourth chapter
is a keystone verse for understanding all Vedic knowledge,
not just astrology:
Evam Param Para Praptam
Imam Rajarshayo Vidu
Sa Kaleneha Mahata
Yoga Nashta Paramtapa
This supreme science was thus
received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the
saintly kings understood it in that way. But in the course
of time the succession was broken, and now that science as
it is appears to be lost."
Through these words, Lord Krishna indicates that one should
understand Vedic knowledge through the disciplic succession,
that is, the Vedic sages. Why is this? Because knowledge coming
down in disciplic succession by pure sages in contact with
the supersoul originates from a divine source and is free
from the defects of mundane sensory perception.
And what are these defects? According to the Jiva Goswami,
these defects are of four basic types: " such as bhrama
or error due to wrong perception of one object for another,
pramada or error due to carelessness, Vipralipsa or error
due to the cheating propensity and karanapatava or error due
to the incapabilities of the senses. He therefore accepts
only shabda ( oral evidence from the disciplic sucession )
and no other evidence; the rest he treats as purely subsidiary."
By Shabda Brahman is meant transcendental sound vibration
such as found in the Vedas.
At this point, let us define Vedic astrological teachings;
we are basically speaking of Parashara Muni. He has given
us a complete system of astrology in his book Brihat Parashara
Hora Shastra. He did not say that it was incomplete or an
" installment." And although he spoke his teachings
to Maitreya, he had the man of the present age, the Kali-yuga,
in mind. This is evident from the sections that deal with
Ashtakavarga and Vimshottari dasha. Although there are some
less extensive Vedic sources such as Satyacharya's teachings,
almost all Hindu astrology corresponds to Parashara's system
and is therefore known as Parashari astrology.
So who was Parashara in the first
place? There is a nice narration in Hari Bhakti Shudhodaya (a
section of the Naradiya Purana ) which illustrates how exalted
Parashara Muni was. Apparently, the sage Markendeya came upon
a meeting of sages in a forest clearing. They were sitting in
a circle, among them Parashara, who was just a little boy of
seven at the time. He was seated on the lap of Vasishta Muni,
who was the family priest of Shree Ramachandra, an avatar of
Vishnu. To be seated on the lap of Vasishta is in itself an
honor. But to get on with the story, Markendeya fell at the
feet of Vasishta and offered his respects. Parashara, in turn,
bowed down to Markendeya. Markendeya disapproved of this and
instructed the boy that elders should receive respect and not
humble themselves to those of lesser age. Parashara showed surprise
and mentioned that, since he was only a boy of seven, he was
not an elder, for which reason there should be no objection
to his bowing down. Markendeya, however, cited the sages defining
age as time which is spent in rememberance of Vishnu. Markendeya
went on to say that Parashara's devotion was unalloyed and that
the boy was in contact with the supersoul. Therefore, Markendeya
said that, although only a boy, all of his seven years counted
whereas if the time all others present there had remembered
Vishnu were added together it would not even exceed five years.
That is why Markendeya considered Parashara to be the eldest
person in the assembly.
Another anecdote is found in the pastimes of Shree Ramanuja
Acharya, one of the chief saints of the Vishnu worshippers of
South India of the post-Vedic era. It is nicely related in "
The Life of Ramanuja Acharya," compiled by Naimisharanya
Das, P - 59, wherefrom we relate: Just before the cremation
of Alabandara ( Yamunacharya ), a saint of practically equal
stature, Shree Ranamuja arrived and attended the viewing. He
noticed that the saint had his three middle fingers curled over
in a fist-like fashion, while the thumb and pinky were extended.
" After a while, Ramanuja said' I see that three fingers
of Alabandara's are folded and clenched tight. Were they like
that during his lifetime?'"
" The disciples who were close by replied, ' No, his fingers
used to remain straight. We cannot guess why they are like this
" Ramanuja then declared aloud, ' Remaining fixed in devotion
to Lord Vishnu, I shall free the people from illusion by spreading
the glories of the Lord throughout the land.' As these words
were sopeken, one of the fingers relaxed and became straight."
" Ramanuja spoke again, saying, " To establish that
there is no truth beyond Lord Vishnu, I shall write the Shree
Bhashya commentary on the Vedantasutra.' At this, the second
of Alabandara's fingers became straight."
Ramanuja declared again, ' In order to show respect to the sage
Parashara, who has so wonderfully described the glories of the
Lord in the Vishnu Purana, I shall name one learned Vaishnava
after him.' With this final statement, the last of Alabandara's
fingers relaxed and became straight." This story, relating
to the three vows of Ramanuja Acharya, are part of the lore
of the Vishnu worshippers of South India; the last vow highlighting
the exalted status of the Sage Parashara.
From these stories we can conclude that Parashara Muni is certainly
an exalted personality and a pure medium for astrological knowledge.
His teachings would not be tinged with any of the aforementioned
empiric defects. Keep in mind that he is also the father of
the sage Vyasadev who compiled the very Vedas!
As far as Parashara's sources are concerned, he states in several
places in his treatise that " I was instructed by Brahma
..." or that " such and such I have heard from Narada."
We know from Bhagavat Purana ( canto two, chapter nine ) and
other similar sources that Brahma is the " Adi-Devo Jagatam
" or first demigod of the universe and " Para Guru,"
the supreme guru ( verse five ). He was so successful at yogic
practice that the Personality of Godhead Narayana appeared before
him from the spiritual sky (Vaikuntha ), shook his hand, smiled
at him and referred to him as being impregnated with the Vedas.
Brahma may therefore be considered a perfect source of knowledge
as he has the recommendation of Narayana, shook His hand, and
saw Him personally! Narada is his offspring.
This means that astrological teachings coming down from Brahma
and Narada to Parashara are free from mundane sensory defects.
And to learn from such sages is the perfection of the above
keystone verse. On the other hand, even if one looks for empiric
evidence, he may rest assured. Since the close of the Vedic
age several thousand years ago, some of the greatest intellects
of India have applied themselves to this system of astrology.
They have been patronized by great kings and wealthy men, or
have had ample facilities in some way. Their findings and understanding
of Parashara's system have been documented in the form of such
great books as Brihat Jataka by Varaha Mihir and Jataka Parijata
by Vaidyanath Dikshita. Experimentation with the system has
not been lacking. So it seems that, in Vedic astrology, we have
not an empiric system subject to human imperfection. Rather,
we have a system which is free from such defects, though employed
by fragile human beings.
Chapter Two: Leave Well Enough Alone
Given the fact that Vedic astrology is coming down through the
chain of disciplic succession, then it should be understood
in the same way that the disciplic succession of sages presented
it. According to the keystone verse, that is the way in which
the saintly kings understood transcendental knowledge, what
to speak of us. In the 34th shloka of the same fourth chapter
of the Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna also advises " Pariprashneya
Sevaya," or an attitude of humble inquiry and devotional
service to go along with it. That is the way to receive Vedic
knowledge, astrological or otherwise, according to Shree Krishna,
whom Arjuna deemed infallible ( Achutya ).
In the West, of course, it is typical to be challenging, especially
in academic circles. It is fashionable to be original and find
out something new, or even to disprove one's predecessors. That
way, one makes a name for oneself. This is actually a good way
to go if the goal is to develop new technologies, industries
or to project oneself across oceans to new continents. ( Who
would have ever heard of Christopher Columbus if he weren't
original? ). It is not a good way, however, to understand Vedic
knowledge coming down in disciplic succession as pointed out
in the Bhagavad Gita.
The speculative, experimental approach to Parashari astrology
simply brings us to the point of fixing something which is not
broken, even tampering with the already refined. It is well
documented that Vedic astrology is very accurate in the timing
of mundane events. In terms of personality analysis also, Vedic
astrology offers a soulful, instinctive perspective from Surya
Lagna, ( Sun chart ), an emotional perspective from Chandra
( Moon chart ), and a more general point of view from the lagna
proper or ascendent. It is actually much broader that the Western
system and replete with techniques and methods of analyses otherwise
unknown ( such as the planetary periods and methods for assessing
planetary strength ). So why not accept this wonderful system
of astrology as it has been handed down instead of speculating
on it with our imperfect senses?
And it is not reasonable to think that the Western system and
Parashara's complement each other. They are different systems
with a different logic behind them and a different set of rules
for interpretation; they don't lead to the same place by different
roads. It would be more accurate to say that they are mutually
exclusive of each other. Maybe this is what Jiva Goswami means
when he says " Vipralipsa;" it is possible that we
fool ourselves without really knowing it.
Therefore, as we go about the study of Vedic astrology let us
recall the Gita's keystone verse and try to understand from
the previous acharyas ( teachers ). As a final inspiration,
we can meditate on Arjuna's words from the seventh verse of
the Gita's second chapter: Sishyas te ham shadi mam tvam prapanam:
" Now I am a your disciple and a soul surrendered unto
you. Please instruct me."
An excerpt from Astro
Védica by Dean Dominic De Lucia, aka Dharma/Dean