Disciplic Succession & Jyotish

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 now.'"
" 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

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