Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are among the most important writings of the Yoga school, and have remained relevant for 2,300 years because of their wisdom and inspiration. In this webinar course, Ravi Ravindra will explore the heart and purpose of yoga as expressed in the Yoga Sutras, with special emphasis on section 2.2 which states that the true purpose of yoga is the cultivation of Samadhi, meaning freedom from the ego-self, and the diminishing of the kleshas, that are the impediments standing in the way of achieving this goal.
The course will be based on Ravi Ravindra’s book The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Ravi Ravindra is a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served as professor in comparative religion, philosophy and physics. A lifetime member of the Theosophical Society, Ravi has taught many courses in The School of the Wisdom in Adyar and at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, Calif. He was a member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, a fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, and the founding director of the Threshold Award for Integrative Knowledge. His last book was The Pilgrim Soul: A Path to the Sacred Transcending World Religions and his new book on the Bhagavad Gita will be published by Shambhala Publications in the spring of 2017. For more information visit www.ravindra.ca .
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The study of the influence of celestial bodies on human and earthly affairs. Astrology dates back to the ancient times and has been practiced in different ways in diverse cultures such as China, India, and Egypt. Each system differs from others in significant ways, using principles that are not necessarily compatible with each other. This article is primarily about astrology as practiced in the West.
Since the ancient times, star-gazing or astronomy has been closely linked with the attempts to understand earthly events. Assyrian tablets during the reign of Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BCE showed reports from court astrologers on the position of the planets and their implications on human affairs. The most comprehensive early work on astrology, Tetrabiblios, was written by the astronomer Ptolemy in the first half of the 2nd century CE. It has since been the basic source of Western astrology for the next sixteen centuries. Many famous scientists have been known to have practiced or believed in astrology, such as Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), and Johann Kepler (1571-1630).
Principles of Western Astrology. Modern astrology, as practiced in the West, is based on the actual astronomical positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets, their positions in the so-called zodiacal belt, their places in the “houses,” and their angular relationships with each other from the point of view of the earth. Each of these factors are given traditional meanings by astrologers, and by combining or integrating them, astrologers claim to be able to understand the personality of individuals (genethliacal or natal astrology), the events that may come in their lives (predictive astrology), the events that can occur in society or countries (mundane astrology) including natural phenomena such as earthquakes or economic events such as recession, medical diagnosis (medical astrology), compatibility of individuals (synastry), or answer specific questions posed at any given moment (horary astrology).
The Astrological Chart. Astrological interpretation is based on an astrological chart, which is a schematic diagram of the positions of the celestial bodies in relation to the zodiac signs, the houses, and their angular relationships. The major bodies are the Sun, the Moon, the nine planets, plus the Ascendant (horizon) and Midheaven. The astrologer needs the birth date, birth time, and birthplace of the person. Using an ephemeris, the bodies are plotted according to their positions in the zodiacal belt.
The Planets. The planets are said to represent energies or forces in the psyche of a human being. Thus the Moon is said to represent the personality, Mars is physical drive including sexual drive; Mercury is the intellect; Venus is emotions; Jupiter is one’s tendency for expansiveness; Saturn for control or restriction; etc.
The Zodiac. The zodiac symbolizes twelve equal segments of the skies and named after the nearest constellation in the area. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, 0o Aries is actually no longer in the constellation Aries, but in Aquarius. The names of these segments are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. The zodiac signs are classified according to their element (earth, water, air and fire), or their qualities (cardinal, fixed or mutable). Thus water signs have greater affinity to emotions, while air to mental qualities, fire to an energetic nature, and earth to mundane practicality.
The Houses. The houses are different from the zodiac signs, although they also represent another 12 segments of celestial space. The measurement of the houses always starts from the horizon point or Ascendant at the location of one’s birth. Thus two persons born at exactly the same time may have very different charts if one is born in Europe and the other in Asia. The zodiacal positions of the eastern horizon will be different. Each house has roughly 30 degrees also, but this depends upon the house system adopted (the most common being the Equal system and the Placidean system).
The houses represent departments of life, succinctly described as follows: 1. Self or body, 2. financial affairs; 3. siblings, mind; 4. home; 5. creativity; 6. service or domestic affairs; 7. partnerships; 8. death and transformation; 9. travels and philosophy; 10. career; 11. friendships; 12. hidden aspects. When a planet is located in a house, it is supposed to affect matters of that house.
Aspects. One of the most important factors used in astrological interpretation is the “aspect,” or the angle between two celestial bodies from the point of view of the earth. Thus, when two planets are in 120° of each other, they are said to be harmonious, that is, beneficially compatible. When on the other hand, they are 90° to each other, they are said to be inharmonious, that is, the qualities of the planets clash and create conflict. Natal astrology is strongly based on interpretations of the aspects. The major benefic aspects are 120° (trine), 60° (sextile) and 30° (semi-sextile); while the major inharmonious aspects are 180° (opposition), 90° (square), 45° (semi-square) and 135° (quinqunx). The conjunction (0°) is said to strengthen the combined qualities of the planets. The strength of the harmony or conflict will depend upon the type of celestial body and “orb” or the exactness of the angle. Thus aspects involving the Sun and the Moon have greater weights compared to those of Mercury or Venus.
Interpretation. Chart interpretation is based on qualities or keywords traditionally connected with the celestial bodies, zodiacs, houses and aspects. Astrologers agree on the general qualities of the said factors, but when it comes to details they may differ widely.
A person may be said to be predominantly emotional if the Sun, Moon, and planets are in the watery signs, even if born in an airy (mental) Zodiac sign. The three main factors considered are the positions and aspects of the Sun, Moon and the Ascendant, including any planet located near the Ascendant and Midheaven. The location of the planets in the houses is said to indicate the area in life where these energies will be most influential.
Scientific Validation of Astrology. The attempt to scientifically test astrological claims can be said to have occurred only in the latter part of the 20th century and hence is a relatively recent phenomenon compared to astrology’s long history. Prior to this period, attempts at validation have consisted mainly in anecdotal confirmation of certain principles based on personal observation, as in Charles Carter’s Encyclopaedia of Psychological Astrology. The psychiatrist Carl Jung pioneered an early statistical study of marital compatibility based on the position of the major celestial bodies in charts of married couples. He developed the theory of synchronicity as a result of his studies in astrology. Later, research centered on observed correlations between certain earthly phenomena and positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets. John Nelson of Radio Corporation of America, for example, first observed that the angular positions of the planets in relation to the sun (heliocentric) appear to be directly correlated to atmospheric disturbances in the earth’s atmosphere. Nelson was able to predict radio disturbances with much higher accuracy as compared to previous attempts to relate them to sunspot appearances. S. Tomaschek studied 23 earthquakes from 1903-1906 with an intensity higher than 7.75 and found that Uranus was in the zenith or nadir in 15 cases. But a later study of 900 earthquakes did not confirm this observation. But the researches that have drawn the most attention were those by Michel Gauquelin, a French statistician who conducted extensive studies correlating the position of certain planets at the birth of a person, and the outstanding achievements of the person in later life. Gauquelin found for example that people who were born when Mars was near midheaven or near the eastern horizon have a higher likelihood to become outstanding in the fields of medicine, sports or in the military. His work has caught the attention of other scientists, such as the British psychologist H. Eysenck, who published his own researches on the validity of astrology and who was largely sympathetic. Several attempts were made to replicate the researches of Gauquelin. Some claimed confirmation, others felt that they were inconclusive. While Gauquelin’s researches tended to reinforce the belief that celestial bodies have correlation to human affairs, his findings differ somewhat from the traditional interpretations of astrology.
Astrology and theosophy. The resurgence of astrology in the West in the first half of the 20th century was largely due to the influence of theosophist-astrologers who found in theosophy a metaphysical basis of astrology’s principles. Foremost among these was Alan Leo (1860-1917), who founded the Astrological Lodge of London and which became a leading center of astrological studies in England and was influential in popularizing astrology around the world. Alan Leo wrote Esoteric Astrology wherein he correlated the different celestial bodies to the inner principles of human beings as understood in theosophy. Esoteric astrology “is concerned with the inner growth of individuals, and that which deals with the science from an occult standpoint.” The sun, for example, represents the inner individuality, while the Moon the outer personality. Mercury serves as an intermediary between the two. Esoteric astrology also considered the factor of karma and reincarnation.
Alan Leo was succeeded by Charles E. O. Carter. The Astrological Lodge has since become an independent body separate from the Theosophical Society.
Helena P. Blavatsky, while sympathetic to the validity of astrology, warns that the necessary condition for its correct understanding is often not met.
Astrology is a science as infallible as astronomy itself with the condition, however, that its interpreters must be equally infallible; and it is this condition, sine qua non, so very difficult of realization, that has always proved a stumbling-block to both. Astrology is to exact astronomy what psychology is to exact physiology. In astrology and psychology one has to step beyond the visible world of matter, and enter into the domain of transcendent spirit. (IU I:259)
She strongly warned against the error however of thinking that the stars or planets cause the events in the lives of people.
In astrology the stars do not cause our good or bad luck, but simply indicate the same. A man must be a psychologist and a philosopher before he can become a perfect astrologer, and understand correctly the great Law of Universal Sympathy. Not only astrology but magnetism, theosophy and every occult science, especially that of attraction and repulsion, depend upon this law for their existence. Without having thoroughly studied the latter, astrology becomes a superstition. (CW III:192)