„Astrology is Maya!“ a devotee told me recently. “We are just depending on Krishna!“ he continued his argument. Certainly, we try to depend on Krishna, that's true, but does that mean we have to reject knowledge? Srila Prabhupada mentioned that „any gentleman, dhīra, must be interested in jyotiṣa, astrology“ 1 and he called it a great science:
„Astronomical calculations of stellar influences upon a living being are not suppositions, but are factual (..) Our actions are judged by the higher authorities, the agents of the Lord, and thus we are awarded bodies according to our activities. The law of nature is so subtle that every part of our body is influenced by the respective stars (..) A man's destiny is therefore ascertained by the birth time constellation of stars, and a factual horoscope is made by a learned astrologer. It is a great science, and misuse of a science does not make it useless.“ 2 Srila Prabhupada's own birth chart predicted that "This child, after seventy years, he will be great religious propagator and establish so many temples.“ 3
I personally experienced how Astrology can help me to understand how the truths of the Bhagavatam are also applicable in my own life. The mind is the cause of the living entity's attaining a certain type of body. Thinking of sense gratification one performs material activities under ignorance and is entrapped in the bondage of karma. Thus the mind, the reservoir of all desires, is the cause of repeated birth.
What kind of Citta, or mental condition, did I have in my last life? How has it affected this present birth? What do I have to learn in this life specifically? And what gifts did I receive that I am meant to share with others? Why should I not be interested in understanding my own nature?
Yes, it is just a temporary nature, but it is what I have to work with within this life. Krishna speaks of a yantra, a vehicle. This gross and subtle body I am trapped in is just like a machine. If that's true, what's wrong with trying to understand how this particular machine works? For me, that's just common sense and has nothing to do with being deviated from bhakti.
My friend counters by quoting Prabhupada who said: "No, you should not bother with all this nonsense. Astrology will not save you at the time of death. My Guru Maharaja was a great astrologer and astronomer, but he gave it all up. It is meant for the karmis. We have no interest in such things.“ 4
Ok, now I am defeated! Right? Astrology is nonsense, we are not interested, but the quotes mentioned earlier establish just the opposite meaning! This sounds contradictory, so how to make sense out of all this?
My personal understanding is that Srila Prabhupada gave different instructions according to time, place and circumstance. Understanding his disciples mentality and knowing that there is hardly any good astrologer, Srila Prabhupada generally discouraged his disciples from going to an astrologer because the danger that they get cheated and distracted from pure bhakti was, and perhaps still is, just too big.
What's the conclusion? How should devotees judge whether to use astrology or not? One can just reject it because `Srila Prabhupada said` and that's fine and one is certainly on the safe side with that decision. At the same, there are other approaches that are also valid.
The following guideline can be helpful for a devotee to determine whether or not an activity is acceptable to pure devotional service: Does this activity increase my attraction for Krishna?
Is this activity useful in some way for devotional service, especially gaining a taste for hearing and preaching? Otherwise `śrama eva hi kevalam` - it is certainly only useless labor. 5
And how do I know whether an activity is covering pure devotional service? „The answer lies in the motive behind the action. To the extent that it is done out of excessive attachment rather than detached duty, devotion is proportionately lost. In the example of astrology, devotees are covered when they have more faith in the power of destiny foretold by jyotiṣa than in the power of devotion or Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.“ 6
In this connection, I remember how many years back, an astrologer encouraged me to get married since I was going through an `auspicious period`. When I told my siksa guru about it he said: „You have to decide where you put your faith, in astrology or in Krishna?¨“
I decided to fully trust in Krishna's mercy! Thank God, I am still a Brahmacari!
Astrology is not part of devotional practice and as such certainly not required. At the same time, that does not mean that I have to blindly reject such scientific knowledge if I am able to deal with it in a mature way!
1 - Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 10.8.5, Purport
2 - Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.12.12, Purport
3 - SP Lecture on SB 1.15.38, December 16, 1973 in LA
4 - SP Letter to Sanatana dasa, June 10, 1975
5 - Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.8
6 - Suddha-bhakti Cintamani, Chapter 7, by H.H. Sivarama Swami