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Vedic Astrology with Vaughn Paul Manley

Lesson #4:
The Essential Meaning of the Planets (Grahas)

By Vaughn Paul Manley, M.A.

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Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved.

In the previous lesson we learned how to draw up our Vedic charts using both the South Indian and the North Indian chart styles. We also inserted the sidereal degrees of our planets that we calculated in lesson 2. By now you should have a copy of your Vedic natal horoscope that you’ve either manually calculated, or that you’ve acquired a computer printout of.

Throughout this course we will be primarily working with our own natal horoscope in the exercises at the end of each lesson. Therefore, be sure that your chart is accurate and that you have copies of your chart in both the South Indian and North Indian chart styles, as we will refer to each. However, we will primarily be using the South Indian chart style as this is the one most commonly used.

We are now ready to learn how to make sense of our Vedic charts. The next 6 lessons will give you the fundamentals of the planets, houses and signs and their key indications. We will also be learning beginning chart interpretation skills in the exercises at the end of each lesson.

Learning To Think Astrologically

Throughout this course we’ll be learning to think astrologically. In other words, instead of just giving you a list to memorize of the various indications for the planets, houses, and signs, which you can find in most books on Vedic astrology, we will be learning the fundamental logic behind how those indications are derived. Once you understand the logic behind the fundamentals, you will be a much more versatile, and astute astrologer.

For example, I gave a reading to a client recently who had the Moon in the 3rd house and who started his life in a Moon period in the vimshottari dasa planetary period system. I asked him if he had lost his mother early in life and he said, “Yes, she died when I was 2 months old.”

How did I know that? You won’t find many books on Vedic astrology that list the Moon in the 3rd house as representing the loss of the mother. But if you understand that the 12th house from any given house represents the “loss” of the indications of that house, and you know that the 4th house and the Moon relate to “mother,” then you can logically understand that the Moon in the 3rd house (the 12th house from the 4th house) can relate to loss of the mother, especially in a Moon period. If I had been dependent on the indications given in books then I would not have been able to come up with that specific interpretation.

As I mentioned in the first lesson, astrologers are like detectives looking for clues to support a hypothesis. The more indications that they find the more certain they become. This is how the great astrologers come up with brilliant predictions and dazzling insights. They have seen a particular indication reinforced from many different angles, which they’re able to do very quickly in their head. This approach of learning to think astrologically will serve you immensely in becoming a competent astrologer. You will be able to see a chart from many different angles and come up with your own dazzling insights.

Getting to Know the Planets

Astrology is said to be the oldest science on the planet. This is perhaps because ancient civilizations primarily learned through stories and myths that were developed out of direct observation of their environment. At night, there is not much left to observe except the sky and people gathered around a fire and watched the sky much like we gather at night and watch TV! In ancient India, many homes had outdoor fire pits called "howan kunds" where people would often spend time chanting mantras, observing the stars & planets, telling stories etc. You can still find this tradition happening in many parts of India today, especially in the rural villages.

Direct observation, I believe, is still one of the best ways to get to know the planets and their qualities. The word “planet” means “to wander” and the ancient Greeks called the planets “the wanderers” because of their observable movement through the fixed star constellations. I'd suggest getting a book on astronomy and becoming familiar with identifying the actual signs and planets in the night sky. You will gain insights into their nature just by tuning into them directly. In fact, the great sages of Vedic astrology, like Parashara and Jaimini, brought forth their knowledge out of intuitive insight. Therefore, by learning in this manner you are connecting to an ancient tradition.

The easiest planets to locate in the sky, besides the Sun & Moon, are Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Mercury in that order. Venus and Jupiter are often so bright that they are the first stars out at sunset or the last stars visible at sunrise. Venus is also called "the morning star" for this reason and is the brightest object in the sky next to the Sun and Moon. Mercury is very difficult to see because of its close proximity to the Sun. You only have about a 30 minute window to view it at sunset or sunrise, and only if its sign placement is after the Sun at sunset, or before the Sun at sunrise.

Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Recently, I decided to stay up all night on the full Moon on top of Haleakala Crater where I live in Maui, Hawaii. By sunrise I had seen every visible planet - Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and Mercury! The highlight, however, was not just seeing the planets but feeling their powerful emanations. It was well worth the loss of sleep and a very memorable experience that I'd recommend to anyone, especially students of astrology.

Grasping the Grahas

The Sanskrit word for planet is "graha" which means to "to seize or grasp." The implication is that the planets grab a hold of us and cause us to behave in certain ways. However, this is not the case. The great sage Parashara, in one of the opening chapters of his classic text, Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra, says:

"The Unborn lord has many incarnations. He has incarnated as the planets (grahas) to bestow on the living beings the results due to their karmas." (Chapter 2, verse 3)

The planets, therefore, are merely continuing what we have set in motion in the past and our astrology chart is an overall map of our karma. We are the cause, not the planets. The planets are just acting as agents to deliver us the results of our past actions, for better or for worse. In addition, we have the ability to modify the results of our karma to varying degrees through our free will, or agama & kriyamana karma, which represent the current actions we choose to take. Please review Lesson 1 for an in depth discussion on karma, fate & free will.

It's more true to say that we are seized by our habitual behaviors or are in the "grip of desire" than that the planets have caused us to behave in a certain way. Additionally, the planets don't determine the outcome of a situation. It's the merit of our own karma that does. The planets merely reveal the merit of our karma. Otherwise, the planets would be in control of our lives, we'd be devoid of free will, and the outcome of every situation would be pre-determined. I personally don't believe that this is a very empowering or helpful perspective.

Of course, taking full responsibility for our lives may not always be easy. It's a lot more convenient to blame everything on the planets. "There's some ill-planet reigning!" as Shakespeare wrote, "Shall we curse the planets of mishap that plotted thus our glory's overthrow?!"

The planets will seize periods of time in our life, however, so that we can experience and learn from the karmic results of our previous actions. My jyotish guru, K.N. Rao, gave a very tangible illustration of this principle once that I'll never forget. He took a piece of fabric and carefully rolled it up. Then he started slowly unrolling it saying, "The dashas are the unraveling of our karma through time." By "dashas" he's referring to the planetary time periods in the vimshottari dasha system, which is a primary predictive method in Vedic astrology. For instance, a Sun period lasts 6 years, during which time the karma that the Sun represents in our chart will be dispensed. We'll discuss this concept in more depth later in the course.

The Planetary Gardener

The best analogy I've found to understand the relationship that we have to the planets is to think of yourself as a gardener. Let's say you've planted a huge garden and you have to hire help for harvesting it. Your employees deliver to you baskets full of your produce - some are successful crops, while others fail. The planets are like these employees delivering to you the results of your past efforts. If you don't like what is delivered, you can't blame your employees, the planets. After all, it's your garden. You chose what to plant a long time ago and tended it yourself. What's more, you always have the free will to plant and tend new seeds at any time.

It's important to realize that ultimately we are not our astrology charts anymore than the gardener is his or her garden. An inherent problem in this great study of astrology is that we tend to get overly identified with our charts and lose sight of the big picture of our soul or "atman." The beauty of Vedic astrology is its connection to the spiritual tradition of India, which encompasses some of the most profound spiritual literature in the world. The Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata and many other ancient texts abound in descriptions of the souls's eternal nature. Here's a quote from the Bhagavad Gita which is a part of the Mahabharata:

"This Self cannot be cut, nor burnt, nor wetted, nor dried. Changeless, all-pervading, stable, immovable, the Self is eternal and everlasting."
(Ch 2, verse 24)

We have to remember not to lose sight of this when discussing astrology, which is merely the study of our karma as expressed through the agents of our karma - the planets.

Jupiter & Saturn

Benefic and Malefic Planets

Many Western astrologers have an aversion to the classical astrology concept of benefic planets that cause good and malefic planets that cause evil. It all sounds so fatalistic and black and white which I can understand. We've all had experiences where the worst thing that could have happened, like a loss of some kind, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. At the same time, we often hear of how the best thing that could have happened, like winning the lottery, ended up ruining people's lives. So how do you draw the line between malefic/evil and benefic/good influences?

In Vedic astrology making the distinction between benefic and malefic planets is vitally important for this simple reason: it allows us to get specific in our interpretations and predictions. It’s only when we go beyond vague generalities that astrology gets exciting. The purpose of distinguishing between benefics and malefics is not so that we can make judgmental statements or fatalistic predictions. It's because our lives are complicated and any given planetary configuration can represent a wide range of potential interpretations. We need to have a way to narrow down the possibilities and determine where in the wide spectrum of positive and negative interpretations a planetary configuration lies. Learning to identify benefic and malefic influences is the primary means and cannot be compromised in order to practice Vedic astrology proficiently.

The benefic planets tend to cause positive outcomes relative to what most people would consider desirable - stability, gains, progress, ease, and success etc. The malefic planets tend to cause negative outcomes relative to what most people would consider as undesirable - instability, loss, obstacles, tension, and failure etc. We naturally classify these experiences as positive or negative, which are delivered to us generally by benefic or malefic planets.

However, for some people experiencing loss and instability may be just the perfect outcome if they're inclined towards travel and living simply. Ultimately our subjective experience is always dependent on our mental attitude and not on external situations.

The benefic planets are:

· Jupiter
· Venus
· Moon when waxing (located within 180 degrees after the Sun)
· Mercury when associated with benefic planets.

The malefic planets are:
· Saturn
· Mars
· Rahu
· Ketu
· Sun
· Moon when waning (located within 180 degrees before the Sun)
· Mercury when associated with malefic planets

It may appear confusing that the Sun is listed as a malefic planet. After all, can the source of life in our solar system really be malefic? The Sun is only considered a mild malefic in Vedic astrology. Its malefic status is due to the fact that it is a hot planet and can cause what's called "combustion" when other planets are too close in proximity. This can "burn up" the positive influences of these planets and render them weak.

Most Vedic astrologers only refer to the Moon and Mercury as mild benefics in practice. They never consider them as serious malefics even when the Moon is waning or the Mercury is associated with malefics. Therefore, it's generally agreed that the most seriously malefic planets are only these four: Saturn, Mars, Rahu, and Ketu.

Natural vs. Temporal Benefics and Malefics

It must be noted that this list is referring to what can be called "natural" benefic and malefic planets. By "natural" we mean the planet's innate, natural state as either benefic or malefic.

There is another concept called "functional" or "temporal" benefic and malefic planets, which is based on house rulerships. For instance, Mars rules over the signs Aries and Scorpio, so if your ascendant is Aries, Mars rules the 1st house and the 8th house because Aries and Scorpio fall in the 1st and 8th places from Aries.

The basic method for determining which planets are temporal benefics and malefics for each ascendant is to see which planets rule the trinal houses 1, 5, 9. These will be the temporal benefic planets regardless if they are natural malefics. This is because the trinal houses are always considered the most benefic houses. For example, for Aries ascendant Mars, Sun, and Jupiter become temporal benefics because they rule houses 1, 5, and 9 respectively. All other planets will be temporal malefics or at best temporal neutrals for that ascendant. We will be studying this concept in more depth later in the course.

Benefic and Malefic House Placements

In addition to the natural and temporal status of the planets, there are several basic chart interpretation rules regarding the house placement of planets that need to be memorized. They are as follows:

1) The natural benefic planets function best when they are placed in the trinal houses 1, 5, 9 or the angular houses 1, 4, 7, 10. You’ll notice that the 1st house is the only house that is both an angle and a trine, giving it primary importance as the ascendant or lagna in Sanskrit. Therefore benefic planets in the lagna, for instance Jupiter, are extremely helpful for the overall strength of the chart and the well being of the individual.

2) The natural malefic planets function best when they are placed in the upachaya houses 3, 6, 10, 11. This is because the malefic planets will tend to cause the least amount of harm when located in these houses. The upachaya houses are considered "growing" houses which means that they continually get better with time.

3) The malefic house placements for either natural benefic or malefic planets are the dusthana houses 6, 8, 12 (unless it's a malefic in the 6th house which is an upachaya house). Just like how the trinal houses 1, 5, 9 are the three most benefic houses, the dusthana houses 6, 8, 12 are the three most malefic houses. In general, you should treat the lords of the 6, 8, and 12 houses as malefic along with the natural malefic planets. However, if a planet also rules a trinal house 1, 5, or 9 in addition to a dusthana house 6, 8, or 12 then the planet becomes a temporal benefic. For instance, for Aquarius rising Saturn rules the 1st and 12th houses. Saturn's rulership of the benefic 1st house overrides it's temporal malefic status as the ruler of the malefic 12th house.

The Polarities of the Planets

The nine planets are transmitters of universal, archetypal energy. The qualities of each planet help to maintain the overall balance of polarities in both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic universe - as above, so below. The sets of these polarities are as follows:

The Three Categories of the Planets

The nine planets fall into 3 categories of personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal planets.

The two luminaries, the Sun and Moon, are considered the personal planets because they represent our major character traits more than any other planets. They are the king and queen of our individual kingdom and all the other planets function in relation to them.

The planets Mercury and Venus are considered the interpersonal or inner planets because their orbits lie between the Sun and the earth. They represent our social interactions more than any other planets.

The planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are considered the transpersonal or outer planets because their orbits lie outside of the Sun and the Earth. They represent the collective trends of humanity more than any other planets. The nodes of the Moon, Rahu and Ketu, also fall into this latter category even though they are mathematical points in space causing eclipses and not actual planets with orbits. These five transpersonal planets - Mars, Jupiter, Rahu and Ketu, Saturn, - are the slowest moving planets, which is why they have a far greater influence on collective trends and are the most important planets to follow by transit.

In the South Indian chart style you can visually see the astronomical order of the planets in our solar system in relation to the Sun and Moon. For instance, Mercury is the closest planet to the luminaries so the signs it rules, Gemini and Virgo, fall on either side of the Leo and Cancer, the signs ruled by the Sun and Moon. Venus rules the signs Taurus and Libra, and is the next closest planet to the Sun and Moon after Mercury. Mars rules the signs Aries and Scorpio, and is the next closest planet to the Sun and Moon after Venus. Jupiter rules the signs Pisces and Sagittarius, and is the next closest planet to the Sun and Moon after Mars. Saturn is the farthest from the Sun and Moon and rules the signs Aqurius and Capricorn. The chart below shows this sequential progression from the personal, to the interpersonal, and the transpersonal planets.

The Essential Meaning of the Planets

Understanding the meanings of the planets is the essence of the study of astrology since the houses and signs mean nothing until the planets are placed in them and rule over them. As previously mentioned, each planet governs and transmits essential universal qualities that maintain the balance in both the macrocosmic universe and the microcosmic universe. Venus, for instance, governs art. Therefore, it can be said that Venus inspires, to some extent, every expression of art in the universe. Hence, the whole range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual qualities in the universe are governed by one of the planets.

It becomes vitally important, therefore, to understand the essential meaning of each planet or else you would have the daunting task of having to memorize millions of indications for each planet! This is where learning to think astrologically really becomes a great aid in our study of astrology. For instance, if you know that the Moon rules fluids then you can develop your own list of logical indications that follow – water, the ocean, milk, blood, tears, oils etc.
As students of astrology, our life long task is to continually increase our list of indications, as we think astrologically about the planets in all the varied contexts of our day-to-day lives.

About The First Glance Chart Interpretation Skills

It can be overwhelming when we first look at a chart and try to interpret it. We need a step-by-step, systematic approach.

While I was in New Delhi studying with K.N. Rao, my jyotish guru, he taught me that the first step in chart interpretation is to glance at the chart and see what it reveals. To begin with, don’t look at the specific degrees for each planet, yogas (combinations), dasas (planetary periods), or any divisional charts. Just get a "feel" for the chart. The first exercises in this course are therefore called “first glance chart interpretation skills,” and are designed to help you get a "feel" for the chart.

In the 1st Lesson I presented the idea that there are both quantitative and qualitative methods to interpreting a chart. Most of the first glance methods over the next several lessons utilize quantitative methods where we identify and tally key influences in the chart.

Lesson #4 Exercise – 1st Glance Planet Interpretation Skills

We are will now review the key chart interpretation methods covered in this lesson. These constitute the first glance planet interpretation skills that should eventually become second nature whenever you study a chart.

Materials needed:
1) Your South Indian chart
2) Red and Green Pens

Identifying Natural Benefic and Malefic Planets
Begin by locating the natural benefic planets in your chart: Jupiter, Venus, Moon and Mercury. Place a green X next to them. Next, locate the natural malefic planets in your chart: Saturn, Mars, Rahu, Ketu, Sun and place a red X next to them as shown in the example chart below.

Identifying Temporal Benefic and Malefic Planets
Next, identify your ascendant or lagna by putting a diagonal line through it as shown below. This marks the 1st house. The other houses can be found by counting clockwise from here. Now, locate the 5th and 9th houses by counting forward in this manner from the ascendant. The planets that rule the signs of the 1st, 5th and 9th houses will be the temporal benefics for your ascendant. Click here to review which planet rules each sign in the zodiac.

The following list gives the temporal benefics for each ascendant. The three planets listed are the rulers of the 1st, 5th, 9th houses respectively:

Aries:  Mars (1), Sun (5), Jupiter (9)
Taurus:  Venus (1), Mercury (5), Saturn (9)
Gemini:  Mercury (1), Venus (5), Saturn (9)
Cancer:  Moon (1), Mars (5), Jupiter (9)
Leo:  Sun (1), Jupiter (5), Mars (9)
Virgo:  Mercury (1), Saturn (5), Venus (9)
Libra:  Venus (1), Saturn (5), Mercury (9)
Scorpio:  Mars (1), Jupiter (5), Moon (9)
Sagittarius:  Jupiter (1), Mars (5), Sun (9)
Capricorn:  Saturn (1), Venus (5), Mercury (9)
Aquarius:  Saturn (1), Mercury (5), Venus (9)
Pisces:  Jupiter (1), Moon (5), Mars

Place an X next to your temporal benefics. Place an X next to all your other planets except Rahu and Ketu who don't rule any houses. Later in the course we will refine our understanding of the temporal benefics and malefics by talking about temporal neutrals and other exceptions to these rules For now we will keep it as simple as possible.

In the example below the ascendant is Leo and therefore the temporal benefics are the Sun, Jupiter, and Mars. The Sun rules the 1st house of Leo, Jupiter rules the 5th house of Sagittarius, and Mars rules the 9th house of Aries.

Identifying Benefic House Placements of Planets
We will now identify the benefic house placements of the planets. As stated earlier in the lesson, the natural benefics function best when located in the angular houses 1, 4, 7, 10 or the trinal houses 1, 5, 9. Place an X next to any benefic planets that are located in these houses in your chart.

The natural malefic planets function best when located in the upachaya houses 3, 6, 10, 11. Place an X next to any malefic planets that are located in these houses in your chart.

In the following example you will find Venus in an angular house (10th house) and Jupiter and Mercury in trinal houses (5th and 9th house respectively). These are the only natural benefics in this chart that are located in either an angular or trinal house.

Next, you will find that the Sun and Mars are in upachaya houses (10th and 11th house respectively). These are the only natural malefics in this chart located in upachaya houses.

Identifying Malefic House Placements of Planets
Lastly, we will identify the malefic house placements of planets. As stated earlier in the lesson, the malefic house placements for either benefic or malefic planets are the dusthana houses 6, 8, 12. Check and see if any planets are placed in the 6, 8, 12 houses in your chart. Place an X next to any planets that are.

See the example below. You will find that Saturn is the only planet in a dusthana house, therefore it has an X next to it.

Exercise Summary
You now should have several accumulated X's and X's next to each planet in your chart ranging from 1 to 3 X's or X's each. This is a quick visual method that helps you get an idea of how the planets are operating in the chart. You now can see clearly which planet's will tend to give benefits and which one's will tend to give challenges.

For instance, in the chart below you can easily see that Jupiter with 3 X's has great potential to give benefit to this person. Saturn, on the other hand, has 3 X's indicating great potential to cause difficulties.

This exercise of placing X's or X's next to each planet will help train your mind to identify the relative benefic and malefic ways in which a planet may be operating in a chart. You will find that you get an initial, first glance feel for the chart which will assist you as you progress to more advanced interpretation skills.

In the following lesson we will be studying the key indications of the planets based on the fundamental logic that we've discussed in this lesson.

Jai Sri Ram