[INDOLOGY] 'Vedic' astrology

Howard Resnick hr at ivs.edu
Wed Nov 16 14:40:21 UTC 2016

Thank you Bill. I will focus on the case of ISKCON which I know fairly well.

Clearly we have here a clash of worldviews, each deploying its own hermeneutical strategy. To get a little distance and detachment so that we can be clear on the hermeneutical and epistemological issues, consider various learned approaches to Judeo-Christian studies and their sacred texts. The Academy of course favors the historical-critical method, which is surely an essential, invaluable piece of the puzzle. However it may not be the whole puzzle. 

For example, leading scholars of Judaism such as James Kugel point out that traditional Hebrew Bible scholars make four initial assumptions that guide their exegesis. 1. All the highly variegated books of the Hebrew Bible ultimately present a unified message; 2. The message is didactic, i.e. it has a clear telos which is to elevate its readers; 3. The text is divinely inspired; and 4. The ultimate meaning may not be literal. 
	Given those metaphysical assumptions which a priori cannot be empirically proved or disproved, traditional Bible scholarship is often internally consistent, clever, even at times profound. On the other hand, I believe that ‘sacred’ scholarlship that simply ignores the historical-critical method can easily become unhinged. 

I favor the approach of early Christian historian Dale Martin at Yale, who teaches the historical-critical method, yet points out the presumption of assuming that the historical-critical method necessarily reveals the final truth of a sacred text. 

Returning to explicit Indology, in the Gītā 15.15, Kṛṣṇa famously states, vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ. Those who take this claim seriously as a spiritual truth will naturally accept that it warrants the notion of a unified, if complex, “Vedic” message that points to Kṛṣṇa as the supreme knowable fact. Again, the historical-critical method, a priori, cannot prove or disprove such an obviously metaphysical claim about Kṛṣṇa. If one accepts the claim, then one may feel justified in a freer use of the adjective “Vedic.” I hasten to add that even with this sort of ‘sacred' hermeneutic there are modern uses of “Vedic” that I too find silly and indeed unwarranted by anything that I can discern as rational.

Ironically, the Bhāgavat-purāṇa, perhaps the most important member of ISKCON’s canon, uses the term vaidika in the modern academic sense, and not in the general ISKCON sense. The BP almost always use vaidika to indicate conventional śruti in contrast to tantrika texts, taken there to mean various Vaiṣṇava smṛti or  āgama texts. Indeed, ISKCON’s canonical Caitanya-caritāmṛta restricts vaidika even further to the term vaidika brāhmaṇa, referring to a karma-kāṇḍa ritual technocrat. So curiously key ISKCON śāstras use Vaidika in the academic, not the ISKCON, sense.

Regarding the “pseudo-scientifc” claims of “Vedic” or Puranic cosmography, I suggest that one seriously consider the work of the late Dr. Richard Thompson on this topic.


> On Nov 16, 2016, at 8:34 AM, Bill Mak <bill.m.mak at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Patrick,
> I believe rather than simply bland, "uncritical absorption of the/a Vedic narrative,” the examples of ISKCON “Vedic Planetarium” and ‘Vedic model of universe” I mentioned earlier illustrates quite tellingly, at least in this particular instance, what the intention was. To me, it seems to be part of an ongoing negotiation of the role of Indian culture in the modern world and an alternative narrative to the one created in the Western culture, one that Indians today both love and hate. In doing so, some sought to reclaim their identities as defined by themselves and not others. 
> In this particular case, if Vedic is defined historically as the Western historians and philologists do, there is no question that “Vedic Planetarium” is a pure misnomer. There was not even any planet beside Sun and Moon mentioned explicitly in the early Vedic corpus and the Vedāṅgajyotiṣa had no discussion of planets. The Purāṇic cosmology is a hodgepodge of ideas from various sources, both foreign and indigenous and across a long stretch of time. But this model of the universe was created in reaction to the Western model, to the one created by the Greeks, e.g. Ptolemy’s geocentric model, and eventually the development of the model of universe in Western astronomy up to the present day — a powerful image to represent science and progress, which many today sought to align their values and belief-system to .
> What ISKCON tried to achieve was to say to the readers that just like in the West one has the history of science, so does India. The proponents of the so-called “Vedic science” suggest that not only India has science, it is a different science based on a possibly superior authority, i.e., a spiritual, all-encompassing revelation beyond human reasoning based on the “Vedas," rather than philology and history based on fragments of the reality interpreted by humans. Of course, the arguments they constructed were practically entirely in Western terms, and the evidences they use are so methodologically and philologically unsound that most scholars do not consider them worthy of even consideration and decry them as pseudo-science. This seems to applies from more ludicrous claims such as “Vedic astrophysics” or “Vedic aeronautical science”, to the seemingly more benign “Vedic mathematics” and “Vedic astronomy”.
> -- 
> Bill M. Mak
> Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW)
> New York University
> 15 East 84th Street
> New York, NY 10028
> US
> Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University
> Yoshidahonmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501
> Japan
> 〒606-8501 京都市左京区吉田本町
> 京都大学人文科学研究所
> Tel:+81-75-753-6961
> Fax:+81-75-753-6903
> copies of my publications may be found at:
> http://www.billmak.com <http://www.billmak.com/>
>> On Nov 16, 2016, at 4:29 AM, patrick mccartney <psdmccartney at gmail.com <mailto:psdmccartney at gmail.com>> wrote:
>> Some cyber-ethnography I am conducting tentatively supports the claim that "Vedic Astrology" is usually interpreted to mean precisely, "traditional Indian astrology". One interesting thing is that, even though my interlocutors (westerners for the most part)  almost all assert it means the above; when pressed to define what they consider the 'Vedic' part of the phrase to more specifically mean, the typical answer is overwhelmingly: "I don't really know". If asked to discuss the difference between the astrological, ie predictive systems, or the historical, parallel development of these systems, even some people who claim to be 'professional Vedic astrologers' seem unable to clearly differentiate them.
>> The same can be said for my tentative investigations into people's attitudes toward 'vedic maths'. Most people, and to be honest I include myself in this group, seem unable to clearly articulate what this type of maths is meant to be, and how it is any different from 'maths'.
>> These anecdotes would at least point towards support of an analysis that 'vedic', for the most part, does simply refer to a vague, 'historico-mythical' past that is 'pure' and not influenced by premodern, transcultural flows of ideas.
>> But, it still does not help me, nor my interlocutors, to really pin down what a 'Vedic-X' is . Apart from "it's really old", which = 'better'. However,  I find this conclusion of sorts frustratingly bland.
>> Regardless, it is this seemingly uncritical absorption of the/a Vedic narrative, and its narritival power to infuse the past, present and future with meaning and potential that intrigues me most. This is at both micro and macro scales of analysis.
>> On 16 Nov 2016 7:17 PM, "Martin Gansten" <martin.gansten at pbhome.se <mailto:martin.gansten at pbhome.se>> wrote:
>> Bill,
>> I have read and re-read that section, and searched for various phrases within the book as a whole (searchable PDF files are a boon), but I can't find any mention of 'Vedic astrology' or anything like it. Dikshit seems to have a western academic understanding of 'Vedic' as a historical period, and he claims that the 'seeds' of a predictive system are present in Atharvajyotiṣa, but he is also very clear that such a system is not the one based on the twelve-sign zodiac, although he thinks it 'probable' that the latter system, when it was imported into India, was influenced by the parallel, indigenous system. (Which undoubtedly it was, if perhaps not to the extent that Dikshit would have liked to think. The nakṣatras are used in horā, after all.) This is stated at the beginning of p. 100.
>> In my view this is quite different from the development that we have seen over the past few decades, where practitioners themselves label all Indian astrology (often including the Tājika school) as 'Vedic', typically without any idea of that label referring to a particular historical period -- if it is used in any historical sense, it is with reference to a vague, mythical past. 'Vedic' is used here simply in the sense of 'traditional Indian', the implied idea being a tradition that is not only ancient and unbroken, but essentially unchanged (and, as Robert has pointed out, sanctioned by Brahmanic authority).
>> Jean-Michel's mention of so-called Vedic mathematics in this context seems very relevant; does anyone know when that designation first appears? Also, of course, Dagmar's reference to āyurveda, though I don't think anyone has yet decided to call that system 'Vedic medicine' (or have they?).
>> Martin
>> Den 2016-11-15 kl. 21:45, skrev Bill Mak:
>> Martin, not exactly. This was precisely my point. Dikshit did refer to horoscopy under Vedic astrology. See “Jātaka branch of astrology” under “Atharva jyotiṣa” in the section Vedaṅga (Vol.1 p.97-98). Things might have come to the forefront in recent time, but such ideas have certainly been around.
>> Bill
>> _______________________________________________
>> INDOLOGY mailing list
>> INDOLOGY at list.indology.info <mailto:INDOLOGY at list.indology.info>
>> indology-owner at list.indology.info <mailto:indology-owner at list.indology.info> (messages to the list's managing committee)
>> http://listinfo.indology.info <http://listinfo.indology.info/> (where you can change your list options or unsubscribe)
> _______________________________________________
> INDOLOGY mailing list
> INDOLOGY at list.indology.info
> indology-owner at list.indology.info (messages to the list's managing committee)
> http://listinfo.indology.info (where you can change your list options or unsubscribe)

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology/attachments/20161116/1e15340c/attachment.htm>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list