The Way of the Jyotishi

by Hank Friedman

[This article, like all of my Vedic ones, could never have been written without my having been given the profound teachings by my Jyotish Guru Hart de Fouw].

For millennia, students have sat at the feet of their Jyotish gurus to learn Vedic astrology step-by-step as part of a living and breathing tradition, called the Sampradaya.

To quote Wikipedia: "In Hinduism, a sampradaya can be translated as 'tradition' or a 'religious system'. It relates to a succession of masters and disciples..." Over time, the teacher enables the student to become an inspired practitioner of Vedic astrology.

The Vedic classical texts, like the Phaladeepika or Brihat Parashara Hora Shasta, were only meant to be studied with and explicated by one's guru, because each verse needed experience and mastery to be unfolded and explored in great depth, thereby giving great understanding.

Many modern-day Western astrologers have begun to explore Vedic astrology, but without the benefit of, or blessing of, a Jyotish guru to help them find their way. As a result, many attempt to merge Vedic astrology with Western astrology, and to impose Western astrological approaches upon Vedic astrology. This dilutes the profound richness inherent in Jyotisha.

As Rob Hand has often said, the Traditional Astrologies (e.g. Hellenistic and Vedic) are much more complete languages than modern Western astrology is, and so attempts to simplify and Westernize Vedic astrology are completely ill-advised.

When I started learning Jyotish from the great master Hart de Fouw, I instinctively knew that I needed to keep my thorough understanding of Western astrology completely separate and out of the picture. I used to say, "I've compartmentalized my brain, and Western astrology is in one section and Jyotish in another."

This has turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. It enabled me to understand and use each system on their own, learn the virtues and capabilities of each, and to embrace the incredible perspectives and insights available through Jyotisha.

In fact, I would recommend that students only study one of the two for many years before directing their attention to the other.

Understanding the Vedic mind

Themes. I was originally going to call this article, "Vedic astrology is not thematic". The Western mind has a predilection to find commonalities amongst the themes pertaining to each planet, each house, and each sign. And to rely upon them completely.

The Vedic mind does not have this limiting (and at times reductionistic) approach. It is perfectly comfortable with completely disparate themes being represented by a specific house or planet.

The latitude gained by such an approach is enormous. One doesn't have to fit only like concepts in the same container. As a result, the house meanings, for example, in Jyotish are much more diverse and much more extensive than those in Western astrology.

A fine example is that the 8th house in Jyotish indicates longevity and death, internal sexual and eliminative organs, anger, the manner of dying, the wedding necklace, catastrophes, mastery of traditional metaphysical approaches, holes, mysteries, accidents, litigation, incest, fruitless wandering, traveling over bodies of water, winning the lottery, obstructions, wilderness, endings of relationships, scandal, and much much more.

The fact that it represents both longevity and death can confuse the must-be-congruent attitude of the Western mind.

AND. In addition, modern Western astrology has many proponents who try to use addition and subtraction to ascertain the strength of planets. Astrodynes are an example of this viewpoint. But as Jyotish teaches, in its AND principle, if a planet has both strength and weakness, both will manifest, instead of counteracting or neutralizing each other.

In real life, all mathematical models of strength fail miserably. But the Vedic AND protocol works like a charm. For example, let's say that the planet representing ones mother is both strong and weak. That would manifest as a mom who in certain ways is very solid, and in other ways challenged.

Or a Dasha lord is both strong and poorly placed in the Drekkana chart (siblings). It would mean that whatever challenge was occurring for or with a sibling (see below), the native would be able to navigate the waters successfully.

The meaning of poor placements. In Varga analysis, when a Dasa lord is poorly placed in a sub-chart representing a person, the Jyotishi does not (as a Western might) presume that the relationship with that person will be strained during the Dasa.

Instead, with a much more holistic awareness, the Jyotishi sees that something in the field of the person will be disrupted. E.g. if the Dasa lord is badly placed in the Navamsa chart, which indicates the spouse, any of the following might occur (but almost never many of these):

the spouse might be grappling with their health, addiction issues, or failures,

or the loss of a parent, struggles at work, childhood issues, etc.,

or they might simply be too busy to spend time with the native,

or they might be having issues with the native.

Usually only one of these themes, or another challenge in the spouse's life will occur during the Dasa.

Similarly, if the Dasa lord is poorly placed in the career chart, it could mean overwork, not getting along with a coworker or boss, a project tanking, a job change that doesn't work, or not getting a job they really wanted, etc.

In other words, in most regards, the Vedic approach is much more open, fluid, and able to entertain many more possibilities than one might look for with a Western mind.

One might ask, with this degree of flexibility, how does one ever get specific? Especially since fine Vedic astrologers can be incredibly precise and accurate in their predictions.

The answer is, to use my guru's word, confluence. I.e. finding out what all of the factors have in common. One looks for the significations in common between the planet, its sign, its house, its Nakshatra, its rulerships, the houses aspected, the planets aspected, its strength or weakness, etc.


When I was looking at Marilyn Monroe's chart, without knowing her life history, I saw Saturn in the 4th house. The placement can have many different meanings, but I saw these attributes:

Saturn is the 8th lord, which can indicate endings

Saturn is the 7th lord, which can indicate poverty (lord of a Maraka house)

Saturn is aspecting the 4th lord, as well residing in the 4th house.

It aspects the 4th lord, and the 4th house, both as a natural malefic and as a temporal malefic; this destabilizes the 4th house.

Saturn itself is a powerful malefic (exalted and retrograde) indicating instability (especially with its double exaggerated strength)

Saturn is one of the two karakas (significators) of property, and residing in the 4th house makes it a significant indicator of property, including ones homes.

And the fact that the 4th lord aspects its own house makes it the primary significator of the 4th house. And, as Hart taught, if a house lord which aspects its own house is itself only aspected by malefics, it indicates impermanence in the themes of that house.

Since I am well versed in all of the above, I didn't have to review them, I just immediately saw that Ms. Monroe would have many moves in her life.

In fact she lived in 45 different homes during her life.



The Art of the Jyotishi requires an exceptionally holistic mind; a skill in pattern recognition and synthesis beyond the ken. I witnessed my Teacher Hart de Fouw tease out meanings from a chart (even about another person in the native's life) that were truly phenomenal. Witnessing a true Master at work can be both quite humbling and at the same time inspiring.



One of my readers asked me what differentiates traditions that are stultifying and rigid instead from those that are enlivening, and why Vedic astrology does not fall into the former category.

I responded that "there are living traditions and dead traditions. That is what makes the difference between inspiration and dogma."

In the Sufi tradition, according to the late, great Idries Shah, within a century of the death of a master, any spiritual path becomes a dead shell, lifeless and without transmission.

However, this only occurs if there is no one to pass the torch on to. If, in a Sufi lineage, or in a Jyotish lineage, the master has transmitted its sacredness and teachings to one or more disciples worthy to be torch bearers, then it stays alive.

I have heard that in India, which has hundreds of different Jyotish lineages, many do die out for lack of interest upon the part of descendants and students.

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