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Tibetan Astrology  
 

INTRODUCTION

Tibetan Astrology originated from several different traditions: Indian, Chinese, the local Bon religion, and the Buddhist Kalachakra tantra.

Traditionally, astrology was one of the five secondary sciences in Tibet. It concerns not only divination, but it is also used in the study of time cycles, Tibetan chronology and the compilation of the calendar. The calendar in the form of an almanac is still quite important in the daily life of the Tibetans to ensure that their daily activities are in tune with the cosmos.

In general, certain days of the week and of the month are considered auspicious for specific activities (from marriage to hanging of prayer flags - even cutting one's hair); but also, every day relates to one's own specific astrological chart of the day of birth. Furthermore, the position of the planets and the cycles of the elements determine good or bad fortune and good or bad health.

Traditional Tibetan Astrology ChartIn a Tibetan village, the astrologer would use his skills to advise people about nearly everything: from the weather, the best time to harvest, verify if and when two people should marry, to important business deals. In case the outcome would be negative, often religious practices would be advised to remove obstacles, which would be carried out by monks of the local monastery. Traditionally, a doctor in Tibetan medicine (Amchi) has also studied Astrology to determine for example the best timing for a treatment. As a consequence, in many villages, the Tibetan doctor would also be the astrologer; besides a local Buddhist teacher, he/she would probably be the most important person to visit for general advice.

At the birth of a child, the charts would be checked to see if any special rituals were required to ward off negative planetary influences. Also a "death chart" would often be prepared to decide the exact performance of the funeral. Improper performance could result in problems for the family, as well as for the deceased.

Tibetan astrology is not only strongly linked to religion, also Tibetan medical practitioners would study astrology (and religious texts) to determine the timing of medication etc.

Tibetan 'Naktsi' astrology has mainly Chinese origins, and the 'Kartsi' astrology has Indian origins.

TIBETAN 'NAMELESS RELIGION' ORIGIN

From the ancient 'nameless religion' of Tibet, a system is preserved in current Tibetan astrology which relates to Five Individual Forces (La - vitality, Sok - life potential, Lu - bodily health, Wangthang - personal power, and Lungta - wind horse) or energies within a person. These energies relate to the Chinese animals and elements, for example, the La force of the Horse is Wood etc. This system is unique to Tibet and is important to establish yearly horoscopes.

The La moves through the body in a monthly cycle, the Wangthang element is the same element that rules the year in Chinese astrology.

When the forces become weak, numerous specific practices are prescribed to strengthen the force again, from saving lives of animals to reciting mantras or performing special rituals like exorcism.

Astrological Symbols
Page with symbols from a Tibetan astrological text (from www.tibetart.com).

BON ORIGINS

The Bon religion was well established in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism. Over the centuries however, it appears that many Buddhist practices have taken root in Bon and reverse. For someone not too familiar with robes, iconography or rituals it may even be hard to spot the difference.

Astrology is important within the Bon system. Methods are given for divination, warding off negative influences, astrological calculations and medical diagnosis.

The four types of astrological calculation systems according to David Snellgrove are:

  • The mirror of magical horoscopes
  • The circle of Parkhas (trigrams) and Mewas (magic squares in 9 colours) - Chinese origin
  • The Wheel of Time (Kalachakra) of the Elements
  • The Jushak method: calculation of interdependence

A very important Bon deity is called Balchen Geko, who is said to govern time and the three world of existence. In this respect the deity is analogous to Kalachakra in Buddhism.

The Tibetan system works with a 360-day lunar year and cycles of 60 and 180 years. As a year is longer than 360 days, some days are doubled, but others are skipped in a complicated manner. To make the calendar fit the observations, occasionally even an extra month is introduced.

Tibetan astrology chart Vajrapani Manjushri Avalokiteshvara Kalachakra 10-fold Powerful One Nine 'Mewas' or 'Magic Squares' Nine 'Mewas' or 'Magic Squares' The Eight 'Parkhas' or 'Trigrams' The Eight 'Parkhas' or 'Trigrams' The Twelve Animals The Tortoise Protective seal against Lu, Nyen and Sadak Seal of rSipa-Ho Protective Seal for the Twelve Year Cycle Protective Seal for the lords and ministers of the Sadak Symbols for the Planets
Move your mouse over the image to see an explanation.
The image above shows some aspects as discussed below: on the belly of the Chinese Tortoise in the center are the nine Mewas, surrounded by the 8 Trigrams, next are the twelve Animals. The 10-fold Powerful Symbol of Kalachakra is on the top left, next to Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani.

CHINESE ORIGINS

From Chinese astronomy and astrology originate concepts like the Trigrams from the I Ching, the nine Magic Squares or Mewas, cycles of 12 and 60 years, the twelve Animals, the five elements and the duality of Yin and Yang etc. The traditional explanations say that princess Kongyo introduced Chinese astrology in Tibet in 643, but much earlier influences are very likely.

Two main Tibetan systems are of Chinese origin: 'Naktsi' or 'black astrology' (referring to the Tibetan name for China: 'black area'), and the 'astrology of the elements' or Jungtsi.

Five Elements
The five Chinese elements or agents are Earth, Water, Fire, Wood and Metal; which are different from the elements that constitute the universe in Indian astrology: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether.
The Chinese elements are natural dynamic forces of transformation - energies - and constantly interacting with each other. The names do not directly relate to the objects of the same name, but refer to affinities which can lead to positive, neutral and negative relations. Too much or too little of a specific element can become dangerous. They are related to a direction and a time of year. Earth relates to the periods around the end and start of each season and is related to the intermediate directions (NE, SE, SW, NW). Wood dominates in spring and the East, Fire in summer and the South, Metal in the autumn and the West, Water in the winter and the North.
Each element has a specific relation to an activity, colour, planet, organ etc. The elements have specific relationships with each other, described as Mother, Son, Friend and Enemy. They also can have a feminine or masculine polarity - similar to Yin and Yang.

Twelve Animals
The twelve animals: Rat, Cow,Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog and Pig relate to hours, days, months and years. Each animal is related to an element which represents its life force, a direction, a specific sex and certain personality treats. The animals can go together well or difficult in various levels.

Each year is a combination of an animal and an element. This leads to cycles of 12 x 5 = 60 years. Also, years are alternatingly male or female.

Nine Mewas

The 'nine moles' or 'nine coloured islands' are derived from the I Ching and Chinese numerology. Each of the nine Mewas is related to a colour, a direction and an element. For example, the three whites (1, 6 and 8) are metal. Each day, month and year, the Mewas move.

Eight Trigrams (Parkhas)

These represent the equivalent of the Chinese pa-kua, which form the basis of the I Ching. In turn, the pa-kua are based on the concept of Yin and Yang. They are: Fire, Earth, Metal, Sky, Water, Mountain, Wood and Wind. They are an extension of the theory of the Five Elements.

INDIAN ORIGINS

Tibetan astrology may have been influenced by Indian sources as much as from Chinese. Analogous to above, India was known as the 'white area' and gave rise to the term 'white astrology'.

Early Indian civilisation had much cultural interchange with the outside world, which is reflected in an identical zodiac to the Mesopotamians (twelve signs and twelve houses) and the widespread decans. Later on however, differences occurred for example when most other systems moved away from the early sidereal zodiac, which is preserved in the Indian tradition. Far back in history, also the Chinese and Indian system may have common origins. Similarities are for example the 28 Chinese lunar constellations and the 27 or 28 Indian Naksatras (from the Vedas), and the importance of the lunar nodes, Rahu and Ketu.

Signs of the zodiac
The Indian system is based on the observation of the sun, moon and the planets like Western astrology. The sky at night appears like a globe dotted with stars surrounding the earth. During one year, the sun moves along this expanse of stars and completes one cycle. This cycle is divided in 12 sections, called the signs of the zodiac. Western astrology follows the cycles of the sun related to the seasons, and the Tibeto-Indian system follows the cycles of the sun related to the stars, and there is a small difference between these two. Over the centuries, a difference of almost a complete sign has accumulated. For the rest, the signs are the same as in the Western system: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. The general explanation of the signs is similar to the Western system. Two major differences are the relation to different parts of the body and the fact that Indian signs are divided into day and night signs (indicating when their influence is strongest).

Lunar mansions
Indian astrology mentions 27 lunar mansions (Naksatras), but as one of them comprises two adjacent constellations, it covers 28 constellations. Each of these mansions is related to an Indian element (Wind, Fire, Water, Earth). In the Tibetan system, the lunar mansions have also been connected to the Chinese elements and directions.

Planet orbits around Mount MeruPlanets
Both the signs of the zodiac and the lunar mansions are ruled by a particular planet, in order: Ketu, Venus, Sun, Moon, Mars, Rahu, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury. (Ketu and Rahu are nodes of the moon.) The ruling of the planets over the signs is the same as in Western astrology.

KALACHAKRA

The Kalachakra tantric system contains not only an extensive religious practice system, but also medical knowledge. At the core of the system is the very familiar concept of 'as above, so below', the correspondence of the outer universe with the inner physical and mental processes in humans. It describes the interaction of human and cosmic phenomena with time and builds a complete system of Indian astrology.
Interestingly enough, this tradition contains all elements of Indian astrology, but merges it with Chinese principles. The Tibetans started to adopt the 60 year cycle in 1027, as it was taught both in the Kalachakra tantra and the Chinese tradition.

Some very interesting info can be found on www.tibetan-astrology.net and about Kalachakra astrology and astronomy, the website Kalacakra.org is probably the best of the web.

BUDDHISM

One could say that almost everything in Tibetan culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism. Even myths have been 'buddhified' over the ages. In Tibet, usually a teacher (lama), either monk or layman, would be the local astrologer. When living in a monastery, he would be responsible for establishing the calendar for religious practices and festivals.

The following legend comes from 'Tibetan Astrology' by Philippe Cornu. It is based on the manifestation of a Buddha called Manjushri (see image), who is a personification of wisdom and insight. Tibetan teachers invoke Manjushri at the commencement of any astrological undertaking.

"At the beginning of the present age or kalpa, while the future universe was still immense chaos, Manjushri caused a giant golden turtle to arise from his own mind, and this turtle emerged from the waters of the primordial ocean. Seeing in a dream that the universe in formation required a stable base, Manjushri pierced the flank of the turtle with a golden arrow. The injured animal turned on its back and sank into the ocean, giving forth blood and excrement, from which there arose the constituent elements of the universe. The created world thenceforth rested on the flat belly of the turtle, upon which Manjushri wrote all the secrets of the times to come in the form of sacred hieroglyphic signs."

As Tibetan astrology is so directly related to religion, it is regarded as a practical method to reduce uncertainty and suffering. The correct motivation of an astrologer is compassion (wanting others to be free from suffering), and as such an astrologer is not different from a spiritual practitioner, a medical doctor or a Buddhist teacher.

LINKS AND BOOKS

Tibetan calendar and astrology links
Edward Henning's Kalacakra site
Tibetan Medical & Astro Institute
Archives of Alex Berzin
Tibetan Astrology Australia - Kalachakra Astrology - by Kim lai
Tibetan Astrology - by Taina Kumpulainen
Jhampa Shaneman's Astrology Page
Snowlion Calender Page & Astrology page
Rajuna's Dragon Year Page
Tibetan Astrology Site - Free downloadable Tibetan Astrology Programme
Nitartha

Book references:
Tibetan Astrology by Philippe Cornu, Shambala 1997, ISBN: 1-57062-217-5
Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs by Robert Beer, Serindia, ISBN 0-906026-48-2
Tibetan Astronomy and Astrology, Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute Dharmsala, 1995.
Tibetan Astro-Science, Tibetdomani, Rome, 2001.

See also
A series of articles on Vedic Astrology