CVA Interview from 2006 - Chakarpani Ullal
by Dennis Flaherty
Dennis Flaherty (DF): I believe you were born into a family of astrologers. Is that how you began your study of astrology? What was the maga, the path that brought you ultimately into the study and practice of jyotisha?
Chakrapani: I was born into a family of astrologers. My father used to live in a village, and the village people used to come to our house. With my father, being an astrologer, people used to come and sit around him to listen and ask questions. It was when I was very small that I got intrigued in that whole process.
DF — Do you have any idea how old you were when you started to sit in on your father's circle?
Chakrapani: I think I was maybe 5 or 6 years old.
DF — Was he in essence the village astrologer?
Chakrapani: Yes, in essence he was the village astrologer. All of the village people used to come and ask him for everything. They asked questions about health, physical illness, treatment, marriage, or questions about auspicious days for marriage.
DF — So in the early years of your life your father was continuing the tradition in India of the village astrologer where people would come to your very home with their questions. They would sit and formally or informally ask questions. This is the way it was done in South India in that period of time?
Chakrapani: Correct, and most of the time it was mostly prashna.
DF — Mostly prashna?
Chakrapani: Most of the time prashna, yes! They used to come and ask prashna because most of the village astrologers did not have a natal chart.
DF — Yes, because there probably was not a variety of panchanga’s or ephemeredes available with any regularity.
Chakrapani: Correct, the villagers did not have the opportunity to have an astrologer to do charts and therefore they did not have the real birth time. For most of the time therefore prashna was used.
DF — Being born into this family and being exposed to astrology at a very early age in your life, did it become a natural tradition and practice for you? Was astrology seen and accepted as being a natural part of village life?
Chakrapani: Yes, and also I got interested in it. It is not generally that people do things that their fathers do. When people get an education they generally give up something that their fathers do. My father was associated with more than one thing apart from being an astrologer. He was also interested in Ayurveda and Mantra.
DF — So, your father exposed you to these Vedic sciences as well?
Chakrapani: I was exposed to them all.
DF — Your interest was directed toward astrology? Did your father and your family encourage this interest?
Chakrapani: Yes, my father encouraged this interest. At some point during the course of my studies he encouraged me to become a professional astrologer.
DF — India was going through its emancipation from the British Raj during this period of time?
Chakrapani: That is correct. When I was born the British were still ruling the country and the western influence was still was active.
DF — Yes, colonial India was not separated during these periods of time.
Chakrapani: Correct. It’s that colonialism, when people become educated, they really turn against the ancient culture.
DF — Yes, colonial India was just going through its separation during these times. It must have been such a seminal time in terms of your interest in astrology and the allied Vedic sciences, and modern India its emphasis on western education. Obviously, you became an educated man yourself, but you still favored an interest for astrology which was something of the past. I believe you earned a degree in law?
Chakrapani: I studied and earned a bachelor of commerce and a bachelor of law degree.
DF — At the same time you continued your study of the ancient sciences?
Chakrapani: Correct, I was interested in ancient science and ancient wisdom. It is because of that; I was very much interested in the spiritual pursuit of spiritual activities even as a child. I was initiated into meditation at the age of seven. I was very much associated with the many, many gurus in the process of my life.
DF — Were you initiated into the spiritual tradition of your father?
Chakrapani: Yes, I was initiated into the spiritual tradition by my uncle, my mother’s brother.
DF — Was that what ultimately led you to your association Muktananada?
Chakrapani: Yes, that ultimately led me to Muktananda.
DF — That’s what led to your association with Muktananda?
Chakrapani: It was actually led me through Nityananda. From Nitryanda, in 1958, I met Buktinanda.
DF — You met Buktinanda?
Chakrapani: Yes, that was much later in life.
DF — Yes, but you are also in this very seminal period of time for you. You are a modern man of India, as far as your degrees and education. But equally an ancient man of India, as your India has always been the old wisdom.
DF — When did you realize that the study of astrology and wanting to be an astrologer became paramount in your life, and was there any inherent conflict in that in regarding your modern education?
Chakrapani: Yes, there was a lot of conflict.
DF — I would imagine so because you were educated in a contemporary manner which holds a profession for you with social esteem. However, your interest in ancient astrology would have been considered by many contemporary Indians to be the study of an ancient relic. So there must have been some inherent conflict?
Chakrapani: Inherent conflict, definitely. I was not prepared to be called an astrologer. It was difficult for me. Therefore I took a lot of interest in my astrology practice. I did astrology all the time, but I maintained a job for a living. After my job I was practucubg astrology, and in the process I did ten years of free readings. I never left my home in ten years.
DF — So it seems you were continuing your father’s tradition where people are gathering around you and receiving free readings. At the same time you were a modern man who was taking responsibility and receiving your income from a worldly profession. I think this is a brilliant but exhausting way to resolve this conflict and carry on the family tradition of astrology?
Chakrapani: I was interested in the tradition, and I was interested in everything. But at the same time there was a conflict. Even though I got a good education, I did not take my education as seriously as I took astrology seriously.
DF — Your heart was in astrology, not your modern education of the world?
Chakrapani: Yes, it was only somewhere in the middle 60’s that I started becoming a professional astrologer.
DF — Ah, and that was what I wanted to ask you.
Chakrapani: It was only because of the pressure from Swami Muktananda. It was his pressure and not only that, he sent people to me saying “he’s an astrologer.” So I was asked to do astrology readings for people that he would send. The moment people asked questions of him, he would send them to me. So I became a professional astrologer.
DF — So, very much continuing your father’s tradition, you would have people to your home and you would read for them while you had your full-time job in the course of the day.
DF — The decision was resolved for you through your Guru when he said that you were a professional astrologer. Who were you to argue with Muktananda as he continued to send people to you!
Chakrapani: But, even then it was difficult for me to take money.
DF — Yes, because that is not the tradition in India. The tradition is that the village supports the astrologer through offerings.
Chakrapani: Yes, offerings, correct.
DF — But in terms of our modern world and our modern economy, which you are exposed to, you also have to resolve that conflict because you have to support a community. Where you married during this time as well?
Chakrapani: No, I was not. I was married in 1970.
DF — But in essence, you had to support yourself, so you had to resolve this conflict of receiving money. I can guess that it must have been a very cultural stretch for you.
DF — I can also imagine that at the same time, with the number of people that were coming to you, could you continue to do your day job?
Chakrapani: Yes, I continued to do my day job until 1975, and thereafter I only did half of my day job. It was intense.
DF — I wanted to ask you, in largely being recognized as Muktananda’s astrologer, when did he suggest you come to this country?
Chakrapani: In 1979.
DF — Just a few years after you were married?
DF — That must have been an extraordinary uprooting for you as well?
Chakrapani: Yes, I was not ready to come to America because I had already established a good practice in India by that time.
DF — You were supporting your family.
Chakrapani: Yes, and I was making good money. I was feeling very stable and secure. I was afraid if I came to America then I would lose the stability. In India, generally the clients remain with the astrologer through their course. They don’t change astrologers like here.
DF — Yes, they stay with a particular astrologer within the family community or village.
Chakrapani: Yes, I was living in Bombay in those days. Even there the idea is that people would select an astrologer and stay with that astrologer. I was worried that if I didn’t return in time, my astrology clients would go away and find someone else. It would be difficult to get established once again.
DF — I also see a potential conflict here, because you have taken the advice of your Guru, and you are no sooner starting to get established as an astrologer, and then you are asked to make another leap. And this is a leap to another Country. Yet, it is a leap within the context of your community. You were asked to uproot from your Country. You were asked to become part of this greater community. But still, there was inherent conflict in it.
DF — Also, the difficulty for you was in giving up this position and the support of your family. But, nevertheless, you made that decision. Did you make this decision in light of your Guru’s request?
Chakrapani: That is right. I also thought that if I came, maybe I could return in two or three months.
DF — Yes, the best-made plans….
Chakrapani: I could not return back.
DF — Yes, I’m well aware of that. You came here as Muktananda’s astrologer, and people from “Siddha Yoga” continued to see you.
Chakrapani: Yes, that is right.
DF — And your practice and reputation continued to grow! Where did you first come here?
Chakrapani: I came on January 20th, 1979 to California. I first came to the Oakland Ashram. I was staying there, and I had prepared a brochure of mine which was called “Vedic astrology.” Until then, the word Vedic astrology had never been used.
DF — That word was not in use then?
Chakrapani: It was only called Hindu astrology. It wasn’t even called Vedic astrology in India.
DF — What led you to give it that name?
Chakrapani: It was really a suggestion by Swami Muktananda. Because the word Hindu is linked to religion, and this astrology is universal. It does not belong to a religion. So why not restate it as a Vedic knowledge. It is a Vedic tradition. Why not name it Vedic astrology?
DF — And even the astrology that you are practicing is no longer an Indian astrology or village astrology. Practicing it within another country and within a growing community, I think it more or less belongs to the world. As a result, there must have been a real shift in your practice versus how it was practiced in India as opposed to how it is practiced here.
Chakrapani: It is a real shift.
DF — I do remember the lecture you gave many years ago in Hawaii about your dear friend who had told you that Americans don’t really want to talk about death during their consultations. I guess that socialized you in the ways and the needs of this culture. I can only imagine what a learning curve it has been for you to adapt and practice Vedic astrology here?
DF — You are clearly the bridge for this in light of your own experiences. You find yourself in a different environment now with different needs and different traditions. If you can tell our readers something about that adaptation process, as it is so obviously practiced here different than in the India you grew up in!
Chakrapani: Correct! It is a total difference!
DF — And, in light of your extensive experience, could you comment on some of the differences for today’s practicing astrologers?
Chakrapani: Yes, in India, Astrology is a very easy process compared to how it is practiced in America. People have simple questions; they are satisfied with some round-about answers. The major serious questions are about education, getting married or health concerns. Very simple! The answer to all these would be very simple. If you come to America it is more about understanding where that person comes from, psychological aspects, and also its various possibilities. In India, the possibilities to each family are connected. You know them and you know the alternatives and possibilities which are available to them. It is easy to identify, whereas here, each person is a new possibility constantly.
DF — So, in India, people are seen more within the context of the family, whereas here people are seen more within the context of the individual? Very different context?
Chakrapani: A very different context!
DF — I have often observed because the Guru tradition is so strong in India and there are so many gurus it is very interesting that people bring their spiritual questions to their Guru but they bring their mundane questions to their astrologer.
DF — Where here they bring many of their spiritual questions to their astrologer?
Chakrapani: That is true.
DF — Did you observe this in practice here as well?
Chakrapani: That is correct. Absolutely!
DF — This must be one of the many adaptations you faced in your practice here?
Chakrapani: That is important. How the change in the practice is happening. Let me tell you it this way. Astrology is an onward and ongoing process of learning even today for me.
DF — It is wonderful to hear that.
Chakrapani: Even today I feel that I am a student all the time. Every day I am learning something new all of the time.
DF — That’s why we call it a practice, and not a perfect because it is ongoing. Your Guru even suggested that the ancient name of astrology change from Hindu astrology to Vedic astrology to adapt and reflect a greater global sense of knowledge.
Chakrapani: Moreover it was a very difficult thing to begin practicing as a paid astrologer, for when you begin to accept money, it was a challenge of performance, intention, and anxiety.
DF — Performance anxiety?
Chakrapani: Because as a free person you did not really feel the responsibility of whether what you predicted would come true or not.
DF — Yes!
Chakrapani: The moment you started taking money - the responsibility was in what was said, what you really gave them, what they were paying for, and whether the predictions came true. That’s pressure.
DF — Yes, it changes the nature of the practice.
Chakrapani: The pressure sometimes made it difficult in the beginning for me. It took a while for me psychologically to make it acceptable. That is why I began to like astrology in a way. Every day you wake up and say “I want to like astrology, I want to like astrology”. So astrology likes you back!
DF — Yes, it’s this concept of reciprocity in professionalism. Once somebody comes and pays you for your services there is an aspect of professionalism, expectation, and performance with that for people want to get what they paid for.
DF — You felt that pressure on you?
Chakrapani: That is correct.
DF — And again, that is very different than the way it is practiced in India. So in essence you are the alpha astrologer for the practice of astrology in this culture. Like many great teachers from India, you are the first transitional man who comes from the old way it is practiced, and you bridge that ancient practice, with all your experiences from there to here, to the way it is practiced today.
Chakrapani: That is right! That is perfect!
DF — So in essence this was an extraordinary education for you. You were the first one to go through this. And other than the grace of your Guru, there was really no support system. There was the camaraderie of astrological community, nor astrological peers who already knew about a practice, what a practice was worth, or what people charged. So this was largely a process that you learned as you earned.
Chakrapani: That is correct.
DF — When you first came here, many people within the Siddha Yoga community went to you for consultations.
Chakrapani: That is correct.
DF — When did you start to branch outside of community? How did that take place for you?
Chakrapani: It was in 1982. Muktananda returned to back to India in 1981. I did not return with him. I stayed back.
DF — Was this something that he asked of you? Or was your life already decided here?
Chakrapani: My life was already decided here. In the middle of 1982, I was living in the ashram in Santa Monica. Thereafter I moved out into an apartment, and that was the beginning of getting to know the community outside of the yoga community. So I started giving some small talks and lectures. In the beginning, I did a series of six lectures of three hours each. Which were called the “art of living”. That was in 1982. I don’t give these lectures anymore. When I look back at these lectures they were quite good!
DF — You obviously enjoyed this period of time!
Chakrapani: The “art of living” was a way to start getting people interested, so I started giving lectures.
DF — I attended several of your lectures in Seattle in 1988. How would you characterize the way your practice has changed?
Chakrapani: In India here, most of the people came on their own time. So prashna would become very easy to use and very easy to do. Everybody here has appointments so that changes the whole way that you do the reading. Here you mostly go by the chart, plus you can use prashna when you have your own questions or you have doubt in your mind. The relationship question here deals with the whole person, not just a problem with the relationship itself. In India, you are in contact with the family and you’ve already talked about the family affairs. Then only the context of what is important and those issues are talked about. Here when a person comes his whole life is with the individual and his own family. You deal with the whole family for him in an individual manner.
DF — Western astrologers have long since been organized and have community; they have ephemeredes, computer programs and the resources of western astrology readily available. When you started your practice there were few resources for you. There was no sidereal ephemeris, no panchangas, other than those traditional sources from India. When did you first start using a computer?
Chakrapani: At first I started using a computer in 1981 for Vedic astrology.
DF — Yes, speaking of learning curves, didn’t you have to design your own computer program?
Chakrapani: Yes, I designed my own computer program and then I designed another one in 1985. I used it until about 1990.
DF — So you went into private practice and you moved out of the ashram in 1982. How fast did your personal practice take off?
Chakrapani: It took about two years.
DF — And you had people from all walks of life and all countries?
Chakrapani: Yes, it took about two years, and then slowly it began to be very active. I became very active by ‘86 and ’87.
DF — I would like to ask, when did you start to teach Vedic astrology?
Chakrapani: I gave classes in 1983 or 1984 in Santa Monica, CA when I was living in an apartment. I started giving classes at that time in Vedic astrology. Thereafter, in 1986 there was a sideral institute in Hollywood, CA. I taught there about 10 years, a 2 to 2 ½ hour class, every week.
DF — The first international symposium on Vedic astrology was in San Rafael in 1992. The original American Council was incorporated in 1993 in which you were our honorary chairman. This all took place in the early ‘90s. In essence, this was an extraordinary journey which I’m very pleased to share with our CVA Journal readers. I would like to ask you in your many years in this practice, you obviously enjoyed doing this because you’re still in the trenches as we say, reading for clients with the same regularity as your early years. In speaking to other astrologers who are just starting their practice, what is most important to you in your practice of astrology that keeps you so resilient?
Chakrapani: The most important thing is that the practice of astrology is not just a profession. It is a thing that you like to do. One has to do develop that. You should like to do this. It should be interesting to you. Every chart is of interest to you. That kind of feeling should come.
DF — It’s not something that is separate from Self.
Chakrapani: It is not a job, not a profession, not something that gives you money. It is about something you like to do.
DF — Some people have also likened it to an avocation which is different than vocation, something that we enjoy doing. Some people have also likened it to a spiritual sadhana. Do you see that?
Chakrapani: Absolutely! It is absolutely like a spiritual sadhana. It is that which you like to do and you enjoy doing it and you and others gain benefit for it. It is because of that kind of thinking you notice that you never get tired.
DF — Yes, that is an exemplary point you make Chakrapani, that one receives joy from practicing. There is not the attitude that it’s a job.
Chakrapani: It doesn’t matter how long you do it unless your throat goes bad, talking. There is not tiredness from doing astrology. That is my experience.
DF — I know you still read for many people and I can only imagine how many people you used to read for in any given day back in the early ’90s and ‘80s probably going nonstop.
DF — I have found a difference in my own practice between that which we are told in books and between that which we experience in our own life. It is a truth which comes out of our own practice as opposed to a truth which comes out of a book that someone has written, or translated. I know you’ve given many talks of your discoveries from Vedic astrology which have come from your personal practice. In essence, how many years would you say is a minimum amount of time that you feel someone should be practicing before they would find truth on the ground of their practice?
Chakrapani: Ten years.
DF — As you have elaborated, Vedic astrology in our times has greatly changed from the way it was traditionally practiced. In India, it was largely taught by Shruti, word of mouth, wherever people gathered. Today we have international symposium, and we also have an online education. This is how Vedic astrology is changing in our times. In light of these changes, do you feel strongly that the oral tradition is of importance, and that one should have a guru or a mentor in one’s studies?
Chakrapani: It is as important any time in the past as it is important today. For example, after I finished practicing with my father I did not stop learning. I started with many great teachers and I learned many things from them. In fact, one great teacher I had stay in my home for 3 months in a year at a time to learn astrology. That was some time in the 60’s. You never finish learning. It is a process which makes you know more and more as you learn.
DF — That Guru relationship is essential for knowledge and confidence.
Chakrapani: That is correct.
DF — You would not have left India for this country if it was not for the request of your guru. When your guru died in 1982 and you had to go out on your own this must have been a challenging time?
Chakrapani: That’s correct.
DF — Even though somethings change because of the nature of our times and the culture in which we live somethings don’t change. I understand the guru/chela relationship is of pivotal importance in developing the confidence of the student. In parting, are there any words of wisdom you would like to pass on to the growing community of Vedic astrologers?
Chakrapani: The most important thing any practicing astrologer must understand is that one must really like what they are doing. Not doing it for the sake of money, even though money is important and you can take money for whatever you do. Money should not be the primary motive to do astrology.
DF — One should have a very strong sense of dharma and purpose in doing this for other people, rather than a strong sense of artha in doing this for money?
Chakrapani: It is because you like to do it, you are interested in doing it, and you enjoy doing it. That continually rejuvenates the astrologer. Then the duty comes afterward.
DF — Chakrapani, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your deeply personal story with our community. And on behalf of our community, I thank you for your authenticity, for being who you are, one of the great pioneering sages of contemporary Vedic astrology.
In closing is there anything you would like to share with the CVA membership?
Chakrapani: I am very excited about CVA resuming the roles in the education and certification of Vedic Astrologers, and if possible implementing the rules for the proper ethics of astrologers (which may be in due course). This is the purpose of any institution. This is what education is. It will help all levels of astrological study, and more people will be interested. The purpose of education is ultimately that it promotes the expansion of knowledge and wisdom. I strongly support this process the CVA has started.
In closing, I say existing members will benefit with interaction and communication with each other, and discussing the issues they find.
I wish the CVA great success in their endeavor.