JOURNAL

Integrating Yoga and Jyotish:

A Personal Story

By Marianne Jacuzzi, M.A., E-RYT-500, CVA Visharada, CVA Kovid

“In the right view both of life and of Yoga, all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga.”
Sri Aurobindo
 

Time is indeed a river, drawing us steadfastly onwards. The Gita says that all paths lead to Krishna, and it is true. In the fullness of time, that One Transcendent Spirit is the destiny of all—even as it is the undercurrent, the truth of each passing ripple and eddy of the river. Both Yoga and Jyotish teach this, for it is the essence of Sanatana Dharma, which I was blessed to discover as a teenager. My world was California—San Francisco of the late 60’s and early 70’s—endless golden days of searching, with conviction as resolute as the sun gleaming over the blue Pacific. It was there that I began to walk the path of yoga, drawn first to meditation and the teachings of Vedanta, which awakened truths I had already sensed, yet had no words to articulate. 

Over time the teachings of many masters gave those insights a language. As a child I had observed how the night sky of the High Sierras with its dazzling brilliance of stars, the gossamer wings of dragonflies, and the flush of poppy blossoms emitted a similar radiance. It seemed to me the glow of fairy light. And so it is. Shiva becomes Shiva-Shakti. A dimensionless point becomes dual, the beginning of form. And Shakti dances, spinning outwards a web of creation that expands across galaxies—multi-dimensional in both the infinitely vast and infinitesimally small. All flows according to the law of karma, the Lord of Time, where every cause generates a multitude of effects and every effect generates a multitude of causes. 

After eons of experience, the web collapses back to a point, and Shiva rests in perfect Stillness until the next cycle of creation. From the vantage point of time, these nights and days of Brahma repeat without end. Yet within every moment of the dance a timeless point abides, the Ultimate Reality of Brahman—the alpha and omega of all authentic Yoga. Lord Krishna revealed it to Arjuna, sweeping away the veils of Maya and granting him instant enlightenment.  “Behold my Supreme Yoga,” he said. Illuminated by the light of a thousand Suns, Arjuna received the Divine Vision, all boundaries of time and space dissolving into universal formlessness, the apotheosis of genuine Yoga.

As expressions of Sanatana Dharma, both Yoga and Jyotish understand spiritual evolution to be the dharma of every life—no matter how circuitous the course over myriad lifetimes. Whether through arduous practice or the flow of life, individual identity awakens (eventually) to the delusion of separation. The river returns to the sea, where each wave—despite its distinctive shape in the moment—is everywhere just water.

Though Yoga and Jyotish differ in approach, they complement each other, inseparable like two sides of a coin. Yoga came to me when I was very young, though for Jyotish I had to wait. With six planets in dual rashis, including my Moon and all three dharma lords, I followed a variegated path, with different spiritual traditions and various teachers adding to the synthesis. Certain things, however, remained constant. After meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, I received initiation into meditation, which has been my rudder ever since. I began asana practice with the Sivananda school, though my Martian nature (Scorpio lagna) led me to ever more vigorous styles, to Iyengar and then Ashtanga Yoga. Strong asana has been another constant, but so has Bhakti. Devotion to the Divine through puja and prayer is my lifeblood.

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For a couple of decades, I began every day with three-hours of asana, as well as pranayama, chanting and meditation. Sometimes I still practice asana long. Meanwhile, in Jupiter-Rahu, life had catapulted me into a new (old) world—transplanting me from California to Ireland. I started teaching yoga in Dublin when someone asked me to teach. In those days, not a single yoga studio could be found on the island of Ireland. After a few years, I built a small yoga shala at the base of my garden, where I continued to teach for nearly twenty years, even as yoga studios were popping up on every street corner and it seemed like all-of-a-sudden half the population had trained to become a yoga teacher. 


As one of the oldest yoga teachers in Ireland, I gained a certain vantage point. I observed that only the tiniest handful of students who passed through my door were hungering for enlightenment as Classical Yoga understands it. “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha”  . . . Patanjali states. Yoga aims to cleanse the mind of its distortions, on all levels—manas, ahamkara, and buddhi. It strives not just to still those vrittis, but to burn the karmic imprints generating them. Yoga teaches a psycho-spiritual technology of transcendence, culminating in a total deconstruction of ego identity.  At the highest level of Asamprajnata Samadhi, Consciousness becomes purified, devoid of any limiting content. It is Subject without object—Consciousness conscious only of itself. But there’s an inherent paradox here, a fundamental obstacle to the understanding of ordinary mind. In Sadhus: Going Beyond the Dreadlocks, Patrick Levy puts it succinctly. In a retort to the Mahavakya, Aham Brahma Asmi, he says: “But if I say, ‘I am Brahman’, I am inevitably telling a lie, because I must disappear for this assertion to be true. But then who would say it?” 

From the point of view of the individual, enlightenment is not something gained, it’s something lost. The memories, dreams, desires and attachments of individual identity belong to the delusion of separation, which are subsumed through yoga into a borderless matrix of time and space. That’s not what most people come to yoga class seeking. For if the truth be told, it’s not enlightenment that most people desire. It is harmony in this life—with individual identity firmly intact. And for that, Jyotish has much to offer. Jyotish illuminates the meaning inherent in time, unlocking the mystery of its unraveling. It recognizes Divine Purpose manifesting through every form, and so honours the beauty inherent in the veils of Maya.

Well before I began to study Jyotish, yoga students came to me with their personal issues, and I offered them spiritual counseling, drawing from my training in Buddhist psychotherapy and a sympathetic heart. From study of the shastras over time, I’d always known about Jyotish, though never ventured in. Serious study started around 2009. Certain books on Jyotish captivated me, and suddenly I was hooked. In 2011, I began formal mentoring with Dennis Flaherty, earning eventually the CVA Visharada and Kovid titles. I’m infinitely grateful to Dennis for those exhilarating years, for all he opened up to me, sharing his profound knowledge with eloquence, insight, and delightful humour.

But I must acknowledge Shani too, because in a sense, Jyotish was Shani’s gift to me. Towards the end of my Saturn mahadasha, I’d already begun study with Dennis. With my Sadi Sati running concurrently, Shani’s lessons went deep. Saturn teaches about the limits of life, about the ephemerality of all forms. His greatest lesson is that nothing in this world lasts. Shani tempers the soul, revealing the futility of attaching to transitory things. Since everything in this world of change is impermanent, his message can be bitter, his methods can be cruel. Not only does he cut away the deadwood, but he can also prune back the living branches. Such was the case with me. My body, which had been my vehicle—for dance, for asana, for running and jumping and climbing--was failing me. My hips, which for over a decade had been causing pain and restriction, were finally collapsing. My usual healing modalities— yoga asana and every alternative therapy known to man—were no longer working. Soon I would be unable to walk without crutches—quite an assault upon identity for someone accustomed to getting both feet behind the head daily!

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The Ganges at Haridwar moves swiftly, sweeping puja candles, debris, monkeys and boys into its mighty current. In late September 2012, I sat on its banks, mesmerised by the movement of this most sacred river, but overwhelmed too with feelings of sadness. I had not been in India since 2009, when on all levels my practice had never felt stronger. The gift of the guru had awakened the inner guru. Peace and acceptance characterized the flow of life. That chapter of life had culminated in both a yogic high and a casting adrift from the physical form of the guru, with the mahasamadhi of my beloved teacher, Ramesh Balsekar. Silence was speaking to me with great eloquence, and I had never felt so free.

 

Yet Shani had other plans, his via dolorosa about to reorder everything. Just three years after that apex of 2009, I returned to India with my broken hips, seeking healing in an ayurvedic hospital in Kerala and through sadhana in a Himalayan ashram. After three months, I spent a week on the banks of the Ganges for final sustenance—with nothing to do but gaze at that sacred water.  And though I was returning home just as broken as before, Ma India would not disappoint.

For Saturn is the Lord of Yoga, a form of Lord Shiva, master of destruction and transformation, time and timelessness. His truth is bittersweet—bitter or sweet depending entirely upon one’s perspective. Saturn brings worldly loss. He demonstrates through direct experience that everything—including the body that feels so solid—will pass. Clinging to the ephemeral inevitably brings bitterness. Yet suffering can also clear the mind of avidya. As it reveals the impermanence of manifest form, it opens a door to Pure Spirit—which lies beyond the veils. Suffering so redeemed is Divine Grace. It’s the sweetness Shani bestows to the patient.

The river moves in mysterious ways. Immobility had limited my yoga practice to the meditation cushion and a headstand. But my study of Jyotish was on fire. I understood how every happening knitted to every other in a vast fabric. I knew truth resided in those celestial patterns— if only I could read the threads and synthesize an understanding. Once when asked if he “believed” in astrology, Ramesh (my spiritual teacher) said, “Of course!  ... it’s just astrologers I’m not always sure of.” 

Shani was telling me to be patient. This time of disability, as all things, would pass. But my physical ordeal was actually giving me more time than ever to study. As long as I remained still on the couch, I felt little pain. My family served me beautiful meals and endless cups of tea. My healing journey took a couple of years, because only as a last resort would I turn to surgery. Yet that dreaded solution of mainstream medicine resulted in success beyond my wildest dreams. And true to fairy-tale form, my body was returned to me in Paris, city of my youth, through whose heart another sacred river flows. Shani had prepared a silver lining, with not only pain-free mobility and yoga asana restored to me in the end, but knowledge of the heavens—the greatest remedy of all—opening a new life chapter with the integration of Yoga and Jyotish.

But before that, I had a philosophical dilemma to resolve, which involved subtle distinctions around free-will and destiny. The movement of consciousness through time can be likened to a dream. It is not our dream. It is the dream of Shiva, and we are the "dreamed characters”. Just as a film projected onto a screen, it is complete—with both past and future determined according to karmic necessity. Even as it rolls out scene by scene, so also does it exist whole, outside time—every minute detail forming an integral part of the totality. Shiva writes the script, directs the production, and through Shakti plays all the parts. This is the sublime insight of Yoga. As tradition understands it, “From the point of view of appearances, Shiva is the world. But from the point of view of reality, the world is Shiva.”

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Yet for us in the flow of time, what transpires next remains always an uncertainty. This is where knowledge of Jyotish can make a difference. But what really happens?  Can “we” create our destiny? Popular opinion says unequivocally yes. All “self-help” methodologies depend upon this assumption. Classical yoga teachings have a more nuanced understanding. The question is central to the science of astrology. But the answer, in terms of Jyotish and Yoga, is subtle.

What if Arjuna had not met Lord Krishna on the battlefield? Had not learned the secrets of Yoga? Instead of realizing his true dharma, Arjuna might have dissipated into despondency. Lord Krishna’s teaching was fresh conditioning of the highest order, giving Arjuna the awareness to act with divine intelligence. It lifted the veils shrouding his mind and gave him the conviction to fulfill his ultimate purpose. “Yoga is skill in action,” said Krishna. The cosmos aligned to bring Krishna to Arjuna, just as the cosmos opened Arjuna’s heart to listen. But the truth is—on this earth plane of duality—most do not realize their ultimate dharma. Their actual lived experience takes a partial or deviant course, with circumstances spinning karmic trails through untold lifetimes of experience. 

 

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Once I smuggled a curry leaf plant from India into Ireland. What an adventure through security that was! The little sapling was wrapped in plastic, its root ball covered with a damp cloth, and hidden in a well-wrapped jug. I surrounded the jug with dirty clothes and stuffed it into my carry-on along with many other random items. Security in Paris stopped me. They searched my carry-on. I was trembling with terror. They came SO close to that poor plant. After pulling umpteen bits and pieces out of my bag, the security woman discovered the jug at the bottom, wrapped with brown paper and bubble-wrap and criss-crossed with tape. “What is this?” she asked. “A jug,” I answered, giving as little information as possible. She felt it. Felt like a jug. And then miracle upon miracle, she let it go. She did not unwrap it. With my heart in my stomach, I moved on. Unbelievable. I had made it past the French border and into Europe. My curry plant, tucked stowaway in that cramped jug, was safe. It was on its way to Ireland.

It could have ended differently. The security woman might have unwrapped the jug, found the tiny plant and tossed it into the rubbish for sudden death. Instead, the plant made it to my conservatory, where unfortunately a long slow life of misery was awaiting it. Despite my best efforts, this tropical plant could not adapt to the Irish climate. To this day, it is not dead, a tribute to its stamina and tenacity. But it is a pathetic, truncated specimen, whose few leaves I can’t bear to harvest. 

Back in the garden center in India, this tiny 10-rupee plant was one amongst hundreds of similar plants for sale. Those that ended up in gardens in south India would become full-sized trees, vibrant with thick growth and shiny aromatic leaves. My poor curry leaf plant could have been such a tree! Instead, fate snatched it away from its natural habitat and its dharma unfolded quite differently. Obviously, the plant was passive in this, total victim to its bad luck in being chosen by me that fateful day.

But isn’t human life a different matter? We are not plants, after all. We can envisage, we can choose, we can make change. This is where the question about destiny gets very, very subtle. The answer is yes and no, depending how you look at it. In one sense, the answer is yes. Every action you take contributes to the direction of karma unfolding. Your action helps determine what happens next. It shapes a bit of destiny, even though so many factors outside “your” control enter in and alter its course.

Why did that security woman in Paris not unwrap my jug? What happened in her life that morning? What unrelated thoughts were running through her mind at the moment of the search? Might there have been something about my appearance or my stuff that triggered her action? I will never know. All possible scenarios explaining it belong to the making of fiction. But you can be sure it was something. On another day, in another mood, she might have scoured the carry-on.

“My” action of smuggling the plant in the first place set the stage for the whole scene. And though the outcome of that action was never in my control, the fact “I” initiated it contributed to the unfolding of destiny. So what was behind “my” decision to take that destiny-shaping action? Can we isolate a clearly circumscribed identity as starting point?  No—contrary to the most basic assumption that most people hold— in fact, we cannot. Each part of “me” and “my action” is actually a reaction—triggered by something that appears upon the screen of awareness and coloured by past experience. The karmic imprint acquired at birth responds to happenings from day one, generating fresh karma, which in turn generates fresh karma, over and over in perpetuity. Why did I want a curry leaf plant in the first place? (Something to do with a love of cooking and Indian food—a whole history of events behind that.) Why did I disregard the rules against importing plants? (Something to do with an independent nature and a habit of questioning authority.)

As Somerset Maugham says in Of Human Bondage, “The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I am a free agent. But when an action is performed, it is clear that all the forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it . . . ” Any attempt to isolate a separate identity will inevitably draw in something other. For the “me” (and the “you” of course) are parts of a singular web, where all action interconnects, where it is said that if you pull one string, you shake the universe.

So in another sense, the answer to the question about destiny is no.“You” do not create your destiny, because “you” are not a distinct entity initiating action. Individual action is a reaction to something that originated “outside”— often merely a spontaneous thought. And that outside trigger had ITS origin in something “outside” too. Ultimately “you” and “me” are fictions, provisional concepts superimposed upon a seamless fabric. And “inside” and “outside” are ALSO provisional concepts, the border between them arbitrary and illusory. However, it is precisely this hypnosis of autonomous will that makes the drama of ordinary life possible! This is what the teaching of Maya is all about. And participating in the hypnosis makes life flow. It’s what’s meant to be—though awareness of the phenomenon, even as it’s going on, is profoundly liberating. 
 

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The cosmic joke is that no matter how you answer the question about free-will and destiny, action continues to happen through you, and you never know what’s coming next. Even if you have one foot in the timelessness of Ultimate Reality, the other foot remains in the flow of time, where something is ALWAYS happening. You feel your hand on the helm, but it’s a mirage. Shiva animates every gesture of Shakti’s dance so totally that even the tiniest flick of a toe believes itself a sovereign dancer. Contrary to what many might think, this understanding does not imply fatalism. It absolutely does not preclude each individual making the best effort possible in every situation that presents. Individual effort matters, and the reason is actually very simple. It’s the essence of Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna. In following his dharma—that is, in acting purposefully according to his cognizance—Arjuna serves as Krishna’s instrument on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, on the battlefield of life. 

Each individual is a vessel with a purpose to fulfill. Each belongs to a greater destiny evolving through time. The vessel provides substance, but its intelligence—the momentum or energy enlivening it—is Pure Consciousness. It’s Krishna or Shiva or God. Only through the infinitely diverse vessels of creation can Consciousness manifest. The vessels are instruments that Consciousness inspirits, generating the music they are designed to dance.  As the Gita explains, one cannot NOT act. The energy of the organism must, by its very nature, do something. It does so according to its inherent characteristics—a design shaped by karma, genes, and conditioning.  A design mirrored in the sacred geometry of the stars. 

Now that I see clients for readings, Yoga and Jyotish have integrated for me into that two-sided coin. Celestial knowledge is sublime. It reveals subtle energies that govern the mystery of time. For a Jyotishi, it is sadhana, a dimension of the mystical powers that Patanjali delineates in the Vibhuti Pada of the Yoga Sutras. Samyama (complete meditative absorption) upon the Sun, Moon and Polar Star reveals the subtle fabric of the heavens and its reflection upon earth. Insight into how heavenly laws preside over life serves as fresh conditioning for those fortunate enough to receive it. As all new knowledge, it impacts what an individual does next. I am in essence a teacher. Communicating with inspiration and sensitivity what I see—in language a client grasps—is my duty and challenge. What they do with it is up to them and God. 

Jyotish refined but left unchanged what I said before to students who wanted advice. It still goes something like this. . . .  Everything you understand comes from whatever you have experienced up to this point. Your karma unfolding through time IS as it should be. Trust it. My only advice to you is this . . . . Examine everything with the inner eye of wisdom. Ponder it as deeply as you feel called to. Ask questions—of me or other teachers, respecting the wisdom of tradition as it has passed down to us. But turn inwards and breathe deeply. Listen to the voice of Truth, the voice of Pure Spirit speaking to your heart. . . . Then finally . . . do whatever you want! The action you take allows life to flow. It’s Divine Intelligence guiding you and so can never be “wrong”. God needs you to participate. That is why He incarnates as the Nine Grahas and endows you with desire—as unique to you as a fingerprint.