Myths and Symbols
of Vedic Astrology
by Bepin Behari
by Bruce Davis
Jyotisika, Bepin Behari
2/8/1925, 11:25 am
Chapra, Bihar, India
Bepin Behari wrote at least eight books on Vedic astrology that have inspired countless readers, beginning with a volume titled Introduction to Esoteric Astrology in 1975. Some of his books doubtless have a prominent place in the libraries of many Vedic astrologers. Though these books were written some time ago, several have maintained their importance as Jyotish reference texts. His book Myths and Symbols of Vedic Astrology, published first in 1990, offered ground-breaking revelations regarding ancient Vedic myth and symbol, which greatly influenced astrology practitioners both East and West. Because this book is likely to maintain its value as a classic in the study of Jyotish, we have decided to bring it back to the awareness of the CVA community. Myths and Symbols should not be among the great Jyotish texts that gather dust on our shelves over the years, but rather should be a ready resource in the explication of meaning in our study and practice.
Vedic astrologers depend on the insights of certain adept investigators whose wisdom, scholarship and intuition bring forward the deeper knowledge of the Vedas and Vedangas that informs our work. In this sense we would be right to revere Bepin Behari as a “modern seer.” His life-long relationship with Vedic astrology, his research into Vedic sources, and his profound intuitive nature provide us with a unique window into illuminating Vedic myths and symbols. His gift is to reveal what is hidden and to make practical what might otherwise remain inaccessible. In this, he draws more from intuition than rational analysis alone.
Born and raised in a family that nourished him from an early age in Vedic astrological knowledge and tradition, he studied economics at Patna and London universities, and he served as a professional economist, in India and then in the European Economic Community in Brussels. Indeed, several of his successful books deal with matters pertaining to his role as an economist. He was an important contributor to the development of Western interest in Vedic astrology, especially with the leadership of the Council on Vedic Astrology (CVA) in the days of its formation in the early 1990’s.
Bepin Behari’s contribution to modern Jyotish with Myths and Symbols has helped his readers comprehend the deeper meanings of the Zodiacal signs, the Nakshatras, and the relationship between them. Twelve years later he wrote a companion volume, published in India in 2002, that he intended as a sequel to Myths and Symbols. That second book is titled Revelations of Zodiacal Signs and Lunar Mansions—A Sequel to Myths and Symbols of Vedic Astrology. For various reasons, especially facing difficulties with publication rights, this latter book has not found the wide readership among astrologers that its predecessor enjoyed. By 1997 Behari was already offering lectures that anticipated the second book, even reading from manuscript pages that would be part of the new publication four years later. In his speaking during the late 1990’s, he underscored the importance of this second book, though not yet published, as an indispensable addition to Myths and Symbols. In particular, he felt that the second book brought the whole study of Vedic myth and symbol to bear on the subtle processes of the involution and evolution of human consciousness.
He spoke on this subject in a CVA conference intensive in 1997 (Fifth International Conference of the CVA in San Diego), which was followed by a two-day seminar in Seattle in October of 1997 (titled “Mastering the Nakshatras”). I had the opportunity to study a recording of the Seattle seminar in some depth for my analysis of Behari, and its content closely follows Behari’s second book, Revelations. In the seminar Behari indicated that the second book is key to understanding the full explication of his thesis, deserving his use of the word “sequel” in the title.
In spite of their similarity in fundamental content, the two volumes make uniquely different contributions. In both cases he indicates that the books depend on his research into less-common Vedic sources, and his bringing to light the power and beauty of the Nakshatras appears to be especially innovative. The reader can find thorough descriptions of Zodiacal signs, Lunar Mansions, and the symbols that relate to them in both books. What sets Myths and Symbols apart from its sequel is an in-depth analysis of symbology that lays the groundwork for an approach to understanding myth and symbol. He creates a context for how readers might approach the interpretation of the many stories, symbols and mythic figures that they will encounter as the book unfolds. Setting this strong context and process for the study of these myths and symbols, Behari creates a solid foundation for a philosophical, even theosophical, interpretation of Zodiacal signs and (especially) Nakshatras.
The sequel does not repeat this valuable introductory material, but establishes a second context in which the signs and Nakshatras operate. What especially distinguishes the sequel from its predecessor is an in-depth and subtly rendered description of the unfolding of consciousness—both in the growth of individuated human awareness from ignorance to full Self-realization and in the cosmic evolution through a cyclical progression from one creation to the next.
The organization of the two volumes reflects the author’s differing intentions. In the original book we find each of the twelve the Zodiacal signs explored in detail, and then we find the twenty-seven Nakshatras similarly investigated in detail. This approach puts the primary attention on the characteristics of each sign and each Nakshatra. The sequel, on the other hand, is organized in a sequential fashion that emphasizes the evolutionary relationship of each sign to the next and the relationship of each Nakshatra to the next. He offers this progressive cycle through the Zodiac and the Nakshatras in light of the three Gunas: from Rajasic to Tamasic and finally to Sattvic. The emphasis therefore in the sequel is the growth in human character and consciousness that takes place in the cycle of involution and evolution, and he leads the reader to a global view of the development of human consciousness from the nearly insensible beginning at zero degrees of Ashwini through the fullness of Self-realization as infinite consciousness at the close of Revati.
Thus, for Behari, these two books can best be taken together as a unified whole. If readers wish to explore the myths and symbols pertaining to a particular Zodiacal sign or Nakshatra, they will find helpful information in both volumes. That said, each of the volumes deserves independent study to flesh out its own particular themes and context. Because the two books work well together, while still being relevant independently, CVA Journal has decided to offer reviews of both. In this winter-spring issue of the Journal we will take a close look into Myths and Symbols of Vedic Astrology. In the autumn-winter issue we will report on Revelations of Zodiacal Signs and Lunar Mansions.
Because of the intensity of Behari’s work, I recommend another resource that was useful in my study of Behari, Dr. Dennis Harness’ book, The Nakshatras: Lunar Mansions of Vedic Astrology. In his Prologue to his Revelations of Zodiacal Signs and Lunar Mansions, Behari lauds Harness’ work as “a brilliant introduction to Lunar Mansions.” The simplicity and practicality of the Harness book helped me to maintain focus and clarity in the midst of the complexity of Behari’s explorations, because his content and his writing style are both complex and intense. Behari published his second book after the Harness book was published (1999) to respond to the rising interest in Nakshatras among Vedic astrologers, especially in the West. Dr. Harness’ book was published initially as serialized articles in the CVA Journal prior to their collection in the 1999 publication.
Behari’s Study of Symbology
Of course the most immediate use of Myths and Symbols for the student of astrology derives from Behari’s rich exposition of the mythic figures and narratives as they relate to the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the twenty-seven Nakshatras. Behari provides insight and meaning without oversimplification; indeed the complexity that he offers can at times be daunting. He tells the sacred stories in a vibrant way, drawing the human and deific characters of the traditional dramas as living entities. He depicts the roles and deeds of the Navagraha (nine Vedic planets) as they impart their qualities and their narratives into the Zodiacal signs and Nakshatras where they are active. His work results in vivid images, which provide the student of astrology with a greater depth and complexity of chart interpretation and client consultation than the usual list of attributes.
I remember memorizing a half dozen characteristics for each sign, planet and Nakshatra when I was first studying Jyotish, and honestly this is a practical approach because it helps me in the moment of a reading with a client. It is quite another thing to follow Behari’s intuitive lead into the symbols and stories themselves. Behari is not so much concerned about offering practical techniques of chart interpretation as he is in grounding the reader in the living content that he has drawn from the Vedic tradition itself. He is less interested in predicting the events of a client’s life in Myths and Symbols than he is in demonstrating how profound mythic figures, Vedic narratives and ancient symbols reveal themselves in the lives of our astrology clients. In this he shows himself to be more a student of “humanistic astrology” than “predictive astrology.” His intention appears to be close to the central precept of Vedic Counseling, to facilitate and guide our clients toward their own personal and spiritual growth. (see book review: The Art and Science of Vedic Counseling, Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, February 2022)
As readers begin to drop in to the mythic dimension for each Rashi and Nakshatra, they will encounter narratives that are familiar to them in their study of Vedic astrology. However, with the wide range of material, they are as likely to meet characters and situations that are new to them. We will consider a few of these myths to get a sense of his approach, and how he uses them to tell a deeper story.
The Nakshatra of Mrigashira brings an oft-told narrative that is familiar to many students of Jyotish. The actions of three so-termed “benefic” Grahas and the wife of one of them have consequences, leading to chronic complications in their relationships thereafter. Behari indicates that this story relates to Mrigashira because it is about new beginnings and the movement toward materialization, qualities that directly relate to this asterism. Behari notes that the name Tara, wife of the Moon, itself means a “star.”
Soma, the Moon, found himself attracted to Tara [Jupiter’s wife] and under the pretext of getting Jupiter to begin his religious rituals earlier than the scheduled time, got Jupiter to leave his house. Then Soma went to Jupiter’s house, eloped with Tara, and seduced her. Not finding Tara at home on his return, Jupiter went out and searched for her. When he found her with Soma, he demanded her return. Soma refused to give her back and Tara was reluctant to return. When the gods intervened, the Moon was persuaded to return Tara to her rightful husband. But Tara, pregnant from her relationship with the Moon, would not disclose the identity of the father. However, even when the Moon became known as the real father of the child, Mercury or Budha, the child was so charming that Jupiter agreed to be a father to him. (Myths and Symbols, p. 185)
A symbolic story like this can have meaning on many levels, and we can interpret the characteristics of the actors in the drama in several ways. Some astrologers reflect on this story as an explanation for the complex friend/enemy relationships among Jupiter, Moon and Mercury. Being symbolic, the reader may see many other possible interpretations, as well. For example, is Jupiter the “good guy” who adopts Mercury as his own? Or is his behavior actually indicative of Jupiter’s more debilitated behavior, where selfish acquisition and expansive arrogance set the stage for his adopted son’s enmity thereafter? We will look more closely for the reason that symbolic understanding generates multiple meanings, and we will find that Behari is not looking for either-or answers. Each of several meanings can be part of the complex truth of these Vedic myths, even, paradoxically, contrary viewpoints.
Regarding the association of the story with Mrigashira, Behari offers the following interpretation.
What is important to note is the nature of the impulses which bring about the change. The wife undergoes an inner change from contact with a lower kind of person that creates a situation for the more religious husband to live in a better manner. The spirit in man, which in its original purity cannot effectively mix with the materialization process, is to some extent defiled under Mrigashira so that the further evolutionary process can be carried out. The dawn of Buddhi, intelligence personified by Mercury, is an important stage in the spiritual evolution of man. This asterism stands for all that a curious, sensitive and outward directed intelligence is capable of. (Myths and Symbols, p. 185)
In addition to mythic narrative, Behari explores at depth the symbols related to the Zodiac and the Nakshatras. Again, a single symbol invites multiple meanings in Behari’s explication of them. Looking at the Nakshatra of Hasta, the symbol of the hand is incorporated into the name of the asterism itself. Referring especially to the palm of the hand, Behari suggests that at one level it stands for the life of the individual itself, as according to Vedic thought and practice the lines of the hand demarcate the destiny of the individual. A further level of interpretation relates to the role of the Nakshatra in the growth of man, according to Behari: “The hand stands for prowess or the capacity which enables the individual to withstand confrontation.” (Myths and Symbols, p. 208)
Behari sees particular importance in the number four with Hasta, which relates to the four fingers of the hand.
The four fingers stand for the four primary motivating forces of Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha…. They also refer to the four divisions of the cosmos which in Sanskrit are Annamaya Kosha, Pranamayakosha, Manomaya Kosha and Vijnanmaya Kosha, the sheaths or layers respectively of matter, life, mind and intelligence. These four kinds of impulses or four levels of existence, can be of Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic in nature. Together they stand for all the latent forces in the human individual as well as the cosmos. The twelve signs of the zodiac as the twelve digits of the fingers of the hand, are all contained in this asterism in which their cosmic impulses become fully differentiated. (Myths and Symbols, p. 209)
Behari’s description of Libra (Tula) shows how he relies on both graphic symbology and divine figures to bring a deeper understanding of a Zodiacal sign. In the course of his discussion throughout the book he explores glyphs and diagrams that show how the forms themselves powerfully express meaning and purpose. Tula is the balancing point in the cycle of creation where the involution of spirit into materialization meets the evolution of that materialization into spirit. Thus Tula means scale, a balancing point. “Tauli” in Sanskrit is one who weighs.
The Libra diagram is a double horizontal line, the upper line having a semi-circular bulge in the middle. …The horizontal line describes the negative or Prakriti aspect of manifestation. The lower line shows complete submergence in matter…. The upper line with the spiritual bulge gives a balance to this line. It is the outflow of the Ganges from the locks of the Lord Shiva and represents the spiritual urge. The upper line symbolizes the volcanic fire inside the being. (Myths and Symbols, p. 145)
This deeper interpretation of the graphic symbol for Behari correlates precisely with that balance of involution and evolution of spirit, of Prakriti as materialization and of Purusha as pure consciousness. Libra is that beginning moment when an urge toward a deeper spiritual value is surfacing.
The other symbolic depiction that Behari offers to explore the deeper meaning of Libra is the divine figure of Shiva as the young, dancing Nataraj, again emphasizing balance.
Those who have seen Indian dance note that the dancers must often balance themselves in difficult positions. The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva as Nataraja and the yin-yang symbol of Chinese philosophy display this delicate balance. The legend around the dance of Shiva is very profound. In this dance stance (mudra), Shiva, with flames raging all around his body, puts his feet on the goddess (Devi) who represents the passive cosmic energy, and becomes completely still, as if stunned, though inwardly remaining highly alert…. As a symbol for Libra, Nataraja denotes the complete submerging of the divine essence in matter. (Myths and Symbols, p. 143-144)
The role of the Nakshatra of Jyestha, according to Behari, is “…to guide the individual to his spiritual evolution.” There has to occur radical transformation at this stage of the soul’s pilgrimage. Jyestha provides the protection and nurture that allows for the step from the fullness of materiality to the embryonic spiritual impulse of Mula.
Jyeshta means the eldest sister, the middle finger, or the holy river Ganges. A sense of reverence is connected with it. The association of the eldest sister…and the river Ganges, which is also regarded as the holy mother, suggest that this asterism functions like a female guardian angel protecting and guiding the development of its earthly children. (Myths and Symbols, p. 223)
The symbols within this asterism, according to Behari, correlate with the Kundalini force and its momentum toward the soul’s evolution.
These symbols—the disc of Indra, the earrings on the earlobes of Divine kings and the protection given by umbrellas for the elite—yogically stand for the Serpent fire, which is said to resemble them. This Kundalini Shakti, the secret (female or negative) energy coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine, when rightly energized gives control over the subtle forces of nature. In order to unfold it in the right way, the individual is required to master his lower nature and go beyond attachment to the outer world. (Myths and Symbols, p. 224)
We could continue a step-by-step exploration of myths and symbols with Mr. Behari. With twelve Rashis and twenty-seven Nakshatras there’s a lot to consider in the light of his intuitive knowledge. That is, in fact, his intention, that we join him in this study of meaning—predominantly through the use of our own intuition and with our readiness to incorporate a multitude of potential meanings. Rather than explore more of the signs and Nakshatras as we have begun above (ongoing work grounded in joy that I invite students of astrology to embrace on their own) I wish to bring the reader’s attention to Behari’s contextual frame for the analysis of myth and symbol, which is one of the great gifts of this book. Behari begins the book considering just how symbols and myths operate in the deeper understanding of Vedic knowledge. His process of inquiry itself reveals a great deal about what he hopes to find in the deeper significance of Vedic myths and symbols, and he makes clear what he means by “deeper” understanding.
Behari’s Philosophy and Theosophy
It is important for the reader of Myths and Symbols to be aware of Behari’s philosophical and theological perspective because for him the stories he tells and symbols he shares are meant to be understood in the deeper spiritual context. Dr. David Frawley, the editor of the first book, describes Behari’s work in this way in his “Editor’s Forward”:
He is most recognized for his spiritual and esoteric view of astrology, in which he uses both Vedic and Theosophical approaches….. Behari is one of the few modern astrologers in India who concentrates on the spiritual meaning in chart interpretation rather than the more mundane and predictive side. As such he preserves much of the deeper and older wisdom tradition. (Myths and Symbols, p. 10)
I believe we are fortunate to have the benefit of Dr. Frawley’s edits in this first book. At many points in the book, and especially early on, Behari endeavors to describe how myth and symbol reveal spiritual truth in complex ways. This is intense reading. I found myself re-reading sections dealing with occult knowledge and theosophical principles to better understand Behari’s intent. As editor of the book Dr. Frawley has added significantly to the clarity and the organization of this material. I also appreciate the orientation Frawley offers to the book and its purpose in his “Editor’s Forward.”
According to Behari, the role of Vedic Astrology for its students is potentially quite profound, for it can guide them to a clearer conception of themselves both as individuated persons and as essential parts of an infinite, cosmic whole. Yet he indicates that the path to comprehending the deeper meanings intended in Jyotish is not easy. In an era when students of all fields depend on science and reason for their advancement, the tools required for astrological understanding can seem ambiguous and unclear. Lacking empirical authority, they can at times appear to lack the kind of validity that is the measure of Scientism and Modernity in our time. How then can we know what the ancient seers are telling us? How can we comprehend the meaning of the traditional knowledge that informs the practice of Vedic astrology? Behari asserts that the study of Jyotish requires a unique sort of epistemology to penetrate the Vedic scriptures at the depth they were intended—at the depth required to understand and serve our clients with this profound practice. In his words:
The Vedic concept of life—the identity between the individual and the universe, the possibility of unlimited growth and expansion of human faculties—couched as it is in a difficult symbolism or abstract philosophy, transcends the understanding of most people. (p. 13, Myths and Symbols)
He asserts that delving into Vedic knowledge is a journey through and beyond superficial understanding of the Vedic symbolism into the apprehension of a deeper truth. “It [Vedic knowledge] attempts to pierce the veil of external images that permeate us, to reveal their inner reality. (p. 13, Myths and Symbols)
In the exploration of Vedic myths and symbols, Behari says that distinct patterns arise that shape and organize the study. The principle of “seven rays” is among these patterns.
The sevenfold principle in life—represented by the seven planets, the seven ancient seers and the seven sheaths of the human soul—offers such a pattern. It indicates that there are seven main categories of souls evolving along different paths. Each of them will have a radically different approach to the problems of life. (p. 13, Myths and Symbols)
He indicates that humankind is at a point in its evolution, wherein greater truths may be discovered than what we now know as truth. Much is hidden that can be revealed only by adopting different tools of discernment. Though science and rational thought have pushed back the horizon of what is known, Behari senses that there is much more to know. Yet, he feels that this is not work that can be accomplished by the genius and spoon-fed to the interested seeker—finding truth is each person’s work.
Modern man can confidently assert that behind the reality perceived by his sense organs are many layers of concealed laws and mysteries. He is now recognizing the vast depths of his own consciousness and the mysteries surrounding the brain and mind….Because each individual is unique, the real integration of the knowledge of man and the universe must be done by each individual himself…. The present study hopes to assist the individual searching for truths concerning himself and the universe. (p. 14, Myths and Symbols)
It is Behari’s contention that through the Vedic symbols, seekers can discover their own nature as well as that of the universe. In deeper knowledge of the “macrocosm” students will discover cosmic movements that replicate their own inner life. As above, so below. He suggests that deep contemplation of the symbolic and mythic can “…enable the individual to directly experience the inner and deeper forces working within his psyche.” (p. 14, Myths and Symbols) He mentions Carl Jung in this context and aligns with Jung’s work with myth and symbol in what he calls the unconscious mind and the collective unconsciousness.
For me it has been a contemplative process during these several weeks to understand better what Behari is referring to as a “symbol” and “piercing the veil” to find its truth. Often “symbol” can be understood as a sign, indicative of a meaning—such as, the red octagon we encounter at intersections. Even in the world of science an element may be symbolized as Au (gold) or the unit of electrical resistance, the Ohm, may be symbolized by the Greek letter “Ω.” This is a relatively superficial use of the word, and not, I believe what Behari is pointing to. More deeply a “symbol“ may be understood as a metaphor—my love is a rose, including the thorns. Even at this level there are multiple meanings possible, though Behari is still indicating a deeper level than this. In astrology we might say that the sign of Aries is like the Ram who is always charging around here and there, or that Taurus is like the bull, stable and stubborn. This is symbol used as a “likeness,” which is deeper than just a simple sign, but even this is shallower than what Behari intends. What I believe he is getting at regarding the deeper role of myth and symbols in Jyotish is part of a profound spiritual relationship.
Earlier, considering the symbol of the hand as an expression of what the Nakshatra Hasta represents, the hand is not only a “likeness” of Hasta. Its characteristics match the deeper meaning of the role Hasta plays in an individual’s growth to full potential. The lines of the hand are one with the destiny of the person. Similarly the dance of Shiva, coming to stillness with one foot upon Devi, is not a “likeness” of Libra’s balance between the involution of spirit into materiality and the evolution of materiality into spirit, it is a divine moment of that balance.
The theologian, Sandra Schneiders (The Revelatory Text, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1999) writes of symbols as a key element of spiritual communication and direct spiritual experience. The symbol is a form, personage or narrative that not only points to a sacred reality but that actively participates in that reality, as well. She uses the language “revelatory text” in her title because the deeper value of any symbol is a revealed experience of truth. With her patently Christian orientation she uses the cross as a powerful example of a symbol. Superficially it is a sign on a church or a metaphor for life’s travails, as in “bearing a cross.” But for her the deeper meaning of a symbol shows itself as the person of faith actively deepens in relationship with Christ and God. Behari himself refers to the cross as an essential symbol, though for him it participates in a different sacred reality then it does for Schneiders. (Myths and Symbols, p. 25)
In Vedic terms we can speak in such a way about the form of the “OMM” symbol. On a surface level it is a sign with four parts, each corresponding to the four primary conditions of consciousness: deep sleep, dreaming sleep, waking, and transcendence (Turiya). But the symbol takes on its full sacred value when it not only points to but participates in the experience of those states of awareness in the sadhana of a devout seeker. Perhaps the deepest meaning of the OMM form is not verbal but direct transcendent experience of pure consciousness in that state of Turiya. In their full depth, symbols like the Christian cross or the Vedic OMM are “living symbols.” It is my sense that Bepin Behari hopes with this text to invite his readers to such significance and power in their use of myths and symbols in their practice of Vedic astrology.
An analogy comes to mind here. If I consider a relationship with another person in light of this understanding of symbol, I realize I can refer to them at each of the levels, from a surface level to the truth of depth. I may know that person’s name, I may know their personality, and I may even know how they function in the world. But all of this is relatively superficial. When I know a person at depth I am aware of their deeper thinking and their inner feeling nature. I may even sense the presence, the Self of pure awareness, which opens into a unity of relationship between us. The distinct duality of subject and object begins to fade into a subject-subject relationship. When we encounter personages, deific or human, in the Vedic stories, we may receive them more superficially or more relationally—as if they are living parts of ourselves and our clients. One may find a shift in one’s orientation to a planet, for example, not only in terms of what the influence of that planet might be in a particular chart or situation, but also who is bringing that influence, and why.
I’m remembering a talk by Dr. David Frawley several years ago at a peaceful retreat center on the Ganges north of Rishikesh, in which he described the potential of the relationship we might develop with Vedic myth and symbol. He referred particularly to the planets (Graha) of Vedic astrology. His assertion was that the depth of our cognition as Vedic students and our consequent effectiveness in the practice of Jyotish depended on a profound relationship with the nine planets (Navagraha). As a relationship with the Navagraha deepens, in a sense of connection and a growing quality of devotion, then only do we begin to understand the power of planetary presence in our lives and in the lives of our clients. The sadhana of a student of Vedic astrology might well include practices of reverence and veneration to the Navagraha. Some years ago I set up a table in my study, covered by a large diagram of the South Indian chart. On it I placed Murti (sacred figurines) of the nine planets, and with it I have kept a “living” image of the movement of the planets through the signs and Nakshatras, as they progress and retrogress in the heavens.
I believe that Dr. Frawley was referring to the depth of relational symbol in a way similar to Bepin Behari’s intention with his use of the words “myth” and “symbol.” Speaking of planets and signs, for example, Behari states:
[The ancient seers] did not consider the planets and the signs to be unconscious material forces; they saw them as highly sensitive, powerfully charged entities, almost divine in their existence. In discussing the significance of these celestial bodies, the Vedic seers were mainly concerned about the deities working through them. (p. 16, Myths and Symbols)
One of the Vedic stories that Behari refers to many times in the course of his book is the churning of the oceans by the gods and demons. There are thirteen references to this story in the book, which indicates the importance he gives to this origin story of the beginning of creation. He employs the story especially to demonstrate how myths and symbols themselves unleash both positive and negative forces. Out of the interaction of these forces arises creativity and evolution, but not without some turmoil. We are mindful of the dialectic process of Hegel, where new states of being can only arise in the conflict and eventual resolution between a thesis and the antithesis that rises to confront it.
This churning process produced various precious items, including an immortality-giving nectar and a death-inflicting poison. Such an apparently strange allegory represents a universal phenomenon occurring at each stage of manifestation…. In it one receives both the nectar as well as the poison. One cannot choose one and discard the other…. It represents the duality or opposition in everyday life which is necessary for the unfoldment of one’s inner faculties, for the emergence of real unity. It is only the constant churning of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, gain and loss, success and failure, that causes us to look beyond this transient world to an enduring and non-dualistic reality. (p.15, Myths and Symbols)
“At each stage of cosmic and human unfoldment, the current established state must be disturbed to allow for further growth. Great turmoil must ensue before a new equilibrium is attained at a higher state.” (p. 15, Myths and Symbols)
One of Behari’s contentions is that symbols themselves mean more than one thing at a time, creating some possibility for this dialectic of evolution. The same deific figure, the same narrative, the same symbolic form, will be interpreted at the level of consciousness of the observer—perception itself being shaped by the level of consciousness. From the beginning of the book Behari invites the student of astrology to delve into deeper awareness and consequently greater truth in the interpretation of symbols. The intuition of the student opens as the awareness opens, according to Behari. One of the great modern teachers of Vedic astrology, associated closely with the CVA for many years, was Chakrapani Ullal, who taught that through the deepening of astrological perception and with many years of experience the practicing astrologer might develop the Siddhi of knowing the truth of the chart’s symbolic expression, as well as directly knowing clients and their needs. This I think is the level of discerning truth through symbol that Behari is getting at.
Deepening the Practice
For Behari Vedic astrology is an occult field of knowledge, and an esoteric process of study is required to begin to apprehend it. He states that the process is beyond simple book-learning, and even beyond the very styles of learning that are dominant in our time. For him the increasing intuitive familiarity with myth and symbol is a key to this deeper understanding of astrology.
Vedic astrology reveals the essential core of astrological impulses. This knowledge can either be imparted by a teacher directly, or described in terms of symbols, allegories and mythologies so that generations to come can comprehend. In the latter case, the deep understanding of the basic astrological principles is only possible by correctly understanding these indirect teachings. (p. 16, Myths and Symbols)
Especially in his description of the Nakshatras, Behari feels he is breaking new ground. His intention is to present the lunar mansions in a way that elucidates subtle laws of individual and cosmic evolution.
A special feature of this study which has not been available elsewhere is a delineation of the impact of the Nakshatras…. Vedic astrology lays great emphasis on them—they have tremendous importance in predictive astrology and the determination of planetary periods is done according to them—yet there is very little information about them. Based on mythologies and philosophies not directly related to astrology, an attempt is made here to give a systematic account of them. …It reveals many interesting features of the cosmic evolutionary process. (p. 16, Myths and Symbols)
Behari goes to some lengths to illuminate the process that is needed to become an authentic student or practitioner of this work. It is a process that may feel at times paradoxical.
The logic of the outer mind cannot uncover the subtle relationship that exists between the stars and events on earth. Yet it is clear that astrological symbols were originally chosen with great care. They were selected to conceal as well as to reveal our relationship with the universe. The ancient seers perceived that the cosmos is not a mere material formation but an expression of the spirit which is its very life and soul. All created things draw their strength, vitality and direction from the indwelling consciousness. In fact, the spirit is the real power in all things. (p. 21, Myths and Symbols)
Behari goes on to explain that what students, or even experts, can know is based on their own level of consciousness and the sensitivity of their perception. When students attempt to learn the deeper and symbolic aspects of Jyotish, it is natural that they find it confusing and difficult to comprehend. For even the most committed and enduring student a growth in consciousness and a refinement of perception are essential to “pierce the veil” (Behari’s words) of truth and meaning. Ongoing study must mean more than learning more astrology facts and Jyotish techniques on a horizontal level but must include intentional self-study to delve into one’s own personal nature and spiritual potential. For this, a deep relationship with and dedication to Vedic astrology is essential. From Behari:
An inner preparation is required to receive the higher knowledge…. When a student reaches a certain level of awareness, he is entrusted with the keys to unravel the meanings of these symbols. Thus the same symbols reveal different levels of meanings to different grades of aspirants. They are capable of unveiling nature’s secret forces and at the same time they obscure this knowledge if the right preparation has not been made. (p. 21, Myths and Symbols)
The author holds that this is personal and spiritual work. There are great teachers of Jyotish, both in the Vedic lineage and in modern times, but students cannot achieve the depth of understanding by being spoon-fed.
Deeper realities, which can only be comprehended with intuition, insight and awareness, elude superficial students. To the great spiritual teachers, written language and the spoken word are merely suggestive. The effective exploration has to be undertaken by students themselves within their own minds. (p. 22, Myths and Symbols)
Behari completes his contextual discussion of growing into comprehension of Vedic myth and symbol by emphasizing the necessary connection between the Vedic seeker/student and the natural world. For Behari, many who currently study the art and science of Jyotish do not have the kind of connection with or devotion to nature at the required deeper level.
In ancient times the knowledge was only revealed to students who had the intention to harness nature’s secret powers for the good of all. The studies were undertaken as part of an integral approach to the problems of everyday life. There was no scope for personal aggrandizement or the acquisition of knowledge for intellectual curiosity. Such study was a lifelong mission done by dedicated investigators of truth. It was inspired by a deep-rooted aspiration to become a conscious collaborator with Nature and the Divine. (p. 23, Myths and Symbols)
It is a tall order for a person in Western culture to match the comprehensive process and dedication of the ancients. Yet, it is Behari’s hope and intention with this book that the symbols and myths associated with the twelve Zodiacal signs and the twenty-seven Nakshatras will spark the interest, commitment and devotion that will lead progressively to the apprehension of truth in their lives as Vedic astrologers.
I am struck by the conjunction of real authority with honest humility in Behari’s communication. Perhaps it is the sign of a great human being that he doesn’t pretend to have an absolute grasp on truth. In the recording of the Seattle seminar I noticed how often he would reply to a question from a place of humble regard for the gathered colleagues. If he didn’t know about something he would simply and directly say that he didn’t. At times Behari would say to the questioner that perhaps he, Behari, had missed something, asking for their clarification. At many points he underlined the reality that he also was a continuing learner in this complex and subtle discipline.
The net feeling I have of Bepin Behari—when I put the book down and reflect—is that he is much less interested in the efficacy of astrological chart interpretation and much more interested in a committed, even devoted, relationship with the Vedic knowledge and the myths and symbols that express it. My sense is that Behari intends connection at a deep level: connection with the Vedic tradition, connection to the living symbols and narrative, connection with his readers, and connection to the wider nature/consciousness. From this grounded basis he invites us to develop our own deeper connections within ourselves, with Vedic myth and symbol, with our clients and ultimately with our spiritual potential
I don’t believe I’ll ever be “done” reading this book. Though the pages finally end, the knowledge does not. Though we run out of pages to turn, the depth it invites is un-ending. This may be part of the reason that Behari published his sequel, Revelations of Zodiacal Signs and Lunar Mansions, twelve years after Myths and Symbols came out. Through the signs, and especially through the Nakshatras, he demonstrates in Revelations that his own understanding of Vedic astrology has grown. Behari becomes clearer and more explicit in Revelations about a theme that is of utmost importance to him: the evolution of consciousness. How does pure consciousness give way to the seeds of creation? How does spirit become materialization? How does the fully manifest human come to realize the limits of his freedom? How then does the individuated soul rise to Self-realization? And how is this cycle a mirror of the same forces of involution and evolution at a cosmic level?
In the Autumn 2023 issue of CVA Journal we will take a closer look at Behari’s sequel, Revelations, to see what his subtle apprehension and symbolic intuition may reveal about this most profound dimension of our existence.