For many people it may seem strange that as a Buddhist priest I would work with astrology, because astrology is often condemned as irrational and mere superstitious nonsense, whereas Buddhism is a highly respected philosophy and religious institution based firmly on sound rational principles. Certainly in other religions, such as mainstream institutional Christianity, it would be considered heretical for a priest or minister to work with astrology. However, although there also some conservative Buddhist priests in Japan who view astrology with scepticism, my own venerable teachers have embraced astrology as useful tool in helping people to overcome their suffering and to live a life free from fear and anxiety. Their use of astrology is in no way a departure from their roles as Buddhist priests, or as some kind of side practice outside of their normal Buddhist practices; in fact, astrology sits very comfortably within Buddhist doctrine and practice.
Most important is the idea of upaya, meaning “expedient means” or “effective way”, which is a concept that is central to my role as a Buddhist priest: it comes from the Way of the Bodhisattva, whereby a teacher must find the right “language” with which to teach the way out of suffering and into awakening. “Language” in this sense means using a system of signs and words and practices that a fellow pilgrim will be able to understand and apply to their own lives. That is, what if you came to see me at Wabi’an to talk about your spiritual path, using English as our language of communication, and then I answered you in Japanese? Even if what I had to share might really help you on your path, speaking to you in a language you couldn’t understand would be a worthless and unskilful reply. There needs to be a translation for us to be able to communicate and be on the same page. My work as a Buddhist priest, committed to passing on the wisdom of my teachers to you, requires finding the right tools, the right translation ‘software’ to share this important knowledge. So astrology can be seen as a particular kind of “language” that can be used as an effective tool in offering the keys to enlightenment. It is upaya in action.
Furthermore, in Esoteric Buddhism, everything in the cosmos is seen as a manifestation of enlightenment and whatever aspect of the cosmos a person chooses to venerate or as a focus of their meditation reflects qualities and energies within themselves. For example, venerating Kuan Yin as the deity of compassion and love, is honouring our own capacity for compassion and love that we want to draw into our own lives to help guide us towards enlightened happiness. So in focussing our spiritual attention on the stars, from whose stardust we are literally composed, we are bringing that cosmic energy into our own consciousness in order to expand our awareness out beyond this tiny object called “me,” into a recognition of our connectedness with all the universe. Every single object and element in the cosmos is an embodiment of Buddha, the awakened mind.
Actually, there are many many Buddhist sutras (sacred texts) that include astrological data about how to find the most auspicious days for performing spiritual and religious activities. This aspect of astrology is very important in Tibetan Buddhism especially, which has a very complex astrological component. Also, one of the defining characteristics of a Buddha, an enlightened being, is to be able to suspend time and to see the past and future lives of others. There are many Buddhist stories and legends that incorporate seeing into future lives as a way of explaining karma; that is, how your present actions will have future consequences. So the idea of divination generally is quite deeply embedded into traditional Buddhism, but because this doesn’t quite fit with the Western rational, pragmatic leanings found in Western Buddhism, these stories are not seen in English-language accounts of Buddhism. I have noticed that many writers in English about Buddhism avoid anything that might sound irrational or not in keeping with our practical rational Western way of thinking 😉
So, for me, regardless of arguments about the ‘truth’ of astrology, I find it fascinating to work with and also deeply respect the wisdom of those sages who compiled these methods over many hundreds of years during a time when humans were generally much more in tune with the energetic physiology of the cosmos and in harmony with nature. I want to help you to find that harmony in your own life, so I incorporate astrology into my own practice and in personal consultations. I hope you too find some resonant symbols in Buddhist Astrology.