Over the last 100 years or so, developments in scientific theory have brought science much closer to Buddhist theory, but at the same time, a window has been opened to understanding astrology in a new light.
Einstein once said: ”The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion” and that : “if there is any religion that would respond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism.” (Note 1). This is probably because Buddhism does not believe in any kind of external God, or even in a general organizing principle or intention with the universe. The human need to ascribe meaning is based on an identification with an illusory sense of self, and the perception of the outer world as separate from consciousness is, according to Buddhism, based on false premises.
The static universe envisioned by Newton is gone. The Earth moves at a speed of 20 miles per second as it orbits the Sun, and is dragged by the Sun through the Milky Way at a speed of 140 miles a second. Everything is moving – from atoms, to planets, to galaxies; nothing stays the same for even an instant of time. The new scientific view of the universe is that everything is impermanent, and everything is change, just as Buddhism has always posited.
No event, no atom and no perception can be frozen in time – each event arises because of the previous perceived event, in what Buddhists call “dependent arising”. This constant change is what astrology measures so perfectly, as the Earth revolves on its axis, the Ascendant and Houses move forward, the planets spiral around the Sun, which spirals around the Milky Way, weaving never-to-be-repeated patterns, which each individual has their own unique attunement to.
Particles or Waves
What really changed things was the discovery by Niels Bohr, and other contemporary physicists, that the act of perception changes the nature of matter. This discovery arose from the famous experiment when a current of electrons was directed through a grid, and the more “observed” the process was, the more interference took place. When unobserved, electrons act as waves, when observed, they act as particles. This discovery of quantum physics showed that consciousness and matter are inextricably linked. Only perception makes things real for us, but when unperceived, events have no relevance or reality for us.
This makes focus extremely important. Our horoscopes show what we are inclined to focus on because of all the causes we have set in motion from our actions. The birth horoscope itself is a map of karmic imprints which we follow when we incarnate. Aspects in the horoscope are pure energy patterns, which are searching for channels to express themselves. Some of these will be harmonious, some will cause suffering. If we have Mercury conjoining Venus, for example, perhaps the presence of a loving sister made life sweet as a child. Subsequently we will make life sweet for others. On the other hand, if we have Mercury conjoining Saturn, perhaps an elder sibling or difficult schooling will have undermined our confidence, which can affect our attainments later in life. The mental inclination will be to follow the energy, which has been engraved by repetition and habit, continuing the same actions and getting the same results.
Fate and Free Will
The fact that consciousness and matter are interdependent is important in terms of how we interact with the world. Our thoughts, feelings and actions have an effect on everything around us. This makes motivation important. In any kind of human interaction, there is an interpersonal space where transformation takes place, and where we are capable of having a positive or negative affect. The more our personal projections affect this space, the poorer the interaction. The more loving attention is directed, the more harmonious the result. This unified field between the observer (our consciousness) and the observed (the object of consciousness) is a crossroads from where a multiplicity of routes can be taken, but where we are inclined to only take one route because of karma. Here lies free will, which is an omnipresent possibility dependent on the degree of consciousness at any given moment.
Buddhist philosophy says that all appearances are illusory, and that with sufficient clarity of mind, it is possible to gain awareness of the mental processes which get us to follow ingrained habits based on karma. These habits, reflected by planetary placements, create projections, which mold reality in one way or another based on our character. This reality is only an apparent reality, but it is the reality in which we live, love and suffer. Buddhist teachers who have pierced this veil speak of an immediate sense of limitless compassion, which automatically arises with the awareness of the struggle of living beings.
The Uncertainty Principle
Quantum physics not only shows that matter and consciousness are interdependent, it also shows that, whilst the laws of physics work up to a certain extent – enough to fly rockets to the moon and such – at some point the principle of uncertainty comes into play, and it becomes impossible to predict what will happen, because the conditions behind initial causes can never be fully known. This uncertainty principle has been popularized as chaos theory, which basically states that at a certain level of complexity, prediction is impossible. In the Newtonian world, where the universe was immutable and subject to specific laws, all futures could be predicted. This mindset affected science, but it also affected astrology, with a focus on fate and predictable outcomes.
In the universe according to quantum theory, there is a point at which no prediction is safe, which accurately reflects the experience of astrology. Astrologers can posit that a certain behavior will have certain results. For example, someone with Venus square Saturn may feel so inhibited that they never reach for the love they want, and therefore are unhappy in some relationships. So much is predictable. But when the myriads of factors are considered – Venus progressing into Libra and making a trine to Jupiter perhaps, or the birth of a child who takes the karmic load – who knows what can happen? It is impossible with astrology to make precise predictions about the future, just as it is with science, which is subject to chaos theory. But astrologers, like scientists, can still make working hypotheses.
Whilst quantum physics illustrates interdependence between consciousness and matter on a micro scale, other experiments show interdependence on a macro scale. In 1851 Léon Foucault hung a pendulum from the roof of the Pantheon in Paris, which, as time passed, changed the direction in which it was swinging. It was set to swing in a North/South direction but gradually this direction changed, and this was attributed to the orbit of the Earth. Foucault’s view was that the direction of the pendulum in fact never changed – it was the Earth that turned. Galileo said in the 16th century that “Motion was as nothing”. He realized that motion only existed in relation to something else. If you are in a moving train with blinds drawn, there is nothing to indicate that you are moving. The same is true of everything on the micro and macro scale. Foucault’s pendulum was not changing direction – it was the Earth that was moving. This perspective is the same as the astrological perspective, which places the individual at the center.
But it gets more interesting, because if you set the pendulum to swing in a star’s direction, it will continue pointing in that direction, until the star, imperceptibly, moves. If you set the pendulum to a distant galaxy, the galaxy also moves away in time. Only the most distant galaxies at the edge of the universe do not drift from the initial plane of the pendulum’s swing. The behavior of Foucault’s pendulum is therefore attuned, not to want happens in local space, but to what happens in the farthest reaches of the universe. As the scientist Trin Xuan Thian says:
“What occurs on our tiny planet depends on all of the universe’s structures.”
This is a force that no scientist has fully explained, but of course it has complete relevance for astrology and the idea that our individual consciousness’s are attuned to, and resonate with, the whole universe. (Note 2.)
Astrology works because the largest and smallest things in the universe are inextricably linked to each other, and an action in one sphere is reflected by an action in the other. The answers to the big questions in our minds about the nature of reality and personal destiny are cloaked by the way our individual selves grasp at events, which do not have intrinsic reality, but which are a succession of momentary perceptions which we string together as a linear movement through time.
Perception and Reality
Personal destiny seems to be real because we share the same perception with everyone around us, and we all agree about what we perceive. But these perceptions are completely dictated by our senses, which pick up signals which we then give meaning. What enters the eye we give color and form, and then meaning, by the activity of our brains. Likewise, the small vibrations felt by hairs in our inner ear are called sound, and our brain performs billions of connections a second to convert what we call sound into identifiable signals like speech. It’s a completely subjective process dictated by our biology, and unique to planet Earth. On other inhabited worlds, other ways of perceiving reality may be the norm. The sixteenth century philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition for suggesting that the universe was infinite with an infinite number of life-forms. Science has since proved, that the universe contains several hundred billion galaxies, each containing several hundred billion stars, and billions of these stars are likely to have inhabitable planets. The idea that we are alone in the universe has been untenable for quite some time.
As a young man at Cambridge University the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was taught science by the greatest minds of the time. By 1939, as an old man, he stated that many assumptions these great teachers were so sure of had had to be set aside:
“yet, in the face of that, the discoverers of new hypotheses in science are declaring “Now at last, we have certitude”.”
Anyone who has worked with astrology will have encountered this false certainty of science, and it is worth recalling that so much in science is still unexplained. Science cannot identify the force responsible for the movement of Foucault’s pendulum. In fact, science cannot identify 96% of unexplained matter and energy in the Universe, which calculations show must exist, but which cannot be measured. Dark matter and dark energy are one of the great unexplained mysteries in science today.
Astrology and science, and Buddhism and science can manage fine without each other, but there are benefits in their supplementing each other. They are used for different purposes, and in contrast to the qualitative benefits of astrology and Buddhism, science is a quantitative study. As a result, scientists continue to criticize astrology because it is so difficult to prove and so difficult to replicate. Often astrologers have to cope with foolish criticisms from scientists who should know better. Some scientists claim for example that the 12 signs have moved in relation to the stars (so you are not an Aries, for example, but a Pisces etc.), or that there are in fact 13 signs (consteallations), apparently unaware that western astrologers use the tropical zodiac which measures sunsigns according to the relationship between the Earth and Sun, not according to the stars.
To understand science, the nature of the atom, the theory of relativity etc. requires years of study, and this is also true about astrology, or Buddhism. Practitioners in any of these realms would have enormous difficulty explaining how they get the results they do – understanding is only possible if there is a long-term process of personal experimentation. Both science and astrology are evolving, and as intersubjectivity and relativity become an accepted view of reality, with all the uncertainty they bring, these two subjects are coming closer. Buddhist philosophy is a unifying principle. This is the science of how consciousness and reality are one and the same. This wisdom has been around for a long time, and both science and astrology benefit from it.
Adrian Ross Duncan
19th December 2017
1. Quoted from Thinley Norbu “Across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope”. (Jewel Publishing House 1997)*
2. I am indebted to the authors Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan whose book, The Quantum and the Lotus (2000) is a brilliant discussion between two great minds. One, Xuan Thuan, who came from the East to become an astrophysicist, and the other, Ricard, who came from the West and became a Buddhist monk and author. This highly recommended book inspired the article and quotes used.