Tibetan Astro Sciences
Dharamsala, India, 1986
2 History and the Tibetan Calendar
Chinese astro materials came to Tibet earlier than the Indian-derived material. This occurred in the mid-seventh century, at the time of Emperor Songtsen-gampo, the founder of the great Tibetan Empire. Among his wives were Chinese and Nepali princesses, the former of whom brought with her to Tibet various Chinese astro and medical texts. Within a couple years, the Tibetan court began using the twelve animal designations for the years, though not yet the sixty-year cycle. This was practically the exclusive system used in Tibet for the next two centuries.
After a period of general cultural decline in the ninth century, a new wave of Chinese-related astro influence came from the Khotan region of East Turkistan, starting in the tenth century. The Tibetan master Dharmakara amalgamated it with what he and others remembered from the old period material, which had become corrupt. He formulated a new definitive system of element calculations, which now included death, marriage, obstacle, and horoscope calculations and geomancy. By the eleventh century, the Tibetans standardly used the sixty-year element-animal cycle.
Present-day Tibetan calendars also give the royal year number. This is the count of years passed since the ascent of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo, in 127 BCE.
The Indian side of the astro materials came into Tibet with the introduction of The Kalachakra Tantra. Various translators and masters translated the basic Kalachakra texts from Sanskrit and transmitted them to Tibet several times between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. They became prominent in the early Sakya and Kagyu traditions, with various further commentaries written and features from both the Chinese and Indian masters combined and reworked to derive the distinctive Tibetan astro tradition.
Kalachakra shares with the Hindu systems the usage of the sixty-year Jupiter cycle for the counting of years and refers to the cycle as the rabjung or "prominent" cycle, after the name of the first of the sixty years.
The first year of the first "prominent" sixty-year cycle of the Tibetan calendar, which is considered the official date of the introduction of Kalachakra into Tibet, is the famous predicted number of years found in the Kalachakra literature of "fire-space-ocean" after the beginning of the Muslim period in 624 CE, although actually that period began in 622.
Both the Kalachakra and Hindu systems specify numbers by names, referring to common enumerations in pan-Indic literature, and list them in the order of units, tens, hundreds, and so on. There are three fires; space is empty like zero; and there are four oceans. Thus "fire-space-ocean" is 403 years after 624, or 1027 CE.
When the Kalachakra "prominent" sixty-year cycle was correlated with the Chinese sixty-year cycle of elements and animals, the year 1027 did not correspond to the beginning of a Chinese cycle. The Chinese ones always start with a wood-male-rat year, and this was the fourth year of a cycle, fire-female-hare. This is why the Tibetan sixty-year cycle begins with the fire-female-hare year and its listing of the sequence of the twelve animals begins with the hare and not with the rat. Thus, as there is a three-year discrepancy, the present Tibetan seventeenth cycle began 1987, whereas the present Chinese twenty-seventh cycle began 1984.
Although the start of the first "prominent" sixty-year cycle was in 1027, it was not until the second half of the thirteenth century that the Kalachakra calendar became the rule in Tibet. Nevertheless, people still regularly referred to the years by their element-animal designations - as they popularly still do today – rather than by their names in the "prominent" cycle. The mathematical calculations for the calendar, however,were from the Kalachakra system.
One of the eminent early Sakya masters and authors on astro studies was Chogyel Pagpa in the second half of the thirteenth century. He was the tutor of the Mongol ruler of China, Khubilai (Kublai) Khan, and the spiritual master credited, along with his uncle, Sakya Pandita, with bringing Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia. As he was a renowned master of the Kalachakra teachings, Chogyel Pagpa undoubtedly brought the full Tibetan astro system as well. Furthermore, it was most probably through first his uncle's, and then his being made the secular rulers of Tibet by the Mongol Khans – who, starting with Khubilai, were the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty of China – that the Kalachakra calendar became the official one for Tibet.
Chingis Khan, the grandfather of Khubilai Khan, had already adopted from the Uighurs, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the twelve-animal count for years and made it standard for his empire. According to one account, Chingis Khan is the one who introduced the term "Mongolian months," which corresponded to and were a substitute designation for the Chinese ones, on the occasion of his conquest in 1207 of the Tangut kingdom in the present day regions of eastern Gansu and Inner Mongolia.
When Chingis' successors introduced the Tibetan calendar to the Mongol Empire in the middle of that same century, they made the Mongolian months the equivalent of Kalachakra months, rather than Chinese ones, which are quite different. They kept the first Mongolian month as the start of the year, however, in keeping with the Chinese custom, even though it is two months earlier than the first Kalachakra month. This was adapted in Tibet as well, so that there was relative uniformity concerning the beginning of the year throughout the Mongol Empire. Chinese and Tibetan new years, however, do not always coincide. This is because each of these calendar systems has its own mathematical formulas for adding leap-months and for determining the start and length of each month. In Tibet, the Mongolian months were alternatively referred to as Tibetan months, and even today the two designations are used interchangeably.
At present, there are two major groups of lineages of the Tibetan astro sciences, the Tsurpu and the Pugpa. The former derives from the early fourteenth century commentaries to Kalachakra by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung-dorjey, of Tsurpu Monastery. This line, found exclusively in the Karma Kagyu tradition, uses the precis system of calculations for determining the positions of the sun and the moon and the full tenet system for the planets.
Derivative from the Tsurpu system is the Chatuhpitha-Kalachakra calculation system. Drugchen Pemakarpo started it in the late sixteenth century. Because the Drugpa Kagyu tradition and the Bhutanese follow this system, people sometimes refer to it as Bhutanese calculations. It combines material from both The Kalachakra and The Chatuhpitha or Four Seat Tantras. The major difference between this and the Tsurpu system is that it takes the calculated lunar weekday to be the passed date rather than the present one. For instance, if a specific Wednesday is calculated to be the ninth of the month in the Tsurpu system, that ninth is considered in the Bhutanese system to be the passed day and the tenth is taken as the Wednesday. The Drigung Kagyu tradition, on the other hand, follows a system that combines the Tsurpu and Pugpa traditions.
The Pugpa system or lineage was started in the fifteenth century by the three masters with "gyatso" as part of their names: Pugpa Lhundrub-gyatso, Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso, and Tsangchung Chodrag-gyatso. Based on the tradition of the fourteenth century Sakya master Buton, a great commentator on The Kalachakra Tantra, it emphasizes the reconstructed full tenet system of mathematical calculations. In the midseventeenth century text, Desi Sangyay-gyatso, in White Aquamarine, amended the tradition by presenting the full tenet and precis systems together. He specified using the full tenet system for the calendar and almanac and also to include in the almanac the data from the precis system to use for calculating eclipses. The Gelug, Sakya, Nyingma, and Shangpa Kagyu traditions follow the Pugpa lineage, as do the Kalmyk Mongols of Russia. Thus, it is the most widespread astro system.
The broad Chinese-style, or yellow calculations, developed within both the Pugpa and Tsurpu systems. When the Fifth Dalai Lama went to China in 1652 at the invitation of the first Manchu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, he saw at the imperial palace in Beijing notices and documents drawn in accordance with the traditional Chinese calendar and astrological system. Impressed, he had his translator Mergen Kachupa take notes on it. Back in Tibet, Mergen Kachupa compiled thirteen volumes on these broad Chinese-style calculations. These texts were hidden in the Potala palace of the Dalai Lama and have never been used. There is no mention of this yellow system in the above-mentioned text of Desi Sangyay-gyatso, who was the minister of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Nevertheless, Mergen Kachupa is credited with starting this astrological and calendar tradition.
The eighteenth century saw renewed interest among the Tibetans in the Chinese calendar and astrology. This was particularly fostered under the encouragement of the Manchu Emperor of China, Qianlong. From the Tsurpu lineage, the Twelfth Karmapa and, later, the Eighth Tai Situ, visited the Manchu imperial court and commissioned more translations. Within the Pugpa lineage, interest was especially high among the Gelug masters of the northeastern Tibetan province of Amdo, particularly at the Astrology College of Labrang Tashikyil Monastery. They also translated many works. Inner Mongolia follows their lineage.
In the Pugpa school of Central Tibet, an abbreviated version of the yellow system appears in a text by Chendzo Sung-rab in the early nineteenth century. Based on notes from Gen Lodro-gyatso, Professor Tragton in the 1980s has compiled the system currently used at the Dharamsala Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute. The Lhasa Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute uses a system recently compiled by Tseten Zhabdrung and Mugey-samten.
The yellow system uses the basic Kalachakra calendar calculations and in this way totally differs in its framework from the actual classical Chinese calendar. Nevertheless, the way in which it adds doublemonths is very similar, though not always equivalent, to that used in the Chinese system. Unlike other Tibetan and Indian systems, all of which have doubled and omitted dates of the lunar month, the calendar from the broad Chinese-style calculations, like the Chinese one, lacks this feature. Months have either twenty-nine or thirty days, numbered consecutively and determined according to several traditions of calculation. The dates for the beginning of each month do not always coincide either with those of the classical Chinese calendar or with those of the Pugpa or Tsurpu systems, although often they do.
There are a number of differences between the Pugpa lineages of Inner Mongolia and Central Tibet, for instance in the manner of adding doubled months. The calendar of Inner Mongolia is arranged according to the yellow system, whereas the data of this system is merely included in the Pugpa almanacs of Central Tibet. The main use of the yellow calculations is for making the "earth-ox" prediction for the weather patterns and general conditions for the year.
The Khalkha Mongols of Mongolia and both the Buryats and Tuvinians of Siberia follow a variant of the Pugpa tradition known as the New Geden or New Positive lineage. This was started in 1786 by Sumpa Kenpo Yeshey-peljor, a Mongour Mongol master of both astrology and medicine, from Amdo. This system bases itself on the fifteenth-century Kalachakra commentaries of Kaydrub Jey. Most of the calculations follow the same rules as those of the Pugpa system, and the sixty-year cycles are counted the same as well. However, despite the sixty-year "prominent" cycle starting with a fire-female-hare year, the starting point for the calculations of a sixty-year period is taken as a fire-male-horse year, the fortieth year of the cycle. This is because Shakyamuni Buddha was born in such a year. Because of this difference, the Mongolian calendar works out to be unique.
The Bon system of astrology is called the "pure calculations of the three analyses." Although the Bonpos consider the Bon system to be the most ancient, predating any of the Buddhist ones, the codification of the system in textual form was done by Kyongtrul Jigmey-namkay-dorjey (1880's - 1953). This system has outer, inner, secret, and more secret pure calculations. The outer and inner ones correspond to the Pugpa tradition, with only some minor variations and a slightly different way of approaching some of the calculations. The secret and more secret ones have more precise calculations than the outer and inner. The Bon calendar is exactly the same as the Pugpa one.
The differences among these Tibetan systems appear most clearly in the way in which the lunar calendar correlated with the solar one. To appreciate this, we must discuss the Tibetan calendar itself, which comes primarily from The Kalachakra Tantra.
The Tibetan system of astronomy and astrology is extremely complex. It takes five years to study and master it at the Astro Division of the Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute in Dharamsala, India. Students learn to calculate everything by hand in the traditional manner, on a wooden board covered with soot upon which one writes with a stylus. There is no complete ephemeris compiled in which to look up figures. One of the main aspects of the training is the mathematics involved in all the calculations.
The Kalachakra system, like those of the Hindu traditions, gives formulas for determining "the five planets and five inclusive calendar features." The five planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Their positions, as well as those of the sun, moon, and nodes, are calculated for the Tibetan ephemeris according to a mathematical model, as was also the case in the ancient Greek system. Thus, it is unlike Chinese astronomy, which derived the positions and motion of the heavenly bodies based mostly on observation. Chinese mathematics, when sometimes applied, is primarily algebraic.
The ancient Greeks used mainly geometry, namely different geometric proportions, to determine and describe the motion of the planets. The Hindu systems developed the sine function, and thus employ trigonometric rather than solely geometric methods. The calculations in the Tibetan system, on the other hand, involve neither geometric proportions nor trigonometric functions, but are purely arithmetic.
The making of the calendar and almanac entails the five inclusive calendar features: the lunar weekday, the date of the lunar month, the moon's constellation, the combination period, and the action period. The first two are involved in the mechanism through which the lunar and solar calendars are brought into harmony.
Both the Tibetan and Hindu systems present three types of days. A zodiac day is the time it takes for the sun to progress one out of 360 degrees of the zodiac. A solar day, on the other hand, is from dawn to dawn. A lunar date days, correlated with the phases of the moon, is the period the moon takes to travel one-thirtieth the distance between new moon positions in each successive sign in the zodiac. The starting point of lunar date days is calculated by a mathematical process similar to that used for determining the position of the sun and planets. They are counted in a cycle of seven lunar weekdays named for the days of the week, which, as noted above, are also the names of seven of the planets. To correlate the lunar with the solar calendar, these lunar weekdays must be made to fit in with the solar days. This is complicated.
Firstly, the exact new moon does not occur at precisely the same time of day each month. Thus, the moon can start to travel one of these little distances of one-thirtieth of its cycle at any time of the solar day. The period it takes to travel that one-thirtieth the distance of its cycle is called by the day of the week. Thus, the day of the week may start at different times during the solar day.
Furthermore, it takes the moon a different amount of time to cover each of these little one-thirtieth distances, since its speed varies with its own position and with the position of the sun in the zodiac. Consequently, the amount of a lunar weekday that passes between the dawns of two successive solar days varies, because the length of a lunar weekday is likewise variable.
Dates of the lunar month, which constitute the second inclusive calendar feature, are numbered one to thirty and last from dawn to dawn in the manner of solar days. The problem is to determine which date is to be assigned to each day of the week. The solution is not so obvious, because the lunar weekdays – which are what determine the days of the week since they are called Sunday, Monday, and so on – start at and last for different lengths of time.
The rule is that the day of the week is decided by which lunar weekday is occurring at the dawn of the lunar date. For instance, a lunar weekday, such as Monday, may start in the afternoon of the second date of a month and end in the afternoon of the third. Since at the dawn of the third, which here is taken standardly to be at 5 A. M., the lunar weekday is still Monday, the third will be considered a Monday.
A day of the week can never repeat or be skipped. Directly after a Sunday, a Monday must follow, not a second Sunday or a Tuesday. However, sometimes the dawns of two successive dates occur within the same lunar weekday. For instance, the lunar weekday Monday may begin five minutes before the dawn of the third, and the next day, the Tuesday, may begin five minutes after the dawn of the fourth. This would make both the third and the fourth Mondays! There cannot be two Mondays in a row. One of these dates must be omitted. This is why in the Tibetan calendar certain dates of the month are skipped.
On the other hand, sometimes the beginnings of two lunar weekdays occur before the dawn of the next date. For example, if the lunar weekday Monday begins five minutes after the dawn of the third and ends five minutes before the dawn of the fourth, then,by the first rule, the third should be a Sunday and the fourth a Tuesday, and there would be no Monday. Since it is not possible for it to go from a Sunday to a Tuesday without an intervening Monday, one of these dates will have to be doubled in order for one of them to be the Monday. This is why sometimes there are two eighths or two twenty-fifths in a Tibetan month.
To make the lunar calendar further correspond with the solar, a thirteenth month must occasionally be added to the year in the form of an extra doubled or leap-month. The rules for which dates are to be doubled or omitted, and when an extra month is to be added are different in the various Tibetan astro lineages. This is their major difference. The various Hindu calendars also have doubled and omitted dates, and both they and the classical Chinese calendar have doubled months. The rules followed are not the same as those in any of the Tibetan systems.
The third inclusive calendar feature is the moon's constellation. This does not refer to the moon's actual position at the dawn of a lunar date, as calculated by the five planets' techniques, but rather to its successive associated constellation. For any particular lunar date, this is the constellation position the moon would have at the beginning of the lunar weekday occurring at the dawn of that date, according to which that date was assigned its day of the week.
The fourth and fifth features are the combination and the action periods. There are twenty-seven combination periods. Each is the period during which the combined motion of the sun and moon equals one twenty-seventh of a complete zodiac. For any time, then, we derive the combination period by adding the corrected position of the sun to the moon's successive associated constellation position. Thus, each period starts at a different time. They have specific names and interpretations, with some being less auspicious than others are.
Lastly, there are eleven action periods, derived by dividing the thirty lunar dates in a rather unsymmetrical manner. There is no need to give the details here. Each of the eleven action periods has a specific name and likewise some are less favorable than others are for certain activities.
The Tibetan calendar and almanac play a large role in Tibetan life. One of their most important usages is setting the dates for various Buddhist offering ceremonies or tsog. The tenth of both the waxing and waning phases of the moon, in other words the tenth and twenty-fifth of each lunar month, is the day for making ritual offerings to the Buddha-figures Chakrasamvara, sometimes known as Heruka, and Vajrayogini, as well as to Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, the founder of the Nyingma tradition. Out of all these tenths, the twenty-fifth date of the eleventh Tibetan month is the most important day for Chakrasamvara, and the tenth of the twelfth Tibetan month for Vajrayogini. The eighth of each Tibetan month is the special day for making offerings to Tara. This is only during the waxing phase of the moon.
If, for instance, a Tibetan month has two tenths, the offering ceremony is made on the first of these. If the tenth is omitted during that month, the ceremony is held on the ninth. This rule is followed for all religious practices to be performed on a specific auspicious date of the Tibetan calendar.
In each Tibetan Buddhist lineage and within each monastery of each tradition, the schedule of the rituals performed during the course of the year is defined in terms of the Tibetan calendar. The summer retreat is normally held from the sixteenth of the sixth Tibetan month until the thirtieth of the seventh month. This is known as the early summer retreat. Gyuto and Gyumay Tantric Monasteries of Lhasa follow the later summer retreat from the sixteenth of the seventh Tibetan month until the thirtieth of the eighth month. Moreover, in the Gelug tradition, the twenty-ninth of each lunar month is the special day for the Buddha figure Vajrabhairava, also known as Yamantaka, especially relied upon for protection from obstacles and interferences. For this reason, meditation retreats for intensive practice are considered best begun on this date of any Tibetan month.
The Buddhist holiday of Vesak celebrates not only Shakyamuni Buddha's parinirvana or passing away, but also his date of birth and enlightenment. Vesak, or sometimes Wosak, derives from the Pali equivalent, used in Theravadin countries, of the Sanskrit month Vaishakha, which is the second Kalachakra and fourth Tibetan month. This holiday is celebrated on the full moon day, i.e. the fifteenth, of that month. Since the Theravadin calendar is different from that of the Tibetans, and derives from one of the Indian Hindu systems, Vesak works out to be one month earlier than in the Tibetan scheme.
Two other events from Shakyamuni Buddha's life are celebrated. After Buddha demonstrated his enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, the first person he taught was his mother, who had passed away in his childbirth and was reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods or, according to some sources, in Tushita Heaven. Buddha traveled there to teach her. The holiday of the Descent from the Heavenly Realm, celebrated on the fourth date of the sixth Tibetan month, commemorates Buddha's return to this world. Buddha then went to Sarnath and at the Deer Park taught his first human disciples. The holiday of Setting Flow Rounds of Teachings, on the twenty-second of the ninth Tibetan month, celebrates this.
Each of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages also has its special days. For instance, in the Gelug tradition the holiday Ganden Fifth Offerings, on the twenty-fifth of the tenth Tibetan month, commemorates the passing away of Tsongkhapa. Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa, takes place from the third to the twentyfourth of the first Tibetan month. On its final day, there is traditionally a Tossing Out of a Ritual Cake ceremony performed by the State Oracle Nechung, during which all obstacles for the new year are symbolically removed. This is followed on the next day, the twenty-fifth of the first month, by the celebration of the Inviting Maitreya Festival, during which an image of Maitreya, the next Buddha, is paraded around Lhasa in an ornate cart.
There are also specific dates for the consultation of oracles. For instance, the Tibetan government traditionally consulted the Nechung State Oracle on the tenth of the first month. In Tibet, the Abbots of Drepung Monastery regularly consulted the Nechung Oracle on the second of each Tibetan month.
Tibetan calendars regularly mark three types of inauspicious dates. "Bad days" are marked with the Tibetan letter zha, and last from dawn to dawn. "Black days" are marked with a nya, and cover only the daytime. Both occur on fixed dates each year, one during each Kalachakra month. The third type of inauspicious date, marked with a ya, lasts both day and night. It is known as "Yen Kuong days," after the name of a Chinese deity. There are usually thirteen each year and they occur on fixed dates of the broad Chinese-style months of the yellow calculation system. Furthermore, from the Chinese-derived element calculation system, each year contains two "black" or inauspicious months, and occasionally there is a "black" year.
The other type of date on the Tibetan calendar marked with a letter, this time sa, is for the bimonthly ceremony of the monks and nuns for the purification and restoration of their vows, the sojong ceremony. Each year, the first of these is held fifteen solar days after the new year. Tibetan months begin with the waxing period of the moon. The second sojong each month, at the end of the waning period, is held fourteen lunar date numbers after the previous ceremony. If there is a doubled date, both those dates are taken as one in the count. If there is an omitted date, an extra date's number must be counted to make fourteen. The first sojong of each month, at the end of the waxing period, is held simply fifteen solar days after the previous ceremony, with no regard to doubled or omitted dates.
It should be noted that, in general, the waxing half of the month is considered more auspicious than the waning. Therefore, most Tibetans will begin constructive, positive practices during the first half of the lunar month so that the results will increase and expand like the waxing moon.
In addition, certain dates are considered auspicious and others inauspicious for various specific activities. For instance, the ninth, nineteenth, and twenty-ninth dates of a lunar month are auspicious for beginning journeys, whereas the so-called "water-strainer" dates of the second, eighth, fourteenth, twentieth, and twenty-sixth are unfavorable for travel. This is why if Tibetans cannot begin a journey on an auspicious date, they will often take a piece of their luggage and move it a little down the road to another house on the auspicious date, so as to begin the journey symbolically on that day. However, if one dies on the ninth, nineteenth, twenty-ninth, or when the moon is in the ninth constellation, or on a Sunday, and especially on a date when all three occur together, this is considered inauspicious for those left behind.
The most inauspicious date of the year is the "nine bad omens day." It starts on the sixth date of the eleventh Tibetan month at noon, and lasts until noon of the seventh. During this period, most Tibetans do not try to do any special religious or other positive practices, but instead go on picnics, relax, and play. The history of this custom is that at the time of the Buddha, one person tried to accomplish many positive deeds this day, but nine bad things befell him. Buddha advised that on this date each year in the future, it is best not to try to accomplish much good.
The immediately following twenty-four hour period, however, from noon of the seventh date of the eleventh month to noon of the eighth, is the "ten good omens day." On this day, at the time of the Buddha, ten wonderful things happened to that same person when he continued trying to do what was constructive. This period, then, is considered very favorable for positive projects but, in general, Tibetans also take this time for picnics and games.
Two other periods of the year are indicated in the almanac and are noteworthy. The first is called the "dawning of the star Rishi." This is calculated from a certain type of point in the eighth Tibetan month and lasts for seven days. During this period, the light from the star "Rishi" shines on the gem on the crown of a certain fabulous statue, causing nectar to flow from it. This causes hot springs to be most effective and thus these seven days are the so-called bathing days when Tibetans go to hot springs for treatment and cures.
The other is called the "poison pig days." They also last for seven days and are calculated from another type of point in the fifth Tibetan month. During these days, due to the effect of a contaminating rain, waters turn to poison. Any medicinal plants picked on these days will be poisonous. Likewise, hot springs will be very detrimental, and so everyone avoids them.
Although, from the Chinese-derived element calculation system, there are many obstacle periods during our lifetimes, the most major one noted by all Tibetans is the "obstacle year of age." This is each year during which our natal animal-signs recur. Thus, if we were born in a year of the rat, then each subsequent year of the rat would be an obstacle year. This occurs, then, every twelve years. According to the Tibetan way of counting age, as discussed previously, during the first of these, we are one year of age, during the second thirteen, and so on.
Horary astrology, the checking of the auspiciousness of the hours of the day, is the main astrological feature derived from the Tibetan almanac. It too plays a significant role in Tibetan life. It involves the first two inclusive calendar features, the lunar weekday and moon's constellation.
Each of the twenty-eight lunar constellations and each of the seven lunar weekdays and heavenly bodies is associated with one of four elements. These are four out of the five Indian elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. The element of the moon's successive associated constellation for a specific date is compared with that of the lunar weekday occurring. Each of the possible ten combinations of elements has a different interpretation, based on which we can decide if a certain action is best undertaken at that time or not.
This is the system of the ten lesser matchings. For instance, if we were doing a fire offering ceremony at the conclusion of a meditation retreat, it would be most favorable to choose an hour during a double fire period, which would enhance the fire, rather than a water-fire period which would douse the flames.
Among the Tibetans, astrologers are consulted most commonly for horoscopes for newborns, and about marriages and deaths. Aspects from both the white and black calculation systems are combined in drawing up a horoscope. Of special interest to Tibetan parents are the expected lifespans of their children. If they are short and there will be many obstacles, various religious ceremonies recommended in the horoscope will be performed and statues and paintings commissioned.
Before marriages, the compatibility of the couple is checked, as mentioned before, by comparing their various pebble-elements and trigrams. Saturday is the weekday of prosperity. Therefore, in marriage calculations it is considered the best day of the week for a bride to arrive and move into her perspective husband's family home. The couple's family will give the astrologer the approximate week when they would like the wedding to take place. The most auspicious day of the week and time within this period will then be chosen according to the system of the ten minor matchings. If it works out that the Saturday is an auspicious day, it is always best to hold the wedding then. If the Saturday is inauspicious, then the next closest auspicious date is selected, although the bride would still be advised to enter her new husband's home on the Saturday before.
Almost every Tibetan will consult an astrologer when someone dies. Based on when the death occurred, calculations are made from the Chinese-derived element system for what time and in which direction to remove the corpse from where it has been laid in state and take it to its burial or cremation. The actual time of the cremation or funeral itself is not calculated, and auspicious and inauspicious days determined by the ten lesser matchings are not involved. The types of ceremonies to perform for the dead are also determined, particularly if harmful spirits were involved with the death.
The Tibetans also generally seek an astrologer's advice for auspicious days to move house, open a new shop, and set off on a business venture. In Tibet, the latter concerns the day and time to begin a caravan, while in India the most frequent occasion is when to leave home to go sell ready-made sweaters and clothing on the streets of various distant Indian cities. This is the most common means of livelihood among the Tibetans in exile.
Other occasions when auspicious days are always chosen are when a young Incarnate Lama is enthroned, when he later makes formal offerings to his monastery to begin his studies, when a family sends their child to enter a monastery or nunnery, and when a new Geshe, having completed his religious education and passed his examinations, makes formal offerings to his monastery. Also, it is the Tibetan custom to give babies their first haircuts approximately one year after birth. This must be done on an auspicious day, otherwise it is believed the baby will likely develop abscesses or wounds.
Tibetan physicians consult medical astrology when determining the best days of the week for special medical treatment for a patient, such as moxabustion or gold needle acupuncture. The patient's life-force and life-spirit days, determined from their natal animal-signs, would be chosen and deadly ones avoided.
When a long-life ceremony is offered to a Lama, it is done in the early morning of his life-force or life-spirit day. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was born in an earth-pig year. As his life-spirit day is Wednesday, many Lamas will begin teaching a discourse on this day of the week for reasons of auspiciousness. When ritual ceremonies are to be performed for helping someone who is sick, his or her life-force or life-spirit days will also be chosen.
One further thing that Tibetans regularly consult astrologers about is whether their businesses will be successful this year. The astrologer performs a prognostication according to one scheme found in the "arising from the vowels" system. The question must be submitted formally, and a calculation is made from the number of words in the question and the number of people in the room where and when the question is asked.
There are so many variables that can affect the interpretation of any particular period, both in general and for an individual, that almost any time will have something wrong with it. Not all factors have an equal importance. Only certain variables are examined for one situation or another, and some will overrule others. Thus if a journey can be begun on a ninth, nineteenth, or twenty-ninth date, or a Kalachakra empowerment be given on a full moon day, it is not so crucial that other factors might be unfavorable.
The aim of this system is not to cripple people with superstitions. Rather, it provides the populace with something like a weather forecast. If we have a general idea that a certain date might not be so favorable, we can take specific preventive measures of performing ceremonies, acting in a kind, careful manner, and so on, as a way of overcoming or avoiding problems. It is like carrying an umbrella when one hears it might rain.
Buddhism does not view astrology in terms of influences coming from the heavenly bodies as independently existing entities totally unrelated to each individual's mental continuum, but rather as a reflection of the results of our previous impulsive behavior or karma. A horoscope, actually, is almost like a map for being able to read aspects of our karma. One of the comprehensive results of our impulsive actions in previous lives would be the reflection of our karmic situations in the astronomical and astrological configurations into which we are born. Therefore, astro information can give a clue about the results that might come from our previous impulsive actions unless we take preventive measures to alter the situation. Thus, it helps us to know how to handle any predicament. Likewise, an almanac indicates the comprehensive results built up and to be experienced by a large number of individuals together.
There is nothing fatalistic about the Buddhist worldview. The present situation has arisen from causes and conditions. If we can accurately read that situation, we can act in such ways as to create different causes and conditions for improving it even in this lifetime, for the benefit of both ourselves and others. This does not mean by making offerings or sacrifices to the various deities of the heavenly bodies to appease them and avert their harm, but rather by modifying our own attitudes and behavior.
On a popular level, when it is sometimes recommended that in order to extend our lifespans we need to commission a statue or painting of a certain Buddha-figure, it might seem that this is to gain the favor of that figure. This is an uneducated misconception. The attitude generated in such an undertaking is what has the most effect. If it is one of fear or selfishness, the effect will be minimal. Far more effective in prolonging our lives and improving our health and material situations are specific meditation practices when done with the motivation of being able to benefit others.
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