When considering Western astrology (tropical zodiac) versus Vedic astrology or Jyotish (siderial zodiac), one may ask, “what’s the difference?” Well to be exact, the difference between the tropical and siderial zodiac is 23 degrees. That is the fundamental difference in the zodiac wheel of 360 degrees. If we go back around 1500 – 2000 years we see that the two zodiac systems were aligned. However, due to the precession of the equinox, which moves at around 1 degree every 70 years, the alignment has drifted to about 23 degrees apart. So for example any planet within the first 23 degrees of a sign of the tropical Western zodiac, will appear back in the previous sign of the siderial Vedic zodiac wheel. The precession of the equinox is a 26000 year cycle, where the earth wobbles on its axis, and thus the two zodiac systems would realign every 26000 years, when the wobble came back full circle to its original position. By staying true to the positions in the heavens of planets used thousands of years ago, the western system has moved out of alignment with the actual literal or real zodiac used by Jyotish and by astronomers globally. So the Vedic positioning of the planets is the accurate one literally speaking, and yet both systems have revealed themselves to be remarkably meaningful and valuable in their results. One can only wonder about this.
A secondary or more general difference between Western astrology and Vedic astrology is that the Vedic astrologer focuses primarily on prediction, or the client’s future fame, fortune, and finances, whereas the Western astrologer also focuses – ironically – on analysing personality, talents, potential character and abilities. This appears contradictory to the general understanding that the Vedic wisdom usually discusses one’s true nature, original identity and self-realization, while the west is usually more preoccupied with mundane future potential success or failure. Well it is rather paradoxical that roles seem to be reversed here, but the reason for this is that the West is so much more aligned with the notion of “free will”, where individuals make their own fate and fortune based on their personal desires and choices. On the other hand, the Vedic culture, which has worked for thousands of years with Jyotish as a system largely used for prediction, is steeped in a tradition of predestiny, where according to the caste system, one is born into a certain role, like servant or merchant, based on the father’s position, and that is where one stays. So there is much less room for using free will or conscious choice to make one’s fate or build character. So whereas it initially appears as if Jyotish has the more accurate approach to astrological interpretation, now it seems as if the western analysis which gives details as to one’s personality with its strengths and flaws, seems to be the more appropriate or meaningful one.
There are other differences in the two systems, like the use of the recently discovered outer planets – Uranus, Neptune and Pluto – by Western astrology, but not by Jyotish. These outer planets were, of course, never visible until the invention of the telescope in the west. Still further asteroids – like Chiron, Juno, etc – have also been discovered and named in recent years, and some contemporary astrologers are incorporating their use and interpretation into horoscope analyses too. Jyotish, on the other hand, uses the 27 Nakshatra divisions, or lunar mansions of 13.5 degrees each, to divide up and interpret the horoscope. Thus there are various similarities and also differences in the two astrological systems, and the modern astrologer can happily incorporate both into his or her analysis of any individual. Vedic literature had such a vast library of instruction into the self, the identity and one’s role in the cosmos, that astrology was not needed to understand oneself, but was simply used as a tool of prognostication and prediction for the future of the person in question. The West, on the other hand, had much less instruction into the nature of consciousness, identity and selfhood, that until the advent of modern psychology, astrology was used by alchemists and doctors to analyse the person according to the horoscope with its four elements and corresponding humours (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholic). Modern psychological research has subsequently discovered and constructed a system of psychoanalysis, which some find corresponds with astrology and can be used in tandem when analysing personality. And as we advance, we are coming almost full circle, as modern research now sometimes echoes ancient instructions as to the nature of matter, self and consciousness.
Ultimately it seems that as long as one is sincere in wishing to discover the true meaning of life, the true nature of oneself, one will find answers in either system. Even Vedic culture, when seen from a mundane point of view, without accurate spiritual interpretation, can appear incomplete or can limit one to a caste system that traps us in a totally unnecessary mould, based on birth. It is only when we understand the transcendent wisdom of Vedanta that we see destiny to be based not on birth, but on qualities and actions, as stated in Bhagavad Gita. And likewise even modern western psychology is based to a degree on speculation which results in forever revising and reviewing its analysis of consciousness, whereas Vedanta has always had the inside track on that core crucial subject matter. So ultimately astrology, whether western or Vedic, should always be seen in perspective, or in relation to real self-awareness or self-realization, which identifies one as existing before this horoscopic birth, as beyond the limitations and paradigms of the birth chart alone. Nevertheless, if you have your exact time of birth, for both systems are adamant about that foundation, then astrology can aid one in a mundane understanding of personality, and thus like a mirror held up to our ego, reflect back at us what we instinctively already know, but find comfort in re-membering when presented from an apparently objective outside source.