Tibetan Astrology originated from
several different traditions: Indian, Chinese, the local Bon religion,
and the Buddhist Kalachakra tantra.
Traditionally, astrology was one of
the five secondary sciences in Tibet. It concerns not only divination,
but it is also used in the study of time cycles, Tibetan chronology
and the compilation of the calendar. The calendar in the form of
an almanac is still quite important in the daily life of the Tibetans
to ensure that their daily activities are in tune with the cosmos.
In general, certain
days of the week and of the month are considered auspicious for
specific activities (from marriage to hanging of prayer flags -
even cutting one's hair); but also, every day relates to one's specific
astrological chart of the day of birth. But also the position of
the planets and the cycles of the elements determine good or bad
In a Tibetan village, the astrologer would use
his skills to advise people about nearly everything: from the weather,
the best time to harvest, verify if and when two people should marry,
to important business deals. In case the outcome would be negative,
often religious practices would be advised to remove obstacles,
which would be carried out by monks of the local monastery.
At the birth of a child, the charts would be checked
to see if any special rituals were required to ward off negative
planetary influences. Also a "death chart" would often be prepared
to decide the exact performance of the funeral. Improper performance
could result in problems for the family, as well as for the deceased.
Tibetan astrology is not only strongly linked to
religion, also Tibetan medical practitioners would study astrology
(and religious texts) to determine the timing of medication etc.
Tibetan 'Naktsi' astrology has mainly Chinese origins,
and the 'Kartsi' astrology has Indian origins.
TIBETAN 'NAMELESS RELIGION' ORIGIN
From the ancient 'nameless religion' of Tibet,
a system is preserved in current Tibetan astrology which relates
to Five Individual Forces (La - vitality, Sok - life potential,
Lu - bodily health, Wangthang - personal power, and Lungta - wind
horse) or energies within a person. These energies relate to the
Chinese animals and elements, for example, the La force of the Horse
is Wood etc. This system is unique to Tibet and is important to
establish yearly horoscopes.
The La moves through the body in a monthly cycle,
the Wangthang element is the same element that rules the year in
When the forces become weak, numerous specific
practices are prescribed to strengthen the force again, from saving
lives of animals to reciting mantras or performing special rituals
Page with symbols from a Tibetan
The Bon religion was well established in Tibet
before the introduction of Buddhism. Over the centuries however,
it appears that many Buddhist practices have taken root in Bon and
reverse. For someone not too familiar with robes, iconography or
rituals it may even be hard to spot the difference.
Astrology is important within the Bon system. Methods
are given for divination, warding off negative influences, astrological
calculations and medical diagnosis.
The four types of astrological calculation systems according to
David Snellgrove are:
- The mirror of magicalhoroscopes
- The circle of Parkhas (trigrams) and Mewas (magic squares in
9 colours) - Chinese origin
- The Wheel of Time (Kalachakra) of the Elements
- The Jushak method: calculation of interdependence
A very important Bon deity is called Balchen Geko,
who is said to govern time and the three world of existence. In
this respect the deity is analogous to Kalachakra in Buddhism.
The Tibetan system works with a 360-day lunar year
and cycles of 60 and 180 years. As a year is longer than 360 days,
some days are doubled, and others are skipped. To make the calendar
fit the observations, occasionally even an extra month is introduced.
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||This image shows some aspects as
discussed. For example, in the center is the Chinese Tortoise,
carrying the Tibetan mewas (numbers) on its back, surrounded by
the 12 animals. The Kalachakra 'Tenfold Powerful One' symbol is
at the top right and the Chinese trigrams on the left and right.
From Chinese astronomy and astrology originate
concepts like the Trigrams from the I Ching, the nine Magic Squares
or Mewas, cycles of 12 and 60 years, the twelve Animals, the five
elements and the duality of Yin and Yang etc. The traditional explanations
say that princess Kongyo introduced Chinese astrology in Tibet in
643, but much earlier influences are very likely.
Two main Tibetan systems are of Chinese origin:
'Naktsi' or 'black astrology' (referring to the Tibetan name for
China: 'black area'), and the 'astrology of the elements' or Jungtsi.
The five Chinese elements or agents are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal
and Water. They are different from the elements that constitute
the universe in Indian astrology: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether.
The Chinese elements are natural dynamic forces of transformation
- energies - and constantly interacting with each other. The names
do not directly relate to the objects of the same name, but refer
to affinities which can lead to positive, neutral and negative relations.
Too much or too little of a specific element can become dangerous.
They are related to a direction and a time of year. Earth relates
to the periods around the end and start of each season and is related
to the intermediate directions (NE, SE, SW, NW). Wood dominates
in spring and the East, Fire in summer and the South, Metal in the
autumn and the West, Water in the winter and the North.
Each element has a specific relation to an activity, colour, planet,
organ etc. The elements have specific relationships with each other,
described as Mother, Son, Friend and Enemy. They also can have a
feminine or masculine polarity - similar to Yin and Yang.
The twelve animals: Rat, Cow,Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse,
Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog and Pig relate to hours, days, months and
years. Each animal is related to an element which represents its
life force, a direction, a specific sex and certain personality
treats. The animals can go together well or difficult in various
Each year is a combination of an animal and an
element. This leads to cycles of 12 x 5 = 60 years.
The 'nine moles' or 'nine coloured islands' are
derived from the I Ching and Chinese numerology. Each of the nine
Mewas is related to a colour, a direction and an element. For example,
the three whites (1, 6 and 8) are metal. Each day, month and year,
the Mewas move.
Eight Trigrams (Parkhas)
These represent the equivalent of the Chinese pa-kua,
which form the basis of the I Ching. In turn, the pa-kua are based
on the concept of Yin and Yang. They are: Fire, Earth, Metal, Sky,
Water, Mountain, Wood and Wind. They are an extension of the theory
of the Five Elements
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Tibetan astrology may have been influenced by Indian
sources as much as from Chinese. Analogous to above, India was known
as the 'white area' and gave rise to the term 'white astrology'.
Early Indian civilisation had much cultural interchange
with the outside world, which is reflected in an identical zodiac
to the Mesopotamians (twelve signs and twelve houses) and the widespread
decans. Later on however, differences occurred for example when
most other systems moved away from the early sidereal zodiac, which
is preserved in the Indian tradition. Far back in history, also
the Chinese and Indian system may have common origins. Similarities
are for example the 28 Chinese lunar constellations and the 27 or
28 Indian Naksatras (from the Vedas), and the importance of the
lunar nodes, Rahu and Ketu.
Signs of the zodiac
The Indian system is based on the observation of the sun, moon and
the planets like Western astrology. The sky at night appears like
a globe dotted with stars surrounding the earth. During one year,
the sun moves along this expanse of stars and completes one cycle.
This cycle is divided in 12 sections, called the signs of the zodiac.
Western astrology follows the cycles of the sun related to the seasons,
and the Tibeto-Indian system follows the cycles of the sun related
to the stars, and there is a small difference between these two.
Over the centuries, a difference of almost a complete sign has accumulated.
For the rest, the signs are the same as in the Western system: Aries,
Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius,
Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. The general explanation of the signs
is similar to the Western system. Two major differences are the
relation to different parts of the body and the fact that Indian
signs are divided into day and night signs (indicating when their
influence is strongest).
Indian astrology mentions 27 lunar mansions (Naksatras), but as
one of them comprises two adjacent constellations, it covers 28
constellations. Each of these mansions is related to an Indian element
(Wind, Fire, Water, Earth) In the Tibetan system, the lunar mansions
have also been connected to the Chinese element and direction.
Both the signs of the zodiac and the lunar mansions are ruled by
a particular planet, in order: Ketu, Venus, Sun, Moon, Mars, Rahu,
Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury. (Ketu and Rahu are nodes of the moon.)
The ruling of the planets over the signs is the same as in Western
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The Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) tantric system contains
not only an extensive religious practice system, but also medical
knowledge. (See my site on Kalachakra.)
At the core of the system is the very familiar concept of 'as above,
so below', the correspondence of the outer universe with the inner
physical and mental processes in humans. It describes the interaction
of human and cosmic phenomena with time and builds a complete system
of Indian astrology.
Interestingly enough, this tradition contains all elements of Indian
astrology, but merges it with Chinese principles. The Tibetans started
to adopt the 60 year cycle in 1027, as it was taught both in the
Kalachakra tantra and the Chinese tradition.
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One could say that almost everything in Tibetan
culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism. Even myths have been
'buddhified' over the ages. In Tibet, usually a teacher (lama),
either monk or layman, would be the local astrologer. When living
in a monastery, he would be responsible for establishing the calendar
for religious practices and festivals.
The following legend comes from 'Tibetan Astrology'
by Philippe Cornu. It is based on the manifestation of a Buddha
called Manjushri (see image), who is a personification of wisdom
and insight. Tibetan teachers invoke Manjushri at the commencement
of any astrological undertaking.
"At the beginning of the present age or kalpa,
while the future universe was still immense chaos, Manjushri caused
a giant golden turtle to arise from his own mind, and this turtle
emerged from the waters of the primordial ocean. Seeing in a dream
that the universe in formation required a stable base, Manjushri
pierced the flank of the turtle with a golden arrow. The injured
animal turned on its back and sank into the ocean, giving forth
blood and excrement, from which there arose the constituent elements
of the universe. The created world thenceforth rested on the flat
belly of the turtle, upon which Manjushri wrote all the secrets
of the times to come in the form of sacred hieroglyphic signs."
As Tibetan astrology is so directly related to
religion, it is regarded as a practical method to reduce uncertainty
and suffering. The correct motivation of an astrologer is compassion
(wanting others to be free from suffering), and as such an astrologer
is not different from a spiritual practitioner, a medical doctor
or a Buddhist teacher.
Tibetan calendar and astrology links
- Tibetan Astrology Network
- Asian Astrology
and Tibetan Buddhism
- Tibetan Astrology
- by Taina Kumpulainen
Dragon Year Page
- IKN Kalacakra
Astrology Site - Free downloadable Tibetan Astrology Programme
- Alex Berzin's website
Astrology by Philippe Cornu, Shambhala 1997, ISBN: 1-57062-217-5
of Tibetan symbols and motifs by Robert Beer, Serindia, ISBN
Astronomy and Astrology, Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute
Dharmsala, 1995. 8186419012
Tibetan Astro-Science, Tibetdomani,
Isn't it strange? The same people who laugh at gypsy fortune tellers
take economists seriously.
Last updated:September 11, 2011