Jyotish, or Vedic Astrology, divides the twelve houses (or ‘bhavas‘) of the horoscope into four groups, each associated with one of the ‘puruṣārthas‘, or the Four Aims of Life.
Dharma (righteousness, morality) – 1st, 5th, 9th
Artha (wealth, material resources) – 2nd, 6th,10th
Kama (desires) – 3rd, 7th, 11th
Moksha (final liberation) – 4th, 8th, 12th
The idea that there are four aims of life is not specifically an astrological notion. It’s a basic tenet of Hindu or Vedic philosophy. This astrological correspondence is in fact an example of the close knit integration and ease of communication between Jyotish and other branches of Indian religion, culture and learning. It is similar, for example, with Jyotish and Ayurveda.
Western astrologers will recognize that these four groups distribute the houses into four triplicities that are normally associated with the four elements. Western astrologers may speak of ‘Fire Houses’ when referring jointly to the 1st, 5th and 9th Houses, and may describe the 2nd, 6th and 10th as ‘Earth Houses’, and so on. Some modern western astrologers have written on these house triplicities, and generally the elemental correspondences have guided their musings and observations.
This is all well and good, and many of those insights can complement and illumine what we can learn about these groupings from the Jyotish angle. It is worth noting, however, that the way Jyotish has linked these Four Aims of Life to the four house triplicities gives a more precise philosophical context, and arguably a greater importance, to this particular way of grouping the houses than you typically find in western astrology.
One quick technical point. The diagrams used in the case studies will show the chart for each subject using conventional Western astrological settings (Tropical Zodiac and Placidus Houses) on the left, and on the right of it, another chart applying the ‘settings’ used in Jyotish (Lahiri Sidereal Zodiac and Whole Houses). While more and more western astrologers are learning to read the vedic or Jyotish type square charts, they’re still somewhat esoteric to many. We’ll keep it simple by not adding new diagram formats to this discussion.
Without further ado.
The Dharma Houses – 1, 5, 9
‘Dharma’ is an excellent word for conveying an important insight into the nature of the 1, 5, 9, or the ‘Fire House’ triplicity. It becomes explicit that it is through the three Dharma Houses (or ‘Konas’ as they are also called) that we find or express our ‘true nature’, or ‘highest calling’. Call it self realization, creative intelligence and religion, if you like; they’re all faces or facets of the principle of dharma.
Like ‘fire’, dharma is a state of spontaneous honesty; it can’t be hidden or contrived in nature. There’s a purity, truth and integrity to fire. The houses of the Dharma Triplicity are considered the luckiest of all the houses, and are accorded great importance in Jyotish. The lords of these houses become, to some degree, ‘temporary benefics’, even when naturally malefic. Through these houses and the ‘fiery grace’ they represent, we can find our way, and align with truth and authenticity. Each individually, in our own unique way.
In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, “One’s own dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another’s dharma well performed. Destruction in one’s own dharma is better, for to perform another’s dharma leads to danger.”
One aspect of dharma is close to the notion of duty, but this should be distinguished from what we think of, or may presume to be, career, or even adherence to custom, although at times they can be closely united. When we ‘individuate’ successfully, when the dharma is strong in us, so to speak, then we will be gifted, inspired, alive and enthusiastic; we’ll be intelligent, creative and intuitively capable in certain specific directions. Perhaps this brings with it an automatic responsibility.
Arjuna was an unequalled warrior, and so for him to lose focus at the commencement of a great and important battle was to lose his dharma in a most lamentable way. Lord Krishna hence went to pains to discuss the nature of dharma and how it related to Arjuna’s immediate situation, to help him reorientate and realign.
And that climactic moment was no time for wannabe warriors who have little to gift the situation, and who were not truly called to this purpose, who would be out of their depth, and in more than bodily harm’s way.
To find your dharma (without a birth chart), you should ask yourself, what was Arjuna doing on his off days, like, for fun? If you’re alive enough you already know the things you have a love for, and a knack for. If you find your aptitude and develop it with fortitude, then if perchance one day a conch shell sounds, and it’s your cue, your moment to be the only genius available capable of wielding, or rather sharing your particular gift, you’re ready to show up and enthral the house, or save the day, as the case may be. Knowing who you are, and being who you are, and then showing up, at the right time, is key to finding and fulfilling your dharma.
The inherently auspicious nature of the 1st House and it’s lord is substantially due to the fact that the 1st House belongs to the Dharma Triplicity. Beyond that the 1st house is the only house where karma, which basically means action (the Angular houses), and dharma automatically meet.
Where these principles combine, dharma finds outer manifested physical expression, in action, and so good things naturally follow. This idea that there is a valuable alchemical potency in combining the Angular Houses with the Dharma Houses is important in Jyotish, and is the basis of certain Raja Yogas (‘king making’ combinations promoting success, power and prestige).
The 1st house is our ‘dharma crown’ – the seat of our identity, purpose and will. It shapes our personality; the plain visible naked truth of who we are.
Inasmuch as 5th house represents romance, affairs of the heart, children, and play or recreation, these themes are inherently about our most sincere and beautiful intentions, experiences and ideals. What greater sense of heartfelt joy and exhilaration is there than play and courtship? Dharma Houses give peak experiences in awareness and self-expression.
Jyotish believes that ‘poorva punya‘, or past life credit, is shown in the 5th house. We are able to wield the energy or faculties of planets in the 5th house easily, almost playfully, like something we have done forever. We enjoy the activities associated with planets in the 5th house, and so we may easily excel in them. Through our 5th house we access the ‘dharmic’ attributes of intelligence, sincerity and creative self-expression.
The 9th house is associated with religion in both Jyotish and Western astrology. The word dharma is often used almost synonymously with ‘religion’. In the 9th house the morality and spiritual aspiration associated with the word ‘dharma’ reaches its pinnacle of expression. Gurus and mentors, shown in the 9th House, point out the way, and lead us along the road to the achievement of our fullest possible individuation, or self-realization.
The Dalai Lama’s Jyotish chart places Mercury in Gemini in the 1st House and Saturn in Aquarius in the 9th House; so the 1st and 9th houses contain their own lords which greatly strengthens both. The natural benefic Jupiter, as 10th lord, is located in the 5th House (and from there aspects the 1st and 9th houses, since Jupiter in Jyotish specifically aspects within the triplicity it occupies). The Dalai Lama is an embodiment and teacher of ‘the Dharma’, and a person with a mission and purpose.
Another preacher man with a penchant for politics is Martin Luther King. His Jyotish chart shows Jupiter, or Guru, in the 1st house, happy in Mars ruled Aries, as lord of the 9th house. Here too Jupiter aspects both the 5th and 9th houses and strengthens the entire Dharma Triplicity. King’s 9th house contains 10th lord Saturn, in the sign Sagittarius. The Sun, his 5th lord, is in the 10th house in Capricorn. As already noted, such a combining of the Angular and Dharma houses is considered very empowering and auspicious in Jyotish. In King’s chart the lords of both the 5th and 9th are located in the most powerful of the Angular houses, while his fiery 1st lord, Mars, is located in the 2nd house of speech.
The Artha Houses – 2, 6, 10
Artha, or ‘wealth’, is the material resources we need to support our incarnated experience of life. Simple and clear. This idea is very close to what western astrologers would see in the ‘Earth Houses’; these houses do indeed relate to practical aspects of life.
When Artha is viewed through the prism of the Four Aims of Life, it helps give a clearer perspective to what ‘wealth’ is when viewed in the context of the other aims of life. It is clear that we need stuff, but we aren’t stuff, and have other business here too. It puts materialism in its place.
The 2nd House represents both food and money or material possessions in Jyotish. Food is in fact the most fundamental material need we have, the most basic material support we require, and we typically meet this need with money.
In Jyotish the 2nd House is further associated with ‘family life’. One could, or should perhaps rather call it ‘household’. Your immediate social support. The people who not only break bread with you, but also nurture and protect you in other ways as part of your innermost circle. It could be argued that to eat bad food, and to lack household nurture, is a brand of ultimately material poverty.
The 2nd House is ‘speech’; your style of speaking, whether generally truthful or not, and, you know, ‘your word is your wand‘. The 2nd House is by extension also associated with listening, memory and learning; you ‘bank’ and store a greater wealth of information if you have a good retentive memory.
Understanding and managing your 2nd house Artha is more holistic than eyeing the numbers on your bank account.
The 6th house, being the house of work and service, and by extension servants or employees, is where we earn our daily bread through the rigours of developing and applying useful skills. Our work needs to meet a certain standard to be of any use. It’s exacting. It is practical apprenticeship, compared to the honour and worldly authority of the 10th house. The 6th house can get you down if you don’t like being dynamic and efficient and can’t make yourself useful. Everyone sooner or later has to earn their keep.
There is an element of struggle in the 6th house, to a greater degree than with either of the other two Artha houses. Illness, accidents and enemies may here threaten our fortress. We have to meet these contingencies with fortitude, vigour, commitment and skill. The sterner malefic planets, in fact, yield useful results in the 6th house – wilting wallflowers and shrinking violets need not apply! Benefics struggle here, at least for at time, but ultimately improve due to the 6th house instinct for fixing and adjusting.
If you can manage crisis, and get the dirty work done, and conquer or subdue your enemies, and be ‘early to bed and early to rise’, you safeguard your kingdom and your Artha remains secured.
The 10th house is in a sense the highest or consummate expression of Artha. The ‘Arthashastra‘, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, is essentially a handbook for those who attain to a full embodiment or mastery of what the 10th house represents: Political power, fame and social influence that can impact the lives of many. A brief perusal of this old tome of practical wisdom reminds one of how well one needs to know the world, society, and people, to manage Artha at that exalted level. You have to build bridges, wage war, wage diplomacy, uncover intrigue and conquer hidden enemies, grow the treasury. It’s a full time job, and I can well believe that it might in a civilized society eventually come with a manual.
If we are not at the very pinnacle of worldly power and influence, the 10th house will represent those who stand above us in the social hierarchy, and upon whose goodwill our Artha may substantially depend; the elders and authorities of our social organization. Our 10th house Artha represents the respect, recognition and honor we can gain as a ‘citizen in good standing with the state’. This good standing is achieved, at it’s most basic level, by diligent execution of duty, obeying the rules, and making yourself somewhat useful to society. This earns you a certain amount of protection and rights within ‘the kingdom’.
At a higher level you have a career that requires harder work, or greater skill, something fairly specialized, important and respected socially, and therefore as a doctor, lawyer, judge or military general, for example, your status ensures that you will enjoy a level of preferential treatment.
If we are able to rise head and shoulders above others through our ambition, self mastery and effort, and successfully undertake great works for the benefit of many, we are recognized, if not celebrated far and wide. If 10th House Artha is mastered, then, inasmuch as it is the highest of the artha houses, we as a matter of course tend to eat fine foods, our words are edicts or become public discourse, and we are spared much 6th house type subservience, rigor and dirty work. This would strictly speaking only really be possible, in it’s fullest expression, if all three artha houses are strong, but a strong 10th house can do a lot to ameliorate deficiencies in the 2nd and 6th houses.
Muhammad Ali, someone who rose to tremendous heights of fame and influence through his career achievements, has Mars in the 10th house in Aries in his Jyotish chart. His 10th house is enormously bolstered by this fact alone, and indeed, as Mars would have it, he was famous as a fighter.
In Muhammad Ali’s chart Mars is lord of the 5th in the 10th which, adding a further layer of ‘luck’ and ‘authentic self-individuation’ to what his strong Mars in the 10th indicates. For every Cancer Ascendant Mars is the ‘Raja Yoga Karaka‘, or ‘kingly power significator’, and thus a temporary benefic, due to it’s lordship of one Angular and one Dharma house (or Kona).
In short, Ali’s Artha was tremendously bolstered by his strong 10th house, even though Rahu in the 2nd House (‘bad mouthing’, household disruptions), and Saturn’s debilitation in the 10th house (problems with authorities), may have blighted his overall Artha package slightly.
Leonardo da Vinci has, in his Jyotish chart, an exalted Sun in Aries in the 6th house, as lord of the 10th house (which already says a whole lot about him). Both the 6th and 10th benefit so far. The lord of the 6th house is exalted Mars in Capricorn in the 3rd house.
Jupiter, lord of the 2nd house, is comfortable enough in the 4th house, and is Conjunct 9th house lord Moon. The Moon and Jupiter, as two natural and temporal benefics (being lords of the 9th and 5th respectively), aspect the unoccupied 10th house with beneficial influence, supporting his social prestige and status.
Leonardo da Vinci was a meticulous, but also a bold and pioneering worker. He believed in his own practical ability, and he gained opportunities to demonstrate it:
‘In 1482, he earned the attention of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, when he wrote that he could build portable bridges and bombardments, make cannons and other war machines of the day, build ships, and sculpt using a variety of materials. In the Duke’s service, he became a principal engineer and architect for many of the Duke’s military operations and, in 1502, after the Sforzas were driven out of Milan, Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia as his chief architect and engineer, overseeing work on the fortresses of the papal territories in central Italy.’
Gordon Ramsay, we know, is capable of producing and regularly savours the finest foods in the world. It is almost patently obvious from his Jyotish chart at a glance, what with exalted Jupiter in the 2nd house of food and all. Jupiter is lord of the 10th – he’s famous for it! Occasionally, when he’s done giving some young would be chef the third degree for gross and disgusting inefficiency, and he’s whipped everyone into shape, he utters words of counsel and encouragement to his hapless apprentices and reality tv victims.
This tension and aggression, and the rather terse expressions he has been known to utter when he pours his scorn and derision on fools who f*ck up, is clearly shown in the Ascendant lord, Mercury, being located in the 6th house, in Scorpio (and then there’s also the debilitated Sun in Libra in the 5th which can have issues around co-operation vs. authority and dominance).
The Kama Houses – 3, 7, 11
While the 3rd, 7th and 11th houses are indeed, as Rob Hand designates them in Horoscope Symbols, ‘social houses’, a theme which is commonly associated with the air element, the Jyotish attribution of Kama, or desire, to this triplicity, reveals a further underlying theme among these houses that is not apparent from western astrology’s usual take.
The 3rd house represents our immediate or short term desires. These require an almost instantaneous gratification and invoke our physical dexterity (the use of our arms or limbs), our communication skills, and also our courage, to achieve their fulfilment. The 3rd house thus shows ‘prowess‘. In Jyotish, performing arts is an important 3rd house theme; performance requires of one to be very agile, expressive and motivated. Apathy gets you nowhere, and is the antithesis of 3rd house kama.
The well known Kama Sutra, you will agree, is essentially a manual for effective execution of 7th house matters? Well, at least in terms of the more physical and overt meanings of the 7th house. The desire for a mate drives us at a primal level, like a deep obsessive longing. As the reflection of the 1st house, the 7th house can be the missing half of the 1st house. We’re not quite ourselves until we complete that search.
If it’s not going to be a mate, we can’t evade the fact that there is this otherness that will periodically crystalize into form as someone or some thing that we need to face, and embrace, or come to terms with. You will sooner or later deeply desire, for example, the services of doctor, or lawyer to help you meet life’s vicissitudes. They really can complement you at that the right time. You’d be a fool not to seek and court them. We cannot be all thing unto ourselves.
Although Jyotish typically takes the 6th house as the house of ‘enemies’, the 7th house can certainly manifest as those we need to confront and encounter in a more competitive way. Even competitors are potentially our complement, or indispensable other half, in that through meeting the challenge they pose successfully, our all important 1st house, or self, is validated, vindicated and satisfied.
The 11th house, western astrology teaches, is the house of ‘hopes and wishes’. This resonates closely with the Jyotish notion that the 11th House represents your longer term life goals, or longer term desires. The 11th house may thus reveal the nature of your longer range life objectives, and your ability to realize them. We become gradually more and more empowered in wielding the faculties or energies associated with planets in our 11th house, since they represent the person we want to become, or the things we wish to grow and cultivate in ourselves and our life experience in the future.
It is interesting to note that all three Hitler’s Kama houses are strong. Two of them, the 3rd and 7th, contain their own lords, while the 11th lord, Sun, is exalted in an angular house, with a powerful dispositor.
Jupiter in Jyotish aspects the 5th and 9th house from it’s position. Something, loosely, like a trine. It therefore blesses the entire triplicity it occupies. The 3rd House benefits from the occupancy of Jupiter, it’s own lord, and both the 7th and 11th gain strength from the aspect of Jupiter to both these houses directly, and then also to their lords. Hitler had no deficiency of Kama.
I don’t mean to suggest only villians do Kama well, but look at the chart of Aleister Crowley. The notorious magician who not only had countless affairs and sexual intrigues with people of both sexes. He practised sex magic with zeal, hiring prostitutes for the purpose if he was not able to seduce suitable candidates.
Here Mars and Saturn are located in the 7th, and both are very strong by sign. Saturn is lord of the 7th in the 7th, so that in itself somewhat protects and empowers it, which means he could fulfil much 7th house Kama. However, Jyotish associates both Mars and Saturn in the 7th, each on their own, as potentially indicative of sexual excess and impropriety, which by all accounts, he achieved.
His Sun in the 3rd house contributed to his high energy level and enthusiasm, his theatrical interests and abilities, as well as his curiosity and courage.
The Moksha Houses – 4, 8, 12
The word ‘Moksha‘ is normally translated as ‘final liberation’. It is associated with the destination of the soul after death, and generally the hidden world beyond the physical plane, and our relationship to it. It’s best exponents, those who have mastered and attained this aim of life in full measure, may be anonymous to us, since they would seek little in the way of public life and external validation.
Even on a more everyday level, the realm of Moksha, as described in our natal charts, deals with some of the most elusive and intangible inner experiences we can have. We rarely fully understand them or possess the faculties and resources to clearly see their workings.
On the surface the 4th house relates to the most mundane and accessible manifestation of this ‘Watery Triad’ and its essentially spiritual concerns. The mother, one of the 4th House’s most basic meanings, with her womb creates a bridge between worlds.
Symbolically at least, the Sun finds itself in the 4th house at midnight, when all are asleep in the shelter of their homes, in that mini-death that follows and precedes every day of outer waking activity. It is in this daily womb experience that we are restored, rebuilt, and prepared for our daytime reincarnation.
At a stretch, poetically, we could possibly say the 4th house represents a primal cosmic umbilical chord, stretching right up to the great Cosmic Mother. We emerge life after life, and day after day, from this mysterious hidden source.
The 8th house is persistently associated with death, even though in both the Western and Vedic traditions there are references to the 7th house being the house of death. It is certainly true that the 8th house has a fateful and calamitous quality. It can be highly destructive of conditions that support our physical or psychological equilibrium, but then, as the aghori Vimalananda put it, ‘Moksha is the dissolution of your delusion‘, and your delusion may at times be enabled by pleasant circumstances. It is also a place that is more distinctly associated with the world of departed souls, and our own awareness of such perplexing mysteries as our own mortality. The deepest, darkest recesses of the psyche, and the very secrets of the universe, are bound up in the 8th house, and it takes the likes of psychologists, shamans, astrologers and occultists, to penetrate through the veils.
When stark truths and fears are courageously faced, when we can cut our losses and rise from the ashes of our own destruction, whether in this world or the next, we win thereby one more grain of conscious immortality- which is certainly a brand of ‘Moksha’. Many healers who have survived 8th house trials and tribulations eventually guide and encourage others with the light of this glowing ember of ‘phoenix medicine’.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and also wiser, one might hope, inasmuch as one hallmark of wisdom is a recognition of the ephemeral nature of our outer life and circumstances, or the ‘cosmic maya’ that enthrals the spiritually blind. A wisdom leading naturally to a deeper trust and reliance on those things that are most real but least visible, in the world of appearances.
The 12th house is, not unlike the 8th house, one of loss, limitation and bondage, as far as outer appearances go. We here have to surrender to forces and laws of the cosmos far beyond our grasp and control. Yet potentially through the 12th house paths of meditation or monastic seclusion, or sacrificial spiritual service, we may attain to that true inner peace and serenity ‘that passeth all understanding‘. The ultimate experience of Moksha is this transcendental bliss.
It is in fact true that Jyotish sees through the 12th House the texture of the private realm of the bedroom, bed pleasures, and thus this house also reveals our capacity to ‘surrender to bliss’ in that everyday aspect of our lives.
It is written that the 12th house, in particular, shows the destination of the soul after death. Who can evaluate the accuracy of this? I can’t, but if it is to be shown anywhere, the 12th house would be a fitting choice. Here’s to you not finding any hot and bothered looking planets in your charts’ 12th!
Dharma, Artha and Kama, or at least our cycle of incarnated experience of them and possible attachment to them, must ultimately be dissolved in the ocean of Moksha, until the worlds once more are bridged, and preparation for a new cycle begins.
Parahamahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of Yogi, has a Leo Ascendant in his Jyotish chart, with Moon, lord of the 12th house located in the 1st house.
Venus is in the 4th house, while Mars and Jupiter both occupy the 8th house in the sign Pisces. This 8th house of his is especially strong since Jupiter is a benefic, and lord of the 8th in the 8th. Moreover, Mars is Raja Yoga Karaka, or a powerful temporary benefic for the Leo Ascendant, and so is capable of yielding beneficial results in the realm of its house location.
Yogananda brought ‘kriya yoga‘, an ancient and hitherto secret form of yogic meditation, to the west. His famous book has proved to have perennial appeal, and still fans the flames of aspiration in the hearts of spiritual seekers across the globe. There is an entire chapter in Autobiography of a Yogi, entitled, Outwitting the Stars, in which Yogananada’s guru, himself an astrologer, prescribes an astrological bracelet to protect him from a period of impending illness, and, in response to Yogananda’s scepticism, eloquently explains where astrology fits into the scheme of things.
Reading Yogananda’s extraordinary book gives glimpses into a world of miracles and magic that few people can present quite so convincingly. He died after a long and fruitful life as a spiritual teacher. His corpse was unusual in that it did not decay at anything like the usual rate.
A notarized statement signed by the Director of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park testified:
“No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death….This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one ….Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.”
Yogananda records meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, and initiating him into the kriya yoga technique, at Gandhi’s request.
Mahatma Gandhi’s own chart shows the Sun located in the 12th house, pointing to a distinct inner orientation in Gandhi’s life, despite the fame and worldly power he attained (thanks in part to powerfully placed 1st and 10th lords in his Jyotish chart). He was imprisoned on many occasions, and embraced these times of relative quiet and seclusion to work on correspondence, or for reflection.
There are principles of Jyotish chart interpretation that I have not employed in these case studies, to keep it simple, but which would be part of a more complete and sophisticated assessment of a person’s capacity to achieve the Four Aims of Life in good measure.
I’m thinking in particular about the principle of ‘Bhava Karakas‘. We could call this ‘planets as house significators‘. Mars, for example, is for everyone the Karaka or significator for the 3rd and 6th houses. Mars does not have to be associated with these houses by occupancy or rulership to have this status, but the condition of Mars will have an impact or bearing on the ability of these houses to flourish. The tremendous potency of Mars in Muhammad Ali and Adolf Hitler’s charts (being in its own sign and angular by house placement in both instances), elevated their 3rd and 6th houses (and thus kama and artha respectively) substantially by this dignity, despite no direct link to these houses by occupancy or lordship. An article on another choice morsel of Jyotish method, for another day.
As Sri Yukteswar explained to Paramhansa Yogananda, in their conversation about astrology immortalized in Yogananda’s autobiography, ‘only when a traveler has reached his destination is justified in discarding his maps‘. Astrology can be just that for us; a map to guide us on this often beguiling journey through life. Understanding the Four Aims of Life in the context of the houses of the horoscope helps us orientate in each of these important aspects of living.