Dharma, Vocation and Your Life’s Purpose
by Dennis Flaherty
The Dharma; The Purpose
The concept of dharma is deeply ingrained in Jyotisha, or what is commonly called Vedic astrology. A correct understanding of this concept is essential in properly comprehending one’s vocational path. The word dharma implies a recognition and fulfillment according to ones inherent purpose. Dharma is the law of our existence, the path of our destiny. The Vedas, the ancient spiritual scripture of India, speak of this: “There is nothing higher than dharma. Verily, that which is dharma is truth.”
According to ancient Vedic scripture, dharma operates on four levels; four levels of divine order within existence. These are: universal dharma, social dharma, human dharma and personal dharma.
Universal dharma, orrita, is divine order, or the operation of a conscious cosmic law, regulating the natural world of phenomena. The Vedas say: “Earth is upheld by truth. Heaven is upheld by the sun. The solar regions are upheld by eternal laws, rita”.
Social dharma, orvarna dharma, consists of the complex social matrix of familial and vocational responsibility within all human societies. The great Vedic sage Manu cognized that humanity naturally occurred in four states. The brahmins, the kshatriyas, the vaishyas and the shudras. These are relatively speaking: the spiritual and scholarly types, the administrative and executive types, the merchant and business types, the servant and artisan types. Social dharma is realized in the fulfillment of our familial, communal and cultural responsibilities in this world. Properly followed social dharma fuels the evolutionary progress of existence. The ancient Vedas say: “When a person is born, whoever they may be, there is born simultaneously a debt to the Gods, to the sages, to the ancestors, and to humanity.”
Human dharma, orashrama dharma, is the natural state of human existence, expressed in the four ashrams, or stations of life. These four stages of human existence according to Vedic scripture are: the brahmacharya stage, the grihastah stage the vanaprasta stage and finally the sannyasa stage. These stations of life are respectively: a time of study, a time of work and family, a time of slow withdrawal from public life, and a final time of renunciation to give ourselves back to the divine from which we came. The ancient Vedas say: “Pursuit of the duties of the stage of life to which one belongs, that, verily is the rule.”
Lastly, personal dharma, or swadharma, according to scripture is said to be determined by two forces; the karmas of the past, and the three aforesaid dharmas of this life. Our past patterning mixes with the matrix of universal, social, and human dharma and inexorably draw us toward the destiny of this life. Swadharma means, “ones personal law”. The Vedas say that the worship of the Hindu deity, Ganesha, the Vedic deity of dharma, reveals one’s personal law. This deity, Ganesha, governs the higher intellectual faculties of human consciousness, and most importantly, for the purposes of this article, is the divine deity that specifically governs astrology. The study of astrology is linked to an understanding of one’s personal dharma! The ancient scriptures further suggest that personal dharma can be determined by the right study of Jyotisha, or Vedic astrology. We have come full circle from the deities of the heavens, back to the astrological chart of terra firma to reveal our personal purpose. The Indian scriptures say: “Every person has his life designed beforehand; and the light of the purpose he is born to accomplish in life has already been kindled in his soul!”
This Vedic concept of personal law, or swadharma, is deeply ingrained in the infrastructure of the Vedic astrological chart. Like the four stages of human dharma, or ashrama dharma, the bhavas, or houses of the astrological chart are divided into four stations, or types, reflecting the four ends of human pursuit. In order, the four ends of human pursuit are: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. Respectively, these four pursuits of human existence are: rightful fulfillment of personal law, rightful acquisition of personal resources, rightful fulfillment of desires, and lastly liberation and emancipation from this world. You can easily observe that this categorization is but a personal microcosm of the stages of ashrama, or human dharma from start to finish.
The Bhavas; The Houses
The bhavas, or houses of the Vedic astrological chart are correspondingly arranged to reflect these four fruits of personal existence. Houses 1, 5, and 9 are the dharma stations. Houses 2, 6, and 10 are the artha stations. Houses 3, 7, and 11 are the kama stations. Lastly, Houses 4, 8, and 12 are the moksha stations. The rightful pursuits of the field of human experience is completely contained within all the bhavas.
The bhavas of the Vedic chart commence with dharma. The first house initiates the cycle of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. The second bhava follows as an artha house. The third house follows as a kama house, and lastly the fourth house completes the cycle as a moksha house. These stations repeat in the exact same order throughout the twelve houses of the astrological chart.
The Vedic sages consider the trikonal bhavas, houses 1, 5, and 9 the most auspicious houses because they are dharma houses. Think about it. What can be said of personal existence if it has no personal purpose, if it does not follow swadharma, or personal purpose! The human pursuit of artha follows dharma. Therefore, the houses that follow the dharma houses are the artha houses. These are house 2, 6, and 10. Of what value is the accumulation of resources without swadharma? What is the value of any material resource if you are ignorant of its purpose? You will probably not be aware of its purpose according to rita, or universal dharma. Only the sages and the Gods have this awareness. You may not be aware of its purpose according to varna dharma, or social dharma. You may not be aware of its purpose according to ashrama dharma, or human dharma. But if you don’t know the purpose of your acquisitions according to swadharma, or personal dharma, then you have acquired and accumulated what you posses in a profound state of ignorance. You have left yourself out of the loop of your personal purpose!
Next to the trikonal houses the kendras, or the angles are said to be of auspicious import. The angles of course are houses 1, 4, 7, and 10. As in western tropical astrology, these houses are the power centers of the chart. Notice how both the first house and the tenth house are included in this grouping. These are respectively both a dharma and an artha house, connected to the revelation of purpose and the material necessary to accomplish this task. The first house pulls double duty as a trikonal and a kendra house, as after all, it is chiefly indicative of self and therefore the most powerful representative of the individual.
In Vedic astrology, the power of the trikonal and kendra houses increases throughout the house order. Of the three trikonal houses, 1, 5, and 9; the ninth is the most powerful and auspicious of the dharma trines. It is a house of supreme dharmic intent, known as bhagya bhava; the house fortune. Of the four kendras, houses 1, 4, 7, and 10; the tenth house is the most powerful and auspicious of the angles. As the most powerful angle in the chart, the tenth house is known as karma bhava. The Sanskrit word karma means, action. The tenth bhava is the house of action. It is where our deeds take place in the world. You may be well intentioned, but you will be known by your deeds! That’s where the rubber of dharma meets the road of action.
The Yogas; The Planetary Unions
The planets that rule over the trikonal, or dharma houses, and the kendra houses are the most powerful planets in the birth chart. Whenever a planet that rules a dharma
house is connected with a planet that rules a kendra house, a raja yoga manifests in the birth chart. A raja yoga means: a royal union. This category of raja yogas is the most beneficial yogas of the birth chart. Think about the wisdom of the sages. The planets that rule the dharma houses 1, 5, and 9, are associated with the fulfillment of your purpose. The planets that rule the kendras, houses 1, 4, 7, and 10, are associated with the places of power in this life. Those places, of course, are; the self, the family, relationship, and vocation. The association of planets bringing these great houses together is very purposeful and powerful indeed. Whenever dharma is linked with the power to bring it forth in the world, this is a very important for the evolutionary progress of the soul.
It is especially significant, purposeful and auspicious when planets are connected in some way that rule the most powerful of the trikonal houses; the ninth house, and the most powerful of the kendra houses; the tenth house. This is a raja yoga of supreme import. It is called dharma/karma yoga. It is the supreme yoga of purposeful, fortunate action, for it involves bhagya bhava and karma bhava. What could be more illuminating to the self than to reveal one’s swadharma through right action in the world of manifestation. This is truly splendiferous, for it involves all four levels of dharma aligning the evolving soul with the divine intent.
The planets that rule the ninth and tenth houses can be connected in a number of ways. They can be in conjunction in the same sign, or they can be aspecting each other in opposite signs. Just like western tropical astrology, Vedic astrology has a myriad of planetary aspects. Any good beginning book will explain the aspects in great detail. Planets can also be associated by parivartana yoga, or mutual exchange, by being in each others signs. In addition planets can be associated by being placed in each others Nakshatras. The Nakshatras are 27 in all, being 13 degree and 20 minute partitions of the signs reflecting the Moon’s movement during the sidereal month. Again, the Nakshatras can be found in complete detail in any good beginning book on Vedic astrology. Such a planetary combination producing a dharma/karma yoga gives the potential to realize personal dharma through our actions in the world at large.
Karma Bhava; The House of Action
The tenth bhava, as previously explained, is known as karma bhava; the place of our action in the world. The tenth bhava is described as the house of honor, sacred studies, virtuous deeds, and vocation. But it has another special distinction in Vedic astrology. It specifically is the house that rules over dharma. In addition, the tenth house is the only artha house, a house of acquired resources that is a powerful angle. The specificity of dharma and artha combined in the most powerful angle, give extraordinary import to the resources we acquire through our vocation. Here we have the opportunity through rightful action to acquire resources for the self that are predicated upon personal dharma. These rightful actions, or karmas, over time will continue to clothe the self in the garments of personal truth, until the purposeful self shines forth for all to see. This is the bhava of self realization, according to dharma, in the world of material manifestation. The Ancient Vedas say: “Having realized the Self, the perfected souls, satisfied with their knowledge, passion free, tranquil – those wise beings , having attained the omnipresent on all sides – enter into the All itself.”
In assessing the vocational attributes of the tenth bhava it is essential to look at the planetary ruler of this powerful house. The nature of the planet ruling the tenth will make itself known by it sign and house position. If the planet ruling the tenth is in its’ own sign, a friend’s sign or exaltation, it will prove to be very powerful. If this planet is in an inimical sign, or in the sign of its’ fall, it is weakened. Further, if the planet ruling the tenth is placed in one of the dharma trikonal houses it is very auspicious. The planet ruling the specific house of dharma falling into one of the trikonal houses of dharma creates a convergence of dharma! If this planet falls into a kendra bhava, one of the angles, it is capable of manifesting great worldly power, according to the power of the particular kendra. When the ruler of the tenth falls into one of the dustanna bhavas, or evil houses, houses 6, 8, 12, and to a lesser degree house 3, the planet is capable of creating difficulties in the unfolding of vocation, based upon the karmic considerations of the particular dustanna house. If you have one of these aforesaid dustanna locations associated with the tenth lord, please do not throw away your life in hopes of reincarnating with the tenth lord in a kendra, or a trikonal house. These are only general guidelines and there are a myriad of mitigating circumstances. In addition, benefic planets aspecting the tenth lord, or on either side of the tenth lord are capable of creating uplifting circumstances for vocation. Conversely, malefic planets aspecting, or on either side of the tenth lord are capable of creating difficult circumstances for vocation. ( To determine planetary friendship and benefic planets see my article, The Grahas, in the June 1995 edition of TMA).
The ruler of the tenth house is of paramount importance when assessing vocational dharma. The ruler of karma bhava is to be considered, even before looking at the planets contained within the tenth house! Think about the wisdom of the sages. Even if the most honored guests are in the house, to what avail is it for the condition of the house if the landlord is not in a position of power, or worse in jail! The powerful guests aside, the house will become dilapidated; a mere shanty with the passage of time. Planets within the tenth house can only deliver their strength if the planetary ruler of karma bhava is in a position of strength.
The planets in karma bhava deliver vocational power based upon their inherent natures. Generally speaking, the Sun indicates executives, government service and organizational and political administrators. The Moon indicates commerce and occupations connected to water, the nurturing, care giving, and counseling professions, and professions that deal with the public. Mercury generally indicates merchants, writers, authors, journalists, information processing and telecommunications professions, as well as counselors, astrologers and yes, thieves; that is the proverbial used car salesperson! Venus generally indicates professions involving personal enhancement, cosmetologists and clothiers, jewelry and decorative professions, the hotel and entertainment profession. Mars, of course represents the military and all courageous professions such as police, fire department, security etc. Mars also indicates mechanical ability represented in the engineering, service and medical professions. Jupiter generally represents the judicial branch, such as lawyers, judges, as well as teaches, ministers, both politically and spiritually, bankers and general big picture corporate types. Saturn generally speaking represents scientists, administrators, engineers, as well as the service industry and all professions associated with the earth, such as farming and agriculture. The Nodes of the Moon basically have the same consideration as the planets in Vedic astrology. Rahu, the north node of the Moon, is generally considered to represent researchers, psychotherapists, criminologists and all professions involved with penetrating insight into both the spiritual and dark side of life. Lastly, Ketu, the south node of the Moon, gives highly perceptive vocational trends, such as spiritual ministries, spiritual based counseling and psychotherapists, the internet as well as vocations involving the otherworldy, such as physics and aerospace-space industry.
These general planetary indicators aside, planets in the tenth become increasingly powerful if they themselves are rulers of the trikonal and kendra houses. They further gain stature if they are in combination with such planets that rule the auspicious houses of dharma and power. Of course, planets in their own signs, or sign of exaltation become increasingly powerful tenants in the house of karma. Are you beginning to assess your vocational dharma like the ancient Vedic mind yet?
The Karakas of Karma Bhava; The Indicators of Profession
As well as planetary rulers, every house in Vedic astrology has planetary indicators, or karakas specifically associated with it. In the classic Vedic text, Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra, the Father of Vedic astrology, sage Parasara proclaims that the karaka of the tenth bhava is the planet Mercury. Planetary karakas must always be considered, along with planetary house rulers, to assess the affairs of the particular house in question. The planet Mercury is the planet of the discriminating intellect in Vedic astrology. Mercury offers a choice based upon our discrimination. We can choose to embrace our swadharma. We can also choose not to embrace our dharma. Opposition to dhamra is called adharma. It means to go against divine law. As karaka of the tenth, Mercury gives us a choice at the cross roads of vocation.
In addition to fixed planetary karakas for each of the houses, in Vedic astrology there is special group of moveable planetary karakas. These are calculated by how many degrees a planet has traversed in zodiacal longitude in the sidereal zodiac. The planet that has the highest number of degrees in any sign is considered the atmakaraka. Atmakaraka means, “indicator of the soul.” The late zodiacal degree of the atmakaraka indicates that the quality represented by this planet is in an advanced state of development within the person. If this planet is in it’s own sign, a friend’s sign, or exaltation then this quality is deeply ingrained in the self. Because the atmakaraka is indicative of self maturity it becomes a factor in the assessing of personal dharma.
There is a further refinement of the atmakaraka that is used in assessing vocation. Vedic astrology uses a number of harmonic charts called vargas, or divisional charts. There are a good sixteen of them in total, but by far the most important is the ninth harmonic chart, known as the navamsa chart. Any good Vedic astrology software program will calculate the divisional charts for you. Once you have determined your atmakaraka you will want to see in what zodiacal sign it falls within the navamsa. The sign that the atmakaraka falls within in the navamsa is known as the karakamsa. The wisdom of the ancient sages is that these further refinements of the atmakaraka, the indicator of the soul, reveal more subtle aspects of the self. There are varied schools of thought and many techniques, but the line of thinking is that the quality of the sign in which the karakamsha is placed is present in the vocational dharma of self. Again if the atmakaraka is in its’ own sign, a friend’s sign, or exaltation sign it becomes powerfully disposed. With all the attention to detail in this article you will not at all be surprised to find that my karakamsa of course falls in the sign of Virgo!
Lastly, there are specific harmonic charts, or vargas, that are associated with dharma and vocation. The ninth harmonic chart is called the navamsa and the tenth harmonic and it is called the dasamsa chart. Vedic sage Parasara reveals that these charts should be studied only in reference to the natal chart to reveal elements of the person’s vocational life. The technical aspects of the varga charts are beyond the scope of this article, but please remember that any one of the vargas are only to be studied in reference to the natal chart, as they are limbs of a body, and only have meaning in reference to the whole. These vargas are like the various Vedanga, additional sacred text, which are considered the limbs of the Vedas. Jyotisha, or Vedic astrology is one such limb. The sages suggest that these limbs should not be studied without reference to the main body; the Vedas.
Ancient Eastern Society Meets Modern Western Society
In ancient Vedic society it was relatively easy for the astrologer to assess profession for it was largely an inherited position, determined by varna dharma, that is the social dharma or the caste one was born into at birth. This is still true to some extent in modern India. Although this may seem unfair to the western mind, it is not necessarily so. Ancient India was a culture founded on the sacred principles expounded in the Vedas. The law of karma, of cause and effect, determined ones birth in family. This in turn determined ones social dharma, or place in society. According to human dharma, at the proper time; the grihasta station in life, an individual took up their profession. This was a rite of passage. In due time, at the next station, the vanaprastha station, the person gradually removed themselves from public life seeking complete withdrawal, or moksha, in the final sannyasa station of life. These were also rites of passage. This was a natural order, ordained by the Vedas. In ancient India there was an inherent simplicity when it came to choosing vocation. But that was millennia ago, and our modern western cultures are exceedingly more complex in the choosing of vocation. I bring up this point to emphasize the fact that modern societies’ social stratification is not founded on the same principles as ancient Vedic society.
The ancient Vedic mind envisioned an inherent ordering of society determined by the four levels of dharma. The individual turned to social dharma to determine their place in the world. In this sense, ancient Vedic society was a benevolent society that facilitated personal dharma according to the divine plan, as expressed by the four levels of dharma. Further, scripture suggested that personal dharma could be revealed with the help of a competent astrologer. What does this ancient divine plan of vocation say in contrast to the modern business plan that has envisioned a global economy? Do you envision the modern, post- industrialized society, as a benevolent society funded to help fulfill personal dharma? On the contrary, the modern business society is frankly not concerned with the evolutionary progress of the individual and the worldly vocation that would most facilitate it. The goal of the modern business society is profit, pure and simple. The modern economic sages, and their secular scriptures would suggest you read, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, or even peruse The Dow Jones Industrials to find your viable vocational place in the world. The economic scriptures would never suggest that you consult a Vedic astrologer to find your swadharma.
The Wages of Dharma and The Wages of Profit
It is clear that the goals of the ancient Vedic sages, who cognized the Vedas, and Jyotisha, are distinctly different from the goals of our modern business oriented culture. The modern business society is interested in profit, not the purposeful fulfillment of an individual’s swadharma! Profit has replaced personal dharma. Yes, our modern culture is laden with resources; the accumulation of artha, but are these resources based on personal dharma? I often feel the goal of the modern business profit culture is best summarized in a contemporary bumper sticker, usually found on the back of upscale luxury cars. It reads: “Those with the most toys win when they die.” This statement stands in sharp contrast to the final goal of moksha, or liberation, embraced by Vedic society. When artha leads dharma, the self threatens to be covered over by purposeless, material possessions. Perhaps this modern emphasis on artha, the accumulation of resources, even at the expense of personal dharma has left many confused as to the purpose of their life beyond the acquisition of wealth.
Unfortunately, in our times of an increasing global economy labor largely follows profit, not dharma. The ancient Vedic mind realized that profit, or artha must follow dharma. This is expressed in the natural ordering of the artha houses, following the dharma houses of the Vedic chart. Labor without dharma, is nothing more than avidya, or ignorance. It has nothing to do with right vocation; it is merely work, and work is not right vocation. That is why the ancient astrologers gave the domain of work and service to the dustanna sixth house, and right vocation to the powerful tenth kendra. Profit must follow personal purpose, how can it be otherwise? If not, the end will always justify the means. This is adharma. This is to go against divine order. Because labor largely follows profit in our times, Vedic astrology particularly offers profound insights into right vocation in these troubled times of globalization and job outsourcing, for as you have been reading, profit has nothing to do with vocational dharma, it is nothing more than blind artha. Vedic astrology brings with it a certain vantage point of the ancient mind that assesses our worldly vocation from a more divine, less business headset. Perhaps one of the greatest Western Greek sages, Plato, still speaks to us today regarding the vocational dilemma of our times. In Book Six of the Republic Plato says: “and what if a man is forgetful and retains nothing of what he learns, will he not be an empty vessel? That is certain. Laboring in vain, he must end in hating himself and his fruitless occupation.
Labor can only follow dharma, as surely as the earth can only circumnavigate the Sun. The wages of right vocation go well beyond the money and wealth acquired. They are purposeless without the light of swadharma. No one can say that material wealth makes one shine forth the light of personal dharma. Wrongful accumulation of wealth may indeed cover up the light of true personal dharma. The most powerful wage of right vocation according to the ancient Vedic mind is the realization of one’s personal dharma; the realization of self, which is truly the purpose of this life’s existence. This indeed can make one splendiferous, even without a penny to one’s name! All that glitters is not gold. Verily, the ancient Vedic mind would agree that this is the path to shine forth the purposeful self. The ancient Vedas procliam; “That splendor that resides in an elephant, in a king, among men, or within the water, with which the God’s in the beginning came to Godhood, with that same splendor make me splendid, O Lord.”
Dennis Flaherty is an internationally recognized Vedic astrologer. He is one of the few westerners who is practiced in both Vedic and Western astrology. He is the recipient of the Jyotish Kovid from both the CVA and the ICAS (1994), as well as the Jyotish Vaschaspati (1996), and Jyotish Medha Pragya (2011) from the ICAS, the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences. Dennis is one of the several founding members of both the American College of Vedic Astrology (ACVA) and the Council of Vedic Astrology (CVA). He is the current elected President of the CVA, and the director of the NW Institute of Vedic Sciences in the greater Seattle, WA area, where he offers consultations and teaches a curriculum in Vedic astrology through his CVA-approved audio correspondence course in Jyotish. Dozens of his students have been recognized and received CVA certification, and several have gone on to start their own successful Vedic astrology practice.
Dennis Flaherty can be contacted at: NW Institute of Vedic Sciences, 543 Main St, Unit D, Edmonds, WA 98020. Tel: 425-778-6487. Web page: www.vedicsciences.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.