Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

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Indrajala
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Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Indrajala » Tue Dec 05, 2017 11:43 pm

Greetings everyone.

I would like to let everyone know that my PhD dissertation, or about 80% of it, is available online:

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/54858

In a nutshell, my study documents the Buddhist practice of astrology first in India, and then in China, where it really took off starting in the eighth century as a result of the newly introduced Tantric teachings requiring consideration of astrological timing when performing rituals.

From there China got a hold of the art of horoscopy (from ethnically Iranian astrologers) around the year 800, and Buddhists jumped on that bandwagon, since they already had a deep interest in astrology. My big discovery is that a good chunk of East Asian Buddhist astrology (and astral magic) is actually Iranian, not Indian, in origin. This whole package of hybridized astrology and all the associated magic, iconography and lore deeply influenced Buddhism in East Asia, in particular Japan.

If you want a larger summary, please read the conclusion.

Two chapters are under embargo because I used some of their content in journal articles.
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MiphamFan
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by MiphamFan » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:09 am

Congratulations.

Didn't read it yet, but curious if you looked at Kalachakra astrology too? Also, would "Iranian" include e.g Sakan/Sogdian/Khotanese?

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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Indrajala » Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:41 am

MiphamFan wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:09 am
Congratulations.

Thanks!

Didn't read it yet, but curious if you looked at Kalachakra astrology too?

In the dissertation, I briefly mention it, since its calendar's epoch of 806 is identical to what we find a Chinese text from the early- to mid-ninth century.

I discuss the Kālacakra in more detail in a forthcoming publication.


Also, would "Iranian" include e.g Sakan/Sogdian/Khotanese?

Sogdian to be specific, although the Sogdians drew upon an earlier tradition of Sassanian Persian astrology.

Ethnically Iranian men from "Western India" were also present in China during the ninth century. We can assume they were users of Middle Persian. They were responsible for translating the astrology of Dorotheus of Sidon into Chinese, which became the core body of horoscopic lore in East Asia.
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by tingdzin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:30 am

Thanks very much for posting.

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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by tingdzin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:31 am

But why is some of it "under embargo" and what does that mean? Never heard of that before.

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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Indrajala » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:28 pm

tingdzin wrote:
Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:31 am
But why is some of it "under embargo" and what does that mean? Never heard of that before.
It means that some of the content in those chapters is officially published elsewhere, such as in articles. That means the article is the first public presentation of the relevant work, rather than the dissertation. This is important, since articles become "canon", so to speak, whereas your dissertation isn't.
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:58 pm

Only dipped into the Conclusion where you write:
We must bear in mind that there are statements in Mahāyāna scriptures that encourage bodhisattvas to master mundane sciences, which includes astrology and calendrical science.
You probably give examples in the rest of the paper, but if not, the Ten Stages Sutra in the Fifth Stage section there is this (Cleary 739):
...methods of pointing out the signs of the sun, moon, planets, stars, constellations,...
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Indrajala » Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:28 am

Nicholas Weeks wrote:
Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:58 pm
You probably give examples in the rest of the paper, but if not, the Ten Stages Sutra in the Fifth Stage section there is this (Cleary 739):
Definitely! I cite that text and passage.

The truth is that Mahāyāna jumped on a trend by encouraging its adherents to study worldly sciences. The stigma against astrologers, which is found in both earlier Buddhist and Brahmanical (Laws of Manu, etc) works, was wearing off between the third to sixth centuries. Indian intellectuals and clerics of various religions were also more and more interested in astrology. The old proscriptions against practicing astrology would have been seen as unnecessary and perhaps unwise.
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:52 pm

This is off topic Jeff, but if you are interested & know the answer, please go to the thread on Shakra-Indra.

The Heaven of the 33 is ruled by Lord Shakra, King of Gods, also known as Indra, and the God of the Christian Bible. I first ran across this identification of the Xtian God with Shakra-Indra in the teachings of Ven. Master Hsuan Hua.

Three questions (at least) - 1) Where and when did this notion of identity appear in the buddhadharma?

2) Cannot now recall where, but the clear suggestion is that Shakra-Indra-God is a disciple of Buddha. He appears in the first chapter of the Avatamsaka giving his Dharma door, for example. Where else is there an explicit (or another implicit one) dharma saying so?

3) Does the "Christian God" mean Jehovah of the O.T.?

EDIT - I started another thread myself.
Last edited by Nicholas Weeks on Fri Dec 08, 2017 5:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Motova » Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:56 pm

Nicholas Weeks wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:52 pm
This is off topic Jeff, but if you are interested & know the answer, please start a new thread on the following subject.

The Heaven of the 33 is ruled by Lord Shakra, King of Gods, also known as Indra, and the God of the Christian Bible. I first ran across this identification of the Xtian God with Shakra-Indra in the teachings of Ven. Master Hsuan Hua.

Three questions (at least) - 1) Where and when did this notion of identity appear in the buddhadharma?

2) Cannot now recall where, but the clear suggestion is that Shakra-Indra-God is a disciple of Buddha. He appears in the first chapter of the Avatamsaka giving his Dharma door, for example. Where else is there an explicit (or another implicit one) dharma saying so?

3) Does the "Christian God" mean Jehovah of the O.T.?
I think more people believe the bible god to be a hungry ghost.

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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by MiphamFan » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:00 am

BTW Jeff, could you recommend any introductions to Hellenistic astrology? I have tried a few resources in the past but found it difficult to put together all the pieces.

I know about the seven classical planets, the houses, the signs, and the different aspects they form to each other. I think those are the basics? But then I don't know how people put them together -- I have read traditional books like Vettius Valens, and some translations of other Hellenistic/Roman writers where they give specific interpretations when a planet is in a certain sign or something, but I find it difficult to see how you can generalize from that to a separate reading with other factors all coming in.

I saw your recommendation of Brennan's course. I previewed one lecture from his course but found that it was mostly him just reading out the slides, in other lessons does he have actual exercises?

Another thing is that I guess most people nowadays just use astrological software that calculate all the charts out for you, but I think being able to see how you could actually go from (modern) astronomical data to a chart would be interesting and helpful for me.

Another thing, I have skimmed through a few chapters of your thesis, and didn't find it, but I haven't yet closely read so it might be in there, but I didn't find any mention of the ayanamsa/precession of the equinoctes. Do you know how they dealt with it in the astrology of the period you studied?

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Re: Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty

Post by Indrajala » Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:31 pm

MiphamFan wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:00 am
BTW Jeff, could you recommend any introductions to Hellenistic astrology? I have tried a few resources in the past but found it difficult to put together all the pieces.
Indeed! This book is what you need:

http://www.hellenisticastrology.com/book/

I highly recommend it. In addition to explaining things clearly, it also cites scholarly translations and publications.


I know about the seven classical planets, the houses, the signs, and the different aspects they form to each other. I think those are the basics?
Yes, that's essentially the basics. There are numerous advanced doctrines that one can study later on, but the essential parts are not so numerous.

I saw your recommendation of Brennan's course. I previewed one lecture from his course but found that it was mostly him just reading out the slides, in other lessons does he have actual exercises?
There's not any exercises in the handouts that I received. The best way to learn horoscopy is to apply all the doctrines you're learning to a birth chart.

His book though covers what the course teaches for the most part.


Another thing, I have skimmed through a few chapters of your thesis, and didn't find it, but I haven't yet closely read so it might be in there, but I didn't find any mention of the ayanamsa/precession of the equinoctes. Do you know how they dealt with it in the astrology of the period you studied?
In short, the early transmission of Indian and apparently Persian astrology used a sidereal zodiac, but around the year 800, Li Miqian from Western India (probably ethnically Iranian however) and his team created a system of aligning the 12 zodiac signs with the Chinese solar terms, effectively producing a tropical zodiac, since the first degree of Aries by default is aligned with the vernal equinox. It appears that East Asian astrologers more or less continued to keep Aries in alignment with the vernal equinox, although in practice their system of observational astronomy (based on 28 lunar stations) is sidereal in nature. The zodiac signs are therefore tropical, but the lunar stations are sidereal. The astrological lore, however, was taken from texts translated into Chinese with no reference to tropical or sidereal zodiacs, including some Buddhist texts.
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