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Upaya (Remedial Measures)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Remedial measures are a cornerstone of Vedic astrology. The very first words of the most widely recognized classical work on Indian astrology, Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, are an invocation to Lord Ganesha, the deity for removal of obstacles. This places upaya at the focal point of the Vedic astrology tradition. Scattered through the text, and indeed the texts of most of the classical works of Jyotish, are verses giving methods for relieving the obstructions and suffering caused by various astrological combinations.

The notion that a natal chart is a blueprint for this life that can be improved upon through remedial measures necessitates an understanding of the concept of karma. Jyotisha is not exclusively oriented either to fate or to free will and the resolution of this often hotly debated dichotomy lies in a proper understanding of the different categories of karma and how they integrate into the reality of an indivisible whole.

The Sanskrit word karma means “action” or “activity” and by implication refers to the effects that are inherent in any activity or action. Most Westerners have a narrower notion of karma as accrued past actions rather than seeing it as an ongoing process.

The total of karma garnered over many incarnations is known as Sanchita (amassed) karma. This is not knowable or readable in the birth chart of any specific incarnation. The portion of karma that is to be dealt with in a particular lifetime is known as Prarabdha (fructifying) karma. Prarabdha karma is linked to the concept of fate. However, human beings have volition, which is known as Kriyamana (initiated) karma. Humans also have the ability to plan and contemplate actions in the future, known as Agama (impending) karma.

When an astrologer looks at a natal chart only, it is Prarabdha karma that is being assessed. Chart patterns should be understood not only in terms of the areas of life and timing that may be involved but also their intensity. We can understand Prarabdha karma on three levels. If the chart pattern shows a particular area of life to be obstructed in a way that is repeated using multiple techniques of analysis, this is a form of Prarabdha karma known as Dridha (firm) karma. If there are obstructions but also some influences that are helpful, the situation can be described as Dridha-Adridha (firm-unfirm) karma. Chart patterns that do not show any clear pattern or direction for a particular area of life can be described as Adridha (unfirm) karma.

The astrologer should accurately assess the karmic patterns to understand whether the karma is very firm with respect to an issue. In this way proper remediation counseling and recommendations can be set forth commensurate with the intensity of the obstruction indicated.

There is an unending array of upayas, both traditional and contemporary. The most widespread traditional approaches to remediation involve rituals to connect with the Divine, the giving of charity in prescribed ways and service (seva) that is usually specific to the issues in the chart situation.


Most of the religions of India and indeed almost all human societies involve some kind of ritual. It can be elaborate and performed in a temple or similar setting, or simple and performed privately between a person and the symbol of the Divine for that individual. In the Hindu and Vedic tradition, specific rituals (yagyas or yajnas) are at the heart of the recommendations of the astrologer. Yagyas can be performed on all scales. Some are mind-boggling pageants rivaling analogous spectacles anywhere in the world. These were the rituals of ancient times done for kings who embarked on missions of fame and glory involving power and empires. Even today in India, there are large-scale ritual performances involving hundreds of priests, elephants, horses, etc.

For most individuals seeking remediation, yagyas are on a different order of magnitude. However, there is still a wide range of options available. The power of the yagya increases with the number of repetitions of the sacred sounds prescribed to alleviate the problem in the chart. Therefore, depending on the intensity of the affliction and the financial commitment of the person for whom the rite is being performed, a yagya can last for many days with many priests chanting or take place in a few hours with one priest responsible for the ritual.

In contemporary times, especially in the West, yagyas are performed without the person being present. Westerners often arrange to have them done in India though there are many qualified priests in the West who can perform these ceremonies as well. There are differences of opinion as to the efficacy of a small yagya with the subject present as compared to a larger one in abstentia.

Yagyas are generally comprised of puja and homa. Puja, which is also a ritual in its own right, involves prayers and offerings to a representation of the deity that is being worshipped and/or applied to for relief. Homa is a Vedic fire ceremony in which various symbolic items and mantras are offered into the fire. The fire is the vehicle that carries the offerings to the deities of the planets or whatever aspect of creation is being addressed. Appropriate prayers and chants are part of the performance.


The use of mantras in the yagyas and in an ongoing personal practice is another cornerstone of the recommendations for remediation of an astrological indication. It is well known that sound is a physical vibration. Saying a word couples this physical vibration with a mental intention that gives it energy. In the Vedic tradition, sound is the first manifestation of creation. This is mirrored in the New Testament as well with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word, And the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

For the purposes of astrological remediation, Bija (plural) or “seed” mantras are often prescribed. Each planet has an associated Bijam (singular) mantra. These are extremely powerful and proper pronunciation, as with all mantras, is vitally important. The name of the planet can also be used as a mantra when potentized by adding “Om,” and “Namaha,” words giving respect or reverence. An example for Jupiter would be “Om Gurave Namaha.”

Other Vedic mantras specific for each of the planets are more elaborate and very powerful as well. Additionally, there are mantras, verses, and chants for the corresponding deities that are associated with each of the planets that are also prescribed.

Because of the power of mantras, it is important that mantras are prescribed that specifically suit the individual by someone who understands the tradition or the mantras should be suitable for anyone and have no adverse effects even if not pronounced perfectly.

Properly prescribed yagyas and mantras are considered safer forms of remediation than those modalities by which a planetary influence is strengthened, such as wearing gemstones. If the wrong gem prescription is given, one may unwittingly cause an adverse effect by making the “wrong” planet more powerful. This can occur even with an expert gem recommendation if, for example, the birth time is incorrect. There is no corresponding problem with mantra and yagya since these are modalities that propitiate and ask for grace.


The classical texts of Hindu astrology prescribe the giving of certain articles, animals, precious metals, etc., for particular planetary combinations. This is considered a propitiation of the planets, causing a problem in the chart.

Service (Seva)

Performing service is another highly effective way of obtaining relief and grace from a difficult chart pattern. In many ways, this is the safest and perhaps most emotionally satisfying form of remediation. Even if a wrong birth chart is being used, performing a service for uplifting humanity can only have positive outcomes.

In the West, there is a tendency to want to buy one’s way out of a difficult situation. In this respect, gems and even yagyas alone can be considered too expeditious to constitute true commitment to changing a negative pattern. However, when one allots some of his or her precious time giving service to another and sustaining that service over time, there is a powerful reorientation that inevitably takes place.

Seva is universally applicable to all cultures, times, and societies. People who are disinclined to perform any ritual or chant mantras can easily find an avenue of service to fulfill the astrological recommendations. The astrologer’s interpretation of the talents latent in the chart and the archetypes of the planets involved in the obstructive combinations can give rise to a myriad of possibilities for seva that can be very pertinent and meaningful to the individual.

—Penny Farrow


Parashara, Maharishi. Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra. Vol. I. New Delhi, India: Ranjan Publications, 1989.
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References in classic literature ?
Bar, who had a bit of one eye and a bit of his double eye-glass for every one who came in at the door, no matter with whom he was conversing or what he was talking about, got among them all by some skilful means, without being seen to get at them, and touched each individual gentleman of the jury on his own individual favourite spot.
Especially in the context of Mahayana, he concludes, "In short, Buddhism is skilful means" (158).
(8) Keown identifies the four aspects of upayakausalya as: the Buddha as a skilful teacher (found in the Pali Canon), Dharma or text as skilful means (in the Lotus Sutra), a bodhisattva's practice (in the Vimalakxrti Nirdesa Sutra), and a source that allows bodhisattvas to break precepts (in the Upayakausalya Sutra) ("Paternalism" 202).
"Using Skilful Means Skilfully: The Buddhist Doctrine of Upaya and Its Methodological Implications," Journal of Religious History 33, no.
(6) See Federman "Literal Means," and McGarrity "Using Skilful Means Skilfully."
She also said that confession was a skilful means for people interested in practicing socially engaged Buddhism.
This is known as the skilful means doctrine (Williams 51; Pye; Schroeder).
The pedagogical explanation depends on whether the early texts also adopt a skilful means doctrine, a question that is contested.
Skilful Means: A Concept in Mahayana Buddhism, Second Edition.