Summary: This article examines the concepts of karma and reincarnation which are central to the understanding of Jyotish Astrology. It also explains how returning karmas can be predicted then modified through Vedic Astrology’s remedial measures.
Vedic Astrology, Karma and Reincarnation
In the West we tend to confuse, and often mispronounce, the words ‘kama’ and ‘karma’. ‘Kama’ means desire and in the West many are familiar with the Kama Sutra. ‘Karma’ literally means action, so the world is full of karma as actions are going on all the time.
There are subtle meanings attached to the concept of karma. On an individual basis we usually understand karma to mean the returning consequences of our past actions (‘as you sow, so shall you reap’). Karma is also linked with the concept of samskara (or sanskara) – the deep seated desires, or latent impressions in our mind that drive us to perform specific actions .
In Jyotish, the planets are seen as representing the ‘Cosmic Postman’. They ‘deliver’, in this lifetime, some of the consequences of our actions carried over from past lifetimes. We tend to regard these karmas as ‘positive’ when they are life enhancing or ‘negative’ when they create problems and obstacles for us . However, that is merely our subjective interpretation. From a higher state of consciousness the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ simply do not apply – stuff just is!
In Vedic astrology, the soul (for want of a better word in the English language) does not incarnate at random. Vedic Masters tell us that it incarnates into a human body with certain physical characteristics according to past karmas. The specific family, its position in society and country of birth are also determined by past karmas.
Major karmic consequences for an individual’s present incarnation can be predicted with Jyotish – simply by deciphering the ‘code’ contained in the planetary arrangements at the time of our birth. Just as DNA contains the code that structures our human physiology, so the planetary arrangement at the time of our birth is the code that structures our returning karmas .
When these karmic influences are likely to take place in our lifetime can also be predicted through Vedic Astrology’s unique Maha Dasa system . This is based on the position of the moon in the constellations or Nakshatras at the time of our birth.
The Vedic tradition believes that people should live healthy, happy and fulfilled lives. So Vedic Astrology contains a whole range of remedial measures that are designed to greatly reduce the influence of our returning negative karmas. These measures can help restore balance and harmony in our lives. Because we are part of an integrated whole, then by participating in certain vedic ceremonies (yagnas or yagyas) , performing prescribed acts of charity, reciting specific sanskrit mantras or wearing appropriate gemstones we can modify or deflect (to a large extent) returning karmas so that we do not have to suffer the consequences in this lifetime. So, Jyotish enables us to both detect and ‘deflect’ returning karmas!
Jyotish techniques can also enhance the benefits of our returning positive karmas. So Jyotish really is the ultimate ‘Karmic Engineering System’!
Our returning karmas can also be greatly influenced by our spiritual practices in this lifetime. Ask any Jyotish astrologer and they will agree that regular meditation and sadhana (spiritual practices) really reduce the predicted effects of negative returning karmas. Paramahansa Yogananda  confirmed this by saying that as a person moves ‘into the orbit of the Divine, they move out of the orbit of planetary influences’. When Self-realization occurs, all karmas are transcended.
On a day to day basis most of our actions are neutral in terms of the karma they incur. A reasonably vegetarian diet helps in this respect.
It is not just our actions that matters, but also our intentions behind them. Again, regular meditation and sadhana means our intentions are more likely to be life enhancing rather than us just acting on the impulses of previous impressions carried over from past lifetimes.
Vedic astrology tells us that we are not the victims of our birth-chart and the planetary arrangements contained therein. We cannot blame the planets for our current condition and difficulties. What we are currently experiencing, either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is merely the result of our returning karmas. The planets indicate this, but are not responsible for it. Some of these may be the result of actions from previous lifetimes, some from this lifetime.
The Vedas clearly identify three major categories of karma: Sanchita, Prarabdha and Agami. Jyotish astrology only deals with the Prarabdha aspect of karma .
 Samskaras are deep seated desires and impressions left in the ‘mind’ by past actions, including those from previous lifetimes. Note that in the Vedic sense ‘our mind’ is not localised in our brain, in fact the ‘mind’ surrounds the body! One Vedic pandit described the latent impressions as ‘post-it notes stuck to the soul!
Karma is often described as a wheel: latent impressions in the mind give rise to actions. These actions then produce new impressions. Future actions are then influenced by these new impressions. The process is cyclical. But the cycle can be broken by meditation and spiritual practices. So karma and samskara are inextricably linked.
 What produces negative karma? A vedic scholar said ‘simply doing to others that which we would not like done to ourselves’! Perhaps this includes actions towards all living beings and the environment too?
 Karmic influences in all areas of our lives are decoded by Vedic Astrology from the position of the nine planets in the twelve astrological signs, twelve houses and twenty-seven constellations – as shown in a person’s birth-chart drawn in the sidereal zodiac.
 The time when certain karmic influences are likely to ‘take centre stage’ in our lives is calculated via the Vimsottari Maha Dasa system using the natal position of the moon in one of the 27 constellation or Nakshatras
 Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a Self-realised sage who spent a considerable part of his life in the West teaching yoga and Vedic philosophy. His most well-read and highly recommended work: Autobiography of a Yogi, published by Yogoda Satsanga Society of India; 2013 edition ISBN-10: 818953551X, ISBN-13: 978-8189535513
 Categories of karma. Sanchita – the store of all karmas from previous births. Prarabdha – that part of the Sanchita that must be worked through in this lifetime. It is said Prarabdha karma is most suited for our optimum evolutionary path in this lifetime. Agami – new karma accumulated in this lifetime which is carried forward into future incarnations.