Puruṣārtha – The Four Pillars

Shree Yantra

The term classical astrology is often used in a rather narrow way. The fact is that we are really discovering the convergence of different cultures, from the Hellenist to Persian and both to Indian. Babylonian and Egyptian. There is no absolute boundary between one and another. This is not to say that there are no significant differences., but on many occasions, the commonalities are hiding in plain sight Zodiacal Releasing, Firdaria and Dashas are Time Lord systems with very similar intent and comparable methodology and indeed expression.

This is part of a series on Jyotish in relation to western traditional astrology. It has long been my contention that we understand best when we understand how things came to be and how wisdom was transmitted through what was then the known world. Indian, Persian and Hellenistic astrology clearly have common roots. It is my view that by studying elements of Indian or other schools of astrology and philosophies that we enrich our understanding of our own.

Puruṣārtha is an element of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) that can easily be applied in Traditional Western astrology as well as to Jyotish. Puruṣārtha might be profitably employed by a range of systems, certainly even beyond astrology itself. At the core of all traditional astrology, there are various forms of creation myths, which are quite similar. To understand that is to get to the root of authentic astrology.

The number four is referred to extensively in astrology, as in innumerable other contexts and most. cultures. The most obvious of these are the four seasons, the four elements, the four directions, the four winds and the four humours.

Hinduism created or recognized a four-part guide to live, including all dimensions of life in the Puruṣārtha. These have both personal and universal dimensions and can be expressed quite well by reference to the divisions of the horoscope.

As in many elements of Santana Dharma, there is no consensus about whether these pillars should be considered hierarchically, but they do constitute a complete system. They give us four elements of the circle of life, existing in four sets of trigons. This is the same as the Western House System to that extent. Both Hellenistic Astrology and Jyotish both use the Whole Sign system, bring us closer together.

However, the progressive element is not so widely understood in the West. We see how the fourth house of Moksha Houses proceeds to Death in the 8th and to Moksha. in the 12th. All three phases are required and work with the other Puruṣārtha. They also impart significance to the houses of the horoscope. In Hellenistic Astrology, there are two fortunate houses, the 11th and. the 5th along with two evil houses. 12 and 6. This is a simplification but serves to se5t the scene. The Second House is the Gates to Hades and the House at the other end of the axis, is the House of Death. Indian astrology is similar but not identical. I believe the origin of assigning such caution to the 2nd house is due to a concern for materialism that is rarely seen in most parts of the modern West but is still central to Indian thought. Asceticism is celebrated in the lives of Saints. Clearly, from this point of view, attachment to the material world is considered deleterious.

Houses 1, 5 & 9  are the Dharma Houses and the element of fire, marked in red.. The Artha houses, 2,, 6 & 10 are Earth and marked in saffron. 3,11 & 7 are air and the Moksha houses are 4.8 and 12, and associated with the water signs..


For Hindus and Buddhists, dharma is the moral order of the universe and a code of living ethically that embodies the fundamental principles of law, religion, and duty that governs the social structure and indeed all rares of human life. The Hindu worldview asserts that by following one’s dharma, a person can eventually achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) Difficulties grasping an exact definition of what dharma means in Hinduism because there are so many uses of the word in stories and scriptures. Bot the essence of living an ethical life us shared by all. Hinduism is the religion of one god with a million faces. There are dualistic schools and non-dualistic schools. In the final analysis, understanding is very much the same.

But mostly it’s equated with principles such as duty, honour, justice, good works, character, and virtue. In many stories of Hinduism, when a person is in trouble, they turn to dharma to find their way out of a difficult situation.


The astrological houses of Artha are 2, 6 & 10, as you might expect. These are concerned with what one possesses, of work and the hope of recognized achievement or eminence. Artha (Sanskrit: अर्थ) is one of the four aims of human life in Indian philosophy. The word is translated as “meaning, sense, goal, purpose or essence” depending on the context in which it is used. This includes aspirations and attainment.

Plucking Tea in Assam, India.


Best understood as aesthetics, the definition of Kama involves sensual gratification, sexual fulfilment, the pleasure of the senses, love, and the ordinary enjoyments of life regarded as one of the four ends of man (purusharthas). This would naturally be closely related to the associations we have of Venus in Traditional Western astrology. Kāma (Sanskrit, Pali) means desire, wish, longing, but it would be a great mistake to think of this as trivial. I(n Hinduism, it is understood that without desire there would be nothing.at all In the time before time and creation, Vishnu dreams the Universe reclining on the coils of the serpent Shesha, accompanied by his consort Lakshmi, as he “dreams the universe into reality” It is Lakshmi who stimulates the Universal dream by her touch.

page from the kama sutra

So, in fact, the Universe was born of desire. The astrological houses are 2, 5 & 9.  This will seem somewhat alien to the western astrologer, but that is because we tend to want to separate pleasure from wisdom. The pleasures of Kama include the pleasures of the higher mind. If our pleasures lead us astray, then Dharma is there to reset the balance.


Moksha is understood as liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth known as samsara.

Vivekachudamani, a popular text on Moksha, defines it as the following:

Beyond caste, creed, family or lineage,
That which is without name and form, beyond merit and demerit,
That which is beyond space, time and sense-objects,
You are that, God himself; Meditate this within yourself.

-Vivekachudamani, 8th Century AD

The first house in the natal chart is always the ‘Udaya Lagna’ or the Ascendant, the sign that is rising on the eastern horizon at the time of birth.  his is the same in Hellenistic astrology. The other houses follow the zodiacal sequence and the trigons each deal with an aspect of human life. Here we have the water trigon – the three stages of enlightenment. It is crucial to remember that the entire system is required and that difficulties in one house can easily affect the other signs in the trigons.

The fourth house in Jyotish is about roots, including Ancestry. Everything that refers to strong ties to your native place comes under the dominion of this house. But chiefly, it’s about roots. Without roots, there can be no blossoms.

It will be seen that Indian concepts and techniques may be gainfully introduced into virtually any form of astrology, without detracting from the form currently being used. This actually has intriguing similarities to Hellenistic astrology Both systems have at their root the will to be better and to further the good. The works of Plotinus and Philo remind one of Hindu metaphysics. In other words, they are both centred in an ethical framework.

Shri Vishnu Lakshmi

Did Abū Ma’shār use whole sign houses or houses using a division?

20196756_321493324964826_121579938_nI was recently reading Chris Brennan’s “12 reasons why whole sign houses is the best system of house division.” It is a very interesting and helpful analysis and in typical Chris Brennan style well documented and thought out. I have been using whole sign houses since the 90’s and would not go back to any other. Like Chris explains, I also note where the Midheaven and Ascendant fall as the Midheaven is valuable but interpretations can be very different when using the whole sign or quadrant division. As an example I would like to refer to Abū Ma’shār.

In “Argument 3” Chris states, “By the time of Abū Ma’shār (c. 850 CE) and after there was a sudden shift to quadrant houses.” I am not sure here if Chris is stating that Abū Ma’shār was using a quadrant house division, but I would like argue, that at least where Abū Ma’shār was concerned, he used whole sign houses.   In Abū Ma’shār’s Book of Religions and Dynasties there are four charts presented.[1] In two of the charts, all the house cusp degrees are mentioned whereas the other 2 only mark the ascendant and Midheaven and are clearly whole sign house charts much as Māshā’āllāh  and his colleagues used. So just from the charts listed in the manuscript it is 50/50 and any of the charts could be the elaboration of later transcribers. The charts, as evidence by themselves, do not necessarily indicate or prove the use whole sign houses. However the written proof is probably the most reliable and for that we can look at one section from his text in chapter 8 of Part 2, the same chapter that we find one of his charts using cusp degrees of a quadrant based system of houses.

“[31] We say that, if Saturn and Mars are in conjunction in the ascendant, this indicates general harm common to the subjects as a whole. If this happens in the second or eighth place, it indicates the corruption of properties, the obscurity of the reputation of the rich, and the appearance of need, poverty, and weakness among the common people. If it happens in the third or ninth place, it indicates the appearance of blight in mosques and houses of worship, and hated occurrences, together with calamities concerning building and worship. If this happens in the fourth and tenth place, it indicates that ruin occurs to building in the cities. If this happens in the fifth or eleventh place, it indicates the death of babies, and a great number of soldiers and arms. If this happens in the sixth or twelfth place, it indicates a great number of gazelles and riding animals and the taking of them, and that sometimes harm occurs to these two kinds of animal. If this happens in the seventh place, it indicates the insurgence of enemies and of harmful people against most of the regions. If this happens in the Midheaven, it indicates the death of the greatest of the kings in the climes, especially the kings of the countries indicated by the sign in which they conjoin.”

The text is Charles Burnett’s translation direct from Arabic manuscripts. I have emphasized certain words because they illustrate an interesting distinction that needs a comment. He says a little earlier in this paragraph; «If this happens in the fourth and tenth place, it indicates that ruin occurs to building in the cities». At the end of the paragraph he says, «… if this happens in the Midheaven it indicates the death of the greatest of the kings…» In all of the preceding delineations he assiduously uses the term “place” which tells me he is using whole signs as houses (by counting) but when talking about the degree of the Midheaven it is clear he is referring to its division. In my humble opinion he is pointing out the fact that the 10th place and the Midheaven are not necessarily the one and same sign! You will find these same distinctions as well in Māshā’āllāh.

We can look at a couple of charts in Māshā’āllāh which are presented much the same way and in his delineations he makes a clear distinction between a “place” which he calls “by counting”[2] to the Midheaven which he calls “by division”[3].

Mashaallah chart 1a

Mashaallah chart 1

Modern rendition by Ben Dykes

The first chart is the Ingress at the Great Conjunction indicating the Great Flood. In the delineation he says,

“No planet except Jupiter can be found for the guardianship of this year because it is the Lord of the ascendant, and the lord of its triplicity is the sun alone and it confers its power upon it, and (it receives power) from Venus because she (Venus) is the lord of the domicile of the moon, and she is in her exaltation, and it (the Moon) is in the sixth place displaced from its position, and Saturn is in the twelfth, retrograde, and Jupiter and Mars in the eleventh, they will be by division  in the tenth,…”

You will notice that Jupiter and Mars are in the 11th whole sign, Libra. And Māshā’āllāh says clearly, “Jupiter and Mars in the eleventh…”  Yet he says as well that “…they will be by division in the tenth.” This was the practice of the time.

In another chart, the chart indicating the rise of Islam and the birth of the Prophet.

Mashaallah chart 2b

Mashaallah chart 2

Modern rendition of the chart by Ben Dykes

“Māshā’āllāh said that when he looked at this picture and the position of its planets, he found the strongest of them and the strongest in witnesses to be Saturn, because it entered the ascendant and it is the lord of its exaltation; and the Moon is lord of the light of the night, conferring its counsel upon it (Saturn) from the tenth by counting and (this is) the ninth by division, the place of prophecy, and Jupiter confers counsel upon it (the moon). Mars is found in Gemini, it being the ninth by counting in the highest (part) of the orb (mințaqa) ascending to its extreme. It accepts the counsel of the sun, Venus, and Mercury, (which is) retrograding. All that: plus the place of the first lot, it being Saturn in Scorpio, and its lord in the place of religion, indicate that there would be born in the second year of this conjunction a prophet in Tihama, the land of the Arabs, and that is because the place of the first lot is in Scorpio, and because of the connection of the moon with Venus. If the ascendant was a sign having two bodies and Saturn was in a sign having two bodies, I would have said that his birth would be in the second conjunction because of the reception of Venus and Mars in their places. The place of the moon in upper midheaven indicates that he will be secure from being killed, and because Venus escaped combustion (he means [its] emergence from the ray), this indicates that he will meet hardships and go into hiding for a while; then he will establish connections and be strengthened, and become well known, and the people of his doctrine will rule. Because the place of the moon is in upper midheaven and Mars is in the house of religion (these) indicate that he will seek religion and its being established by struggle. And because of the connection of the moon with Venus the people of his doctrine will have the nature and manners of Venus.”

Again the astrologer distinguishes between places arrived at by counting the signs, “by counting”, and the place arrived by division! “Moon is lord of the light of the night, conferring its counsel upon it (Saturn) from the tenth by counting and (this is) the ninth by division…” And more than once he re-iterates that the Moon in the ninth by division yet in the tenth by counting “…is in the upper midheaven…”

It is obvious in the charts drawn and explicated that Māshā’āllāh is using whole signs (by counting) with his floating Midheaven (by division)…. just as Abū Ma’shār does. There is no difference. It is not inference of whole sign houses when they use identical language! It is a common tradition! Looking at the tradition and the charts given and explained it is easy to understand there was no problem of house division because the signs determined the houses. It was such a tradition that no one even bothered to take the time to explain in their texts.

In a comment to this original post in my Notes on Facebook, Chris Brennan says, “Benjamin Dykes actually found a passage recently in the Arabic version of Abū Ma’shār’s book on solar returns where he talks about the difference between whole sign houses and quadrant houses quite explicitly. What is interesting is that it looks like this passage was not translated into the Greek and Latin versions of the work, and so it would not have been transmitted to the later Medieval and Renaissance astrologers. Ben and I were talking a bit about how this could have contributed to the loss of whole sign houses in the later tradition.”

It is clear that from the 9th & 10th centuries, the changes were happening with regards to house systems. Ibn Hibintā was a contemporary astrologer with Abū Ma’shār and reproduced Māshā’āllāh’s book on the Great Conjunctions and world history. Within that volume we find Ibn Hibintā’s chart of the true conjunction indicating the rise of the Buwayhids.  That chart as well is without house cusps only listing the ascendant and Midheaven.

As Chris mentions it is very hard to pinpoint where and when house cusps began being an issue. It would appear that especially the Persian line was clearly persuaded of the Hellenistic tradition of whole sign houses. However as astrology spread among the Arabs, it seems house division became more and more an issue.

I would tend to argue that from the 9th century and the change of caliphate in Islam, astrology came under very hard attack from Islam. In my own opinion the astrologers tried more and more to align astrology and its practice with “science”. Its existence as a conceptual language came under hard attack on its spiritual principles and therefore compromise and accommodation began. This accommodation has been continuing since and especially during the 15th century Europe to reconcile it with another religious law maker, Catholicism. I would say starting in the 10th century a war was made to make astrology as scientific as possible. The result, like today, is something that is no longer astrology but falls under psychology and archetypal psychology. It has been placed under the pseudo-science of psychology to maintain its credibility to sell to the masses. Of course that is my own opinion.

[1] 1 chart is found in Part 2, chapter 8 and the other 3 in Part 8 chapter 2

[2] In Arabic ´adad or ‘by number’

[3] In Arabic, qisma