The Path Into Shastra Part V: The Value of the "Tall Tale"
By Deborah Allison
Note: This series, "The Path Into Shastra," explains how the root works of the Vedic tradition, including Jyotish and Ayur Veda, are organized. These principles will be a great help in starting to unlock the wisdom that is literally encoded in these texts. See also Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.
The fifth golden key to unlocking the treasure of shastra is called Arthavada which can be most succinctly defined as hyperbolic language (hyperbole = exaggeration). Although this is a potent tool in all traditions, it is one of the devices that causes the most angst and disconnect for Westerners who are trying to access the knowledge contained in root texts of the Vedic tradition. Jyotisha texts contain many references to what seems like completely archaic images, traditions, value systems and deities. These references use tremendously exaggerated praise or dire predictions of disaster. Here are some examples:
"Should the Moon be in her deep exaltation and be aspected by Venus, evils are countered just as phlegm and bile are controlled by induced vomiting. If the Moon be in divisions of benefic planets and aspected by benefics, she will not prove evil though she may be waning, just as nutmeg bark treats dysentery."
"One born with a Chandradhi Yoga will become a king possessing a kingdom boundaried by seas whose band of intoxicated elephants will eke out ichor which the black forest bees will drink mistaking it for honey. Such a native will be immune to senescence and sickness, be bereft of fear from enemies, be valorous, fortunate and happy.
"If Saturn occupies Virgo at birth, the subject will resemble a eunuch, be very crafty, will depend on others for good, be addicted to prostitutes, will have few friends, be unacquainted with the arts, be desirous of indulging in ugly acts, will possess sons and wealth, be indolent, helpful to others, will be intent upon spoiling virgins and be cautious in his actions."
Why did the seers of this great tradition use this device? It is because hyperbole is hugely effective in making something memorable. If your four-year-old is about to put a finger in an electric socket, mom or dad will NOT calmly say, "Please don't put your finger in the socket. You may get an electric shock". Most likely the child will be yanked away and told "Don't you touch! You'll fry!"
As has been mentioned in previous articles in this series, the Sanskrit script does not in itself have ways of creating emphasis through the use of such devices as italics, underlining, capitalization, etc. For the knowledge to be effectively passed on to future generations, it must be memorable. The vivid imagery created by hyperbolic language leaves no doubt as to whether a particular combination is efficacious or damaging.
The Western reader unschooled in these principles of exegesis might take the statements literally. Sometimes, a person with a particular combination does exhibit some of the results as stated, but the more correct understanding of the principle of Arthavada is that the amplitude of the hyperbole is directly related to the how valuable or disastrous a particular combination may be.
For example, in Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, it is said that a benefic in the ascendant gives Shubha yoga (benefic yoga). The person born with Shubha Yoga is eloquent, charming, virtuous and well mannered. However, in an earlier chapter, the same text states that if "a single but strong Jupiter is in the lagna, it has the ability to destroy all evils just as a single reverential obeisance to Lord Shiva can destroy all sins." Clearly one can pick up the difference in the hyperbole between these two combinations and can therefore learn which has the higher value and prioritize one's readings and interpretation accordingly.
In the vast sea of possibilities that exist in all charts, having a rudder to establish priority is one of the most important skills a Jyotisha can develop. This principle of Arthavada is pure gold in this regard.
(c) copyright 2008 Michael Laughrin
From the April/May 2008 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.
This series, "The Path Into Shastra," explains how the root works of the Vedic tradition, including Jyotish and Ayur Veda, are organized. These principles will be a great help in starting to unlock the wisdom that is literally encoded in these texts.
The Path Into Shastra Part I: The Oral Tradition
These articles were published in Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. These articles are also archived online on the archive page.
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