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Jyotish Star of the Month

A Conversation with James Braha

by Juliana Swanson
Interview Date: October 18th 2013

Juliana Swanson: Hi James, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with Jyotish Star. Let’s just jump right in—where did you grow up, and who and what inspired you to pursue the path of spirituality and to seek esoteric knowledge?

James BrahaJames Braha: North Miami Beach, Florida. I started reading books on vegetarianism and spirituality in college, and then ran into an old friend who had become a TM (Transcendental Meditation®) teacher. He didn’t have to say much. I immediately wanted to learn. After starting TM, I felt so many benefits that I wanted to go on long meditation courses. So, after graduation I went straight to Switzerland to meditate. I also became a teacher myself.

That was the start of my prolonged search for enlightenment. Over the years I tried all sorts of spiritual techniques – whatever I could get my hands on. That lasted until 2004, when I met Australian Advaita (Non-Duality) teacher Sailor Bob Adamson, who stayed in my house for five weeks teaching and giving lectures.

Juliana: We will discuss Sailor Bob further on, but for now let's focus on astrology. Fans of your work are well aware that you were initially involved with western/tropical astrology. How were you introduced to it and who were your teachers?

James: That’s a long story that is told in detail through my second book, Astro-Logos: Revelations of a Hindu Astrologer. Basically, my first wife, who was an actress, came home one day and said she was cast in a play with a dancer who was also a professional Western astrologer. Pam Raff was her name and she charged $60, a hefty amount in 1978 or so, and I decided I wanted to get a reading. I knew from my TM studies that Jyotish was one of the limbs of the Vedas, and I had an innate trust of the subject. Pam’s reading was exceptional. And I was stunned that she could know so much about my life just by looking at a bunch of symbols on a page. The reading was constantly on my mind for weeks on end, and I had this dramatic feeling that I had “come home.” It was so invigorating and exciting.

Juliana: What in particular was revealed at that time?

James: Oh, gosh. There was so much. She knew exactly who I was, my psychology and behavior, all the things that Western
Astro-Logos: Revelations of a Hindu Astrologer
astrology is great at. That's really what impressed me. She immediately knew what a hard time I had in groups as a child, and asked me what happened. I explained that when my mother brought me to pre-school for the first time it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. Being in groups has always been difficult for me, except when I am teaching. Mainly, though, Pam just knew all about my inner being. It was phenomenal.

Juliana: Did Pam make any specific predictions at that time?

James: One of the most important things she said was that in some upcoming month that year I would have a “retesting of my marriage.” When that time rolled around, my marriage was suddenly, inextricably strained. It turned out that my wife, who had been rehearsing a new play for about a month, had fallen in love with her director.

I wanted to go back to Pam for advice, but she had become friends with my wife, so I had to look elsewhere. Then I remembered a comment someone had made about a famous astrologer named Isabel Hickey. She had been a practicing for a lifetime and had written a classic Western astrology book which, by the way, I consider still the best one on the market.

Juliana: Was that The Cosmic Science?

James: Astrology: A Cosmic Science was the original title.

Juliana: OK, so you contacted Isabel Hickey, and…?

James: I called her, but she said she was no longer doing readings. Yet, when I told her my plight she said to come to her house the next day. She looked at the chart and told me to get my wife out of the house, that she would be unhappy with whomever she was with (Saturn was transiting my wife’s Sun at the time). She said the affair would fail and my wife would return to me in three months or so, if I remember correctly.

Juliana: Was she accurate?

James: The prediction was spot on, because I remember counting the days and not being disappointed. My wife came back right on schedule, which amazed me. Also, she was unhappy with the other man, as predicted.

PlutoThe more I thought about what was happening, the more obsessed I became to know how these two astrologers could know so much about my life. So, I went to the local metaphysical bookstore and asked if there were any books on Pluto, which Isabel had mentioned several times. All I knew was that Pluto was conjuncting some important planets (Sun, Mercury, and Neptune) in my Western chart and that Uranus was sitting on my 7th house (marriage) cusp. I didn’t know that there was also a powerful Pluto progression involving the Sun, and that Pluto had just entered a new house.

Juliana: Pluto was so important at the time because it represents transformation?

James: Those Pluto transits intensely altered my life. I can’t overemphasize the transformation and regeneration that took place during the three or four years it took for Pluto to transit these three planets. I was never the same after that.

Juliana: Were you able to find a Pluto book in that bookstore?

James: Yes, but the saleslady turned out to be an astrologer who actively dissuaded me from buying it, despite how badly I wanted to bring it home. She told me it was pointless to buy the whole book just to read Pluto conjunct the Sun, which was all she thought was happening. So, I read those pages in the store, and left. But I really wanted the book, despite having no clue what I would do with it. Well, as I walked home, every step I took away from the bookstore became harder and harder to take, until I finally said to myself “To hell with the saleslady, I’m buying the book.”

The more I read about Pluto, which is the strongest planet in my Western natal chart, the more I realized it was massively affecting my life. After my wife returned home we decided to divorce, but my obsession with astrology never left. I was gobsmacked, as the British say.

Juliana: I read somewhere that you studied with Isabel Hickey.

James: Yes, but not for very long because I left Boston in 1981.

Juliana: What were her classes like?

James: She used to hold wonderful sessions attended by 20 or 30 students, and she would put charts on the board to be discussed. Anyone who attended, no matter how inexperienced, had to say something about whatever chart was on the board. In the first or second class I went to, I asked the question, “What happens to the karma in the horoscope when a person gains enlightenment?”

Isabel stared into my eyes and without answering the question said “Would you like to put your chart on the board?”

I was really thrilled. But I also felt bad during the break when a long-term student came up to me and said “I’ve been coming here for three years and can’t get my chart on the board!”

So after my chart was up, Isabel went around the room to each person and they all commented on my life. It was an amazing experience because many of these people were professional astrologers, which tells you how great Issie [Isabel] was, by the way.

Juliana: That must have been intense, having so many strangers talking about your chart publicly.

James: I got quite an earful, and it was so cold and clinical. With everyone in the room giving their views, the pros there had no time to parse their words or worry about my feelings. I’ll never forget that experience. Then Isabel asked if I was an artist, and I said I had been an actor in college but gave that up and was now doing retail business. She said I hadn’t found my true calling but would in the next year or two during my Saturn return, which was true. After my divorce and the financial freedom that came with it, I knew I absolutely had to have a spiritual career. In my Hindu chart the 10th house ruler Saturn is aspected by the 8th house ruler Jupiter, to the exact degree. If that doesn’t indicate astrology, I don’t know what does.

Juliana: So, Isabel was great?

James: She was amazing. She was extraordinarily psychic and had a lifetime of astrological experience. Because of that, her book Astrology, A Cosmic Science has delineations not found anywhere else. Occasionally, when I want to go deep into some Western aspect, I will pull out her book. For example, when my son was born I wanted to know everything she had to say about some of his planets in signs and some of his aspects. That’s the kind of respect I have for her.

Juliana: Are there any other pointers from her that you would be willing to share with us?

James: Actually there was one pointer from her for which I am very grateful, which I not only still use, but consider just about the most important feature in all astrology. This is in reference to the meaning of the Western horoscope North and South Node placements. Isabel said the nodes were very important and generally underestimated by astrologers, which was true in her day, though not so much anymore. Remember, by the way, this is Western astrology. The nodes in Hindu/Vedic, Rahu and Ketu, have always been considered important.

Juliana: How did she describe their significance?

James: The South Node indicates a person’s past life habits and tendencies; the North Node tells the new areas of life, the realms that one needs to pursue to achieve growth, fulfillment, and happiness. This can only be used, however, in the Western chart, not the Hindu. I’m afraid to say I have been misquoted in some astrologers’ books and teachings. They have heard me say that if I had only one piece of information about a person’s chart, it would be the Western North node. It tells me nothing predictive, but shows what the person should do if he/she wants a successful life.

Unfortunately, some astrologers think that because my work is mainly on the Hindu/Vedic side, that I meant that Rahu and Ketu are the most important influences. I love Rahu and Ketu and their symbolism, but the concept that they are more important than any of the other planets is not my belief.

Juliana: That’s an important clarification. So, do you still look at Western (Tropical) charts in your readings?

James: Yes, I do so mainly to understand the personality and behavior of the client. I don’t speak much Western astrology because most clients come to me for Hindu/Vedic astrology. But I always use Western transits and progressions, which are quite accurate and helpful, and complement what shows up in the Hindu chart.

In rare cases where there is a need, I will address certain Western planetary aspects that are having a big impact. When clients have particular problems that are caused by habit patterns and unhealed childhood traumas, occasionally Western aspects will reveal information not seen in the Hindu chart.

Juliana: How so?

James: For one thing, the Western aspects are wonderful at revealing a person’s experience of an event. Two exact same type events can have very different meanings for two different people, and this is where Western astrology excels in my view; revealing a person’s experience as opposed to their empirical events or karma.

I know that there are some Westerners who approach Jyotish in a religious sort of way, and might consider what I’ve just said to be heresy. As if only one astrological system or zodiac is legitimate. But I use whatever works. And the astrologers I met in India were the same.

Juliana: Really?

James: Absolutely. In my first day in Bombay, which was actually my second journey to India, I called a local well known astrologer and made an appointment for that afternoon. When I arrived, there were seven or eight astrologers present, and he said, “Because you are a Western astrologer, I called all the local astrologers to meet you.”

They had great respect for Western astrology, and it was one of the biggest strokes of luck in my life because that’s how I found my second mentor, P.M. Padia. They didn’t care what the scriptures or gurus said; they cared about truth. They used whatever techniques they could find. There are so many different systems out there, and the more that I can use the better the readings, as long as I don’t mix systems. Astrology is too complex for one system to even come close to giving 100% accuracy.

Juliana: Can you explain more about how you use different systems without “mixing” them?

James: I simply take the information that is revealed from each chart and use it for more accuracy and more information for the client. Also, sometimes one chart is easier to live with than the other. For example, a person may have a really difficult psychology, as shown in the Western chart, while having very good karma as revealed in the Hindu chart. In those cases, rather than burden the client with the terrible news of the difficult chart, I can lean heavier on the more positive one. My Hindu chart, even though it has plenty of afflicted planets, is much more pleasing to me than my Western. So that’s the one I tend to think about. My worldly career and spiritual success, shown so clearly in my Hindu chart, makes me happier than the psychological effects shown in my Western chart.

Juliana: Just to be clear…you are saying that you feel strongly that the Western chart is better for psychology and behavior, while the Hindu chart is better for the karma or empirical results.

James: Yes. There’s no question about that. Both systems can delineate karma and behavior, but each system truly excels in one.

Now, some astrologers who are experienced only in one system argue that only that system can be accurate. Or they claim that only one system should be used. Think about this. They are reacting like the people who have never had an astrology reading but don’t believe in astrology.

Mind you, if an astrologer has used both systems and believes that one is better and more holistic than the other, I respect his or her view. There is plenty of room in the world for different views and different experiences. But if the astrologer hasn’t tried them both, what exactly is that opinion worth?

Juliana: What if one chart indicates something that the other chart doesn’t?

James: This occurs a fair amount of the time, more than I had expected in my early days. For example, someone’s Hindu chart may not show any major love problems, but if I see a tight Venus-Neptune square or opposition in the Western chart, I know there will be illusion and deception in love matters. Or it could be that the Hindu chart shows the love problems, but not the Western. If the aspects in either chart are clear and strong enough, I use them. I don’t care that one chart seems to be lacking that distinction.

Juliana: Can you please give an example of how the two systems complement each other in your work?

James: Sometimes one system gives me details lacking in the other system. For example, the Hindu chart may show me clearly that there are mental problems, and the Western shows me what kind they are. There may be a strong Saturn or Mars aspect onto Mercury in the Western chart, which doesn’t exist in the Hindu chart. Saturn would cause depression, whereas Mars would be anger or bitterness, or too much heat on the brain. Or perhaps the Hindu chart shows love problems but doesn’t reveal exactly how. If there is a Venus-Pluto opposition in the Western chart, I know the person will attract domineering, manipulative lovers.

Juliana: Couldn’t domineering partners show up in the Hindu chart?

James: Sure. Rahu could be in the seventh house, or the seventh house ruler could be conjunct Rahu, or the Sun and Mars. But sometimes, aspects of a person’s life show in one system but not the other.

Here’s an excellent example of using, not mixing, but using two different astrological systems to gain more accuracy. In late 1992, when I was engaged to be married for the second time, I received a startling call from a dear friend, the late Richard (Rick) Houck. Rick used Hindu astrology and also specialized in lunar progressions (also called tertiaries). He was very good at predictions and said “James, you’re not getting married in January. There’s not one aspect anywhere indicating marriage.”

Juliana: Nowhere?

James: That’s right, nowhere he or I could find. He used Vimshottari dasa-bhuktis, Hindu planetary transits with ashtakavargas, Western transits, solar progressions, secondary progressions, and his absolute favorite technique—tertiaries. It was his use of tertiaries that allowed him to rectify the birth time of every single client he ever practiced for! And he maintained a big practice for many many years.

Juliana: So what did you do?

James: I said “Rick, I know. There’s nothing about marriage in my chart anywhere. But I am getting married.”

On January 26, 1993 at 10:50 PM on a Tuesday night with the Moon conjunct exalted Venus in Pisces, and 7th ruler Jupiter in the 1st house, we said our vows.

Juliana: How did you ever solve that mystery, or did you?

James: Later that year at the Vedic astrology conference I received a reading with K.N. Rao, who was practicing the Jaimini system with Chara dasa. I asked him if there was anything there that showed my marriage earlier that year. And he said, “Yes, yes. It’s right here.”

Naturally, I assumed he was just saying that. I was skeptical because I was so aware that there were no marriage indicators in the two main systems I used. But when I took his class a day or two later, I saw that in October of 1991, about a year before my engagement, I had entered a classic, and I mean classic, Chara dasa marriage period that would last ten years. It was not only that I had entered a LIBRA dasa, the sign of relationships, but that Libra in my chart holds Mercury, which is the planet in the lowest degree and therefore the darakaraka, the karaka or indicator of marriage! That’s when I knew for sure how absurd it is to use only one astrological system. There are so many different systems and paradigms that all have their glory.

Juliana: So to backtrack a little, were there any other sources of inspiration and learning in Western astrology after you studied with Isabel Hickey?

James: I also studied in Boston in the late 70’s with a wonderful teacher named Larry Sands, who taught me introductory courses on astrology, Kaballah, and developing psychic energies. He was an excellent teacher, and came from the CC Zain Hermetic Astrology school, where students worked toward getting a degree as a “Hermetician.” I loved that term, and when I started self publishing, I named my company Hermetician Press.

Juliana: When did you know that astrology was your dharma?

James: Actually there was a big choice I had to make. At the time when I had to choose, I was very interested in macrobiotic healing and was considering a career of opening macrobiotic restaurants. After returning from my first trip to India, where I studied with R. Santhanam, I was torn about which path to take. Finally I asked my best friend what he felt I should do. He thought for about half a minute and said “I think you’d better get this astrology out of your system.”

Juliana: What then led your shift into Vedic astrology?

James: Just a natural process. I had loved Western astrology for about four years or so, but felt like something was missing, like it wasn’t predictive enough or something. I had bought a few Indian Jyotish books, and found them useless. I didn’t understand their method of exaggeration. Just one typical example: I have Saturn in the fifth house, and the texts would say a person with that placement “would be roaming the forest having lost his reason.” That’s practically a direct quote, and of course I had never lost my reason, thank you very much. After learning the system, I understood they meant that a first class malefic in the house of the mind would cause depression or an overly serious mind.

Juliana: Was there a turning point where you decided to go to India?

James: Yes. The first three years of my Rahu dasa, which began in October 1979, brought both divorce and my father’s death. He died in 1981 and I was depressed for a solid two years about that. As soon as Jupiter subperiod started in 1983 I began thinking: “Nothing good is happening on any front, and I feel lousy anyway. I might as well travel to India.” It had been a dream of mine for a decade or so.

Juliana: Did you know you would be studying Jyotish there?

James: Not at all, but I hoped. When friends asked if I would learn Hindu astrology there, I said I would if it was possible, but I had serious doubts it was – because of the books that I had read. So, I brought about 25 horoscopes of friends and relatives, whose lives I was familiar with in case I could find a teacher. I travelled around for about two months and met several astrologers who gave some interesting predictions. But none impressed me enough to want to study with them. One was interesting because he said I would write books – and I never even had an inkling of doing that. He also said that I would be like a research student, and after I had gotten all I could from a subject I might simply walk away and try something else. This was quite astute, as I learned in later years. Another astrologer said something good about my current Rahu dasa, Rahu being in the 10th house, which could produce a big career or something. When I asked the next astrologer, a Western Hare Krishna devotee living in India, his opinion on that, he said “Yes, Rahu can bring fame, but mainly with Mlecchas ,” which I found very funny.The Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology
When I asked what Mlecchas were, he said non-Hindus! (Foreigners) In fact, my books are quite well known in India, and there is a publisher there who is now asking to reprint my 2001 intermediate astrology book The Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology as a two-volume set in India.

Juliana: How did you come to study Jyotish?

James: As I was traveling through Nepal, Benares, Agra, Delhi, and so on, I kept looking for astrologers. Unfortunately, I didn’t resonate enough with any of the five or six astrologers who gave me Jyotish readings, and in some cases mini-readings. Then one morning in Delhi, when Jupiter just happened to reach my 7th house cusp — exactly opposite my ascendant degree — I was meditating in my hotel room and suddenly got a wild hair of an idea. It was an insane one, but I couldn’t help myself. I thought: “Since I can’t find someone to study with, I’ll go to the bookstore and buy the classic texts, and take a bus to Rishikesh and sit in a cave and force myself to learn.” Can you imagine?

Juliana: Yes, and it’s totally audacious! Well then, I assume you went to that bookstore?

James: Yes, and as I started picking out five or six texts, the storekeeper asked what I was doing and why. After I told him, he said: “You need a good teacher and I have the one for you.” He led me to R. Santhanam, an astrologer and translator of ancient Jyotish texts. This whole story is told in my autobiography Astro-Logos, so I won’t go further into it except to say that I learned the basics of Jyotish quickly, because I already knew Western astrology. I was careful to never mix the two systems, which is a truly abhorrent concept.

Juliana: Why abhorrent?

James: Wow, Juliana. I’ve had plenty of people wrongly assume I mix the systems and I’ve told them I would never do that. But no one has ever asked why. The idea of mixing them is so instinctively wrong that I’ve never considered explaining it, so I really appreciate this question.

Before I answer, let me clarify that Hindu astrologers, some of whom use the outer planets — Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — are not mixing systems. They are evolving with the times, the same way Westerners did when the outer planets were discovered. Westerners didn’t use outer planets until they showed up. They could easily have said: “Hey, our ancestors didn’t use these planets, why should we?” Instead, they decided to see what the effects were. So, I don’t consider Hindus astrologers using outer planets as mixing. And, honestly, ignoring Pluto, which gives the most intense effects of all, would be to miss so much incredible and useful information, not to mention Uranus and Neptune. There is a book by Stephen Arroyo on the outers that is wonderful. It was titled Astrology, Karma, and Transformation, but may have been re-titled if I remember right.

Juliana: That is one of my all-time favorite astrology books actually, and I believe it is still titled Astrology, Karma & Transformation: The Inner Dimensions of the Birth Chart.

James: OK, good. Now, the reason that mixing systems is so abhorrent to me is because there is an inherent integrity to each that should not be tampered with. You know, bleach and ammonia are both great cleaners, but when you mix them you actually reap none of the benefits but instead get an explosion or a gas that can kill you. Or imagine someone who loves Salvador Dalí and Vincent van Gogh thinking, “Gee I love these artists, let me make a painting that mixes some Dalí techniques and some van Gogh impressionism.”

Juliana: That sounds crazy.

James: It is to me. I think it would also produce something like what I describe in my Art and Practice book as “fudging” or “mix and match.” That’s where an astrologer predicts great spiritual evolution based on someone’s Hindu eighth and ninth houses, instead of the twelfth, because the eighth houses relate to metaphysical subjects and the ninth to religion and philosophy. They sound similar to spiritual evolution, but they aren’t the same at all. Other examples are: using the sixth house to predict the food a person eats because the sixth house signifies a person’s appetite. The food one eats is seen through the second house, not the sixth; or, using the Hindu third house to predict teaching and writing, instead of the second, because the third rules magazines and publications. This kind of mixing and fudging produces inaccurate results. Astrology requires extreme precision. I only use the results of both systems, I never mix them.

Now, here’s where it gets exponentially more troublesome: in Western astrology, the 5th house rules the heart, whereas in Hindu/Vedic that rulership is given to the 4th house. How exactly do you want to handle this issue, if you intend to mix systems? Are you going to use the house that is better disposed so you won’t have to deliver bad news to the client?

Here’s another whopper: the nodes often fall in different houses and/or signs in the Hindu/Vedic chart than they do in the Western. Do you want to tell a person his or her purpose and destiny, using the nodes in both systems? This could now give up to four different paths to fulfillment, as opposed to the usual two. Finally, consider the issue of the Saturn aspects. In Hindu Vedic, the 3rd house Saturn aspect is malefic, pure and simple. I’ve seen it cause major damage for over 25 years of practice. Yet, in Western astrology that same aspect is known as the sextile, and it’s a positively good aspect, not a bad one. Do we really want to start mixing features that work one way in one system and the exact opposite in the other? I don’t think so.

The solution is for those who are curious about other systems, or want more accuracy, to step outside their boundaries and see what else is out there; Chinese astrology, Western astrology, and so on. But the techniques must be kept separate, and each system must maintain its own integrity. The reason some astrologers won’t consider learning a second system is, in my view, due to a mistake of intellect. They wrongly believe that because they haven’t mastered one system they cannot approach another one. As if anybody ever masters any system of astrology. Astrology is not a subject to master, it’s a subject to grow with. It has no end. We should all be looking for more possibilities and more knowledge, not less.

Juliana: I see. What was your next step after you learned the basics of Vedic astrology?

James: Then I practiced Jyotish in North Miami Beach for about a year, and aside from the accurate predictions I could make, there were also failures. The whopper came when I ran into an old high school friend and gave him a reading. When I said that a particular dasa-bhukti a few years earlier looked to have been good, he said “Really? That’s when I tried to kill myself.”

That hurt. So, the very next day I called my family and said I was returning to India.

Juliana: Did you ever find out why his life at that time had been so much worse than you thought?

James: Yes. It turns out that there is a piece of information I had never even heard about that had a tremendous impact on my friend who attempted suicide. It is the concept of the Great Years of The Planets, which I call the Maturity of Planets in my first book. The great year for Mercury is the 32nd, which means between the age of 31 and 32. Well, even though my friend’s dasa-bhukti was fine, Mercury was his ascendant ruler and was in the 8th house tightly sandwiched between Mars and the Sun. He hit that 32nd year and all hell broke loose. I learned about the Great Years of the Planets the first or second night I was with my second mentor P.M. Padia in Bombay. When I asked him whether I would have any fame, he looked at the chart and said “You will have fame because your 10th ruler Saturn is in the 5th house, the house of poorvapunya or past life credit. But not until your 36th year, the year Saturn has its great year.”

I was about 33 at the time I was with Padia. My first book came out in 1986, when I was 35, my 36th year of life. Mind you, I knew nothing of how to write, and it sure wasn’t easy. But I had to share with Westerners what they were missing, how great Jyotish is and how accessible it can be if it’s taught properly. Jyotish simply wasn’t available to the Western world in book form at that time.

Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western AstrologerJuliana: Your Jyotish book Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer was the first one written by a Westerner, right?

James: Not exactly. It was the first one that was understandable and accessible. It was the one that got the ball rolling in the West. There had been an earlier book by a Westerner, called Constellational Astrology by Robert De Luce.

It was truly a noble effort, and had plenty of good material about how to calculate Hindu/Vedic charts and dasas, but as far as helping anyone learn how to practice, it didn’t work. It didn’t have an impact, because the material wasn’t presented simply and clearly enough such that one could gain a foothold. It was published in 1963. A friend gave me a copy after my book had come out.

Juliana: It does seem astonishing that the first understandable and accessible book on Jyotish in the West came out only recently, relatively speaking.

James: Honestly, after learning Jyotish I was so surprised that no one had yet written a good book for Westerners on the subject. So I worked hard and wrote seven days a week, to get it finished as quickly as I could. I remember taking one day off, the only one during the entire project. I went to the beach with a friend, and brought a pad and paper in case any thoughts might come. I wrote the Introduction that day. That was actually toward the very end of what was a nine or ten-month project.

Juliana: It was self-published?

James: Yes. I wanted to self-publish from day one, because I wanted a large hard cover book with a very particular kind of format that would make the reading as clear as possible. I knew that most publishers would likely not do that. What shocked me, though, was when I decided that maybe I should at least find out what publishers would offer for the text. If they wanted to make me rich, I figured I could forgo the big hardcover part. Ha! I sent the manuscript to three metaphysical publishers who all swiftly rejected it. I was shocked. So, I called one of them to find out what was up — to learn what I may have been missing. They said they loved the book, really loved it, but that Hindu astrology texts had never sold well in the West. I explained that this book would likely change all that, but there was no way they could hear that, based on their experience.

Juliana: What happened when the book came out? I assume it made quite a splash?

James: Oh my gosh, when the book came out in 1986, I immediately began receiving letters from people all over the world thanking me. They almost all said they had previously studied and wanted desperately to learn but couldn’t. I have two giant scrapbooks filled with thank-you letters for that book. One man even sent me this beautiful, wonderfully colored Australian $10 note that I still have. This was thrilling, and I met so many great astrologers and students. I was invited to conferences, and taught workshops all over. I was called to Switzerland a few times and to Iceland. Dennis Harness called me to come teach a workshop in California. Dennis Flaherty called me to do the same in Seattle. I went to spiritual communities to do charts and classes. This was before the two Dennis’ knew each other, and before the wonderful Vedic astrology conferences of the 90’s.

Juliana: How were your earlier lectures received?

James: People loved them, and the excitement they generated was incredible. Students were so hungry to learn Jyotish. But, teaching in groups in the very early days, I must tell you, was difficult. It was hard work. People seemed not to be able to grasp the simplest Jyotish concepts. It took many years before the knowledge was in the atmosphere enough so that students in workshops picked things up reasonably well.

Juliana: You have been a great promoter of upayas, especially Vedic mantras, yagyas and gems, and have shared some miraculous stories about the benefits of these remedial measures in some of your books. Do you still use these remedies personally, and advocate them for others, as well?

James: Not as much as I used to. I always prescribe gemstones, which I find effective and useful and often quite powerful. But I am very direct with my clients that if they think a stone is going to completely cure the ills of an afflicted planet they are likely to be disappointed. The gemstone gives a subtle and powerful effect for sure, but it is not a cure-all.

Juliana: Especially perhaps, not a cure-all for serious karmic afflictions?

James: If a planet or house is afflicted, it’s indicating a lifetime of karmic effects that are likely going to be troublesome and almost certainly require some self-development work or some form of therapy. Yes, the gemstone is a form of therapy, but most people need greater help than that for disturbed areas of life that emanate from childhood traumas and such.

Juliana: And how about yagyas and mantras?

James: I still prescribe yagyas and mantra chanting, but mostly for really bad periods or sub periods that are coming up. And certainly if an upcoming period is dangerous, I always mention everything I can: yagyas, mantras, charity work, and keeping the day that the afflicted planet rules sacred. Sacred means fasting, praying, or just being aware that the particular day of the planet must be honored in some way. If Jupiter is the planetary culprit, I sometimes mention getting a dog and treating it extra well.

Juliana: A dog, really?

James: Jupiter rules dogs, I learned one day in the middle of a seven-day Jupiter yagya. The prayers started on Thursday, Jupiter’s day, and when I woke up on Saturday and went outside to greet the day there was a real surprise waiting for me. I was on my porch and saw a big dog, a giant Labrador, about half a block away. Well, it suddenly made a mad dash, a really mad dash, toward me. As much as I love dogs and have no fear of them, I got scared because he was running at full speed toward me. Within seconds the dog was on the porch jumping on my chest and licking my face. I was okay when I realized he wasn’t trying to hurt me, but holy cow… a strange dog practically knocking me down with affection! When I described this weird happening to an Indian friend, he laughed and said dogs are ruled by Jupiter.

I also, believe it or not, bought two iguanas toward the end of my Rahu dasa, to try and make the period better. Reptiles are ruled by Rahu.

Juliana: Better in what way? Did it work?

James: I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. But it definitely reduced the intense cravings that characterized my Rahu dasa. In that period I always felt “I want more, more, more.” I was never satisfied. Whether the reduction after getting the lizards was only a placebo effect I can’t say, but it positively helped. I clearly noticed an easing.

Now, as to why I don’t use mantras and yagyas and upayas as extensively as I did before, there are two reasons. One is that although yagyas have given positive results in my own life, they haven’t seemed to have had long-lasting effects. They feel more like remedial measures that are effective on a temporary basis, which is why I prescribe them for people who encounter bad periods.

Juliana: Why do you say they don’t seem to have long term effects?

James: Well, they haven’t had such long-term effects in my life. I can’t say for other people. But here’s an example: Prior to my last Venus sub period that started in August 2005, I had done about four or five large Venus yagyas. These were done in India and each one lasted seven days with many priests chanting. That’s a lot of yagyas, especially because they were the large ones. And yet, when the 2005 Venus bhukti started, all hell broke loose — even worse than my previous Venus bhuktis. Venus rules my 1st and 6th houses, and every time Venus rolls around my body and immune system take a huge hit. And this same sort of thing has happened with afflicted planets that I’ve done several yagyas for.

So, my experience is that mantras and yagyas give more of a temporary relief, or an improvement for a specific current crisis. They definitely work, but I would use them more if they showed longer term benefits.

The other reason is because of the change in my life that occurred nine years ago, in 2004. That’s when Sailor Bob Adamson, the Australian Advaita teacher, came to my house for five weeks to give lectures and teach Non-Duality.

Juliana: You wrote a book on that.

James: Yes. Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer with “Sailor” Bob Adamson. The entire story is there. Basically, this experience was the fulfillment of my spiritual search. I came to see that worldly existence really is maya. It’s a complete illusion, as Easterners have always said. So, I don’t take my experiences so seriously anymore. All the meaning and significance I used to invest in life is gone. Of course, if a client’s suffering is horrific I try to help. But, honestly, I don’t worry so much about transitory experiences anymore, for me or for others. They don’t affect our true nature, which is consciousness or awareness and is untouchable.

Juliana: But your clients may not have the same perspective, right?

James: That's true. And I definitely try to help where I can. But I'm not so quick to want to alter someone's experience unless they are in deep trouble or unless they ask. I still direct people to all kinds of healing
Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer with
therapies like I used to…things like meditation, pranayama, rebirthing, bioenergetic analysis, dietary techniques and all that. But I'm always aware that none of what appears to be happening is real. It looks real, it feels real, and will do so until our bodies, thoughts and feelings bite the dust. But so what? It's the same as ocean water that looks blue, but actually isn't. Or like rainbows that seem to be tangible but aren't.

Juliana: So you still follow the teachings of Sailor Bob? Could you tell us a bit about him and Advaita philosophy?

James: I still talk with Bob once or twice a month. We’re great friends and it’s a very sweet relationship. But we almost never talk Non-Duality. There’s no need. I haven’t read a spiritual book since 2005. In all honesty, it feels like my 9th house, which was the essence of my life from the age of 20 to 53, disappeared into thin air. People read Living Reality and send me emails with wonderful passages on spiritual subjects, and I can’t get past the first page. There’s just no interest, they’re preaching to the choir. Which is not right or wrong, or good or bad, it’s just how I react to that stuff now. Spirituality was my whole life, and now it’s nothing. I don’t talk Non-Duality unless people ask. The Non-Duality website I created was in appreciation of Bob, who wanted me to create it. I make the knowledge available for people who ask, but I don’t go pushing it. I don’t see the need.

Juliana: Non-Duality is about the oneness that underlies everything, right?

James: Yes. What Bob taught me was the investigation of my own nature. When I look to find James, I find four things, although the fourth is not a thing because it has no characteristics. I find a physical body, thoughts, feelings and I find the emptiness or awareness or consciousness that is present 24/7, upon which all phenomena appear. Well, clearly who I am is not my body, thoughts or feelings. But, the consciousness or awareness or whatever you want to call it that is ever present is my true nature. It was never born and never dies. It was here before my body, mind and feelings were born, and will be here when the “James” appearance is gone. Consciousness is the true nature written about in the Bhagavad-Gita that cannot be cut by the sword, burned by fire, drowned by nature and harmed by wind. That is who we are. When I finally grasped this, I was stunned to realize I had been involved in a desperate search to find that which I already am. I was trying to locate consciousness, which is intrinsic and essential and ever present. It’s who we are. We actually couldn’t get away from it if we tried.

Juliana: Do you think your knowledge of astrology had something to do with leading you to these Advaita teachings?

James: It’s kind of the other way around. My spiritual path, which started around nine or ten years before I came upon astrology, was always the most important feature for me. The spiritual search led me to astrology and all sorts of other worldly wonders. But, spirituality was always most important. That drive was in the background of my being every waking moment. It was there upon waking, upon falling to sleep and just about all the time in between.

I remember being so annoyed when I would visit psychics whenever one of my astrology books was about to be published, and they would say: “Well, it’s great you have astrology and you’ve written this book, but your real purpose is religion.” By religion, they meant spirituality and liberation, not organized religion. I really can’t describe how mad this made me. Every book took nearly a year to write and was such an intense effort, and I was so hopeful they would have a great impact. It probably appeared to outsiders that astrology was my only great passion but there was more going on than that, and the psychics always sensed it.

Juliana: So astrology afforded you a “spiritual career?”

James: What happened was that after meditating intensely during my twenties, I began feeling like I was living a very selfish life, focused only on my own evolution. More importantly, it became obvious that the spiritual search was going to be never-ending, or at best something that would last lifetimes. This conclusion didn’t curb my desire one iota, but it altered my decisions and actions. Also, I wanted to make a contribution, so when astrology came along it fit the bill perfectly. It’s a spiritual, consciousness raising career, which is something I craved.

Juliana: After your five weeks with Sailor Bob, you quit astrology for some years, right?

James: I quit between 2005 and 2010. And, contrary to what so many spiritual seekers made up, it had nothing to do with Non-Duality. I was simply exhausted after 20 years of giving so many consultations and writing at the same time. What did relate to Non-Duality was this: I had wanted to stop doing readings for some time but hadn’t a clue how I would pay my bills and support my family. When I suddenly concluded that maya was for real, that the world actually is an illusion, I couldn’t figure out why I should be doing a job I didn’t want to do. So I quit, without knowing what would happen next.

Juliana: What happened?

James: I made more money in the next three or four years than I had made in the previous two decades! It was great fun, and it was very lucky. And when I returned to astrology, I had so much more perspective and started enjoying it a lot more.

Juliana: In your book How to be a Great Astrologer, you emphasize planetary aspects, and also include the outer planets; so you are using the outers in all of your work?

James: I never do a reading without looking at both charts, Hindu and Western. So I always see what the outer planets are doing. But I don’t use outer planets in the Hindu chart. There’s no need to do that, since I see them from the Western perspective. I take the valuable information from the Western chart and I take the valuable information from the Hindu chart to give the best, most thorough reading I can. But, as I said earlier, 90% of my reading is told through the Hindu chart. I use the Western chart to know the person, but I speak mainly about Hindu planets and houses and so on.

Juliana: I assume, since you already discussed not mixing systems, that you don’t use planetary aspects in the Vedic chart in the same way that they are counted forward and backward in the Western system?

James: Correct. As mentioned, mixing systems is abhorrent to me. I use the classic Jyotish aspects in the Jyotish chart and the Western aspects in the Western chart.

Juliana: What are you up to nowadays? Are you still doing consultations and teaching?

James: I am doing consultations and focused on family, having fun playing music with my son Julian who plays four instruments. I’ve also been very involved in gold and silver investments since 2001, but that bull market has been taking a breather for over two years now. I haven’t done much teaching for a while. My Art and Practice book is very much like a correspondence course anyway, because it is written dialogue form. It answers every question I imagined any reader might want to ask, of which I have any experience to answer.

Juliana: Any new projects in the works?

James: Not really. But I’m beginning to feel more “public” since my Saturn dasa started only one month ago. Saturn rules my 10th house, and Saturn sub periods have always brought me out to the public. My first book was written and published in a Saturn bhukti. I was just invited to do some Jyotish YouTube interviews with Kapiel Raaj, and then you contacted me for this interview. So, clearly change is happening. Also, by the way, Saturn rules my ninth house and because of the Kapiel Raaj YouTube videos I did, I am getting a massive wave of Indian clients.

Juliana: Foreigners, the ninth house.

James: Exactly. I’ve noticed, by the way, that some peoples’ lives change immediately and dramatically when entering a new dasa, while others are affected much more slowly and with great subtlety. In my case, new dasas have always begun swiftly and with great flare. Except one time, which makes me laugh. I entered Jupiter dasa in September 1997, and I remember saying to my wife Vashti, “Watch what happens when this new dasa starts. My life will change really fast, in a big way.” I made a big deal of it, and was excited to see it unfold. Well, of course that was the one time out of six dasa changes when there were no blatant changes in the first year or so.

Vashti BrahaJuliana: What’s Vashti up to these days?

James: She designs crochet patterns and teaches crochet, and is at the top of her field. She has a very big following, which is wonderful to watch unfold. This chapter of Vashti’s life, by the way, occurred largely because of Sailor Bob’s visit. She always loved crochet as a hobby, but held herself back from making the leap to teacher and designer. Bob’s teaching of Non-Duality set her free and unlocked a huge reservoir of creativity and public activity. All of this can be seen on her website at

Juliana: Are you involved with Vashti's business at all?

James: I'm also having fun with her crochet and yarn business. We're having special yarns made specifically for
crocheters. Most yarns are crafted to work well for knitters, while crocheters get the short end of the stick, no pun intended, without even knowing it. We're making all our yarns with Z twists, which are much better for crocheters than S twists, and almost never available. Also, it's a blast to visit alpaca farms and yarn mills, and trying to make the most beautiful, vibrant colored yarn with the best fibers. I'm still grappling with how this business fits with my horoscope by the way. The most I can say is that when you are married your karma mixes with your spouse.

Juliana: Have you taught your son Julian astrology?

James: Oh boy, this is a fun story. Julian has always been strong willed and I can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want. But I was dying for him to learn astrology at a young age, so it would be a natural, ingrained part of him. When he was about eleven or twelve, he asked me to buy him yet another expensive electronic gadget, so that gave me some leverage. I said, “You can have that thing you want if you give me seven weekends — one hour a day for seven Saturdays and Sundays."

He agreed, and I taught him as many Jyotish principles as I could. We looked at horoscopes of the family and friends on the computer screen, and he learned quite well. The kicker, which was totally unexpected, was that after the seven weekends were up, he kept coming to me on Saturdays saying "Daddy, what about astrology. We have to study."

This was quite a thrill. What wasn't so great was that every night for the next two years when he was getting into bed, the astrology questions would start. Just when we wanted him to settle down, he would ask
Julian Braha
questions about the varga charts, neechabhanga, Chandra lagna, intricate stuff that so many students ignore for years and years. I used to wonder "Where is he getting these intricate questions from?" I guess it's inherited.

Oh, by the way, Julian started learning Hindu/Vedic astrology first and had no interest in Western. At some point, he began asking questions about his Western chart. Now whenever he comes up and says “I have an astrological question,” it’s a toss up as to which system he will ask about. That makes me quite happy, especially because his initial resistance to Western was pretty strong.

Juliana: What advice would you give that could be helpful for other astrologers?

James: Each astrologer will resonate to different advice. It depends on the astrologer’s needs. But, I can tell you what I find really important. So many horoscopes are confusing and complex. It seems the longer I practice the more I see the features that cannot be predicted with any great certainty. In these cases, it’s important to tell the client that, and to explain what is showing up in the chart. For example, there may be a chart where the fifth house indicates having children, but Jupiter, the planet of children, is so massively afflicted that it is really a crap shoot as to whether children will come.

Juliana: This is such important guidance. Please go on with it.

James: Or, someone will have a very weak fifth house and a weak Jupiter (both ruling children and investments), and then will have a Dashamsa (career chart) that has an exchange of signs between the fifth and tenth houses. Trying to make a prediction under these circumstances, unless one is getting bombarded with psychic impressions, is a nightmare.

Juliana: Is this related to the “wild card” concept you teach in your Art and Practice book?

James: Yes. That’s exactly what it is, an aspect that could go either way, as in a wild card.

Juliana: Do you just explain these discrepancies to the clients so they see what you see?

James: That’s what I do. And they almost always tell me that the confusion in the chart matches their confusion. Then, as they give their feedback we can usually determine what they need to do, and get as close as possible to knowing what the future may bring.

Juliana: Any more advice for our readers?

James: Another piece of advice is to take breaks or do something to avoid burnout. There are certain careers like massage therapy and astrology that can easily bring on burnout after seven to ten years. Some astrologers may work two weeks on and two weeks off. Some work nine months and take the whole summer off. This can be difficult financially, but I find it critical not to overdo it with this kind of work. It may depend on the astrologer’s nature, though. When I do a reading for someone, I feel like I’m walking in their shoes the whole time. That can take a toll.

Another suggestion is that when attending conferences choose the classes you attend based on the teacher, not the subject. Find the teachers that you resonate with and spend time with them. Finally, the most consistent advice scattered through and through all my writings is to only use what works and produces accurate results. Forget about what some book or great authority says, you have to test everything you use. It’s totally irrelevant that a technique may work for some other astrologer if it doesn’t work for you. We all have to find our own way!

Juliana: Thank you James, for sharing your great wisdom with us.

James Braha's Biography:

James BrahaJames Braha altered the world of astrology in 1986 when he wrote the first easily understandable and accessible book on Hindu Vedic astrology, Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer which is widely recognized as a modern classic. Robert Hand, the world’s foremost Western astrologer, called it a masterpiece. The ensuing tidal wave of interest in Jyotish in America spurred Western astrological authorities to return to their Greek and Latin roots, translating ancient texts and reviving techniques long forgotten.

Ancient Hindu Astrology was followed by four more Hindu and Western astrology books: Astro-Logos: Revelations of a Hindu Astrologer; How to be a
Great Astrologer: The Planetary Aspects Explained; How to Predict Your Future: Secrets of Eastern and Western Astrology (previously titled Transits of the West-Dasas of the East); and The Art and Practice of Ancient Hindu Astrology: Nine Intimate Sessions Between Teacher and Student.

James’ 2005 book Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer With “Sailor” Bob Adamson is a detailed account of hosting the Australian Advaitan master in his home. Living Reality has been called “a modern classic representation in the field of non-duality.”

James learned Jyotish with R. Santhanam in 1983 in Delhi, and with P.M. Padia in 1984 in Bombay. He has given classes and workshops all over the globe and maintains an international astrological practice from his home in Longboat Key, Florida. He is the recipient of Jyotish Kovid award and the B.V. Raman Janma Shatamanothsava Jyotisha Choodamani award.

Recent YouTube videos:

Contact Information:

James may be reached via his website at or by email at • 941 387-9101

Juliana Swanson's Biography:

Juliana SwansonJuliana Swanson is a registered nurse (RN), healer, astrologer, mother, and wife. She runs her astrological consulting and holistic healing practices, which combine polarity therapy and rebirthing-breathwork, from her home office on Hawaii's Big Island. In addition, she tutors Vedic astrology students both individually and as an online instructor for the American College of Vedic Astrology and the International Academy of Astrology.

Juliana qualifies as an ACVA and CVA Level II certified Vedic Astrologer, receiving two titles of excellence: the Jyotish Visharada, CVA and the Jyotish Kovid, CVA.
Additionally, in 2012 she was awarded the Jyotish Kovid from the ICAS, Bangalore, India. Juliana may be reached by email at or through her website

You may reach Juliana at her Hawaii office at 808-430-5989.

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