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Jyotish Star of the Month
By Juliana Swanson
Juliana Swanson: Your name has a certain mystique. Please tell us about that.|
Juliana: So then, the whole name-chain is “Barbara Anne Mary Lear Pijan Lama”?
Barbara: Yes and my Jyotisha name is “(Mrs.) BP Lama.” In Nepal I am broadly known as “Bauju” (older brother’s wife; a respect term). My home name is the rather unglamorous but instantly recognizable “Mom.”
Juliana: The Lama surname is not common in the United States.
Barbara: True, though it is common in Mexico, and also common among the Sharwa (Sherpa), Tamang, Manang, and other Tibetan diaspora communities in Himalayan Nepal. Within Sharwa culture, there are 17 groups called “ru” (meaning “bones”), and there are strict marriage rules about which “ru” can marry other “ru.” The Lama group has the strictest rules. So unlike other Sharwa groups who just go by “Sherpa” to the outside world, the Lama group proudly uses “Lama.”
Juliana: Some people must mistake you for a Tibetan teacher.
Barbara: People who are not from Nepal sometimes think that Lama means (1) the Andean quadruped (llama) or (2) the Tibetan word for teacher (bla_ma). I’m neither. It’s a similar situation to modern Anglo surnames like Smith, or Farmer, or Priest. Just because one’s surname is Smith doesn’t mean that one is a tinsmith, goldsmith, or ironsmith. It means that some ancestor way back there probably was… but, by now, the name carries only the dimmest vestigial reference to that distant ancestor. Similar to the Anglo surname Priest: it doesn’t signify that the person is, in the modern day, a working priest.
Also, I’m not any sort of credentialed teacher in the Tibetan religious hierarchies; and you can tell by looking that I have only two legs, so I’m not a llama. I’m just Mrs. Lama, a schoolteacher and parent from northwest Oregon.
Juliana: Where did you grow up?
I asked my mother why there were two different kinds of numbers: the normal ones like on our front door “12,” and the special ones like on the new clock “XII.” We had a 1950’s Worldbook Encyclopedia in the same living room with the new clock. The encyclopedia showed glossy pictures of various symbol-sets representing numbers and sounds (alphabets). Wow! I was hooked on systems of correspondence!
Juliana: Where did you find yourself interested in “the stars”?
Barbara: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about the Big Picture. As a kid, I used to lie in bed at night, wide awake, thinking about orbiting planets, galaxies, and wispy oracles that emerged from the nebula, making pronouncements. I wanted other people to see me as a wizard. (This did not sit well with my god-fearing parents!) Before I could fall asleep, I used to bring my mind to a distant cluster of home-stars that were very brightly lit. I used to tell my mom that I can only go to sleep when the light is really, really bright. Of course she thought I was nuts.
Juliana: How did you begin divining?
Barbara: I started with Tarot in 7th grade. That worked pretty well for predictions about 7th-grade romance. In high school, a psychiatrist gave me the 1967 Wilhelm/Baynes I-Ching, which worked even better for interpretations and predictions. I met some women from farm families who were rod-dowsers and stone (pendulum) dowsers. They had found both crude oil and water underground. Some among these grange ladies were also water-gazers who could predict tornadoes in Illinois. Most of them had less than 8th grade schooling and had no use for it; they read the terrasphere. I learned to read palms and tested the results by asking older people how many marriages or children they had (working from the child lines and the marriage lines). Overall it worked as folks would say “mainly true.”
Juliana: When did you first work with astrology?
Barbara: From age 16 until age 26, I looked at hundreds of tropical charts without really understanding them, though not for lack of trying. I read Jung and Rudhyar on “mystical” astrology; they seemed frustrated too. Why would a system with so much divinatory promise yield such consistently vapid results?
For potent predictions, I relied on palmistry, coin-or-stick throw (I-Ching), bird-flight (in open country) and Tarot cards rather than astrology. Yet I never gave up waiting for that “aha” moment when the missing piece might be revealed. I sincerely tried to use tropical astrology for a long time because it seemed like an accepted tool in the divinatory toolkit. Yet unlike all the other methods it consistently failed to predict. Describe, yes, somewhat…but not predict.
Juliana: What promoted you to begin your studies in Vedic astrology?
Barbara: Seven years after starting a B.A. in religious studies, I earned the diploma (praise be) and went on a long trip around the world. I found myself sitting in a gravel field near Kathmandu Nepal, waiting for a bus. There I was approached by a wiry, smelly, dhoti-wearing sadhu-beggar from nearby Pashupatinath compound, who demanded to see my palm. “Paisa chhaina,” I told him – I don’t have any money.
He glared at me. “Malai tapaiko hata dey! Sunnuhos! Tapaiko samaya chha.” Give me your hand! Listen! It is your time. He told me, among other things, that I was going get very sick and “pheri aunecha purano smriti CHOAT” – again will come old memory “choat.” He was certainly right about the sick part, as I soon contracted a high-fever liver disease that nearly killed me.
In a London bookstore months later (and still sick), I happened upon a Sanskrit-English astrology tome. “What is this book?” I asked the turbaned owner.
“Chyota,” he said.
“CHHYOHT-AH,” he repeated. With my rudimentary Devanagari reading skills, I spelled out the title. Jyo-tee-sha. Oh, right. “Choat”. Since then (1983) “choat” (Jyotisha) has been my astrology of choice.
Juliana: Your website contains a virtual encyclopedia of Jyotisa and other Vedic knowledge. How did such a monumental project come about?
Barbara: When I was pregnant with my son Tseten Gyurmey Lama in 1994, I started writing down parts of my Jyotisha (and other) knowledge base. I knew that the modern Internet was starting (I had worked with its predecessor ARCnet). In the delirium of pregnancy, I envisioned a vast web of interconnected words, sounds, and photographic images that people could tap into consciously the way we usually tap into collective images unconsciously. The baby was three weeks overdue, and I was so huge and so overheated that all I could really do was sit in the chair and type, type, type. I filled up about ten diskettes in WordStar, and was really glad to have something to occupy my mind.
Juliana: You were giving birth in more ways than one!
Barbara: Exactly. My hormone-induced hallucination of a big sound-and-pictures information web turned out to be a widely shared dream, and over time more communication tools arrived. First, the early generations of Jyotisha PC software made chart-casting so much easier and more accurate; then website design software. Then I got ambitious about distributing the knowledge base (Rahu in bhava-2 with systems-Shani!) and felt a craving to publish examples of well-known historic (bhava-2) personalities whose nativities featured common planetary yoga.
Juliana: Since the inception of your project, how has it evolved?
Barbara: Wikipedia got so great that the basic biographical events of public personalities have become incredibly easy to verify. So, my “inner schoolteacher” is working overtime trying to publish as many examples as possible using Wikipedia data plus my own rectifications via Shri Jyoti Star software. It’s exciting for my “inner teacher” but time consuming for my outer teacher, who is busy at university and often lacks the time to publish new examples and/or correct mistakes in old ones. Sigh.
Juliana: It must require a lot of work to keep it running.
Barbara: Naturally, maintenance is a headache. Not just broken HTML code and outdated design, but also things that I would now like to explain differently, more clearly, if I had the time to rewrite. As of 2014, Barbarapijan.com has hundreds of pages. It’s a big old behemoth of an aging website. Some of those WordStar paragraphs crafted in 1994 are 20 years old!
Juliana: How would you describe the website?
Barbara: It is really a jumble of philosophy, culture, language and worldview. I’ve thought about dumping the whole dinosaur and starting fresh, with a clean new design and only a few verified case studies to explicate the main principles of Jyotisha – and leave it at that. But people write me so often saying “please keep it alive…we love the philosophy and the photos…there’s nothing else like it.”
Juliana: I can imagine a large following.
Barbara: Actually, yes there is. I receive many emails every day, thanking me for the effort. I get email from everywhere that the Internet reaches, including east and south Africa, Indonesia, eastern Europe, Russia, and Turkey; South America, and throughout the Middle East. The visitor demographics are interesting: about 30,000 page reads per day, about 6000 unique visitors per day; 85% India, 10% Europe, 5% USA.
Juliana: It’s wonderful that you can offer all this without charging a fee.
Barbara: In 2013, accidently (due to a glitch at my ISP), the website went offline for 24 hours. My home page showed a false message that said “access code required to enter.” Of course that’s not true – it may be a crazy jumble, but at least it’s free! What shocked me was literally dozens of emails asking how they can pay to get an access code. Surprising! I’ll keep it alive, rebuilding as I go, as long as I have the energy.
Juliana: Have you thought of shifting barbarapijan.com to a more collective effort, for instance, bringing in a team of other astrologers to help you with it?
Barbara: I wasn’t hoping to covert my personal website, which is rather complex and opinionated, into a bona fide community resource. Rather, I have envisioned generating something else, as in a one-stop-shop for historical resources in the Jyotisha traditions. There are so many iterations and syncretic lores of Jyotisha, including Tibetan, Cambodian, Tajiki-Persian, Lal Kitab, Arabic, and dozens more... how glorious it would be to have copies of their scriptures or links to reputable pages in some network-linked arrangement.
Juliana: Would it be somewhat like Wikipedia?
Barbara: Wikipedia has some Jyotisha articles in the Hinduism section, but Jyotisha-vidya really deserves its own hub. I’m dreaming of an objective collection of media resources contributed by student-scholars of Jyotisha, free of sectarian rhetoric, providing a clearly-marked gateway into the samayavidya for the next generation of Jyotishi.
Juliana: Where would you start?
Barbara: At the outset, I’d like to see the mainstream rulebooks and commentaries plus clear, scholarly explanations of the plethora of predictive techniques that have accrued over the centuries. A section on traditional remedies would be fabulous, and huge.
Juliana: Your dream seems conceivable in our lifetime, especially as Jyotisha is expanding so rapidly into all corners of the world.
Barbara: The central knowledge-base development enterprise would need to be conducted in an intellectual culture of civil dialogue. Reporting on phenomena of Jyotisha would need to be free of rhetorical punditry, boasting, and self-righteous overstatement. However, modern civil discourse is increasingly well understood by the educated classes. Now that the New Age is truly upon us, and many forms of shared resource are occurring, it does seem that a civil, shared Jyotisha-vidya resource could realistically be produced within the Anglosphere.
Juliana: Has your profession always been as an astrologer?
Barbara: Heavens no. I have been a truck stop waitress, window-washer, hotel maid, childcare worker, schoolteacher, pig-tender in Wales, and poured whiskey in Scotland. I’ve sorted overdue bills for Bell Telephone, laid electrical wire, planted tree seedlings, managed computer help desks, and taught college classes in subjects ranging from IBM-System-370 assembly code to New Testament.
During the late 1980’s I was a software trainer for a large global shipping company (Karkata = my 10th bhava). My traveling classroom visited worldwide deep-water container ports, including Tokyo, Singapore, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle – to mention just a few. Presently I teach grammar, rhetorical argument, and research writing in a university international program.
Juliana: That is a remarkable resume! So it sounds like astrology is more of an avocation.
Barbara: Although astrology has never been my primary source of income, I love it best, and practice whenever I can.
Juliana: What teachers inspired and mentored you and were your strongest supporters along the way?
Barbara: My Jyotisha guides are not embodied in 3-D physical plane, but they are always on call. On the physical plane, my greatest mentor was actually a college political philosophy professor named Peter Steinberger.
Juliana: How so?
Barbara: In the 1970’s, just as feminism was appearing for the first time in university discourse, this male teacher allowed me to “do a reading” of Plato’s Republic. He knew that the mystical, feminine perspective I intended to deliver in the “reading” would not match the prevailing orthodox interpretations of this famous text. Yet he authorized (passed) the paper. It was a huge gift of *permission* for me to “weave” a different interpretation of this classic text, and have my results be validated as intellectually coherent.
Juliana: What happened once you received his permission?
Barbara: After I’d read Plato’s Republic three times in college, cover-to-cover, I could not force myself to accept the conventional interpretations. I thought I was detecting in the hoary figure of ancient Plato an undercurrent of sincere mysticism. Plato dedicates it to “the one who told me this tale, the witch of Scythia”! But the established male authorities of the early 20th century had studiously ignored this key statement, as well as many other references to mystical interiority (the cave) and altered states of consciousness (shadows) throughout the text. Instead they interpreted it as a somewhat poetic manual of political governance.
Juliana: What was your conclusion?
Barbara: Banking on my professor’s promise that he would not give me a D on the paper if I veered from the accepted interpretation, I argued for viewing Plato as a religious mystic. This kind of “reading” is no longer at all avant garde. In fact it later came much into fashion. But at the time I was way “out on a limb” and could have been disqualified for graduation. Instead, he gave me an A due to good use of evidence.
Juliana: And how does this tie into your work as a Jyotishi?
Barbara: Professor Steinberger’s approval raised my confidence to “say what I see” in a principled argument without kowtowing to the established authorities. This epistemological confidence imbues my reading of Jyotisha varga and dasha timelines, and reinforces my entitlement to practice Jyotisha outside the orthodox lineages.
Juliana: What advice would you give that could be helpful for students of Vedic astrology?
Barbara: Two words: “case study.” Read charts and timelines. Test real outcome against expected outcome. Repeat.
Study family members whose lives you know well, or study public figures with known biographies. For public figure case studies, choose men and women that you admire, noble ones, whose attributes and life stories attract you. Match and correlate. Did the planetary configuration and its dasha timing match the material event? Studying the Jyotisha nativities of public figures has become an instant-gratification experience now with Wikipedia!
Juliana: Do you believe it is helpful to study one’s own natal chart, especially in the earlier stages of learning Jyotisha?
Barbara: Cavete carissimi studens (beware dear students): do *not* study one’s own nativity as a primary test of Jyotisha principles, unless you like spinning around in circles of confusion. ** We all constantly judge ourselves in a perpetual struggle for self-worth. ** No one can be objective about his own nativity, at least until the completion of the first 31 years of study (one full Shani return cycle). Focus your analytical attention upon nativities with known biographical milestones that you can objectively test.
Juliana: What is it in your own astrological chart that would speak to being such a prolific scribe and author of sacred knowledge?
Barbara: Shri B.V. Raman often said that we need a minimum of three indicators to make a prediction. The writing behaviors, particularly on topics of historical knowledge, can be attributed to three main patterns. First, Mithuna karakamsha is occupied in most of the 16 Parashari varga while Budha often resides in His own or friendly rashi. Second, Guru controls numerous lagna (Vishaka, Punarvasu) related to identity and teaching; importantly, Brihaspati owns and casts drishti upon bhava-3. Third, the 2-5 parivartamsha yoga between yogakaraka Shani-Vrischika and atmakaraka Mangala-Kumbha suggests occult systems.
Juliana: Are you in private practice as an astrological consultant?
Barbara: I’m only able to accept a few dozen reading requests each year, depending on other professional schedule factors. Demand for readings far exceeds my availability to offer them. I juggle a full life that includes university teaching, parenting, and writing – both for barbarapijan.com and for university purposes.
One of the nicest things about offering readings is that when I have the energy and my calendar is open, a portion of the cost of each reading is tithed to the Tibetan Nuns Project in Dharamsala, India (www.tnp.org). I really enjoy helping to support the nuns.
Juliana: I noticed on your website that you record your consultations rather than speaking directly with clients. How does that work out?
Barbara: I find that I can concentrate much more effectively on the nativity and the client’s questions when I have freedom from interruptions, both psychic and auditory. Typically I view the main body of evidence in the charts and timelines, gather a broad view of the overall situation, turn off the telephone, turn on the microphone and begin an uninterrupted systematic spoken walk-through of the 12 bhava, consulting navamsha and other varga as needed. As I describe the salient features of the nativity, the client can follow along with accompanying PDF charts on their local screen. I use Andrew Foss’ Shri Jyoti Star software which has well designed visual graphics.
Juliana: Do you have the client complete a questionnaire beforehand?
Barbara: Each reading includes 5-to-10 questions, which are addressed from the Jyotisha perspective during the final hour. First, the broad outline of the Vimshottari Dasha timeline is verbally described into the recording. Upon listening, the client will be viewing a PDF of same on their local screen. Questions are answered, one by one, by discussing the particular bhukti line that is expected to give the desired fruit.
Juliana: What do your clients most prefer with this method?
Barbara: Clients report that they enjoy the freedom to stop and start the recording as convenient during their own busy day. I do encourage a follow-up question in case anything mentioned during the reading needs clarification. However, two-plus hours of uninterrupted explanation are quite a rich delivery, and most clients are well satisfied with the recorded-answer method.
Juliana: Do you tutor astrology students?
Barbara: Presently I’m not teaching Jyotisha in direct instruction, but perhaps the technology will allow me to start offering lessons electronically within the near term.
Juliana: A while back, I noticed that you were taking a medical leave from your work.
Barbara: Shani-Thula via gochara [editor’s note: Saturn’s transit in Libra] imposes “fixed states of architectural balance and structured harmony” whether we like it or not. On a social level this pattern advances social justice, but on a flesh-body level – ouch! In 1983, Shani crossed my Thula lagna in 6/8 shad-ashtaka relationship to my satkona “problem-sets” Chandra, triggering every sort of psycho-emotional austerity, debilitating weight loss and major muscle pain. After the forced rebalancing (Thula), I felt quite at home in the Himalaya, to the point where I married and integrated into that vibration.
Juliana: So now that Shani’s again been transiting your Thula lagna, you have had another health setback?
Barbara: Yes, and with many other astrological factors occurring at the same time, I’m re-structuring, recalibrating and retooling – at least partly in response to what is ever-more-widely recognized as “ascension shift.” My nice doctor calls it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but the muscle seize-freeze and sciatica nerve-pinch along with systemic exhaustion is clearly the work of Shani!
Juliana: Sounds like you are managing it well.
Barbara: All of these complaints are entirely physical since the action is focused upon the radical Thula lagna. Mentally I’m in the best shape ever, guides are enormously supportive, and everyone in my circle of friends and family is flourishing. It’s just a forced cellular rebuild that I’m going through. It’s exhausting – but since I’ve done it before, I know just to “lie low” and not take on anything extra. I expect to regain some vitality under auspice of Chandra-Budha bhukti beginning for me in January-2015.
Juliana: That seems very likely in Budha sub-period, and along with your improving vitality, it seems possible that you will be more productive than ever with astrology, writing, teaching and even with your dream of a Jyotish-pedia! Thank you so much for your website and for this enlightening interview, Barbara. We wish you all the best.
Barbara Pijan Lama Biography:
Juliana Swanson Biography
You may reach Juliana at her Hawaii office at 808-430-5989
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