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Zen is both a way of meditation that pacifies the mind and a life path leading to spiritual enlightenment. It teaches that problems result from three “evils"– anger, greed and ignorance, all born of faulty conditioning of the mind.

The astrology chart is a mandala that can be used as both an object of meditation and a way to discover the cause of our problems. The planets, signs and houses indicate clearly the mental conditioning that has distorted our way of perceiving life and is causing difficulty.

For now let's just consider the signs of the zodiac and how they may reveal our individual dharma, or truth. The energy of the signs, as we know, can be expressed both positively and negatively. Negative expression occurs when we are acting or reacting in a conditioned state. Astrology and Zen together can help us decondition ourselves and express the positive energy of the signs.

The Cardinal Signs: Anger

Distortions of our true nature through anger are indicated in the horoscope by the cardinal signs. The self-assertion of Aries, the first cardinal sign, is necessary for survival and holding our own in the world, but when it turns into blind anger at others, Aries can cause much suffering. Zen, the spirit of the Samurai, stands with Aries' wish to fight for what's right, but asks the warrior to curb selfishness and ego.

The next cardinal sign, Cancer, does not come to mind so readily as a cause of anger or hatred. But think about it. Cancer is the sign of the home and patriotism. How many wars have been fought for the sake of the homeland? How much angst have humans suffered over their lives, especially from problems that originate in childhood? Zen, however, sees the earth as a nurturing mother, giving sustenance to all without concern for race, nation or political belief.

Libra can be anger in the form of open combat against known enemies. Libra is also the sign of relationships, and where, other than in our marriages and close personal partnerships, can we experience more anger? In Zen terms, Libra stands for the desire for harmony that exists within all—harmony with our environment, our fellow man and with the Tao, the unnameable something that created this universe, sustains it, and expresses itself through its myriad creations.

Capricorn stands for ambition, which when under control, leads an individual to his rightful place in society. But when attached to a self-serving point of view, Capricorn's drive can become a ruthless pursuit of rank and prestige. The Emperor Wu was shocked when he asked Bodhidharma what merit he had earned by building many monasteries and universities, and the Zen patriarch answered, "None whatever."

The cure for psychological ills stemming from anger, according to Zen, is compassion. Most of us are capable of limited forms of compassion. We feel compassion for those we love or can identify with. But Zen calls for universal compassion for all beings.

The Fixed Signs: Greed

The fixed signs indicate where an individual may become ensnared in the tentacles of greed in its many forms. Taurus relates to values, and when expressed positively, results in well-formed value judgments that lead to good decision making and goal formation. Zen turns our conditional way of setting values upside down. When Master Tung-shan was asked, "What is Buddha-nature (or the highest value)?" he immediately answered, "Three pounds of flax" (something seemingly valueless). Here clearly the master saw the conditioning of the monk's mind that led him to believe that Buddha-nature was just one more thing to pursue and possess in order to enhance his existence.

Leo seeks to shine and be the best it can be. But when not fully aware of their inner processes, Leos can be too greedy for love, appreciation and acknowledgment. Yet the Sun, Leo's ruler, is also the key to personal salvation—the path one must walk. In Zen, when you give yourself completely to life, letting nature act through you, you are said to be a golden-maned lion.

No other sign of the zodiac is more associated with desire than Scorpio. Scorpio is known for its intensity and the desire to be consumed totally by the object of one's passion. In Zen, this deep interpenetrating focus is known as Samadhi—total absorption of the mind in the practice of meditation, the individual merged with All, the One.

Aquarius represents rebellion and innovation, and those who seek out the different, the shocking and the unique. Positive Aquarian expression is humanitarian and intuitive. A conditioned expression results in people who are greedy for attention by appearing too unique, too special. The Zen spirit is very Aquarian in nature, however, and enlightenment comes in a typically Uranian flash. Zen masters throughout history constantly used techniques that shocked and jolted their students.

The remedy for psychological ills stemming from greed is love. Through unconditional love we no longer desire to possess and accumulate things for ourselves, but rather our focus is on what we can give to others.

The Mutable Signs: Ignorance

Ignorance or delusion, and its opposite, wisdom, is the province of the mutable signs. Gemini clearly falls under the Zen description, "the monkey mind." Gemini perceives subject and object, but Zen teaches that it is this dualistic way of perception that is the root of all trouble. Rational thinking has its uses, but can only take us so far. It stops short at the gate to true understanding.

Virgo seeks perfection and to know the world in greater detail. But when too narrowly focused, Virgo energy becomes the "discriminating mind" that Zen seeks to overturn in favor of a more transcendental view. The third patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts'an, once said, "The Great Way is very simple. Just avoid picking and choosing."

The farsighted vision of Sagittarius seeks the broader horizons of knowledge. Its ultimate goal is wisdom, but too often pomposity and prejudice result when one clings too tightly to one's view of the world. In forming our own opinions, we must at all times keep an open mind.

Pisces energy is pure, unconditional love. But no sign has a greater potential for succumbing to delusion. Likewise, the Twelfth House, associated with Pisces, is the place where the mind either seeks enlightenment or becomes lost in illusions. Pisces is meditation, pure consciousness, and the place where we experience the truth of the words of Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch (638-713 AD), "From the first, not a thing is."

The cure for ignorance is the cultivation of wisdom. Following the Zen saying that "those who know, speak not, while those who speak know not," we must listen for the voice from within.

The Therapy of Zen

We suffer because we depend too much on the conditions of our lives, according to Zen. When things are good, we're happy. When life starts to fall apart, we panic. The goal of Zen is to clear away the conditioning of the mind and to reach one's true nature.

In his book Zen Therapy, Transcending the Sorrows of the Human Mind, David Brazier says our true nature is nothing more than the fact that we all exist in the same universe of which we are all a part. We are in it and it is in us. An ethical life is lived, he says, not because of some externally-imposed rules, but because we realize we are all one, and want to live in harmony with our world and to do it no harm.

The astrological birth chart can be used to help us achieve this goal. By analyzing the astrological blueprint of our true nature, and working on the conditioning we find there, we can better understand ourselves and our relationship to our universal nature.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John M. Whalen is freelance writer, astrologer, and editor of a business publication based in Washington, D.C. He writes about film, TV, music and travel for various magazines and newspapers. He contributed a chapter on the life and films of director Sam Peckinpah to the new book, The Astrology of Film: The Interface of Movies, Myth, and Archetype.

Send an email to the author.

For more information about John Whalen, click here.

Other StarIQ articles by John Whalen:

  • Astro-Zen   9/10/2004
  • Polarized Politics   8/20/2004
  • Saturn and the Vanquishing of Illusion   11/3/2003
  • The Grand Illusion   1/9/2003
  • Two Degrees of Scorpio   10/10/2002
  • Venus Elements   2/14/2002
  • Timothy McVeigh: The Day of Judgment   5/9/2001
  • Kevin Spacey: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma   4/9/2001
  • Keanu Reeves' Excellent Adventure   3/8/2001
  • Steven Soderbergh: Putting the Cuffs on Oscar   3/5/2001
  • The Christmas Eclipse: Bringing Your Heart's Desire   12/25/2000
  • Robert DeNiro: Master of Form and Essence   11/18/2000
  • Sylvester Stallone: A Fallen Star, Rising Again?   10/28/2000
  • Yasser, Ehud, Can We Talk?   8/31/2000
  • Alec Guinness: Reluctant Jedi   8/19/2000
  • Human Genetics: O Brave New World!   8/16/2000
  • Survivor: Candid Camera Runs Amok   7/8/2000
  • Samuel L. Jackson: Shaft for the New Millennium   7/1/2000
  • Jackie Chan: Fearless Aries with the Comic Touch   6/23/2000

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