Details of Tibetan Astrology: 9 The Tibetan Almanac

The Moon’s Constellation and Horary Astrology

Having seen some of the features of the lunar weekday and date of the lunar month, with doubled and omitted dates and doubled months, let us now look at the third inclusive calendar feature, the moon’s constellation (zla-skar). This does not refer to the moon’s actual position at the dawn of a lunar date, namely its corrected conjunct constellation (zla-skar dag-pa) for that date, but rather to its successive associated constellation (res-‘grogs zla-skar). For any particular lunar date, this is the constellation position the moon would have at the beginning of the lunar weekday occurring at the dawn of that date, according to which that date was assigned its day of the week. It is calculated by subtracting the hours of the lunar weekday of a date from the actual position of the moon calculated for the dawn of that date.

The astrological interpretations involved with these first three inclusive calendar features are the main material found in the Tibetan almanac. The lunar weekday is examined in relation to the moon’s constellation, while the date of the lunar month is examined in accordance with the variables attributed to each from the “arising from the vowels” system. 

Each of the 28 lunar constellations and each of the seven lunar weekdays and planets is associated with one of four elements. These are four out of the five Indian elements of earth, water, fire and wind. 

For the lunar weekdays and planets, the correlations are:

  • Sunday and the sun – fire
  • Monday and the moon – water
  • Tuesday and Mars – fire
  • Wednesday and Mercury – water
  • Thursday and Jupiter – wind
  • Friday and Venus – earth
  • Saturday and Saturn – earth. 

The 28 lunar constellations are likewise correlated with the elements in a similarly non-symmetrical fashion. 

Horary astrology, the checking of the auspiciousness of the hours of a day, is done by comparing the element of the moon’s successive associated constellation for a specific date with that of the lunar weekday occurring. Each possible combination of elements has a different interpretation, based on which one can decide if a certain action is best undertaken at that time or not. This is the system of the 10 lesser matchings (‘phrod-sbyor bcu) and is the one most commonly used. They are classified in four groups:

[1] The three excellent matchings (bzang-po gsum):

  • Earth-earth – accomplishment combination (dngos-grub sbyor) – excellent for accomplishing whatever one intends, good for laying foundations, putting up walls, buying fields, and actions that expand and stabilize previous accomplishments 
  • Water-water – nectar combination (bdud-rtsi sbyor) – excellent for increasing long life and strength, for medical treatment, washing, long life ceremonies, marriage, and actions for increasing personal capacities, friendships and trade
  • Earth-water – youth combination (lang-tsho sbyor) – excellent for happy occasions, picnics and other pleasurable activiteis, going to great places, wearing nice clothes, wearing jewelry, playing games and music 

[2] The three restorative matchings (gso-thub gsum): 

  • Fire-fire – increase combination (‘phel ‘gyur sbyor) – favorable for activities related to food, clothes, gain, business, charity, planting seeds, wealth ceremonies and making water-bowl offerings and other offerings 
  • Wind-wind – splendor combination (phun-tshogs sbyor) – favorable for quick fulfilment of one’s wishes, for travel, taking care of one’s interests, reconciliation, and for speedy and forceful restoration of anything broken or lost
  • Fire-wind – having strength combination (stobs-ldan sbyor) – favorable for doing anything auspicious, offering pujas (zhab-rten) to overcome obstacles and build up positive force, making requests to deities, serving one’s teachers and others, and accomplishing actions for making peace, increase and bringing situations under control. 

[3] The three bad matchings (ngan-gsum):

  • Earth-wind – not meeting combination (mi-‘phrod sbyor) – losing food and wealth, being cheated or robbed, meeting defeat and sorrow, and not having one’s purposes be fulfilled 
  • Water-wind – disharmony combination (mi-mthun sbyor) – being parted from friends, relatives and supporting deities, and causing enmities and separation 
  • Earth-fire – getting burned combination (bsreg-sbyor) – having one’s suffering and pain enhanced, enhancing the suffering and pain of others, causing strong arguments, conflict and war, and being defeated by enemies. 

[4] The one terrible matching (tha-chad gcig):

  • Fire-water – death matching (‘chi-sbyor) – damaging one’s vital energy and losing one’s life, causing the death of others by poison, black magic, and violence.

For more precision, there are the 28 greater matchings (‘phrod-pa nyer-brgyad) of the individual lunar weekdays with the individual lunar constellations, without reference to associated elements.

Comparison with Chinese Almanacs

The information found in Chinese almanacs is quite different from that found in a Tibetan almanac. The former discusses the auspiciousness of a date primarily in terms of three factors: 

the binomial or stem-branch combination, the lunar constellation and the indicators of good and bad fortune. The assignment of one of the 60 stem-branch combinations for each date has been explained already. Each has an interpretation. As also mentioned previously, there are 28 actual lunar mansions in the Chinese system, which do not cover equal portions of the sky. 28 theoretical or ideal lunar mansions of equal length, then, are assigned instead to cycles of 28 days. Each mansion has an astrological interpretation for the day, for instance concerning the construction of buildings, beginning of enterprises, entering into marriages and so on. These first two features do not appear in Tibetan almanacs. 

The system of 12 indicators of good and bad fortune, usually known by the Chinese names for the first two indicators, the “jianchu” (建除) system, is found in Chinese almanacs as early as the 2nd century BCE. It will be recalled that there is a system of 24 meteorological points equidistant along the ecliptic, each of which begins a mini-season. They correspond to the mid-points and cusps of the 12 signs of the European sidereal zodiac. 12 month-long periods are specified, starting with the mini-season “great snow,” the one directly preceding the one called “winter solstice.” This first month-long period, then, is equivalent to the time span starting at the Chinese-style nadir-point of the 11th Chinese-style month in the Tibetan yellow calculation system and continuing through the zenith-point of the 11th month up to just before the nadir-point of the 12th Chinese-style month. 

During this month-long period, during which the Chinese eleventh month, called by the first of the 12 branches, begins, the 12 indicators are assigned to the dates in sequence such that dates with branch one have indicator 1, those with branch 2 indicator 2 and so on. During the next month-long period during which the month of branch 2 begins, the dates with branch 2 are assigned indicator 1, branch 3 indicator 2 and so on. Each subsequent month-long period follows the same pattern, with indicator one being assigned to those dates with the same branch number as that of the month that begins during it. 

These 12 indicators are interpreted as to whether that day is auspicious or not, particularly for marriages, and which actions are best to do or avoid. Although these 12 indicators of good and evil fortune are reported to be found in not only Chinese almanacs, but also in Mongolian and Uighur ones, in the latter of which they are known as the 12 lords, I have not yet come across this system in present-day Tibetan almanacs. Further research must be done to see if they are mentioned in the Tibetan astrological texts.

Additional Tibetan Almanac Features

From the “arising from the vowels” (dbyangs-‘char) system, each lunar date is assigned:

  • A vowel and a consonant from the Sanskrit alphabet
  • One of five elements – space, wind, fire, water and earth
  • One of five sense objects – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations
  • One of 12 links of dependent arising (rten-‘brel) from the Buddhist system – unawareness, affecting factors, consciousness and so on
  • One of five phases of life – joy or infancy, excellence or childhood, triumphant or youth, emptying or old age, and finished, death or setting. 

All of these can be interpreted, particularly the natal link of dependent arising, to tell about the personality and character. The links are calculated according to a very complex scheme involving the nadir- and zenith-points, developed from what is explained in the Kalachakra Tantra

Special Dates Indicated in The Tibetan Almanac

Furthermore, certain combinations or conjunctions of dates and weekdays are inauspicious in general, similar to the European concept of Friday the thirteenth. They are known as dates on which one gets burnt (sreg-pa’i tshe), in other words days on which whatever constructive things one tries to accomplish tend to go wrong. The dates are given in terms of being either during the waxing or waning half of the month. 

These are: 

  • Sunday the 12th
  • Monday the 11th
  • Tuesday the 10th
  • Wednesday the 3rd
  • Thursday the 6th
  • Friday the 2nd
  • Saturday the 7th. 

For each day of the week, there is also one accomplishing and one deadly conjuncting lunar constellation. On weekdays on which the former type of constellation is conjuncted by the moon, all one’s efforts will be accomplished, whereas on the latter, everything will be disastrous. These combinations of dates, weekdays and constellations, however, are not taken much into consideration by most Tibetans.

Far more important are the three types of inauspicious dates that are regularly marked on all Tibetan calendars. “Bad days” (zha-ngan) are marked with the Tibetan letter “zha,” and last from dawn to dawn. “Black days” (nyi-nag) are marked with a “nya,” and cover only the daytime. Both occur on fixed dates each year, one during each Kalachakra month. The third type of inauspicious date, marked with a “ya,” lasts both day and night. It is known as “Yan Kuong days” (yan-kuong), after the name of a Chinese deity. There are usually 13 each year and they occur on fixed dates of the broad Chinese-style months of the yellow calculation system within the Pugpa lineage. 

Also marked on the Tibetan calendar, this time with the Tibetan letter “sa,” is the bimonthly ceremony of the monks and nuns for the purification and restoration of their vows, the “sojong” (gso-sbyong) ceremony. Each year, the first of these is held 15 solar days after the new year. One will recall that Tibetan months begin with the waxing period of the moon. The second “sojong” each month, at the end of the waning period, is held 14 lunar date numbers after the previous ceremony. If there is a doubled date, both those dates are taken as one in the count. If there is an omitted date, an extra date’s number must be counted to make fourteen. The first “sojong” of each month, at the end of the waxing period, is held simply 15 solar days after the previous ceremony, with no regard to doubled or omitted dates. 

One of the most important usages of the Tibetan calendar and almanac is setting the dates for various Buddhist offering ceremonies or “tsog” (tshogs). The most common dates are the tenth of both the waxing and waning phases of the moon, in other words the 10th and 25th of each lunar month, for ritual offering ceremonies to the Buddha-figures Chakrasamvara (Heruka) and Vajrayogini, as well as to Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava. The 8th of each month is the special day for making ritual offering ceremonies to Tara, but only during the waxing phase of the moon.

If, for instance, there are two 10ths of a Tibetan month, these ritual offering ceremonies are made on the first of these. If the 10th is omitted during that month, the ceremony is held on the ninth. This rule is followed for all religious practices to be performed on a specific auspicious date of the Tibetan calendar.

Combination and Action Periods

The fourth and fifth inclusive calendar features are the 27 combination (sbyor-ba) periods and the 11 action periods (byed-pa), each of which has a specific interpretation, both for the day and for those born on this day. Although some Tibetan astrologers consider these features to indicate heavenly bodies, my own astrology teacher, Gen Lodro Gyatso, disagreed with their assertions. 

A combination period is the period of time during which the combined motion of the sun and moon equals one twenty-seventh of a complete zodiac. For any time, then, one derives the combination period by adding the corrected position of the sun to the moon’s successive associated constellation position. Thus, each period starts at a different time. 

The 11 action periods are derived by dividing the 30 lunar dates as follows. Starting with the second half of the first date, the first seven periods cover half a date each, consecutively. Thus, the first covers the night of the first date, the second the day of the second date, the third the night of the second date, and so on. This sequence of seven action periods repeats eight times, ending with the seventh action period covering the day of the twenty-ninth date. They are known as the seven recycling action periods (‘pho-ba’i byed-pa). 

The 8th through 10th periods cover a half date each, starting with the 8th covering the night of the 29th date, the 9th the day of the 30th and the 10th the night of the 30th. The eleventh period covers the day of the first date. They are known as the four fixed action periods (rtag-pa’i byed-pa).

Information Found in Tibetan Almanacs and Horoscopes

Tibetan almanacs start with the first Kalachakra month, which is the third Mongolian month, and list at least four figures for each date. They are called the derived root features (rtsa-sgrub), and are:

  • The corrected lunar weekday
  • The moon’s constellation
  • The corrected sun position 
  • The combination period. 

Other features may also be listed for the date, such as: 

  • The elements for the lunar weekday and moon’s constellation
  • The lesser matching
  • The link of dependent arising
  • The Sanskrit vowel and consonant
  • The element-animal combination
  • The magic-square number and trigram from both the black and the yellow calculation systems.

For personal horoscopes, information must be combined from all these systems. In the ones compiled at present in the Pugpa tradition as practiced in Dharamsala, India, the personality is described not only from the natal 12-house chart, but also from 

  • The natal lunar weekday
  • The moon’s constellation in the 27-sign zodiac at the time of birth
  • The sign of the natal first house in the 12-sign zodiac
  • Sometimes, the natal link of dependent arising.

From the Chinese-derived element system: 

  • The natal animal-element combination and magic-square number of the year of birth
  •  The valley-of-fortune and life-force elements calculated from the natal animal. 

The progress of the life is analyzed from the periods influenced by each of the nine planets in turn, while the pebble-elements, element-animal combination, magic-square number and trigram information for each progressed year can also be taken into account.