An Interview with Dennis Flaherty
by Marianne Jacuzzi
from the CVA Journal, Council of Vedic Astrology
How did you become interested in Vedic astrology?
I was a practicing Western astrologer in the eighties and I credit two influential people. James Braha had written an excellent book on Vedic Astrology titled Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer by Hermetician Press in 1986. It was, and still is, a superbly written introduction to Vedic Astrology; and the foundational spiritual concepts of India's astrology resonated deeply with me. Later in 1988, I heard Chakrapani Ullal lecture in the greater Seattle area at one of the local bookstores and he further crystallized my interest. Later, when I became President of the Washington State Astrological Association, I invited James to speak for WSAA and sponsored him to teach an introductory Vedic Astrology workshop at my institute. Years later I sponsored Chakrapani Ullal on several occasions to lecture and share his wisdom with our community and my students.
I understand you were one of the original seven founding members of the American Council of Vedic Astrology? What was the CVA's vision?
I understand the CVA was the first Vedic astrology organization in the West to set up standards of education and certification for Vedic astrologers. How did the Council determine those standards?
Yes, as previously stated, it was the shared vision of the American Council and the Indian Council to develop and implement professional standards for practicing Vedic astrologers within our growing community. This was accomplished in cooperation with input from board members from both the ICAS and the CVA, as well as input from other practicing Vedic astrologers within the community. It was a collaborative and democratic effort, as it did not favor any one individual, school or style within our community. We then offered the first certification exams for Vedic astrologers in the West.
You were one of the very first East/West astrologers who had studied and practiced in both Western and Vedic Astrology?
How do you understand the relationship between the two systems?
There were a handful of us in the late eighties and early nineties that were practiced in both systems. It was becoming very popular to be knowledgeable and experienced in more than one system of astrology and so I was interviewed by Kate Sholly on East/West astrology in the June/July 2001 edition of the Mountain Astrologer which can be found in the TMA archives to see how respectively embrace and utilize both systems in practice.
I do consider myself a Neo-Vedic astrologer, and although I am firmly planted in the sidereal zodiac and the foundational principles of Vedic astrology, I utilize several techniques from Western astrology that cross over equally well for timing in the sidereal system. I find it remarkable that experienced astrologers often come to the same conclusions, but come to those conclusions using different zodiacs, different ayanamsas, and different techniques. The truth is the truth no matter what language it is spoken in. I have often said that we are all modern astrologers, regardless of what systems and techniques we employ, as we are all practicing astrology contemporaneously relative to Western social mores and values!
You sponsored the first East/West astrology conference in greater Seattle, Washington in 1995? What was the intention behind that conference?
In the nineties there was an explosion of interest within the astrological community to explore our astrological roots. New translations of both Eastern and Western historical works were becoming readily available. Project Hindsight was formed by a group of Western astrologers to make available new translations of historical texts. I sponsored the conference in Seattle, along with my colleague, Dennis Harness, as we were both practiced in both Eastern and Western systems. We collaborated with the Hindsight Project people to sponsor a foundational conference that featured both systems together on the same footing for the first time. It was an exciting time, and we all felt we had much to share with attendees and speakers alike. The conference featured over two dozen prominent national and international speakers and was called "Sacred Astrology: Rebuilding the Ancient Temple."
This conference also introduced Vedic astrology to a largely Western audience, raising awareness of Indian astrology; and the East/West wave gained momentum, I believe, as a result of this exposure. Other East/West conferences followed, and the East/West wave of interest lead to the publication of Eastern System for Western Astrologers, published by Samuel Weiser in 1997. My contribution to that anthology was "The Eastern Moon through Western Eyes." Later, when I was on the 2012 United Astrology Conference (UAC) planning committee, I suggested and brought about the first East/West UAC track for the 2012 UAC Conference New Orleans, LA, which featured many astrologers who were fluent in both Eastern and Western systems.
You have been practicing as a full-time astrologer now for over three decades. What in your practice has changed and do you observe any change in people's knowledge and awareness of Vedic astrology?
Yes, in the mid-eighties I moved from being a hobbyist, who did several readings a week, to becoming a full-time astrologer who did several readings a day as my primary vocation. Back then when you told people you were an astrologer they assumed you were a Western astrologer who used the tropical zodiac. Gradually over time this perception has changed, so when people ask now they preface, "Do you practice Western or Vedic astrology?" The popularity of Vedic astrology is so much greater now than it was in the late eighties. When I was on the faculty of Kepler College, the first astrological college to grant an actual B.A. degree in astrology, the most popular student track was the East/West track. Students were excited to learn about the different East/West perspectives and judge for themselves what engaged them. Many are conversant in both systems, and this is now reflected in many of the people I read for, as well as students, who are more astrologically educated than when I first started doing consultations.
However, the reason people come to astrologers has not changed over the years, in my opinion. They come for what I call "the usual suspects" — self, family, relationships and career. These areas of life, not surprisingly, represent the four angles of the astrological chart. As I have said, what has changed is that people are more informed than before. They have gone online and had their chart done, and many even have a basic knowledge. This is exciting for both practitioners and clients, as their research often provides a deeper, more meaningful conversation for client and astrologer alike. There is just so much astrological knowledge available these days, which often leads to a more comprehensive dialogue with clients.
You had the first audio course in Vedic astrology that was recognized by the Council in 1995. How did that course develop?
My colleague, Dr. David Frawley, had the distinction of creating the first written course in Vedic astrology recognized by the Council. I wanted to embrace the tradition of Shruti (that which is heard) in my Vedic astrology course, and so developed an audio rather than written course. The format was of live-interactive recorded classes, instructing my students progressively through the foundational principles of Vedic astrology. This audio course features eight modules, which take the student from an introduction to Vedic astrology to opening their own practice. The course has a hundred hours of content, with charts and handouts. It is the foundation through which I teach Vedic astrology these days. After completing it, the student has the option to join my live interactive mentoring class, which meets once a month. In the last two decades, my course has sold in over ten countries.
You have been a prolific teacher of Vedic astrology, teaching weekly and monthly classes and workshops. How has your teaching changed over the years? As a teacher, what are the most important things you want your students to understand?
It has been and continues to be my passion to teach Vedic astrology. I have done, and continue to do this, through my audio course, classes, workshop, symposiums and conferences these last 25 years since the founding of the Council in 1993. My teaching has changed as venues have changed from teaching in person, to over the phone and internet teaching platforms. Technology has enriched us to a point, but it will never replace the direct teacher to student relationship that is the foundation of teaching in India.
The study of astrology is something that improves with time, and like many of my peers, it still draws me and engages me passionately. It always is an exciting challenge to reduce the cosmological order to something recognizable on the personal level for our clients and students. It is always a challenge to be thorough, yet cogent. Mastery of the subject is always the illusive one step beyond. It is important for students to realize that Vedic astrology is not a conceptual paradigm that can be readily mastered in a short period of time. Therefore, I do not embrace students who are only interested in learning Vedic astrology quickly so they can get certified and hang their shingle! This is the study of stars — the cosmos, the universe and our place in that universe. It must be approached with respect and reverence. The foundational principles of this science are the language of Vedic astrology, and once we have mastered these, then and only then can we give voice to what the Vedic chart says. Only with a solid foundation can we start to pave the steps to greater understanding.
In addition to your teachings, your institute has also sponsored many of the most recognized world class teachers of Vedic astrology these past 25 years. How have these teachers enriched the understanding of Vedic astrology in the West?
In concord with my teaching, it has been my mission to popularize and promote Vedic astrology by bringing the great teachers of the East to the West. I have sponsored many world class teachers through my institute so that my students and clients could enrich their own perspective. There are a plurality of perspectives in Jyotish, and it has been part of my mission to promote that plurality through the many and varied teachers I have sponsored through my institute. I have sponsored dozens of colleagues and astrologers, and many have stayed at my home where we burned the proverbial midnight oil discussing Vedic astrology deep into the night.
Over the last 25 years — to name a few — I have sponsored Keven Barret, Bepin Behari, James Braha, Dr. K.S. Charak, Hart DeFouw, Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Dennis Harness, James Kelleher, Robert Koch, Bill Levacy, K.N. Rao, Dinesh Sharma, Gayatri Devi Vasudev and the late Chakrapani Ullal on several occasions. I have an extensive audio archive of these great teachers available through my institute for the promotion and posterity of Vedic astrology. Being proud parents of four grown daughters, my wife Patricia and I have supported our daughters' education from primary school to all being enrolled in or having graduated from college. I can tell you it takes a village to successfully educate a child! Similarly, it also takes a village of Vedic astrology teachers to successfully educate students and to raise public awareness of Vedic astrology.
What do you consider to be your greatest contribution(s) to Vedic astrology these past 25 years?
I coined, trademarked and registered the term Jyotish Locality™, which came from an article I wrote for the Mountain Astrologer in the summer of 1997. Jyotish Locality is Vedic astrology's answer to relocation. In the past, the people of India did not readily migrate as they do today. So new tools are required for changing times, but these tools must still reflect the foundational principles of Vedic astrology, which Jyotish Locality™ does. In 2008, Martin Davis published an excellent chronological history of the astrolocality movement and systems in From Here to There: An Astrologer's Guide to Astromapping, published by the Wessex Astrologer LTD. He reprises my 1997 article on Jyotish Locality™ and credits me in his historical timeline for bringing astrolocality into Vedic astrology in 1997 over 20years ago. My article on Jyotish Locality™ can also be viewed in its entirety on this website.
You were elected President of the CVA again at the end of 2009, during the economic downturn called The Great Recession. Was that a difficult time for the Council?
Yes, decidedly so. The Council at that time was in the red and did not have enough money to publish and mail the winter edition of the CVA Journal. It was a difficult time for many organizations, not just the CVA, as money was tight and organizational benefactors were few. At the urging and sponsorship of my colleague and CVA's chairman, Chakrapani Ullal, I was elected again to the Presidency of the CVA. With the assistance and support of a remarkably selfless CVA board, we were able to get the CVA out of the red and into the black. I personally organized and financed shortly thereafter the NW Vedic Sciences Conference in 2010, as CVA did not have the finances to do so. At that conference we raised over $3500 for the CVA and were able to resume the CVA Journal, but in an online format rather than a printed, mailed journal.
We were very fortunate to have four of the original founding members on the CVA's board, especially CVA's founding chairman Chakrapani Ullal, CVA's first President Dr. David Frawley, James Kelleher, and myself. It was remarkable to have such historical depth and historical memory on the board to revitalize CVA's original mission. As a result, the CVA board unanimously voted to resume the Council's original mission which was "to establish professional standards of certification for practicing Vedic astrologers," just as we did in 1993. We began offering the CVA exams again with CVA's Vice President, Sat Siri Khalsa representing our community as Exam Provost.
What do you consider to be the greatest contribution(s) of the CVA to Vedic astrology these past twenty-five years?
My answer to that question is three-fold. Firstly, while planning CVA's 20th anniversary conference in the greater Seattle area in 2014, I discovered that there was a pending international trademark and registration for the word "Jyotish". It had not yet been finalized and public comment was still open. Those of us on the CVA board were shocked as we had assumed the word "Jyotish" to be in the public domain due to its antiquity. We shared this pending trademark controversy with the current President of the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences (ICAS), AB Shukla. As a result, the CVA retained and financed a trademark attorney; and with written testimony from CVA members Chakrapani Ullal, Dr. David Frawley and myself, as well as testimony from ICAS members AB Shukla and Gayatri Devi Vasudev, we were able to mount a credible campaign to defeat the international trademarking of “Jyotish". It now remains in the international public domain for all Vedic astrologers who wish to use this term, not just for an exclusive few, thanks to the democratic and diverse spirit of the CVA.
The second great contribution of the CVA regards education: the Council developed the first standards and certification exams of Vedic astrologers in the West in 1993, and we continue this mission today, 25 years later.
Lastly, the Council represents a plurality of schools, and all schools are on an equal footing, as we have no special relationship with any school, style or practitioner of Vedic astrology. Our recognized practitioners represent many different schools and hail from many different countries. This ensures that different styles and approaches to Vedic astrology are encouraged, for the enrichment of our community and Vedic astrology itself.
What do you see for the future of the CVA as the Council celebrates its 25th Anniversary?
The CVA currently has members in over nine countries, and it is my hope to increase both our national and international membership. The CVA will remain a democratic, inclusive organization, continuing to represent a plurality of practitioners from all the different schools of Vedic astrology on my watch. Our 2014 20th anniversary was a great success within our community, particularly as it drew upon international speakers from several different countries.
What advice and encouragement would you give students who wish to study Vedic astrology?
Many aspiring students are so in a rush to get certified and start practicing yesterday! I would tell them that Vedic astrology is like a game of chess, albeit a very serious celestial chess, if you will. One does not gain mastery after a few engagements. All mastery takes time and practice. The light chess pieces represent the benefic forces of light, and the dark chess pieces represent the malefic forces of darkness. The goal involves developing strategies to support the advancement of the forces of light, at the same time as developing strategies to mitigate and defeat the forces of darkness. These strategies go hand in hand and must be accomplished in unison.
It is important to study each engagement of celestial chess so that the aspiring student will be prepared for the different gambits the dark forces will advance, until the student becomes thoroughly familiar with the strategies to mitigate and defeat them. I often explain to aspiring students that the humanistic Vedic astrologer only sees problems as solutions dressed up in work clothes! The study of this divine science is something to be savored and relished, not something to be rushed. Enjoy your studies. Find teachers that inspire you and then in turn you will be able to inspire others. Vedic astrology has always has been, and will continue to be about the shishya/guru, or student/teacher relationship.
Thank you Marianne for taking the time to interview me!
Yes, I was invited to speak at the First International Symposium on Vedic Astrology in 1992. The following year, in 1993, several of us founded the Council and selected Chakrapani Ullal as our honorary Chairman, Dr. David Frawley as President, and Dr. Dennis Harness as Executive VP. We formed an alliance with the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences (ICAS). Dr. B.V. Raman was President during that time, and both Councils shared a mutual vision, which was to facilitate the promotion and professionalism of Vedic Astrology through our membership and educational organizations. This vision was incorporated into the CVA's bylaws which read, "To promote the free exchange of ideas and research among the various schools of Vedic astrology." You can read the history of the Council (CVA) on the CVA website at www.councilvedicastrology.org.