Though dismissed by Buddhism, Christianity and Islam as irrational, the belief that there’s a correlation between astronomical phenomena and life on earth, has ruled the sensibilities of the vulnerable sections in society over the years.
The past few years have seen an unprecedented upward swell in the demand for astrological predictions in Sri Lanka. It has been observed that tens and thousands of new comers had joined the thriving industry with very little subject knowledge. The media is regularly splashed with stories as to how the gullible fall prey to the most preposterous as well as the manipulative among the astrologers.
At a time when there’s hardly a civil society effort to shed light into the unfolding catastrophe, ‘The Colombo Forum’ with Mrs. Nalini Ellawala as its chair, ventured to open a thought- provoking discussion on the topic over the weekend.
Moderated by Executive Director of Mel-Medura and lecturer in Applied Sciences at the Rajarata University, Dr. Manoj Fernando, the forum held at Mel-Medura, Horton Place had the participation from a cross section of professionals.
One may say that it certainly was quite paradoxical to hear a leading astrologer in the country declaring in his opening remarks that it is totally unscientific and un-astrological to predict one’s future with astrology.
However this is exactly what top astrologer and self-learnt hypnotherapist Indika Thotawatte did at the very outset of his presentation.
Explaining astrology through a wide array of subjects ranging from quantum physics to Greek philosophy and Bertrand Russell to Osho, the visually handicapped young astrologer also fielded questions from the learned audience with the aplomb of a senior pro.
The crux of the presentation by Thotawatte was that astrology in general and horoscope in particular, is a list of possibilities. There’s a chance of even almost of all of these possibilities predicted proving wrong if supportive factors would not come together.
For example, if two babies were born at the same time and both their horoscopes indicated a possibility of them becoming scientists, there’s still a chance of neither of them making it if other contributory factors like a conducive family and school environment were not there.
On the other hand, another, who was given a horoscope with very slim possibilities in the academic field, may even end up becoming a professor, if the other factors like parental support and helpful friends and teachers, come together strongly.
Thotawatte also said that astrology can never tell the gender of a baby based on birth time. “It’s a total distortion of core principles of the subject to reject the birth time of a new born saying that the gender does not go with the time of birth,” he declared.
“It’s pathetic that some immature astrologers get parents to shift the time of birth of their babies back and forth, claiming that the gender of child does not go with gender of the birth time and come up with a total irrelevant horoscope for the new born” said Thotawatte.
“There’s absolutely no gender in seconds, minutes or hours. Given any minute tens of thousands of babies belonging to both genders are born across the world. How can anybody with common sense set aside some minutes for boys and the rest for girls?” he queried.
Poor subject knowledge among practitioners and heavy commercialization, Thotawatta thinks, have ruined the image of astrology as a science.
“It has taken such a criminal turn that you have some astrologers deciding on the price for preparing auspicious verses (sethkavi) for the sick depending on the criticality of the patient. If the patient is in a normal hospital ward the charge is Rs.5,000, if he is in the ICU it would skyrocket to Rs.20,000” lamented Thotawatte.
He also took pains to explain why vulnerable women who are in emotional turmoil should take extra precautions when soliciting the services of astrologers and men in other related fields.
“Distraught women fail to see rationally when they are in turmoil. As such they tend to treat whatever recommended by the astrologer as gospel truth.
Knowing this the manipulative men in the field take advantage of their vulnerabilities” he said, adding that irrespective of the coverage given to such cases by media the women continue to fall prey to the unscrupulous.
“Their families have a responsibility to protect them from the greedy and the immoral and provide moral support in times of tragedy and trauma” observed Thotawatte.
He blamed a section of the media for floating unrealistic and unethical supernatural stories to increase newspaper circulation despite the knowledge that those are totally baseless.
Dr Manoj Fernando explaining the psychological aspect of rituals and astrology brought home the point that there’s very little correlation between gullibility and level of education of the general public.
“Even a section of the most educated falls prey to the swindlers in times of confusion and despair. Critical thinking and being informed are two things. It is important that we practice critical thinking so that we are able to think rationally and remain grounded even when circumstances in life are not in our favour” he observed.
Tradition, fear factor, dissolution of extended family system and general sense of instability, Dr Fernando reminded, have led to the public seeking help from the invisible across the board.
The person-centred approach of astrology in the form of a horoscope, Dr Fernando said, made it quite attractive to a majority of followers of this science for thousands of years.
“Astrology personalizes human potential. That itself it a strong pull though we know for a fact that more often than not nowadays astrologers often come up with more or less similar predications to all – either to coincide with the fulfillment of the expectations of the clients or to enhance their sense of vulnerability, both in view of further financial gain” retorted Dr Fernando.
As for himself, Dr Fernando said, he keeps his mind open just as in the case of a few other unfamiliar subjects of which he is yet to gain adequate knowledge to pass judgments on.
Even a section of the most educated falls prey to the swindlers in times of confusion and despair. Critical thinking and being informed are two things. It is important that we practice critical thinking so that we are able to think rationally and remain grounded even when circumstances in life are not in our favour”