Understanding Buddhist Astrology: An Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Kotyk
Buddhism and astrology might seem to be unrelated fields. Buddhism affords a set of teachings intended to liberate us from cycles of rebirths, while astrology concerns itself with how human activities are affected by the planets. However, astrology appears in Buddhist texts and practices throughout history. Jeffrey Kotyk is one of the few scholars who specializes in this subject. His doctoral thesis at Leiden University in the Netherlands was on “Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty” (funded by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship and the BDK Canada Fellowship). Originally from Canada, Kotyk completed his MA in Buddhist studies at Komazawa University in Japan. Presently, he is a visiting researcher at the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität) in Germany. In this interview, he elucidates the connections between the two equally fascinating worlds of Buddhism and astrology.
Buddistdoor Global: How did you become interested in Buddhist astrology? What are the challenges in this area of research?
Jeffrey Kotyk: Sometime around 2011, I was reading a Buddhist text and encountered a reference to the 12 Western zodiac signs. I thought this was rather unusual, since we normally do not think of zodiac signs in Buddhism. The zodiac signs were originally a product of Mesopotamia and we’re quite familiar with them today as a result of contemporary awareness in popular astrology, but I was puzzled why Buddhists would have been using them. So I started looking through the Chinese Buddhist canon and discovered that the zodiac signs and a lot of elements of ancient Indian astrology appear throughout the centuries. There was some secondary literature on this topic at the time, but it was more just brief surveys of relevant literature, rather than in-depth studies of Buddhism and astrology in East Asia. I figured this would make a good PhD project and so I pitched it to Leiden University and they accepted.
Kotyk in Kathmandu 2012. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Kotyk