A Conversation with Steven Highburger (From Jyotish Star e-magazine 2014)
Charlotte: Thanks, Steven, for taking the time to offer our readers some insights into your very interesting life, as a practitioner of multiple Vedic sciences. You have an extremely impressive and comprehensive resume. How did you get started on this amazing and unusual path? Which teachers are the most important influence in your life?
Steven: An unusual path indeed! My journey began by traveling around the globe from my late teens onwards and visiting some 70 countries by the time I was thirty, including spending much time in India and the East. On my returns to the US I would study philosophy and social theory at university and ready myself for the next journey. With a penchant for backwaters and high mountains I unfortunately returned on a few occasions with a few guests in my belly. Being such a good host was a conundrum for the established medical community and I soon turned to natural medicine for enduring answers. After years of studying natural medicine I was fortunate enough to discover Ayurveda along with my Yogic studies. I was living in Denmark at the time and returned to the US in the mid-90’s to attend Dr Lad’s Ayurvedic Institute where I spent 4 years in advanced Ayurvedic studies.
However, at the very beginning of those studies I met the venerable Hart deFouw who became my primary teacher for all of my Vedic subjects of study including Jyotisha, Hasta Samudrika, Vastu and Sanskrit as well. It is the lineage of Hart and his Guru K.L. Mantri that totally changed my life and has given me this opportunity to study, practice and teach Vedic traditions. I was very fortunate to be Hart’s apprentice both in New Mexico and out here in California where we lived next door to each other for over a decade.
Charlotte: That is quite a legacy to live up to!
Steven: Indeed, Hart deFouw is no doubt the “astrologer’s astrologer” and the best teacher of any subject I have ever learned. His guru and also my teacher, Mantriji, is the most magical and loveable man I have ever met. Even though Mantriji has now returned to India I am still in contact with him on occasions and know he is with me every time I consult and teach. There is no way to describe how important it is that one has an apt teacher in these traditions. This is the reason there can be so much confusion when it comes to reading Shastra or sacred texts, for example, as without the guidance of a teacher initiated into the tradition it is very difficult, if not impossible, at times to decipher what is truly meant by the verses.
Charlotte: You were raised and educated in Texas, I understand. Your interests in Vedic Sciences seem to be a bit unique for the standard tastes of the Lone Star state. Would you mind sharing with our readers something about your birth chart? What sort of a specific yoga has endowed you with this interest and ability to teach and practice Vedic traditions?
Steven: Yee-haw. Are you trying to say that you would expect me to be riding horses around oil wells rather than divining Karma and healing bodies and minds?! It would seem that India is a long stretch from Texas, but in fact my brother lives permanently in India as a monk and I have made many deep connections there over the years.
It is always precarious to speak of one’s own chart, but it could be that I have the 5th and 9th lords in the 5th bhāva that gave me a strong interest in traditions. Raja yogas that involve the Dharma lords will often times give interest and some success in advising, teaching and education. Honestly, it is the grace of my teachers that have given me this path and profession, and maybe some Texan luck thrown in there!
Charlotte: Well – that explains a lot. It’s fascinating that you also incorporate Vedic Palmistry in your consultations. How much additional information does that give you about your clients’ issues? Is it true that lines in the hands change over time?
Steven: Well, a hand is like a face, we glean so much by simply one glace at somebody’s face, what if the hands were the same? In fact, the hands can give even more info than the face does. Once you look at enough hands over the years they have a personality, both gross and subtle signals that literally jump out even with a casual glance. However, with a more detailed analysis they are also full of the person’s destiny patterns just like a horoscope is. Vedic Palmistry or Hasta Samudrika is in my view an essential part of doing Jyotisha. It is a subset of Nimitta, or the limb of Jyotisha which deals with signs and symbols and has always been used with Jyotisha.
I use Hasta to verify and direct consultations with my clients. After all, how else would we differentiate two people born at the same time in a similar location? Jyotisha Shastra is full of statements about how we need to use the “lakshanas’” or markings in the hands and body to divine yogas and karma generally. And besides, all my clients seem to love being able to see and point to where things are seen in their lives, it really connects them to the Vidya.
Yes, it is true that some lines do change over time. For example the Sun line which emanates downwardly from the ring finger can grow or increase in a matter of years very noticeably. Other small lines for travel and relationships can also show signs of change which reflect the way that the hand is always “up to date” so to speak! However, the major properties of the hand including the shape, structure, finger print patterns and major lines will remain remarkably the same once one has hit adulthood. As example, the finger print patterns, which I at times employ as a stand-alone divination technique, are already forming in a fetus by the 3-4th month and will remain the same throughout the life. It makes you realize that destiny patterns run deep and are accessible from many avenues which are not contradictory, but rather confluent.
Charlotte: I think we Jyotishis should study palmistry a bit more. I recently met with a student of yours, here in Phoenix. She had taken an introductory course in Jyotish and Sanskrit from you. She was simply enraptured with what you taught her about Sanskrit. How important is it that we incorporate the Sanskrit vocabulary in our consultations? Does the value of knowing some Sanskrit go beyond mantra japa?
Steven: Sanskrit is divine! For those who are devoted students of Vedic traditions I believe it is essential to have at least a fundamental understanding, an ability to read and pronounce Sanskrit. I can’t say that I am an expert, but I know enough to get by and to be able to read and do basic translations. Many times it is critical to see if a translation of Shastra being given is actually correct or not. As my mentor once said, many words in Sanskrit can never be defined, but they can be explained! This is essential for teaching as so much of the Vedic traditions are in the “telegramatic” language of Shastra which needs unpacking to be truly understood.
As importantly, on an esoteric level Sanskrit is the language in which the most exquisite knowledge of subtle energetics is held. It is the very language that is the means of healing and insight. Correct pronunciation of mantras for example, is critical for practices which the initiate must pass in order to become an apt student and Jyothishi.
Charlotte: Please comment on how you also incorporate the principles of Vaastu as a remedial measure when working with your clients. I think our readers would be very interested in some simple pointers about working with Vaastu, either professionally or personally.
Steven: Vastu is a wonder-world of possibilities as it can be both diagnostic as well as remedial. Just this past week one of my clients asked me if I would help her to “Vastu” her home. One look inside and it was clear why she was having relationship issues and feeling alone. One important question is to what degree will the home effect the relationship karma as seen through the horoscope? We must assess the interplay between the Vastu we live and work in and the karmic potentials that are seen both statically and dynamically in a horoscope.
A balance must be struck, because both have an effect, but often it is the horoscope that dictates how someone lives and works and the greater outcome. Yet Vastu as a reflection of that can even be used as verification of the planetary cycle they are in and how it is affecting them. Helping them to change or improve that dynamic is free will in action and very empowering. Vastu is a powerful tool to give the person the best chance of maximizing what they already have and/or making the best choice in what they are creating. I love Vastu because, even though it is an ocean of knowledge as well, it is very tangible and often times a helpful cure is so obvious once one has a basic understanding of even it’s most fundamental principles.
Charlotte: What is your favorite “go-to” remedial measure? It is sometimes a challenge to prescribe traditional remedies to Westerners, isn’t it? What works for you?
Steven: That’s a tough one. Upaya is a subject that is probably the most difficult to approach because it is very subjective. While there are “standard” remedies recommended in Shastra and the Parampara, the reality is that much of the time for a Upaya to be efficacious and enduring it needs to be tailored to the person and/or imbued with Shakti from the one giving it, like a blessing which is given with goodwill from someone who has a blessing to give.
I find it very important to help someone gain a deep understanding of their life through the Darpana, or mirror, of Jyotisha. They then can begin to see more clearly their life patterns and become empowered to do something about them. It is an educational process that then enables the person to change their life by their own hand and that becomes a most power remedial measure.
Universally I like using charity and service. Having someone give back in service or in kind to the very arena in which they have a difficulty can be an effective and dignifying remedial measure. This is ideally done by their own hand and not just a monetary donation. It is similar with ritual and mantras, they are best done by the person and it is through their own effort that they affect a change in their own lives.
Charlotte: And you are also expert in Ayurveda! What was it like to study with the eminent Dr. Lad?
Steven: It was fantastic and magical. Dr Lad is such a gentle and yet passionate soul full of Ayurveda and many other disciplines. A true Vaidya, the first time I saw him I was awestruck at his diagnostic abilities and realized that he was my first true physician and went on to spend years with him. A truly amazing man with many talents, he taught me the value of examination and especially pulse analysis. Dr Lad can tell you incredible things about not only your body, but also your mind from your pulse. Being a classically trained Vaidya he also incorporates Jyotisha into his work just as has been done by the doctors and healers of India for millennia. Otherwise how would we know when was the best time to begin a regimen or medicine? Jyotisha gives yet more accurate information on how long a disease process is likely to last and also helps in deciding what will be the best course of treatment. I am very happy to have spent those years with Dr Lad and understand that there is a documentary being made of him now in 2014 that I think will be a wonderful full length feature film. Dr Lad deserves all the praise in the world!
Charlotte: Steven, not to put you on the spot – but what was the best piece of advice you received from a teacher?
Steven: I think that would have to be when I mentor said… “Steven, don’t take yourself too seriously!” Many students of Jyotish and allied divinatory subjects often times end up paralyzed in trying to interpret destiny patterns because they are so afraid that they might say the wrong thing or “influence” the person in a negative way. As my mentor often said, “if only it were that easy!” Meaning that if it were so easy to permanently change someone’s destiny by merely speaking to them for an hour, then we could just tell every client that they are going to be enlightened, wealthy, healthy and in the most wonderful relationship of their lives and then it would all come true. (laugh!) Whilst what we say can be very impactful and we always need to have care, awareness, responsibly and ethics on board in our communications, it is important to remember to not take ourselves too seriously and get lost in the personality construct. I believe it is easy to get too wrapped up in one’s own world and to not remain present which is the very thing that chokes intuition or inner light.
Also embedded in my mentor’s advice is the grander truth that everything is actually just fine, just the way it is. That is not to say that we are encouraged to give up working, quite the contrary, we keep striving for improvement, but we do it with an acceptance and forbearance. We can then have compassion for ourselves and understand that we will all make mistakes in doing Jyotisha and yet we carry on learning. Is there any professional field in which a 100% mark is met? No, and in fact if you look at fields like western medicine or economics, as examples, you will find that they fall far short of even the 70% accuracy that my mentor always encouraged me to strive for. Accepting that we are not omniscient and that some wrong predictions will be made allows us to remain human while will continue to work and learn. As Mantriji would say with a wry smile, “this is God’s game, who do you think you are?… be happy with what comes to you and leave the rest up to God!”
Charlotte: What advice would you give to students of Jyotish, or any of the Vedic sciences?
Steven: Work on yourself. Sva-Dhyaya, or self-study is paramount. Study, learn, practice, but it is all contingent on your makeup and balance within. The Vidya, or living knowledge, of each tradition is awaiting a proper vessel to live in and express itself through. That container can be yourself when you are able to clean it out and make room for the other to come in. Romance the Vidya like you would an exquisite paramour who you desire with all your heart and whose honeymoon you never want to end. Just like my client who needed to de-clutter her home to make room for her partner to be, we need to do the same in order to have deep knowledge grace us. Then we can dance with the Vidya as partners in step and time!
Charlotte: Please share with us your plans for your professional future. Any special plans for experiencing Jupiter exalted in Cancer this year? Books? Lecture appearances? Travel abroad?
Steven: I am excited about this year. Four or five times a year I hold 3 or 4 day intensive trainings on a variety of subjects. I am excited about a 4 day Varshaphala course I am teaching in Sept 2014 which is open to all. We have a great community out here in California of both professional and starting Jyotishis who join in these courses.
Charlotte: Thank you, Steven, for sharing some of your experience with us. I, for one, am so pleased to know that you are here among us, carrying on with such dedication, this value-creating Vedic tradition.
Steven: Thank you Charlotte!