Aristotle & Astrology


In the interview we watched in class, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche describes how jealousy, pride, aversion, attachment, and ignorance – known as the 5 poisons – all have a positive side depending on how you handle them. He goes on to use an example of zodiac signs and how each sign has negative traits and positive traits. He states that he is a Gemini and that a negative trait of a Gemini is seeing both sides; but he explains how he also sees that as a positive thing. He goes back specifically to the poisons to conclude that anger can be destructive if you do not channel it correctly.

Although we haven’t learned about the 5 poisons, I really liked his explanation because it was really great to see someone of his stature making all these references to modern day culture in order to explain various buddhist ideals like astrology (and Beyonce). This explanation reminded me of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. The doctrine of the mean deals with the fact that Aristotle saw things on a scale of vices and virtues; with this scale people are supposed to learn to find the sort of middle way or mean of the two in order to be a morally upright person. 

One problem I had with Aristotle was trying to figure out how his doctrine would work in the real world. I understand why it’s best to be in the mean, but it can also make things complicated as well. The mean could be hard to achieve when put under certain circumstances in respect to different virtues/vices! I wonder if it is ever okay and if you would still be considered virtuous if you were to ever be more on the side of one of the extremes rather than being exactly at the mean. I especially wonder how this works if you were to be put under a certain circumstance and the circumstance made for a justifiable reason for you being on the extreme side rather than at the mean. I too wonder how this functions in Buddhism. Buddhism does have the 5 poisons and various lists that are essential to it, but I’d be interested in learning specifically about emotions (good vs. bad and how to deal with said emotions). For example, I’d be interested in how both Aristotle and Buddhists would view someone who had to harm someone as a means of protecting themselves? Would that be seen as justifiable? Would it not be justifiable? If it is not justifiable, then what would be the proposed alternative to how one should act when faced with danger? For example, if someone was coming at you with a weapon with the intent to harm and/or kill you (it would seem the scale for this situation would be pacifism on one end and violence on the other) and you responded in a violent manner by harming the person and/or killing them as a means of self defense, thus falling onto the violent side of the scale, how would that affect you in terms of virtue? Would the mean for each scale be relatively adjusted in terms of the circumstance or is it fixed no matter what?

Works Cited:

BBS. “Jangchub Shing- An Insight into Buddhist Truths (Guest Speaker- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche).” YouTube. YouTube, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015. <>.

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Trans. Terence Irwin. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999. Print.

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3 Responses to Aristotle & Astrology

  1. gglynnferrarone says:

    I also really enjoyed the interview with Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. He explained ideas that seem so complex in an approachable and, best of all, enjoyable way. While exploring concepts like emptiness that so deeply challenge the world our minds have created, I’ve found it difficult to not slip into a hole of nihilism. But this interview provided a reminder of the truth of Buddhism, what is actually painful and causing suffering is usually the creation of the mind. Dzongsaw Jamyang Khysentse Rinpoche exuded ease and comfort in his being. And your mention of the five poisons reminded me of this, what we deem negative can be seen from a different perspective. Pema Chodron often writes about this notion, we so fear certain things that we create deep suffering just by avoiding and fighting them. If we are to approach what scares us with curiosity we will often find that our fear is only in our minds and that joy is present.

  2. mmw92 says:

    I thought that you drew some interesting connections in this post. Mostly, I kept thinking about how Tibetan Buddhism and tantra would fare in this mix. Tantra emphasizes the need for incredible wisdom and compassion, so I wonder how it would answer the need for self-defense.
    I wonder whether Aristotle would call tantra a form of his doctrine of the mean. While most Buddhism seems to want to mitigate extremes, it seems that tantra fights extremes with other extremes, thus transforming them. At first it seems that this ideology of tantra goes against what Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was describing–the two sides of things. But after a closer look, they may be closely connected. Tantra may encourage the use and understanding of this negative side in order to transform your being. Thanks for bringing up some interesting points!

  3. SW says:

    You pose a few interesting concepts here. Personally, I don’t know about Aristotle and his works, but it was interesting how you related the doctrine of the means to Buddhism. I did a bit of light research after reading your post, and I agree with you that the means is definitely similar to finding a “middle way” between extremes. I liked how you made this applicable to real life, giving a situation where one would be confronted with a certain circumstance and having to make the decision of how to act: either to abide by the set of rules or to go outside of those rules, hoping that the circumstance would allow you to do so. I wonder if Buddhism has this kind of forgiving or understanding effect. Perhaps we can talk about this topic in class.

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