A Short History of Tibetan Astrology

A Short History of Tibetan astrology

Compiled by Carol Johnstone

According to the sources I’ve read (and there are many on the net), Tibetan Astrology originated and was influenced by several traditions: the local Shamanistic Bon religion, Indian, (the Buddhist Kalachakra tantra) and Chinese. It’s all very complex and as said, I just quite like the animals, so I’ll keep it short.

The most ancient influence, and unique to Tibet, is the “Tibetan nameless religion,”  (according to the website below) which incorporates five individual forces (which should be familiar to Tibetan Buddhists:  La(vitality); Sok(life potential); Lu(bodily health), wangthang(personal power), and Lungta (windhorse, or energies within a person).  These energies relate to the Chinese animals and elements, the example was  the Laforce of the Horse is Wood.

The Shamanistic Bon religion (which may be the “religion” referred to above) had great influence on Tibetan Buddhism, for example Bon has a deity called Balchen Geko who is said to govern time and the three-worlds (past, present, and future) existence,  is analogous to Kalachakra in Buddhism (which obviously came from India).

Chinese Astrology is probably the most well-known.  It is tied to astronomy, which flourished during the Han Dynasty (2ndcentury BC to 2ndcentury AD), though artifacts of the animals were found from the Warring States Period (475-907 B.C.). The traditional explanation of how Chinese astrology came to Tibet was that among the wives of Songtsen-Gampo, the founder of the Tibetan Empire, were a Chinese and a Nepali princess. The Chinese Princess, Kongyo, introduced Chinese astrology to Tibet in 643 A.D bringing with her texts on astronomy and medicine with concepts like the Trigrams from the I Ching, Yin and Yang, and the cycles of 12 (and 60 years. (The 12-year cycle was based on the orbit of Jupiter; multiply in the five elements to make the 60 year cycle..

There are all kinds of subtleties in the various calendars (Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian). In the
West we are most familiar with the Chinese system. All these systems are based on the Lunar Calendar, which is why Chinese New Year’s Day (or Losar in the Tibetan system) does not occur on the same day each year, but anywhere between January 1 and early March. The Tibetan calendar is different again from the Chinese, so “Shambhala Day”  the Shambhala community’s name for the new Year, may fall on a different date , which is calculated by the Dalai Lama’s monks (based on the Kalachakra system), who also calculate the best days for various Buddhist practices during the month.

For the Astrology Nerds

For a further bit of complication (from the “Study Buddhism” web site below), “When the Kalachakra ‘prominent’ 60-year cycle was correlated with the Chinese 6-year cycle of elements and animals, the year 1027 did not correspond to the beginning of a Chinese cycle. The Chinese ones always start with a wood-male-rat year, and this was the fourth year of cycle, fire-female-hare.  This is why the Tibetan 60-year cycle begins with the fire-female-hare year and its listing of the sequence of the 12 animals begins with the hare and not with the rate. Thus, as there is a three-year discrepancy; the present Tbetan 17th cycle began in 1987, whereas the present Chinese 27th cycle began in 1984.

For simplicity’s sake, I (along with the Shambhala community) use the Chinese system, which is more familiar in the West.

Sources for further reading:

Much of the information above came from the website: http://www.viewonbuddhism.org/astrology.html

For more comprehensive information:


The site of the creator of the poems on the back of my cards: