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Volume 2 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Buddha Tarot
Robert M. Place
ISBN #: 0-7387-0441-5

A mandala is a sacred pattern of the world. The Tarot too, can be said to be a kind of spiritual map of the universe, a mandala.

Robert Place makes the correspondence between Buddhism and the tarot's journey seem like a natural. A quick read through the accompanying little white booklet, and I wanted to smack my head and say "how could I have missed this before, it seems so clear and obvious!"

The journey of Siddhartha, as he became the Buddha, which means The Awakened One, parallels beautifully with what many call the 'Fool's journey', of the tarot. Both are on a path of enlightenment, and although the symbols are changed slightly, it is the same mystic's journey, illustrated beautifully by the cards of the Tarot's Major Arcana.

The titles of the Major Arcana have been changed to fit Siddhartha's story, but remain amazingly similar to the traditional meanings. The Emperor card, is called here 'Siddhartha -The Future Emperor', and represents future potential that is developing. It points to future success. The Future Emperor is active and takes steps to obtain what he wants. After reading about Siddhartha's Journey, in the little white booklet, we might also read into it, that The Future Emperor could represent desires of the material world.

The Hierophant card is renamed 'Suddhodhana-The Father', and is represented by Siddhartha's father. He suggests conservative action by holding onto the past and blocking change.

This deck has more in common with older Marseilles style tarot, than with the more modern Rider-Waite-Smith style decks. For example, Justice is numbered VIII and Strength is numbered XI, as opposed to the Rider-Waite-Smith numbering of Justice XI, and Strength VIII.

Also like the older decks, the Fool is unnumbered and is described in the accompanying booklet as "the most worthless card, as well as the most valuable; it is the first and the last."

Modern interpretations of card XII, traditionally titled, 'The Hanged Man', suggest looking at something from a different angle, or represent a delay. In The Buddha Tarot, card XII is re-titled, 'The Invalid - The Suffering Man', and depicts an ill man, covered in sores, being tended to by Siddhartha. This card more closely represents earlier tarot meanings of suffering and loss.

A 79th card has been added, to the usual 78.This Major Arcana card is numbered XXII, and titled, 'Parinirvana'. Parinirvana is the death of the human Buddha, and is his total attainment of Nirvana. It means, when something ends there is a new beginning; when all rebirths end, there is eternal life. It reminds us that we are more than our limits, to relax and be our better self.

In Mahayana Buddhism, there are five aspects of Buddha. Each aspect represents a colour, a direction, and an element. Each aspect embodies one of the Five Precepts and Five Darmas of Buddhism. Each represents one of the five wisdoms and cures one of five poisons.

The Archetypal Buddha, Siddhartha, sits at the centre of the cosmos. The cosmos has a sacred pattern of centre and 4 cardinal directions = a mandala.

The other four aspects of Buddha are called 'Jinas'. Here, they are represented by the four suits of the Minor Arcana.

Each Jina has a magical tool: a Lotus, Double Vajra, Jewel, or Vajra. These take the place of the traditional tarot suits: Wands, Cups, Pentacles and Swords. The cards of the suits are outlined in the colour that corresponds with that suit's Jina.

It took me a little time to catch onto the Minor Arcana. I kept wanting to see the Lotus cards represent Cups, as the lotus grows in water and is cup-shaped, but here they replace the Wands, representing the element of fire. The Vajras look like wands to me, so I found it a little difficult to connect them with the traditional air suit, of Swords.

The pips contain small images or illustrations, but are not fully pictorial like the Rider-Waite-Smith. Those who meditate may appreciate that some of the cards contain mudras, which are hand positions which have symbolic meaning.

Again, the cards in the Minor Arcana are very similar, but give a new twist to traditional meanings. For example, here the 4 of Vajras, is a card of meditation, which is just a little different than the rest, recuperation, and illness of the 4 of Swords.

In the Court cards, the Kings are replaced by the four Jina. The Queens are now Saktis, which are the female representations of Buddha. The Knights are Animals that correspond with each suit's Jina: the Peacock, the Garuda, the Horse, and the Elephant. The Pages are now Dakinis. In Tantric Buddhism, Dakinis are dancing goddesses, and represent an aspect of Buddha manifesting in the world through our minds.

The artwork is lovely and flawless. The style and subject go together beautifully!

The images were based on Buddhist Icons from India, Tibet, China, and Southeast Asia. The style of the drawings, however, was made to look like hand-painted woodcuts. Everything is heavily outlined, and the colours appear vivid and bright, but in a non-glaring, peaceful way.

I was unable to discover if it was intentional, suit colour correspondences aside, but the primary palette used seems to be chakra colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, with a little brown and rose thrown in. The background of the pips is a complementary beige colour.

The backs of the cards are a luscious red. The image is non-reversible. Here we see a yellow wheel, which is the symbol of the centre Buddha, sitting on, or coming out of a rose coloured lotus.

This deck is comfortable to handle. It comes packaged in one of Llewellyn's new easy-open boxes. The Buddha Tarot looks especially lovely in the enclosed black organdy tarot bag. The standard white 'too big box' is also included for those who prefer to store their deck in a box.

Also included is a thick, 72-page, little white booklet. The booklet tells the fascinating story of the life of Siddhartha. It also explains the basics of Buddhism, covering the 4 noble truths, the 8-fold path and the 5 precepts. Meanings for each of the cards are included. Also featured are a Relationship Spread (which is also included on an extra card), and a 21 or more card, Chakra Spread, in which you pass your hands over and feel the energy of the cards and various chakras. The booklet concludes with a Mandala Meditation, in which you lay out the entire deck, as illustrated.This mandala requires an area of about 6'x6'!

The Buddha Tarot is a lovely and very well thought-out deck. It is useful for divination, meditation and for personal growth.

Those who are not new to the tarot will find the meanings fit within standard interpretations, but are here given a different twist. I do not feel this would be an easy deck for a beginner to learn on. Readers who love the Osho Zen deck, should definitely check out The Buddha Tarot!

I especially like to use it for daily readings, as it is a gentle reminder to cultivate compassion and try to walk the middle path, the path of balance.

Reviewed by
Toria Betson

If you wish to purchase this (or another) deck, please visit the Tarot Garden. They have many decks from which to choose. If they are not currently stocking a specific deck, please note special orders are welcome at: sales@tarotgarden.com.

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