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Volume 2 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Buddha Tarot Companion
Robert M. Place
ISBN #: 1-56718-529-0

It is by no means necessary to have this book, if you want to read the deck. The little white book (LWB), which comes with the deck, is very well done! However, The Buddha Tarot Companion, is a wonderful book, that not only enhances the deck, but also is a fascinating read, all on its own!

This 366-page book contains all the info found in the LWB and expands upon it.

Robert Place begins with a fascinating look at history. He explains that ancient cultures were not isolated. Western philosophers were familiar with Indian philosophy.

In the 3rd century, BCE, missions were sent out as far as the Greek world, Egypt and China, to spread the teachings of the Buddha. In the late 1200's, Marco Polo wrote an immensely popular book, which included the story of Buddha's life, and during the Middle Ages, eastern European Christians transformed the Buddha into St. Josephet. By the time the tarot had been created, in the early 1400's, it is likely, its creators had been exposed to the story of Siddhartha.

The iconography of the early tarot is clearly derived from the renaissance Christian church, and is not about the Buddha. However, Place proposes that the story of Siddhartha may have been part of a mix of mystical and philosophical ideas.

To quote Robert Place, "The Tarot is an expression of a synthesis of mystical, philosophical, and religious ideas, and each of my decks picks up one or more of these threads and explores the connections."

Is it just a coincidence that early Christianity and the story of Siddhartha follow the same archetypal pattern, 'The Hero's Journey', as coined by Joseph Campbell? Could this be an example of the phenomenon Jung named 'synchronicity'?

The author points out that the Tarot, and the Buddha's life, both fit the same three-part pattern of dealing with hope, dealing with fear, and finally, the middle path, which is beyond hope and fear, and leads to mastery and enlightenment.

Place has renamed the cards in the Major Arcana, to fit the themes in Siddhartha's journey. While the order of Siddhartha's story had to be changed a little, the themes fit the Major Arcana beautifully. The interpretations of the cards remain largely unchanged. It would be difficult to read this book without becoming a believer!

The section on mysticism shows the parallels between the Buddha's and his contemporary, Pythagoras' teachings. Place discusses the similarities between the various philosophical schools, including Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and Sufi philosophy.

This book contains a detailed history of tarot. Place has the fortunate gift of being able to share his scholarly research and thoughts, in an easy-to-digest and exciting way.

As in the little white book, included with the deck, there is a chapter about the life of Buddha, and Buddhism (see the deck review above).

A large portion of the book is devoted to card descriptions. A black-and-white illustration of each card is included.

Several pages are provided for each of the Major Arcana cards. Each is divided into three sections; first is a description of each Buddha Tarot card.

Second, is a commentary, which compares each card with the Marseilles tarot, and sometimes also from earlier or later cards. And third, a divination section contains the meaning of the card.

A shorter, one-page, description of images and divinatory meaning is provided for each of the Minor Arcana.

The card meanings do not include reversals because the author recommends using the cards right side up, as he feels the pictures communicate more clearly that way.

Robert Place is a man who approaches the Tarot in both a scholarly and an intuitive way.

Many assume divination is about 'fortune telling'. Even in the ancient world, divination was not that fatalistic. Most often advice, on how to make improvements, and keep the favour of the divine, was given. The word itself, divination, means, "to get in touch with the divine". Divination gives us insight into the present, and helps us make informed decisions.

About divination Place says "At the highest level, it helps one move along the path to enlightenment".

Place recommends using intuition. The importance of looking at the flow of the cards, and the patterns formed, as well as the directions the cards face, is discussed in detail,

Included are the same relationship spread, chakra spread, and mandala meditation, which are in the little white book that comes with the deck.

The book concludes with acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography and recommended reading index. I am especially grateful for the helpful glossary and index!

You really don't need the companion book to use the Buddha Tarot cards. The included little white book is very well done. But, you would be missing out on some excellent reading, and a wonderful resource.

Well done!

Reviewed by
Toria Betson

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