Apr. 26th, 2011

midwestbuddha: (tarot)
Over the years I have come to realize that almost any object can become a spiritual symbol. I once took a Tarot class online through Barnes and Noble University, and in the midst of the required course reading, realized how often I unconsciously relate to symbols of many world religions and belief systems.

You might be surprised to know, for instance, that according to Joan Bunning, author of Learning the Tarot, much of a reading is based on sensing imbalances among symbols on the cards, and enlightening the querent on how to regain spiritual balance.

My, doesn’t this sound surprisingly close to the Buddhist middle path?

Another similarity between the basic teachings of the Buddha and Bunning’s philosophy of Tarot is that the focus in most readings should be on the responsibility of each person for their own actions, instead of those of the Other.

Just as there are many devotional statues of the Buddha, the Madonna, Shiva and Guadalupe, so there are many different types of decks. I personally own the Moon Garden, Aquarian and Ancient Paths decks—and, when I began my course I also purchased a used Universal Waite Tarot deck.

What’s the difference, you ask?

The Rider-Waite deck is considered the prototype for all the other decks. The symbol on each Tarot card is a significant part of each reader’s interpretation, and in some of the more elaborate, modern versions, it has been changed to accommodate the overall deck design. Since novices always need to learn basics first, a Waite deck is the place to start.

As I read, I found myself also noticing similarities between the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot and Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path:

The Major Arcana cards (from 0, The Fool to 21, The World) offer symbols depicting long or even lifetime themes, just as the Four Noble Truths show us the larger picture of the Buddhist philosophy. And the Minor Arcana (Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles) direct the reader’s attention to everyday affairs that show us how to live for our best benefit, much the same as the Eightfold Noble Path.

It then occurred to me that Tarot cards might make a wonderful meditation object for those like myself that are very visually oriented. One would select a card at random each day (indeed, as Bunning’s book suggests), focus on the symbols on the card’s face, and meditate for awhile on the meaning of the idea conveyed as applied in life.

For, you see, Tarot is not (as many believe) a system of fortune telling, but instead an aid to enlightenment. Each person chooses their own interpretation of the symbols they observe—and their own way of responding to them. For instance, here is a Five of Swords card.


Here was my initial reaction to its symbols:

I see the man smiling as he looks over his shoulder at the others in the background. They, in turn, appear to be moving away, and one looks as though he is weeping. Perhaps the man in the foreground has won the swords, maybe even using trickery. His expression seems one of arrogance and greed.

Here is the traditional interpretation of the same card:

Self interest, discord, open dishonor. Sometimes can mean you or someone else is forgetting what we do to the world we do to ourselves. Going ahead in isolation will cause your actions to come back to haunt you. Other times, (depending on its placement in a reading and other influencing cards) it may indicate a need for self interest. It can also represent hostility—from a cross word to warfare.

Did you see something completely different? Wonderful! You’re right, too.

According to Bunning, how I saw the card is based on which of its symbols struck a cord in my personal psyche. And it’s the same for you…

So, the next time you see someone spiritually transported at the sight of a crucifix, the spire of a mosque or a pentagram, don’t just shrug it off—ask them what they see…

You might be surprised at what you learn!


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