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October 20th, 2007, 10:13 AM
The Buddha Tarot

Buddha Tarot by Robert Place is at once spiritually insightful, tantrically powerful and imbued with the very essence of both Buddhism and Tarot. Well-known Tarot historian and scholar Robert Place, best known for his superb book, The Tarot, History, Symbolism and Divination, not only demonstrates a masters touch as an illustrator, he has created the first "Buddhist" Tarot deck that makes any sense.

Rating: Aces!

Review by Derek Armstrong, author, The Last Troubadour, a tarot-themed epic novel.

* Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (February 13, 2004)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0738704415
* ISBN-13: 978-0738704418
* Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 1.7 inches

It is difficult to conceive of a more "originally" conceived deck. On the other hand, Place "spoils" the originality rating by coming within a hair of "proving" that Buddha's life story influenced the entire Major Arcana "Journey of the Fool." Joking aside, there can be no doubt that Place's brilliant analysis of the historical Buddha Shukyamuni's journey to Enlightenment as the "Fool's Journey" is intellectually insightful, creative, inspired, and very, very convincing. Place even presents several pages of chronology to support his theory. Everything card meshes directly with a symbolic event in Buddha's life. A brilliant concept, and without doubt with more than a hint of truth.

Illustrated left: THE FOOL — Taking after the higher spiritual meaning of the card as the "hero on the journey to enlightenment", Rober Place makes the future-Buddha Siddhartha his Fool, her illustrated wonderfully descending (per the Buddhist sutras) from Tusita Heaven with a white elephant. Siddartha's mother Maya dreamed of a white elephant on the night Siddhartha was concieved and the elephant is sacred to Aksobhya, the Buddha of Vajra tantra.

There's never been any doubt of Robert Place's superior illustration style, very sensitive as always to various spiritual streams. His Alchemical Tarot and Angel's Tarot demonstrated his brilliance. The Buddha Tarot is the highest form of its expression. Deceptively simple, symbolically correct, beautiful and deep, the cards are a joy for meditation, divination, or just as lovely illustrations.

The Major Arcana
The Fools Journey becomes the Journey to Enlightenment of the Buddha, with one special and inspired addition, a 22nd "Trump" titled Parinirvana. It is certainly "optional" in readings for those who prefer the "traditional" 78 card deck.

Because Place makes the key point that the Buddha's journey actually inspired the "hero's journey" in the Major Arcana at least in part, he has adopted the more traditional 8-11 attributions of Strength as 11 and Justice as 8. This is accepted by most experts as correct when using the Major Arcana as the "Journey of the Hero."

Now, the entire cycle of the "Journey of the Fool" or "Journey of the Hero" per Joseph Conrad and Carl Jung becomes truly Enlightening, as Place journeys us through the story of the historical Buddha in the cards (Place's names in Italics, although each card has the traditional Major Trump name as well):

# 0 — The Fool — The Descent From Tusita Heaven: Buddha is conceived
# 1 — Magician — Asita, the Seer: Asita the magus predicts Siddhartha will become the Buddha
# 2 — Priestess — Maya, The Mother: Buddha's mother, who in Buddhism is quite revered, a "Queen even the Gods adored."
# 3 — Empress — Yasodhara, The Future Empress: Buddha's wife
#4 — Emperor — Siddartha, the Future Emperor
# 5 — Hierophant — Suddhodhana, The Father: Siddartha's father, the king, who represents attachment to perfect rule and the rigor of tradition
# 6 — Lovers — Siddhartha and Yasodhara, the Lovers: revealing an image of Siddhartha making the choice between his wife and baby and Enlightenment to save all mankind
# 7 — Chariot — Siddhartha's Visit: Siddhartha's visit to the city on his chariot (a potential example of how Buddha's story, which reached Europe 200 years before Christ via Alexander the Great might have eventually influenced the Major Arcana)
# 8 — Justice — Karma: illustrated as the famous scene when Siddhartha excapes his father on his loyal horse Kantaka, carried silently above the ground by the Gods.
# 9 — Hermit — The Old Man and the Sadhu: blends two stories, Siddhartha's revelation of old age when he sees his first old man, and his encounter with the wise hermit, the Sadhu.
# 10 — Wheel of Fortune — Reincarnation: illustrates a fundamental Buddhist concept, the wheel of life or Samasara, or Karmic wheel, very beautifully illustrated with a cock, pig and snake swallowing each other's tales in a wheel, and revealing the cycle of life and attachments that keep us "trapped."
# 11 — Strength — Siddhartha Cuts His Hair: A highly moving scene from Buddha's life, where he has chosen his sacraficial path and symbolically cuts off his "princely lock" to show his inner resolve and strength. He then strips himself of his luxuries and clothes and goes naked into the world.
# 12 — The Hanged Man — The Invalid, the Suffering Man: Siddhartha succors a suffering man, realizing that he must himself sacrifice all to save mankind.
# 13 — Death — The Corpse: Siddhartha's revelation comes when he witnesses a death and funeral. In Buddhism death is quite a different concept from "Western" ideas. Once the body is discarded, the change is profound. The body is meaningless, and the person is reborn (if the journey is incomplete) or if Enlightened becomes either a Bodhisattva or a Buddha.
# 14 — Temperance — The Middle Path: Siddhartha's main teaching is the Middle Path, the balanced path between the extremes of the physical and the spiritual, highly appropriate to this card.
# 15 — Devil — Mara: Mara is actually a god, not "the Devil" but he is a mara, an earthly god who's name means "delusion." By keeping man attached to cravings and pleasures, he enslaves us to Samsara. Buddha taught an escape and as a result he confronts Mara as he meditates on Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Mara sends his sensuous daughters to tempt Buddha and warriors to kill him, but all is revealed as illusion and fades away.
# 16 — The Tower — The Flaming Disc: In a dramatic scene under the Bodhi tree, Mara flings his greatest weapon at Buddha (of course this is symbolic of the struggle in Buddha's own mind as he faced temptations and cravings and fear), a flaming disc of ruin (the Tower). Buddha realizes it is illusion and the disc turns to flowers.
# 17 — Star — The Chakras, The Morning Star — In the early evening of his Enlightenment, Buddha released his "psychic" energies by releasing each of his chakras, illustrated in this card.
# 18 — Moon — Wesak, the Full Moon: On that last night, after Mara's defeat, the moon is full (Wesak) and it is Siddhartha's 35th birdhday. Now, Buddha, Enlightened, sees all his previous hundreds of lives and realizes the truth of attachment and delusion.
# 19 — Sun — Buddha and Sakti: Tantric completion of enlightenment involves an understanding that within each of us is a complete male and female both. The "sexual" embrace of Buddha revealed in the Sun card represents that completion (often misunderstood by non-Buddhists.) Place here, explains at length how Buddha, now enlighened, became one with the Cosmic Buddhas and the Sakti's, which really means he became one with the true Universe in completion.
# 20 — Judgement — The First Sermon: I would have called it Deerpark, less "Western" than "sermon", or "turning of the wheel" — both highly meaningful in Buddhist thinking. Buddha now taught his followers in Deerpark the noble truths.
# 21 — World — White Tara: Tara is the ultimate Female Buddha, the Mother of All Buddhas, and the World or Universe itself. Tara holds a special place in Buddhists heart as the savioress of the world.
# 22 — Parinirvana — I had expected Parinirvana to become the World card, but Place gave it a special place with a new card. Parinirvana is Buddha's ultimate completion, as he finally left the world.

The Mandala of Cards[b]

Brilliantly, and this to me shows Robert Place's true inspiration and spiritualism, Place anchored the minor arcana to the four cosmic Buddhas of Mahayana and Vajrayana. Basically, since Buddha transcended everything, he became everything and the Cosmic Buddhas are symbolic of this. Each of the great Buddhas become a "king" of their elemental minor arcana suit.

I mention this here because Place built an entire Manadala out of the cards. It is such a thrilling experience to actually lay these cards out. I felt most "monk-like" and enlightened. Starting with the WHITE TARA World card, which has four colors representing the four directions and four suits and four Buddhas, Place gives a map for laying out a sacred Mandala using all the cards. Then, in symbolic "destruction of illusion" after meditating on your six-foot layout of cards, you sweep them all back into the deck. It's very moving for a Buddhist, who might have watched Tibetan monks work for days on their sand mandalas —only to sweep them away to show the world's impermanence and illusion.

Ok, this is getting long. I originally subbed this to www.wisetarot.com (an online magazine I really like)... for the minor arcana, and pictures, check it out there I guess. Best,