Bodhichitta Tarot Spread

When I became interested in tarot again, I really had no sense of how it might connect to my Buddhist practice. I’ve been thinking about the relationship between tarot and Buddhism–as I understand each of these–a lot lately and haven’t really seen much of a connection. I see Buddhism as my main practice which guides all other facets of my life, including tarot. Rather than see tarot as a transcendent path, I see it as a helper on the everyday level. (And this is not to knock tarot–everyday life, as we say, is the Way of Buddha.)

But the more I work with the cards, the more connections become apparent to me. So much so that I have created my first spread based on Buddhist ideas–although it’s useful to anyone.

A few weeks ago, I decided to experiment with creating my own tarot spread, one that would give me a sense of where I am at the beginning of the coming week. Two of the card positions are: how I can take care of myself and how I can take care of the people in my life. As it turned out, I love the latter. It’s my favorite damn question of the whole spread. The first time I got it, I got the Knight of Cups and I was like, “Oooh! I can be creative and bring beauty into people’s lives!” The next time I got The Heirophant, and was like, “Oooh! I can support my religious community and help be a moral compass for people!” It was here that I got my first inkling into how I can integrate tarot into my practice. I call this the bodhichitta card and later decided to do a bodhichitta spread.

First of all–what’s bodhichitta? It’s a compound of two Sanskrit words. “Bodhi” means “awakened” and “chitta” means “heart/mind.” It refers to the aspiration–the awakening of one’s heart–to become awakened and save all beings from suffering. All beings? All beings. That’s how we roll in Mahayana Buddhism. This is, of course, an impossible aspiration and it’s deliberately impossible since in Buddhist cosmology there are an infinite number of beings in the universe.

At my temple, every time we close a formal meeting, we end by reciting the Four Great Vows:

All beings, one body, I vow to liberate.

Blind passions, one root, I vow to terminate.

Dharma gates, one mind, I vow to penetrate.

The great Way of Buddha, I vow to realize.

People at temples all across the world recite a version of these vows on a daily basis. It’s terrifying at first, but after a while it becomes comforting. The vows help form a lifelong intention. Knowing that fulfilling them is impossible just means that you keep working at it without worrying about the results.

Anyway, on to the reading! I could have made this more complicated, but I decided to keep things simple. So here’s what the spread looks like:

Position 1: Where is my help needed?

Position 2: What do I have to give?

When doing this particular reading, I tacked on the words, “at this moment in my life” to my questions, which really means the coming week or two, since they are already scheduled and events are about to fall into place. I imagine it can be used to ask about specific situations or more definite periods of time.

bodhichitta spreadAnd here’s what I got: Where is my help needed? The Sun, reversed. What do I have to give? The Six of Cups.

This is a pretty auspicious draw to pull when taking the spread out for its first test drive.

Alright, so what’s going on here. Both cards have a lot related imagery: blue skies, yellow, a lot of flowers, solid edifices, and children. This suggests that where my help is needed and what I have to give are two closely related things.

Let’s look at the Sun. Since the Sun is a very happy card, its reversal isn’t a total downer. This makes sense, since there’s no one in my life right now who is having some sort of major crisis. So what does the Sun reversed mean? Perhaps discouragement, lack of fruition or fulfillment. Not something that’s the end of the world. As soon as I saw this card, I knew that it was about my students. They have a research paper coming up at the end of the semester and I’m holding one-one-one conferences with them about it this week. I also have another student I tutor who is also in the process of writing a challenging end of semester essay.

What do I have to give? “Nostalgia” or “innocence” are the keywords that come up most often for the Six of Cups, but I think it’s a little different in this case. The flower child who is about to tumble off his/her upside-down horse in the Sun has been transmuted to the little girl in this card. I am giving her a cup full of flowers and greenery–beauty and freshness. I take this to mean that my job isn’t to do a lot of work on my students’ behalf–it’s not time for me to roll up my sleeves. Rather, my job is to give them encouragement and praise–beauty and freshness for them to carry with them into the process of writing.

This spread reminds me that my job as instructor has multiple parts. I’m not there just to show my students where they’re right and wrong, but to help create the conditions under which they do their work. This year as a teacher I have more and more intentionally provided my students with praise and encouragement and let them know that I care about them as people. This spread shows me I am on the right path and reminds me to keep going.

Bodhichitta does not necessarily mean that we have to become a saint. We can work on the four bodhisattva vows by working with the challenges in our own lives and I’m glad I’ve found a tool in the tarot for helping me do just that.

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