4 Noble Truths Problem-Solving Spread

A reading I did with this spread.
A reading I did with this spread.

Lately, I’ve been inhaling Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen. In her chapter on creating tarot spreads, she says that when creating a new spread, you should really think about the larger ideological framework on which the spread rests. For instance, the Celtic Cross is based on, well, a cross. It has its roots in Christian belief. This makes sense to me for the reason that religious and philosophical underpinnings of a spread will already have done the work of thinking through which questions and answers go well together. I think it’s nice to make up spreads on the fly, too, but using a spread based on a tradition of belief or thought will allow us to tap into wisdom that has already been useful to the lives of many people.

And once I started thinking about it, it occurred to me that the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism would make a great tarot spread. So…here it is! This spread is for specific inquiries, and in particular for problems–great or small–that need to be solved. [Recap: the Four Noble Truths are (1) there is suffering (dukkha–perhaps better translated as dissatisfaction), (2) suffering has a cause, namely clinging, aversion, and ignorance of the way things are, (3) there can be an end to suffering, and (4) the way to get there is the Noble Eightfold Path.] The Buddha applied this formula to a pretty big problem–human suffering–but he was not the first to use this it. As many people have noted, it’s almost certain that the Buddha modeled his teaching on the medical formula: diagnosis (this is your disease), etiology (this is why you have this disease), prognosis (your disease can be cured), treatment (this is how you cure it.) Thus, while I’m pulling the structure of this spread from Buddhism, it is really not necessarily affiliated with any religion–it’s a pretty universal process for problem-solving.

Although the Four Noble Truths seems like a no-brainer for a tarot spread, but I immediately ran into some problems with constructing it because the Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path. Laying out eight cards, especially if they were to correspond to each element of the Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration), would just be information overload, and might not be very flexible. Fortunately, the Eightfold Path has been traditionally divided into three parts: wisdom, conduct, and concentration, which are very adaptable.

If you use a signifier/significator in your readings, put it directly under card 1. Lay the first 4 cards out in a line reading from left to right.

Card 1: The problem, the heart of the matter. A good question to ask yourself: is this problem what I really think it is? For example, is it a problem with my partner, or is it a problem with my beliefs about life that make me interpret my partner’s actions in a certain way? Also: is this really a problem at all? Sometimes I go to the tarot with a whiny mindset and ask, “Why is XYZ this way?” I often get a beamingly positive card back, like the 10 of Cups or 10 of Pentacles. I interpret these moments as the tarot’s way of saying, “You are making a problem out of something that isn’t there.”

Card 2: The cause of the problem. Again, this may not be the answer you were expecting. Human beings are problem-making machines. Our minds are constantly making things into problems and assigning all kinds of causes to those problems. We often blame other people for “problems” that are really just originating in our mindset. Or, we cling so tightly to an object, situation, or person we think makes us happy that we can’t see they’re the source of our misery.

Card 3: What’s the outlook–is this solvable and worth taking on, or is it better to let this one go, accept the situation for what it is, and put your energies into something worthwhile? Note that if this card is indicating that this will be a losing battle (say, Five of Swords), an irresolvable question (say, Two of Swords), or will simply cause more grief that it’s worth (say, 10 of Cups reversed) this does not put you in a powerless situation. It doesn’t mean being a doormat (“I guess I have to put up with my abusive boss.”) It means accepting the situation for what it is and then taking appropriate action (“My boss has been running the company this way for the past 15 years–he’s not going to magically change. Instead of hoping he’ll change or trying to change him, I need to do what’s best for me professionally and financially.”)

4: How to deal with the problem, whether you can directly solve it or not. If it’s not your place to solve this problem, or finding a solution isn’t worth your time and energy, this card will point the way toward equanimity, acceptance, self-care, and making sure that damage from this situation doesn’t leech into other parts of your life.

The next four cards are optional, to be used if you’d like a little more depth or guidance.

Lay out the next three cards in a vertical line to the right of Card 4, starting with Card 5 at the bottom, then card 6 and Card 7 at the top.

Card 5: Wisdom/Insight: What insights will help me understand the nature of this problem and finding a solution to it? How do I need to view the situation?

Card 6: (Ethical) conduct: how you need to act in order to change the situation if possible or learn from it/minimize the damage if you can’t change it. This very well may mean leaving the situation or considering an entirely different approach.

Card 7: Concentration: where you need to be focusing your attention as you work with this problem. This could be an aspect of yourself, or it could be that you need to keep your eye on a specific person in your life, or on a certain sector of your life (work, finances, relationships, etc.)

Lay the next card to the right of 5, 6, and 7.

Card 8: What will be the outcome if I follow this advice? Again, the outcome might not always look like what we anticipate. You may or may not want to use this card–depends on whether or not you like outcome cards. I can take or leave this one, but it did bring the number of cards in the spread up to 8, which better fits with the symbolism of the spread.

There it is! I’ve used this spread a couple of times and find that it allows the cards to speak with great clarity. I’ll definitely keep it in my back pocket.


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