New Name: Dharma Eyes Tarot

So I decided to change the name of this blog to reflect more of where I want to go with it. This blog is definitely still a tarot journal and will document my journey learning tarot, but the more I get into tarot the more I want to integrate it into my Buddhist practice. In the header I have picture the High Priestess, the Eight of Cups, my mala or yeomju (prayer beads) and a little statue of Ji-jang Posal. To me, the two cards signify the spiritual path, or parts of it, at least. The way of the High Priestess is to see our spiritual development as the highest purpose of life. In the eight of cups, we have to discern what the most important thing is, even if it means leaving behind a lot of really good stuff and setting off on our own path. I don’t think of the spiritual journey as happening in isolation. I think it rarely happens without a good community of teachers and fellow practitioners. But we are responsible for our own journey. Nobody can end our suffering for us.

The Dharma Eye is the eye that discerns all phenomena, sees their true nature, their arising, and their passing away. Beings who posses the Dharma Eye can see the causes of suffering–their own and others’. We all have the capacity to develop the Dharma Eye, and I see tarot as being one way to help that development. Tarot connects us with the wisdom we already possess and see things with clarity.

Nutriments Spread

The Buddha taught that we have four nutriments–the literal and metaphorical food that feeds our existence and keeps it going. Ultimately, one who has attained nirvana is said to have “exhausted” all nutriments, have no food to give future existences. From my perspective, since I don’t think I’ll become enlightened anytime soon, this all seems rather abstract. I had heard of the teaching of the nutriments before, but it went in one ear and out the other. But recently I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. He breaks down the four nutriments in a really relatable way and makes it something that I can work with at an everyday level.

The Four Nutriments

1. Edible Food. “What we eat or drink can bring about mental or physical suffering.” (p 32) And this is not only what we eat, but how we eat it. Are we appreciative of our food and understand the work, suffering, and sacrifice it took to make it to our mouths, or do we just shovel it in? (I’m pretty guilty of the latter.) Do we use food for things that have nothing to do with food, like eating out of boredom or stress?

2. Sense Impressions. This relates not only to what we see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and think (Buddhism considers mind to be the sixth sense) as we walk down the street or go about our lives, but also what kind of media we consume.

3. Volition/intention/will. What we fundamentally believe about life, and believe to be our goal in life, will determine how we act and where we place our attention. Sometimes these beliefs are so deeply believed that we don’t even notice them as beliefs even though they motivate everything we do. Examples of non-helpful volitions would be, “My dad is to blame for all the problems in my life” or “once I own my own home, I’ll finally be happy” or “life is always going to be hard and unfair.” I know one volition that drove my actions for many years was, “My purpose is to be a professor of literature.” Letting go of volitions can be very freeing.

4. Consciousness. Consciousness is the ultimate repository for all the other nutriments and the place from which we act in response to them. “Every day our thoughts, words, and actions flow into the sea of our consciousness and create our body, mind, and world. [. . .] Our consciousness is eating all the time, day and night, and what it consumed becomes the substance of our life. We have to be very careful which nutriments we ingest.” (p. 36)

When I read this today, the thought popped into my head: this would make a great tarot spread! I mean, it seems esoteric, but Thich Nhat Hanh has a point: we are what we eat, literally and metaphorically. Over the past few years, I have come to understand this more clearly through my own experience. He advises: “Use your Buddha eyes to look at each nutriment you are about to ingest. If you see that it is toxic, refuse to look at it, listen to it, taste it, or touch it.” (p. 34)

Ultimately, what we choose to consume determines so much about our lives. Paying attention to how we feed ourselves is useful for well-being on a daily level, even if we have no plans to exhaust all nutriments any time soon!

I think it’s important to look at what we consume and really experience it, but I also think tarot can be a supplemental set of Buddha eyes. So I thought, OK, let’s make this a spread.Continue reading “Nutriments Spread”

Dharma and the Dreaming Way

The Dreaming Way Tarot, written by Rome Choi and illustrated by Kwon Shina was published in 2012. I’d seen many photos and reviews of this deck online and was attracted to it, but had no plans on buying it any time soon. But a few weeks ago something happened that shook me up a little and the next day I had to be out and about for an appointment, so I decided to go down to my local woo-woo store and have a luxuriant browse through their extensive set of demo decks.

I was looking through the decks and thinking about buying the Mystical Cats Tarot (I know, I know. But I live with two cats every day and I’m pretty good at reading cat behavior, so why not read it on a card?) They had some ancient decks on demo that I’m sure were long out of stock, like the Tarot of a Moon Garden (this deck apparently sells in the 3 figures nowadays, so they had punched a hole in each card to deter theft.) My heart jumped a little, though, when I saw the Dreaming Way Tarot. So I plunked down my $20 and went home with this deck.

And to be honest, as I looked through the deck, I had a bit of buyer’s remorse–but not because of the deck itself. I don’t often indulge in “retail therapy” nowadays–it’s not particularly Buddhist, is it? I felt a little regretful about buying this deck on a whim, but as it usually turns out, most of the stuff I buy on a whim ends up being something that I use and enjoy a lot. I don’t need it and the money would have been better unspent, but it’s not exactly a bad purchase either. This deck was going to prove that to me from the very beginning. Once I had looked through all the cards in order, I did what I usually do: shuffled it hand over hand a few times, fanned the cards in my hand, and drew one at random. And what did I get? The Seven of Pentacles.Continue reading “Dharma and the Dreaming Way”

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.Continue reading “4 Noble Truths Problem-Solving Spread”

Retreating and Advancing

Over the past couple of years, I have had the immense privilege to go on several multi-day meditation retreats. I say it’s an immense privilege because it really is–I don’t have children, the flexibility of my schedule allows me to take the time off, and I have the funds to pay for it. But it’s also kind of funny, because retreats are hard, so it’s like paying money for the experience of being miserable. Whenever I tell people I’m going to a meditation retreat, they usually say, “Oh, that sounds so relaxing.” That’s how you can tell a person has never been on a meditation retreat.

Basically, on retreat  your job is to meditate all the time, whether you’re sitting on a cushion, walking, eating, resting, working, peeing–all the time. At my temple, there are about 9 hours a day of formal meditation interspersed with other activities. By the end of the first full day (which feels about as long as 3 normal days) your knees hurt, your back hurts, your ankles hurt, and every mental demon you have has decided to come out of the woodwork and do a merry jig on the living room carpet of your consciousness. You don’t have a choice as to how you spend your time, what food you eat, how much sleep you get. You can’t talk or write or even look at yourself in the mirror. (Well, of course you can do all these things, it’s not like the Buddhist police are going to throw you in jail if you do. But these are the guidelines for the retreat and pretty much everybody follows them.) As a friend of mine put it, “I can’t believe we’re going to pay money to sit on our asses for five days!”

But I do it, and continue to do it, because retreats build stamina, concentration, stability, quietness, and the capacity to be happy even in less than ideal conditions. You also gain a close connection with your fellow retreatants in a way that doesn’t happen in the small talk of our everyday lives.

Before going to retreat last Thursday, I thought it would be an interesting experience to consult the tarot about it. I’ve never really thought of tarot as having a lot of insight about my meditation practice, but I was surprised by the results. So before I left, I asked the question, “What am I carrying with me into this retreat?” and after I returned I asked, “What am I carrying with me as I go back to daily life.” I didn’t have any set spread–just pulled three cards–but the answers were quite illuminating.Continue reading “Retreating and Advancing”

“Knowledge is made for cutting”: Swords, Intellect, and Suffering.

swords pipsOf the four minor arcana suits, Swords tends to have more than its fair share of dark and scary cards. Where to even start? The confusion of the blindfolded figure in Two who balances crossed swords on her shoulders, the pain of the swords in Three piercing a heart, the unethical behavior of Five and Seven, the bondage and torment of Eight and Nine, the black skies and over-the-top back-stabbing in Ten? When I first took up tarot cards as a teenager these cards creeped me out, but I didn’t know why. Now that I’m older, with some Buddhist teachings and painful but valuable life experiences under my belt, I have a better understanding of of the perils of this suit. Swords are the suit that represents intellect, reason, logic, and empirical knowledge the the product of these things: our beliefs.

Thinking about the suit of swords brought to mind one of the Buddha’s more famous teachings, the simile of the two arrows. You can read it here, but it goes something like this:Continue reading ““Knowledge is made for cutting”: Swords, Intellect, and Suffering.”

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.Continue reading “Bodhichitta Tarot Spread”