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How The Major Arcana and
The Tibetan Book of The Dead can work together
by Cheryl Lynne Bradley(c) 2000-2002

There are some striking complements to the Major Arcana of the Tarot and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. They are a nice enhancement to the meanings of these powerful cards. I claim no expertise on Buddhism but I found the resonance and compatibility to Tarot was surprising and enlightening. This article has been written under the assumption that the reader has a working knowledge of the esoteric meanings of the Major Arcana.

The Fool: Key O

The Five Aggregates: form (matter, five elements, five senses); sensation (pleasure, pain, indifference of the five senses); conception (concepts,all images and words used to organize experience); emotion (desires, hates, delusions and other emotions); cognition (consciousness, five sense consciousness and mental consciousness).

They are called aggregates because they lack fixed structure. These are used in meditation to discover the reality of freedom from rigid self. The Fool is planetarily ruled by Nebulae which are not fixed in orbit.

The Magician: Key I

Initiation: The ritual acknowledgement of a being's assumption of a special transformation, blessing, authority and responsibility. In Unexcelled Yoga Tantra there are four main initiations: the vase, secret, wisdom intuition, and word initiations. These empower body, speech and mind. Buddhists ethics has ten basic laws: three of the body, not to kill, steal or commmit sexual misconduct; four of speech, not to lie, slander, chatter or revile; and three of mind, not to covet, hate or hold misguided views. You have to be responsible for yourself on all three levels.

The High Priestess: Key II

Bodhisattva "enlightenment": Someone who has dedicated himself or herself to do whatever it takes over countless lifetimes in order to attain perfect enlightenment in order to save all beings from suffering. You do not have to be highly enlightened just dedicated to universal love and compassion.

1. Imagining the possibility of enlightened consciousness.
2. Seeing how it alone gives the ability to help others find their happiness.
3. Seeing that dedicating all one's lives of effort towards that goal is the only sensible way to live.
4. Resolving to undertake that universal responsibility oneself.

The Empress: Key III and The Emperor: Key IV

Buddha Father-Mother

The union of wisdom (Mother) and compassion (Father). Sometimes they are considered different divine beings and sometimes as the double manifestation of a single being. It refers to a single enlightened individual as two beings, male and female in union. The sexual union is intended to demonstrate the union of wisdom and compassion, showing the capacity to care for all beings, helping them out of the cycle of suffering.

The moment of conception in the Buddhist philosophy is a moment where the father's white drop meets the mother's red drop and the individual's blue drop enters within the union. Drops are chemical essences which are a part of the subtle body and mind complex. They relate to the Suit of Cups in the Tarot.

I found this to be an interesting concept, in particular because there is a lot of debate about the existence of Twin Flames/Twin Souls. This expresses the concept and takes it to a higher level, perhaps these type of soul connections are truly the expression of higher enlightenment, receptivity, unconditionality, spiritual attainment and love.

The Heirophant: Key V, The Lovers: Key VI, The Chariot: Key VII

The Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha: This is the safe haven for Buddhists where they can escape the dangers of the suffering life cycle and be reassured about the direction of their lives.

The Heirophant: Buddha - The Teacher

The Lovers: Dharma - The Teaching and the reality of freedom it teaches.

The Chariot: Sangha - The Community that realizes the teachings and reality.

While we may not be evolved enough yet to avoid attachments and aversions in Buddhist tradition, anyone, even the most grievous sinner, can eliminate negative instincts in The Three Jewels.

These three cards also tie in with the three principal paths of enlightenment: trancendent renunciation(no more worrying about things that you cannot take with you), the spirit of enlightenment of love and compassion (which is a matter of orientation and determination), and the transcendent wisdom of selflessness which is subjective (a solid sense of who you are) and objective (sense of non-existence).

Strength: Key VIII

Inner Mind Science: The most powerful, subtle but controlling aspect of nature is mind, accessed from the interior, not through the material world. Adopting this perspective and applying it to the world, Inner Mind Science would view that hatred and intolerance were the key to military conflicts. Therefore, hatred and intolerance would have to be thoroughly investigated, understood and controlled to stop war.

The Hermit: Key IX

The 5 Wisdoms: mirror (all things reflect ultimate reality, transmutation of anger), equalizing (the transmutation of pride and parsimony), discriminating (the transmutation of lust), all accomplishing (transmuting the envy which keeps things in conflict), reality perfection (knowledge and awareness of the condition of things). The ultimate reality associated with the five aggregates (see The Fool), five Buddhas, five colours and five directions.

The Wheel of Fortune: Key X

Karma: Buddhists view karma as the mental, verbal and physical actions that lead to life affecting and life constituting consequences. Within each individuals spiritual gene is the instinctual residue of our past lives,experiences and actions, which are carried as a drop into the next life through the union of the Buddha Father-Mother.

Justice: Key XI

The Four Noble Truths

1. All delusion driven life is suffering.
2. The cause of that suffering are misknowledge and evolution.
3. There is freedom from such suffering.
4. The path to freedom is spiritual education in morality, meditation and scientific wisdom.

The Hanged Man: Key XII

The Higher Education

Deep moral sensitivity, mental intensity, transformative intellectual insights in justice, mental concentration and wisdom. They make up the Fourth Noble Truth.

Death: Key XIII

Death is understood as a pure negation, a perfect "0", timeless moments, widthless boundaries, absolute reality and ultimate (clear) transparent light, the path of ultimate freedom. If prepared the bonds of karma can be broken.

Temperance: Key XIV

The structure of our present lifetimes caused by the spiritual gene re-embodiment of our own experiences from past lives, combined with the physical genes we receive from our parents, in a process of spiritual and biological evolution.

The Devil: Key XV

The 5 Poisons: Anger, pride, lust, envy and delusion.

The Tower: Key XVI

Admantine: The weapon of Vedic Indian Tribal Father-God Indra - a thunderbolt -which he threw from heaven to break the citadels of the enemy. Buddhists took this symbol of the supreme power of the universe and made it a symbol of universal love and compassion to show that love is the most powerful force in the Universe.

The Star: Key XVII

The deepest dark lit imminence, a state of the subtle mind - darkness, dark light. Pure darkness. It is like a cloudless darkened sky, so it is a bright blackness, not the absence of light. The first part of this state is called consciously endarkened and the final stage is loss of consciousness which passes you into a transparent state beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. It is associated with 7 instinctual patterns with the emphasis on ignorance.

The Moon: Key XVIII

Luminance: The most surface state of the subtle mind - desire oriented instinctual natures - and the inner sign (what you would look for lucidly) of the moonlit autumn sky during death dissolutions and birth arisings (part of the Buddhist process of developing full lucidity in all states of transition including death). Pure moonlight. This is associated with 33 instinctual patterns, with emphasis on desire.

The Sun: Key X1X

Sun-Lit Radiance: The middle state of the subtle mind of radiance. Pure sunlight. This is associated with 40 instinctual patterns with the emphasis on aggression and anger related instinctual natures. I find it interesting, in light of this association to aggressive instincts, that The Sun is astrologically connected to Aries, ruled by Mars, the God of War, Agriculture and regulator of the seasons. The planet Mars, astrologically, is representative of strength, courage, brutality, violence, fighting, opposition and individuality.

The subtle mind corresponds to the subtle body and consists of the three interior states of consciousness listed for The Star, The Moon and The Sun. These are the three luminance-intuitions of the mind and are involved with eighty instincts. The subtle body corresponds to our central nervous system and is a schematic of channels, winds, drops and nexus wheels. I find this an interesting relationship to the suits of the Minor Arcana and Court Cards - Wands, Swords, Water and Pentacles respectively.

It is the aim of the Buddhist to die lucidly - to remain self-aware of what and where you are during transitional experiences. The purpose of the subtle body-mind is to develop a sensitivity to those changing states. This is practiced through lucid dreaming and out of body experiences.

The Judgement: Key XX

Integration: All dualities are integrated in this experience of fulfillment - relative and ultimate, individual and universal, body and mind, bliss and wisdom, male and female. The fifth and highest stage of perfection.

The World: Key XXI

Nirvana: The state of freedom from suffering - it is attainable to all because it is the final truth of our condition, perfect peace. It is not considered to be a duality. Achieving nirvana transforms the relative world into a perfect beatitude after death and is the supreme goal of the Buddhist. It is the final stage of spiritual ascension and deliverance from karma, the plane of the unconditional.

I will be doing more research and writing on this and hope to be able to expand on this with a specific article for each Major Trump. I hope this was of interest to you.


Buddha's Trellis: Buddhism and the Tree of Life (c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2002

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This page was updated November 14, 2002.