Breaking Down "The Buddha Tarot" with Robert Place
The following blog is excerpted from Richard Place's The Buddha Tarot.
Jung, Plato, and The Source
“In Jungian terms, Plato made use of all four functions of consciousness to understand the source. With his thinking function, Plato reasoned that the source was the “Prime Mover,” the cause that is before all cause. With his intuition he determined that as he approached this source, he experienced greater and greater unity. Therefore, he called the source “the One.” As he experienced unity, his feeling function transformed it to bliss. So, he also called the One “the Good.” With his sensation function he appreciated the Good as “the Beautiful” and equated it with the brilliance of the sun.”
Plato and The Archetypes
“Plato perceived that because the Prime Mover was the first source, the first impulse toward expanse, the world had to emanate from this unity. The first emanation that he perceived was the world of forms or patterns—the aspect of the world that is eternal and can only be experienced by the immaterial aspect of an individual: the mind, the highest aspect of the soul. He called this the archetypal world. The sensual world, the second emanation, emerges as a reflection of the archetypes in the physical world of the four elements. The third emanation, the physical world, is in a constant state of flux, and the elements themselves change form through four intermediary qualities, each of which is shared between two elements.”
Neoplatonists and Alchemy
“In alchemy, the mystical ladder of the planets is related to seven metals through the Hermetic belief in correspondences between what is celestial and what is Earthly. Further, it was believed that all metals were of one substance, but they change their nature due to impurities. Alchemists brought the Neoplatonic ladder of the planets into their workshops by attempting to transform lead, the most impure metal and associated with Saturn, into iron (Mars), tin (Jupiter), copper (Venus), mercury (Mercury), silver (the Moon), and finally into gold, the purest form of metal and associated with the sun and enlightenment. They also grouped the chemical processes of their work into seven main procedures that formed a ladder of ascent toward their ultimate goal: the formation of the Philosopher’s Stone, a spiritual substance that is a universal medicine and a catalyst that provokes spiritual transformation.” … “Alchemy is definitely an optimistic philosophy that sees the world as a living organism.”
The Buddha Tarot and God
“In 1272, Ramon had an epiphany. He saw the workings of the whole of creation and how each part related to God through nine qualities: goodness, greatness, purity, power, wisdom, free will, strength, truth, and glory. These qualities were a tripling of the Trinity. In turn, the Trinity was expressed in man as the three powers located in the three souls: the soul of the Father, the intellect for divine reflection; the soul of the Son, the will for divine loving; and the soul of the Holy Spirit, the memory for divine recall. This pairing of the Platonic triple-soul with the Holy Trinity is one of the ways that Neoplatonists Christianized Plato. We find aspects of this in the world of the twelfth-century monk Joachim de Fiore. Joachim also had an epiphany in which he saw all of history ascending through levels, each associated with one aspect of God. In the first age, the Age of the Father, the physical world was created, the law was given, and the Old Testament written. In the Age of the Son, Christ was born and made his heroic sacrifice to save the world, the New Testament was written, and the church began. In the coming Age of the Holy Spirit, the church will be dissolved. It will be the golden age that Christ promised when love will rule, and individuals will communicate directly with God.”
Interpreting the Trumps
“In the first act, there are four ruling figures that are paired into two couples, each trumping the one before it in rank. The Papesse is outranked by the Empress; the Empress is outranked by the Emperor; and the Emperor, in turn, is trumped by the Pope. These figures also related to the fourfold physical world with four directions, four seasons, and four elements. The final card of the first act is the Chariot.”
“The second act contains three cards that represent the human mortal condition: the suffering to which all life leads. They are the Hermit, the Hanged Man, and Death: they symbolize old age, suffering, and death. As we will see, these are three of the sights that Buddha had to confront to find his motivation for his mystical quest.”
“The last act starts with two cards that can be described as dealing with evil and ends with two that can be described as achieving the Good. They are complements of each other. We start with the Devil in charge, the finally, like all true philosophical quests, the cards deliver us to the mother of our soul, the Anima Mundi, who is also Prudence, the culmination of the virtues. She is depicted in the center of The World card sitting on the throne of God, a mandala of sacredness and spiritual attainment.”
About the Author
Robert M. Place is the designer and author of 17 Tarot and oracle decks, including the world-renowned Alchemical Tarot. The American Library Association has said that his book, The Tarot, History, Symbolism, and Divination, may be the best book ever written on the subject. He was the guest of honor at the opening of the Tarot Museum in Riola, Italy. He has appeared on numerous TV documentaries and taught and lectured on the Tarot throughout the US and on five continents.