The Buddha Tarot is one of the most important decks that I have made. The Buddha Tarot is a full color 79 card Tarot deck. The Buddha Tarot Companion: A Mandala of Cards is the book that accompanies the deck and it is sold seperatly. The deck and accompanying book are published by Llewellyn. The Sun card, which depicts Buddha in yab-yum with his sakti, is shown on the left. Tara, the Queen of the Double Varjas or water suit, is shown below.
On Christmas Eve In 1996, I went to bed reading the section on Buddhism in The Illustrated World’s Religions by Huston Smith. When I woke up on Christmas morning, I was surprised by the realization that the Tarot trumps and the story of Siddhartha’s life, from his birth to the quest that led him to his enlightenment, were the same story. There was a prophetic Magician, Siddhartha and his wife were the future Emperor and Empress, the perfect Lovers, but his farther ruled their lives like a Pope. Out of dissatisfaction, Siddhartha left in his Chariot to investigate the world. In the town, he saw the four sights that convinced him to leave his life of pleasure and his lover and embrace asceticism (or Strength): an old man (the original Hermit card which depicted a hunched old man with an hour glass), a suffering man (The Hanged Man), a corpse (Death), and a hermit (again The Hermit card). At first, he almost fasted himself to death but once he found the Middle Path (Temperance) he made his way to the Bodhi Tree and had to confront Mara, the Devil. On the full Moon in May he succeeded in his quest and as the Sun came up he reached enlightenment.
I began by attempting to illustrate how the Tarot trumps and the story of Buddha are the same story, but, as I did research for the deck, I found that the connections between Buddha and the Tarot were more profound than I had even realized at first. When Siddhartha became the Buddha, he ceased to be a man in the normal sense. He woke up from the state of delusion that is normal consciousness and realized that he was one with all of reality. He realized that he was actually the entire world. To demonstrate this, Buddhists say that when Siddhartha became the Buddha he became not just one Buddha but, to represent the divisions of the world into the four directions and the center, at least five Buddhas. These Buddhas are called the five Jinas and I found that they correspond to the five suits in the Tarot. They even provide magical tools which became the the suit symbols and a female counterpart and other helpers, who became the queen and the other royal cards.
This fivefold pattern forms a magical diagram in Buddhist art which is called a mandala. The mandala is a sacred map of the world. Because Buddha is one with the world, he is also a mandala. The traditional World card in the Tarot is a mandala with the same fivefold pattern and the Tarot deck, with its five suits, is a mandala in separate parts, a mandala of cards. All Mandalas share the same sacred structure that is Buddha and that is how Buddha can be found in the Tarot.
In the Llewellyn catalog it says that the book is “one of the most significant books ever written about the history of the Tarot, drawing surprising parallels between the Tarot and the life of Buddha.”