The Osho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game of Zen
St. Martin's Press
By Evelyn Henry
If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click
The first thing I have to say about this deck is that it does something I think EVERY tarot deck should do - include a glossary of symbols shown on the cards. More comments on that later.
The second thing I have to say is that this is only one of two decks I've given the privilege of having it's own little silk bag, in a position of honor on my altar (the other is the Robin Wood deck). I was that impressed with the deck, as its art, colors and presentation speak to me quite strongly. But first, a little background.
The Osho Zen Tarot is based on the teachings of Indian "guru" Osho, and attempts to present the unique wisdom of Zen through the pictorial medium of Tarot. Osho, born in 1931, went through similar life experiences as the Gautama Buddha, and attained enlightenment at age 21. After spending several years teaching philosophy in Jabalpur, he traveled throughout India expounding his theories to the masses, and promoting his meditation techniques which, he asserts, helps modern man to throw off the "...outmoded traditions of the past, and the anxieties of modern-day living..." so he can "...go through a deep cleansing process before he can hope to discover the thought-less, relaxed state of meditation."
In the 70's, he and his followers formed a commune in Poona, India which began to grow rapidly as visitors from the west, during the sexual and religious revolution of that time period, discovered his teachings. The commune eventually grew into the world's largest international meditation and spiritual growth center, and includes various schools and academies for Centering, Zen Martial Arts, Creative Arts, Healing Arts, Meditation, Mysticism, Transformation, and Creative Leisure.
Osho died in 1990, but this huge commune continues to attract thousands of international visitors who come to experience its creative programs, or "...just to experience being in a buddhafield." (a word that is defined in the accompanying book).
The art was created by Ma Deva Padma (Susan Morgan), who came to the commune as a disciple in 1975. In following his teachings, she discovered that "creativity is her meditation." Her artwork has appeared in books and magazines worldwide. She was supported in this 4-year project by many commune followers, especially Ma Jivan Upasika, who contributed her knowledge of the Tarot, which was blended with the wisdom of Zen Buddhism through the filter of Osho's teachings.
The accompanying book attempts to give a cursory history of the tarot, but only succeeds in perpetrating a Tarot "myth" - that of its Egyptian origins. But it goes too far in making an assertion that the "...number of cards is based on the number of steps taken by the infant Siddhartha...as soon as he was born..." which supposedly became the model for the minor cards in the tarot. Nice idea, if there were any basis, but none exists.
Some changes you might note: no traditional suit symbols, but the deck does try to somewhat stick to the elemental associations. "The cards of the Water suit have a blue diamond, those of Fire, red, Clouds have a gray diamond, and Rainbows, a rainbow-colored diamond." No court cards. Instead, the cards in this section have "...been given names to simply represent the different opportunities for mastery over the four elements that they occupy." The only similarity here is the positioning of a color-coded triangle at the bottom of the card, pointing up (for life, heat, male, King, spirituality), down (lunar, feminine, receptive, Queen, cool), left (Movement from the passive to the active, Page) or right (Movement of the active toward the inner, Knight). This explanation is found in the glossary of symbols in the back.
The Major Arcana are given the familiar roman numerals from 0 to XXI, however, there is an extra "Master" card (with Osho's picture) which has no number. This card is supposed to symbolize transcendence. Another oddity - card number 5, traditionally the Heirophant, is totally blank, and is entitled "No-Thingness."
Don't expect to lay out this deck side by side with a traditional deck and see one-for-one correspondences, at least not for every card. Some do exist, but not all. With all the departures from the traditional symbology, why have I given it such high ratings?
Partly because of my fondness for Jungian archetypes and their meaning. Many other decks give single word meanings to the cards, and this one does the same - for every card. The words are different than those you can find on Crowley's deck or the Waite deck. But they nevertheless represent archetypal ideas that are as universal, in my opinion, as those in traditional Tarot.
Examples of some of these concepts:
Going with the flow
It was this last word and its accompanying artwork, that grabbed my eye immediately when I looked a the deck. This picture shows a three-legged jester, balanced on a large bubble, his four arms juggling lit candles while he's straining to blow a fine tune on a trumpet. One of his hands holds a leash, at the end of which is a smiling monkey holding a sharp pin, just millimeters away from popping the jester's balloon on which his whole carefully balanced act delicately stands. I can't tell you how many times I've felt just that stressed in my years of corporate work. It just hit home, what can I say?
Other examples: The "Trust" card shows a small child in mid-leap off a high place which we cannot see, towards a soft pink glow. The "Guilt" card shows a screaming woman trying to fight off gray clawed hands pawing at her head, gray clouds of self doubt in the background. One of my favorites - the "Courage" card, shows a flowering daisy which has made its debut into the world up through a crack in solid stone. "The Outsider" shows a small child peering through a locked gate. Has she/he been shut out by others, or has he/she done this to herself?
The colors in the deck are bright, clear and true. No muted tones or neon glare - all on a black background. The art follows a general color scheme that some decks use - Red for Fire, Blue for Water, and Gray for Air. The departure from tradition here comes with using Rainbow colors to represent Earth. As the book explains it, the Rainbow "...bridges the earth and sky, matter and spirit - we remind ourselves that in reality there is no separation between the lower and the higher, that indeed it is a continuum of one total energy. And that heaven is not some remote place high in the sky, but a reality waiting to be discovered right here on earth."
The deck is a good comfortable size for the hands, and it shuffles easily. The book includes seven spreads for various purposes, including the traditional Celtic Cross, somewhat modified. And then there's that wonderful glossary.
The glossary includes meanings for all the symbols in the deck. Not being very well versed in the meaning of symbols, my evaluation is that they seem to be aligned with "common sense" meanings that would be recognizable to most people.
The book has two facing pages devoted to explaining each card's meaning. The page on the left shows the card itself (in black and white) with a description of the artwork, a "commentary", and a divinatory meaning. The page on the right gives more information, perhaps a history of the symbol on the card, or a more in-depth explanation of the commentary. .There are no reversed meanings attributed to the cards.
EIGHT OF FIRE - Traveling (page 92)
Commentary - The tiny figure moving on the path through this beautiful landscape is not concerned about the goal. He or she knows that the journey is the goal, the pilgrimage itself is the sacred place. Each step on the path is important in itself. When this card appears in a reading, it indicates a time of movement and change. It may be a physical movement from one place to the next, or an inner movement from one way of being to another. But whatever the case, this card promises that the going will be easy and will bring a sense of adventure and growth; there is no need to struggle or plan too much. The Traveling card also reminds us to accept and embrace the new, just as when we travel to another country with a different culture and environment than the one we are accustomed to. This attitude of openness and acceptance invites new friends and experiences into our lives.
Facing Page - Life is a continuity always and always. There is no final destination it is going towards. Just the pilgrimage, just the journey in itself is life, not reaching to some point, no goal - just dancing and being in pilgrimage, moving joyously, without bothering about any destination. What will you do by getting to a destination? Nobody has asked this, because everybody is trying to have some destination in life. But the implications... If you really reach the destination of life, then what? Then you will look very embarrassed. Nowhere to go...you have reached to the final destination - and in the journey you have lost everything. You had to lose everything. So standing naked at the final destination, you will look all around like an idiot: what was the point? You were hurrying so hard, and you were worrying so hard, and this is the outcome.
If you would like to purchase this deck/book set, click here.
Copyright 1996 by Evelyn Henry
See more cards from the Osho Zen Tarot Deck
Images Copyright (c) Ma Deva Padma
This page is Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson