Zen and the Art of Tarot III: Card as Koan

This is the third post in a series on the relationship between Zen Buddhism and the Tarot. It came about because I decided to try mixing Zen philosophy and visualization meditation in my attack on a personal issue of mine.

ire31The personal issue, as I explained in depth in the previous posts, is a persistent feeling of unworthiness — of feeling like I do not deserve the good things and good people in my life. After all, there are so many all over the world who do not have the things I am blessed with; why should I have what they do not? Intellectually, I know that none of us really “deserve” what we have; 95% of everything in our lives — good and bad — can be traced to accidents of luck, birth and upbringing. But intellectual knowledge is not the same as feeling the truth of something. And the feeling of unworthiness was causing me to subconsciously sabotage my efforts to improve my life, and making me feel guilty for what I had.

When I drew Tarot cards on this issue, I got the Hermit, the Six of Wands, and Strength. I successfully used visualization meditation to figure out the meaning of the Hermit, and decided to use the same technique on the other two cards.

In this exercise, I was, in a way, treating the cards like koans.

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Zen and the Art of Tarot II: Meditation and Release

In my previous post on Zen and the Tarot (Illusion and Attachment), I talked about an issue I’ve been working on recently: my tendency to feel as though I do not deserve the good things in my life (my job, my loved ones, my access to nature, etc.). Intellectually I know that it makes no sense to even think about “deserving” such fundamental aspects of life, but that does me no good: there is a deep level at which I feel unworthy — or at least, not more worthy than the billions of people who do not have the good things I do. And feeling undeserving is a trap that sabotages my efforts to improve my own life and makes me feel guilty about the good things and good people around me.

ire1In order to find the reason for this feeling and get rid of it, I decided to use meditation and the Tarot, inspired by Zen philosophy.

The first thing I did was draw Tarot cards. My intuition told me to draw three, so I did: the Hermit, the Six of Wands, and Strength. However, I had no idea how to interpret the reading.

I decided to meditate on the cards. Before I talk about those meditations, though, I need to introduce a little more Zen philosophy.

Attachment to the Transient

According to Zen Buddhism, problems in life are caused by bad attachments: that is, emotional attachment to things that are unreal or transient. It is fine to be attached to permanent things, but almost nothing is truly permanent, no matter how hard we may try to hold on to them. Our families, our countries, our loved ones, our bodies, even our very selves are transient, and attaching ourselves to them is not just a recipe for pain, but a fundamental error of belief. In the most essential sense, these transient things do not really exist.

The immediate reaction of most Westerners when presented with this philosophy is often abhorrence. After all, if you don’t think the world really exists, or is important, aren’t you being nihilist? Aren’t you shutting yourself off to all emotion, like Mr. Spock? Aren’t you detaching yourself from everything and becoming a supercilious prick?

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Zen and the Art of Tarot I: Illusion and Attachment

Recently I discovered that I have an odd emotional malady — maybe you’ve got it too. Basically it’s this: whenever I think about something I’d like to have in my life (an evening out with friends, curtains on all my windows, a better job, more time in nature), I instinctively and subconsciously ask myself whether I deserve it. And if the answer is no, then I instinctively and subconsciously sabotage my own efforts to get it.

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