Buddhism encourages new followers to go slowly and adopt the practices gradually. This is sound advice. Buddhism isn’t just another religion or philosophy to learn about, it’s also culturally different from anything we’re familiar with in the West, and is presented in many Eastern languages. Gradual suits me just fine.
On the Buddhist path, compassion is pretty much a prerequisite and one I very much agree with. Only it can be really, really hard to feel any sense of compassion when we hear and read such disturbing news across the media. It can be really difficult to feel compassion for our fellow man when they can be so annoying, egotistical, spiteful, hurtful, inconsiderate…
It can also be really easy to slip back into your old ways. At the beginning of the journey, and a gradual one at that, the climb is still steep and it can be slippery underfoot. Gossip, swearing, anger, missing meditation – a whole myriad of things are all around, waiting to catch the new Buddhist out.
Turning to the Tarot
These thoughts have been bothering me and I’ve wanted to try and understand how I can be more compassionate with my fellow man under these circumstances aside from the simple and usually effective Metta Meditation. I decided to reach for my Buddhist tarot deck, Tarot Roots of Asia, for help. This beautiful deck has been helping me to learn about the core teachings of Buddhism. Tarot is a language I understand and so this deck is not unlike a bridge between two worlds. As you can see, I drew the Death card.
Even in mainstream tarot, the Death card rarely means actual death. In Tarot Roots of Asia, it follows the more reassuring theme of transformation and is renamed Meditation on Death in the Thai version. Buddhists meditate on death as a means to understand impermanence. The accompanying book says the following about Death:
Death. This card indicates that we have found the evil within us, the action and thinking that has the power to destroy the goodness within. When we allow ourselves to feel the pain of facing our weaknesses, it may feel like death. We must be willing to surrender the protection of our lives, the protection of our false self, so as to see clearly the truth of what we hold in our mind and heart. In trying to save our lives, we lose it, and in our willingness to lose our lives, we save it. It is important to remember that this death is not the end of all things.
Divinatory key: New opportunities and transformation. Redemption through putrefaction.
Pretty powerful stuff. My initial thoughts on looking at the card were about letting the unwanted but well-established parts of myself to die. The woman’s putrefaction is happening gradually and so it’s appropriate that I shouldn’t rush this process. The good is within, as seen by the sapling and only needs the outer layers to be removed to allow it to shine. As is the case with nature and in particular the carbon cycle, what dies and decomposes, feeds the earth, plants and animals.
Seeing the ‘Evil Within’
This is also an opportunity to explore these thoughts further and actually meditate on death, through this card. Visualising myself as the woman, watching ‘the evil within’ dissipate will allow me to see my good and nourish it, redressing the balance.
In seeing ‘the evil within’ others, a part of my own evil is recognising theirs, no matter how much I am repulsed, angered or disgusted by their words and actions, my response is seeing them through evil eyes, not loving eyes. Buddhism encourages that we look past a person’s misgivings and see the suffering person behind the act. That they, as well as us, are subject to the Three Posions of greed, hatred and delusion. To be able to see their real self is what is required, not their false self that behaves in such a manner. It is this ‘evil within’ us that this card is talking about allowing to die.
The Buddha identified clinging, or grasping as a key problem in our lives. It is this clinging that causes us suffering, or dukkha, as all things will fade, pass by and eventually die. By clinging to my old self, my false self as the book states, causes suffering within. It’s a familiar world, the one in which we operate on an individual level, and transforming our familiar world into a new one, even gradually, will cause us to check ourselves at least occasionally.
Beginning With Myself
Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see.” And he was quite right. If I want my familiar world to transform into one that is more acceptable to me, then I must begin with myself. This card is telling me that I already have everything within myself, and the knowledge of ‘that which is good to do’. If I’m to make my world a better place, I must transcend what I know to be unacceptable.
Redemption through putrefaction.
8 THOUGHTS ON “MEDITATION ON DEATH”
13 March, 2014 AT 2:07 PM
Good writing, Catherine. We must all take time to reflect and examine ourselves. I have a gratitude journal where I write 2 or 3 lines at the end of each day. At this moment I sometimes use a tarot deck for prompting themes of gratefulness and relate the theme to the day. Had learned that I`m always transcending something and that growing up never ends. Thanks for sharing and showing another way to use the tarot for self-assessment.
This is the deck I`m using at the moment:
13 March, 2014 AT 8:54 PM
Gratitude is a great way to increase compassion, seemingly through an increased sense of respect for self and others. It garners good feeling which can only emanate. I will check out the Dark Goddess deck as I’ve lots of friends talk about it positively.
The Dark Goddess looks like a great deck – I’ve heard really good things about it. Thanks for sharing!
13 March, 2014 AT 3:24 PM
What a profound post.
For me the hardest thing is to practice what I know to be true in my heart. How often do I stumble and fall (fail) I try not to get in the roundabout of guilt and blame but to get back up my feet and try again. It is so difficult to see people for who they really are. If we did then we would know we are all One
13 March, 2014 AT 8:57 PM
I think consistency is the hardest thing, and environment. When I lived in rural Scotland, it was easier to be compassionate. Here in an urban sprawl with traffic jams, noise everywhere and more interactions, it’s much harder to remain detached from engagement.
I agree with the interconnectedness of life and when we come to that realisation, it’s both enlightening and liberating. Compassion for others, including all living beings on Gaia, naturally arises.
Thank you for your comment.
22 March, 2014 AT 11:10 AM
True death does not exist only circles of creation where we apre present in different forms..
27 MARCH, 2014 AT 10:38 PM
Yes, in one way or another, we are all recycled, spiritually and physically – which I like very much :)
Thanks for your comment,
10 October, 2014 AT 4:34 PM
This all reminds me of a long conversation I had with a Buddhist monk in Nepal. He claimed to be descended from one of the Buddha’s original followers – He certainly talked the talk, not all of which I think should be freely repeated…
12 October, 2014 AT 3:20 PM
Aren’t they the best types? We are all human and yet sometimes we forget, or we at least seek to.