Zen Tarot Decks
We’ve all heard the word, but do we really know what it means? It conjures images of tranquility and meditation, but what really is Zen and how can the study of it transect with the Tarot? What kinds of Zen Tarot decks or Buddhism Tarot decks might be out there that we can use to deepen our meditation or spiritual practices? Since I wasn’t so sure myself, I decided to do some research so that we could them discover together!
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What is Zen?
Let me start off by saying that I am no expert on the official teachings of Zen. I have performed some research here out of the interest of compiling a list of Tarot and oracle decks that might be aligned with Zen teachings, but I’m not an accomplished master on the subject by any means! If you are interested in Zen studies, I encourage you to delve further into this topic and let me know what you find in the comments at the end of the article!
From the research I have gathered, I’ve come to understand that Zen is both a concept and a study, a mental process and a religion. Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) states that:
“Zen emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of mind (“perceiving the true nature”) and nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.”
Furthermore, the Zen Studies Society quotes this of Zen:
“It’s both something we are—our true nature expressing itself moment by moment—and something we do—a disciplined practice through which we can realize the joy of being. It is not a belief system to which one converts. There is no dogma or doctrine. Zen is the direct experience of what we might call ultimate reality, or the absolute, yet it is not separate from the ordinary, the relative. This direct experience is our birthright. The practice of zazen—meditation—is a way of realizing the non-dualistic, vibrant, subtle, and interconnected nature of all life.”
The Zen Studies Society goes even more into what exactly is Zen meditation by describing it:
“So, again, what is Zen? Stop now. Stop trying to get an intellectual lock on something that is vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. Just breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath. Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation. Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale. To do so with conscious awareness, on a regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen.”
I really love this idea! It makes it so much more dynamic and yet simple and accessible for anyone to practice and reap the benefits of!
So how does Zen overlap with the Tarot?
The format of a Tarot or oracle deck is so versatile, I believe, that you can fit almost any topic within its bounds. So of course there are decks that focus either on the more loose, introspective concept of Zen or on the actual Buddhist teachings that Zen meditation and thought comes from!
So here’s a list of Tarot decks I’ve found that either directly relate to the Buddhist study of Zen or fall under the overarching category of Zen Tarot decks or Buddhist Tarot decks, as well as another list of non-Tarot decks (aka oracle decks) that also relate to Buddhism and Zen.
I hope you have fun exploring the world of Zen and Tarot! I encourage you to go with whatever you are drawn to, whatever speaks to you, as that is the greatest determinant in what will provide the medicine you need.
Zen Tarot Decks:
The Osho Zen Tarot is a deck of 79 cards that comes with a helpful instruction booklet. The intention behind the creation of this deck is to help one focus on the present, on meditating in the here and now of the living moment at hand. Based on the Zen concept that “events in the outer world” are a reflection of our own thoughts and feelings, this deck encourages us to go inward to reflect on what’s inside our hearts so that we can gain clarity and better understand our lives and the realities we live in.
It’s comprised of very warm and appealing colors that are both soft and inviting. These peaceful, comforting images could be described as “transitional” and “transformative.” Some of them are very, very beautiful, in my opinion. They are simple, easy to understand, and very intuitive. You don’t even need to be a Buddhist practitioner to relate to and understand them!
Find the Osho Zen Tarot here!
Here is a traditional 79 card deck by an artist well known for his religious and sacred art. The images are clean, simple, and concise, and very pleasing to look at. In its description, the author claims how the archetypal journey of the Major Arcana parallels the Buddha’s path to enlightenment and so both can seamlessly go hand in hand. The deck also comes with a guidebook that that discusses the similarities between Tarot and Buddhism, the details of Siddhartha’s life, and explanations for every card.
Unfortunately, this deck is out of print and hard to find. It looks like you can find it online for around $100-$200, which is lamentably pricey, because it does look like the quintessential Buddha Tarot if I ever did see one. * sigh * If only it was more available for anyone out there to get their hands on.
In my research, I came across a “Majors only” Buddha Tarot on Etsy – this means that it is comprised of only the first 22 Major Arcana cards without the 56 Minor Arcana. Majors only decks can be good for quick, short-and-easy readings that get straight to the point!
I couldn’t find out much on this deck, but it looks clean and straightforward, with beautiful pastel colors and easy-to-understand keywords on every card. Some images look directly related to Buddhism while others are more broadly meditative. This could also be considered a positive affirmation card deck with such great quotes on each card!
The Sasuraibito Tarot, in my humble opinion, is such a beautiful and stunning deck! I mean, just look at those images! There’s something undeniably primal and viscerally evocative about Stasia Burrington’s art style that creates images that are cute and darkly riveting at the same time. There’s just something stirring and magical about it!
This 78 card deck is based off the idea of a Japanese word closely translated as “wanderer,” someone who is ever-seeking. The artist incorporated Japanese and Buddhist concepts and ideals to create a Tarot that is relevant to the modern world but reminiscent of something older, perfect for those on the Zen or meditative journey!
I highly recommend this beautiful deck, no matter what you’re looking for!
I also found a brand new deck – and I mean brand new – it’s Kickstarter campaign to fund its publication just ended today as I wrote this article! It’s called the Little Buddha Tarot, and it’s not quite available in print yet, but you can preorder from the maker’s website!
This deck looks adorable! Good for those who look for a lighthearted Tarot experience, something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside (and who doesn’t want that from time to time?!). The art style is certainly cute, buoyant, and fun. The artist chose such imagery to “promote kindness, introspection, and self-care” and to “invoke joy and warmth.” And the images are instantly recognizable as Rider-Waite-Smith style (traditional Tarot) and thus easy to interpret.
I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out if you feel drawn to the art style!
Each card goes into a fundamental principle of the practice, but are also easy to use, with helpful, encouraging artwork that inspires the creative mind with its bold colors and dream-like elements. Supporting positive communication, this 36 card deck comes with a fully-illustrated guidebook to help guide one through the pathways of wisdom, hope, and healing that this deck seeks to impart; it’s partitioned into the four luminous categories of truth, purity, contemplation, and cultivation.
Find Buddhism Reading Cards here!
I really love the art of this deck! It’s so stunningly detailed and gorgeously colored! I love the ancient, sacred style and traditional elements to it – there’s something about it that just instantly connects one to the important soulwork beckoning within one’s heart.
Featuring characters from Buddhism and Hinduism, this 50 card deck plus 92 page illustrated guidebook contains spiritual messages to help with meditation and prayer as well as learning about Buddhist beliefs. All around it’s an awesome deck for Zen-ful contemplation!
Find Buddha Wisdom, Shakti Power here!
The art of this deck is so fun! And beautiful! Vivaciously vibrant and bursting with color and design to its very edges, this deck is like a stained-glass masterpiece! Exquisitely detailed, each lively image inspires peaceful imagination, complemented by uplifting accompanying quotes from Buddhist teachings.
Its images and messages awaken happiness and freedom, energizing and encouraging a playful and open state of mind, receptive and supple to meditation. And the guidebook contains even more to help one go into even deeper mindfulness, all the while invoking soothing thoughts to inspire a balanced, thriving mind.
Find Wisdom of the Buddha Mindfulness Deck here!
Exploring the World of Buddhist and Zen Tarot Decks
A plethora of decks populate the world of Tarot, but within the Tarot realm we can find ones that were made especially to invoke peacefulness and serenity of mind, helping one strive for the harmony of Zen.
Within this abundance of beautiful creations we find some that keep to the teachings of Buddhism while also incorporating the Tarot, and others that stay more freely within the wider topic of meditation and contemplation. Whatever their focus, all of them are beautiful additions to one’s spiritual library and practice!
I hope this list of Zen Tarot decks and Buddhist Tarot decks has helped you find one that aids you on your journey and inspires you! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve found any others that you think I should add to this list!