Posts by Dr. Art

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-Tarot in Culture (Review) 0

Emily E. Auger (ed) This volume is expected to total over 900 pages and includes 24 colour plates.

Reviewed by Arthur E. Rosengarten, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist in Encinitas, California, and the author of Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility (2000), creator of Tarot of the Nine Paths: Advanced Tarot for the Spiritual Traveler (2009), and Owner/Moderator of the website/discussion forum Tarotpsych

Tarot cards RoerigTarot in Culture is both original and extensive in its attempt to distinguish the complex streams of history, sociology, and metaphysics that have entwined Tarot ever since its first appearances in Northern Italy in the early fifteenth century.  The fascinating narrative of this famous metaphysical deck of 78 cards is advanced significantly through fine scholarship from many perspectives. In an entertaining and thought-provoking collection of papers from contemporary scholars around the world, we discover the vast scope and variance of thought surrounding the deck itself, if only in the sheer range of analysis presented in this tome.  Tarot, to varying degrees, has been cast by its purveyors as exalted, recreational, clandestine, archetypal, cliquish, magical, revered, and debunked.  Hence its unique fascination.

 

Much of the discussion in Tarot in Culture is a kind of scholarly mystery tale that engages both sensibility and imagination, particularly given the disquieting fact that no agreed upon theory or evidence of the first designer(s) today exists.  The vacuum left for heady and arcane speculation is filled here, however, with grounded research that allows a useful laying to rest of the popular fables. Essays regarding Tarot’s origin and original purpose make a strong case for something no more esoteric than a trump-bearing card game, stemming perhaps from the Middle East and akin to bridge, thus ruling-out the more common romantic notions of ancient Egyptian beginnings (which persists today, regardless, in some darkened corridors under the aegis of “popular misconceptions”).  Likewise rendered moot is a very thorough accounting of Tarot’s mistaken saddlebag of associations with the gypsies, and the legacy of fortune-telling, which has been challenged convincingly by historians.

 

The Tarot lineage is traced skillfully up through the French school of Tarot de Marseille– referring to a deck style originating in the sixteenth century in Italy and appearing in France in the mid-seventeenth century– onto the milestones of Tarot’s occult beginnings including the Eteilla Tarot published in 1789, marking the first tarot designed with a divinatory aim, History of Magic by Eliphas Levi (1860) which strengthened Tarot’s developing associations with Masonry and Caballa, and leading to the grand finale of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London (founded in 1888), the hotbed of Tarot’s famed British incarnation, with such turn-of-the century notables as MacGregor Mathers, William Wynn Wescott, the poet William Butler Yeats,  the often-acknowledged fathers  (and mothers) of the modern movement, Arthur E. Waite (with Pamela Colman Smith) who authored of the Rider Tarot (1909), and Aleister Crowley (with Lady Freida Harris) who authored The Thoth Tarot (1944).

 

In Tarot and Culture, a web of socio-cultural forces and precedents inform this previously-documented linear history. One feels safely-educated here in the otherwise elusive journey through the deck’s evolution and its current relevance as a map of consciousness as ascribed by some Jungian scholars. The book showcases a slice of Tarot’s contemporary era, marked by a profusion of creativity, commercialism, artistic experimentation, human potentials, and cultural funkiness, as first splashed down onto the scene of the American 1960’s and has grown remarkably through its adolescence over ensuing decades.  As a part of popular culture today, Tarot’s appearance in twentieth-century literature and film is discussed, including how it grapples with its counter-cultural costumery, and as well, its undressing in through the lens of postmodernist deconstruction. Tarot’s liminal stance at the threshold of social acceptability, its ambiguous relation to the law, as well as its coming of age initiatives, relative successes and failures with professionalizing and credentialing organizations are also laid out.

 

In one of Auger’s own entries a particularly fascinating distinction is made regarding the post-modernist notion of “heterotopia.”  Referencing Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) definition as “real locations where otherwise incompatible spaces intersect or events that are incompatible with social norms occur (Auger, p. 236),” Auger suggests Tarot itself is a “heterotopian radiating point,” one that has inspired the creation and use of a vast array of different Tarot and other meditational decks.  I find this a credible elucidation of what occurs in psychotherapeutically-based readings with Tarot as well; an opening of the “real locations” in one’s subjective life occurs and intersects with the spiritually-laden symbolism of the cards in such a way as to deepen one’s understanding and visually capture the complex web of simultaneous forces operating in the moment.

 

Through it all, however, Tarot morphs in our imagination to an entity holding a special category unto itself, much as Auger and the contributors would bear out.  Embedded in Tarot’s arcane layers of meaning and mythology as these pages so wittingly reveal are parallel layers of misnomer and mythologizing, or as author James Hillman might reframe, pathologizing. Through the wider eyes of cultural discernment this added shadow grants a complexity and compelling interest to the Tarot phenomenon in its entirety. The cumulative effect, perhaps, not unlike like guns, incense, or bibles, hinges less on the object’s intrinsic merit or virtue, and far more on the user’s motivation, interpretation, application, and experience. A good reading, therefore, is never the final word on a subject so much as a rich invitation for continued exploration.

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The Association for Tarot Studies is pleased to be able to announce the forthcoming collection of important essays from a variety of well-known authors and researchers.

This volume is expected to total over 900 pages and includes 24 colour plates.

Release date (expected): June 2011

The recommended retail price is expected to be around AU$ 95 (approx €65 / US$ 90) plus postage and handling. Airmail to most parts of the world will depend on final weight, but is expected to be in the vicinity of AU$ 30.

Total expected cost (including postage): AU$ 125

Paying now helps us with printing costs and avoids increased postal charges.


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-What Is This? (Zen) 0

by Martine Bachelor

Tricycle, Fall 2008: pp 38-41

Martine Bachelor offers a Korean Zen koan practice to refresh our minds and open us to creative wisdom. Martine Batchelor, the author of Women in Korean Zen, was a Zen nun in Korea for ten years. She teaches meditation worldwide. Her latest book is Let Go: A Buddhist Guide  to Breaking Free of Habits

IN sixth-century China, the Buddhist schools were quite scholastic and focused on the scriptures. To move away from this academic direction and toward the Buddha’s original teaching of practicing meditation and realizing awakening in this very life, the Zen school developed its koan practice, in which stories of monks’ awakenings became a starting point for meditative inquiry. By asking and focusing on a single question as a meditative method, Zen practitioners aimed to develop a rich experiential wisdom.

In the Korean Zen tradition, one generally meditates on the koan What is this? This question derives from an encounter between the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (638–713 C.E.), and a young monk, Huaijang, who became one of his foremost disciples: Huaijang entered the room and bowed to Huineng. Huineng asked: “Where do you come from?” “I came from Mount Sung,” replied Huaijang. “What is this and how did it get here?” demanded Huineng. Huaijang could not answer and remained speechless. He practiced for many years until he understood. He went to see Huineng to tell him about his breakthrough. Huineng asked: “What is this?” Huaijang replied: “To say it is like something is not to the point. But still it can be cultivated.”

The whole story is considered the koan, and the question itself, “What is this?” is the central point—hwadu in Korean, or huatou in Chinese. The practice is very simple. Whether you are walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, you ask repeatedly, What is this? What is this? You have to be careful not to slip into intellectual inquiry, for you are not looking for an intellectual answer. You are turning the light of inquiry back onto yourself and your whole experience in this moment. You are not asking: What is this thought, sound, sensation, or external object? If you need to put it in a meaningful context, you are asking, What is it that is hearing, feeling, thinking? You are not asking, What is the taste of the tea or the tea itself? You are asking, What is it that tastes the tea? What is it before you even taste the tea?

My own teacher, Master Kusan (1909–1983), used to try to help us by pointing out that the answer to the question was not an object, because you could not describe it as long or short, this or that color. It was not empty space either, because empty space cannot speak. It was not the Buddha, because you have not yet awakened to your Buddha-nature. It was not the master of the body, the source of consciousness, or any other designation, because those are mere words and not the actual experience of it. So you are left with questioning. You ask, What is this? because you do not know.

We are not speculating with our mind. We are trying to become one with the question. The most important part of the question is not the meaning of the words themselves but the question mark. We are asking unconditionally, What is this? without looking for an answer, without expecting an answer. We are questioning for questioning’s own sake. This is a practice of questioning, not of answering. We are trying to develop a sensation of openness, of wonderment. As we throw out the question What is this? we are opening ourselves to the moment. There is no place we can rest. We are letting go of our need for knowledge and security, and our body and mind themselves become a question.

You are giving yourself over entirely to the question. It’s like diving into a pool: the whole body is engaged in the act, and the whole body and mind are refreshed. You are trying to develop a sensation of questioning and an inquiry that brings about the sense of bewilderment you feel when you have lost something. You are going somewhere, you put your hand in your pocket to grab your car keys. They are not there. You check this corner and that corner of the pocket again and again, and there is nothing. For a moment before you try to remember where you’ve left them, you are totally perplexed; you have no idea what might have happened. This is very similar to the sensation you are trying to develop in Zen questioning.

Concentration and inquiry are brought together with this technique. Concentration is developed as you come back again and again to the words of the question, back to the present moment. The question is the anchor of your meditation, the fixed point. By cultivating concentration, you allow for a certain calmness and spaciousness to develop. The process of inquiry is vivid, because you are not repeating the words like a mantra—the words themselves are not sacred, nor do they have a special resonance. They are just the diving board from which you dive into the pool of questioning. By repeatedly questioning with the energy and interest of someone who has just discovered she has lost something, you evoke a brightness in your whole being. This questioning gives you energy, because there is no place to rest, and it allows for more possibilities and less certainty. It is a kind of wonderment similar to a young child’s when he discovers and marvels at the world around him—very immediate, not lost in the future or in the past. This practice is just being with the moment and looking deeply, asking What is this? and being open to this as it happens to be.
If you meditate in this way, your mind will become more flexible, and you will start to see that actually you have more choices in your actions and behavior than you thought possible. This seeing will allow you to respond creatively to thoughts by knowing what you are thinking and realizing when you come into contact with a new thought. Normally, a thought emerges so fast that you are not even aware of its arising. You just think it and act impulsively or habitually. When you meditate, sitting quietly, trying to focus on the question What is this? you start to notice what takes you away from your focus. Generally it is a thought of one kind or another. The meditation is intended not to stop you from thinking but to help you discover what and how you think.

THERE are different practical ways to meditate with this method. The easiest way is to ask the question in combination with the breath. You breathe in, and as you breathe out, you ask, What is this? Master Kusan used to suggest asking the question by making it like a circle. You start with What is this? and as soon as you end one question you start another What is this? Another way is to just ask the question once and remain for a while with the sensation of questioning. As soon as it fades away, you ask it once more, staying with the pregnant sense of questioning until it dissipates again. You have to be very careful not to ask the question with too tight a mental focus. Usually it is recommended that you ask the question as if it were coming from the belly or even the toes. You need to bring the energy down and not tighten it like a knot in the mind. If the question makes you feel agitated, speculative, or confused, just come back to a simple and calming breath practice for a while before returning to the question.

Keep in mind that you are not trying to force yourself to find an answer. You are giving yourself wholeheartedly to the act of questioning. The answer is in the questioning itself. It is like a child who has never seen snow. You tell him it is white and cold. He thinks it is like a piece of white paper in the fridge. You take him near a mountain and show him the top. He says that it looks like coconut ice cream. It is only when he touches the snow, feels it, plays with it, and tastes it that he really knows what snow is. It is the same with the question, and the tasting is in the questioning itself.

Master Kusan was reputed to have had three awakenings—breakthroughs in understanding confirmed by his teacher—and still he continued to ask the question. A Western monk asked him why he continued questioning. After three awakenings, surely he must have found the answer. Master Kusan told him it did not work that way. As you meditated with this question, the practice developed in its own way and slowly evolved. So of course we asked him how he did the questioning at that point. He would not answer. He said that we had to find this out by ourselves. Any descriptions of his would give us misconceptions.

The most important part of the practice is for the question to remain alive and for your whole body and mind to become a question. In Zen they say that you have to ask with the pores of your skin and the marrow of your bones. A Zen saying points out: Great questioning, great awakening; little questioning, little awakening; no questioning, no awakening. ▼

GUIDED MEDITATION 
What is this?

• Sit in a quiet and secluded place. Keep your back straight. Remain poised, at ease, and attentive. With your eyes half-closed, gently gaze in front of you.
• With the first few breaths, connect the question to the out-breath. As you breathe out, ask, What is this?
• You are not repeating the question like a mantra; you are cultivating a sensation of perplexity, asking unconditionally, What is this?
• This is not an intellectual inquiry. You are not trying to solve this question with speculation or logic.
• Do not keep the question in your head. Try to ask it from your belly.
• With the whole of your being, you are asking, What is this? What is this?
• The answer is not found in the Buddha, or in a thing, or in empty space, or a designation.
• You are asking What is this? because you do not know.
• If you become distracted, come back to the question again and again.
• The question What is this? is an antidote to distracted thoughts. It is as sharp as a sword. Nothing can remain on the tip of its sharp blade.
• By asking this question deeply you are opening yourself to the whole of your experience, with a deep sense of wonderment and awe.
• When the session is finished, move your shoulder, back, and legs, and gently get up with a fresh and quiet awareness.