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Osho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game Of Zen

Saturn Celeste

April 15, 1995
by Osho (Author), Ma Deva Padma (Illustrator)


Product details

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 7th ed. edition (April 15, 1995)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0312117337

ISBN-13: 978-0312117337

Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 2.1 x 7.7 inches

Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

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Osho Zen Tarot - The Transcendental Game of Zen

By Jewel


The Osho Zen Tarot – Transcendental Game of Zen, created by Ma Deva Padma, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1994.  I am one of those people that goes all googly-eyed when I see bright jewel toned colored decks so of course I had to have it.  I have to admit that after all these years I am still not sure how to classify this deck, as a Tarot or an Oracle.  That is the million-dollar question I ask myself every time I pull out this deck.  Honestly, I am not sure if I will ever fully answer that question for myself.  It has less to do with it being a non-traditional deck and more to do with how it feels when I read with it.  Hard to explain.   This is a well-loved deck by many, but I know from reading some Aeclectic Tarot and TT&M forum posts, as well as some conversations with a few members from these forums that I am not the only one that is not sure how to classify it.  The more I think about this deck, and I will confess it has taken me the better part of three months to write this review, I believe it has to do with blending Zen with Tarot.  The goal of Zen is enlightenment and transcendence, the goal of the Tarot is to provide insight, answers and advice regarding the mundane, though it is also a tool for personal transformation and spiritual growth.  If you elevate life to the Zen Master or Buddah level it is no longer life as we know and experience it and perhaps that is where I get all bogged down trying to use this deck as a Tarot deck.  I am simply not as enlightened as I would like to think I am, most of us are not Zen Masters, much less Buddahs, and many of us know next to nothing about Zen.


The art in the Osho Zen Tarot is simply gorgeous.  It is evocative, draws you in, and really sparks the imagination.  The colors are so vivid and the imagery is very thought provoking.  This is a deck I could sit and look at for hours on end and never get bored.  A variety of art styles have been used throughout the deck some are cartoony, some are gorgeous flowing water color paintings, and others are very geometric and contemporary, however they all work so well together that the deck remains cohesive.  Equal attention was dedicated art-wise to the Major and Minor Arcana.


The card stock is on par with Llewellyn and US Games decks, and flexible enough to riffle shuffle with ease.  The cards seem quite durable as I have had my set for years, and riffle shuffled them without scuffs or other problems. I am not overly fussy about card stock, so I have no problem with it. The cards measure approximately 4.25” X 2.75" and have a 1/8” black border on the top and sides and ¾” at the bottom.  The card images have a very thin white frame around them and at the bottom center of the card image, half on the image and half in the black ¾” bottom border, is a color-coded diamond with the number or court card symbol for the card.  The card titles are on the bottom ¾” black border in white easy to read block letters. The backs of the cards are done with water color circles in oranges, ocre, yellow, olive green, pale blue bleeding together, with three black lines running the length of the card and more abstract black lines running through those three lines.  Due to the design they are not reversible, but it is not as obvious as the backs of many decks out there with non-reversible backs.


The Osho Zen Tarot is classified as a Tarot deck as it contains the requisite elements to be classified as such:  it has Major Arcana, Minor Arcana Suits with Ace-10, and Court Cards corresponding to each suit.  It is considered non-traditional in that said structure is modified by the addition of an unnumbered Major Arcana card, there are name changes to the Majors, the naming of the suits is changed, and there are significant changes to the Court Cards.


The Major Arcana cards are denoted by a purple diamond and numbered with Roman numerals.  One additional Major Arcana card has been added to this deck, The Master which is a picture of Osho himself.  The purpose of this additional card according to the companion book: “In the traditional tarot deck this journey [through the Major Arcana] of self-discovery was perceived as a kind of spiral, with each Completion leading to a new level on the path, a new beginning with the re-entry of The Fool.  In this deck, however, the Master card has been added.  This card allows us to leave the spiral behind, to jump off the wheel of death and rebirth.  The Master card symbolizes the ultimate transcendence that becomes possible only through the dissolving of separate, individual ego in enlightenment.”   It is important to note there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding Osho and his followers and I have read that a some people just take The Master card out of the deck.  I leave it in though I ascribe a way different meaning to it than intended in the deck.  To me this is a card of outright deceit and/or hoodwinking, but again that is my personal perspective and one that would likely garner quite a bit a criticism from Osho followers.  But I am neither into Zen or Osho and am one of those people that take into account some of the issues based on Osho follower actions in my country.  There are quite a few name changes to the Major Arcana, in fact only two Major Arcana cards retain their traditional names (0 The Fool and VI The Lovers), but overall you will easily be able to make the correlation between the new name and the traditional with some exceptions, most notable IV The Rebel and V No-Thingness.  Here is a list of the Major Arcana in the Osho-Zen, with the traditional Tarot name in parenthesis for your reference:


0 The Fool

I Existence (Magician)

II Inner Voice (High Priestess)

III Creativity (Empress)

IV The Rebel (Emperor)

V No-Thingness (Hierophant)

VI The Lovers

VII Awareness (Chariot)

VIII Courage (Strength)

IX Aloneness (Hermit)

X Change (Wheel of Fortune)

XI Breakthrough (Justice)

XII New Vision (Hanged Man)

XIII Transformation (Death)

XIV Integration (Temperance)

XV Conditioning (Devil)

XVI Thunderbolt (Tower)

XVII Silence (Star)

XVIII Past Lives (Moon)

XIX Innocence (Sun)

XX Beyond Illusion (Judgement)

XXI Completion (World)

The Master – this is the extra card with a picture of Osho


The Minor Aracana are denoted by the appropriate color-coded diamond with an Arabic number or court card symbol per suit.  It is in the Minor Arcana that I start to have my bigger issues with this deck.  The companion book states: “These 56 cards are divided into four suits representing the four elements …  The cards of the Water suit have a blue diamond, those of Fire red, Clouds have a grey diamond, and Rainbows, a rainbow-colored diamond.”  Huh? Rainbows and Clouds are elements? This is news to me! I can see the correlation of Clouds and Air, but I do not get the Rainbows for Earth and never will.  Believe me I have tried.  This is where the deck starts losing me as Tarot reader and makes me think of this deck as more of an Oracle deck.  These are my main issues with this deck:


1.     The suit progression within the Minor Arcana feels different and at times at odds to me, and I am not a fan of keywords on my Tarot cards.

2.     I have no problem with suit renaming, but I cannot wrap my head around the Rainbows=Pentacles=Earth, call me old fashioned or traditionalist if you will.  If you are going to name the suits representing the four elements then call them Water, Fire, Air, and Earth.

3.     The court cards don’t feel or act as court cards in my opinion, more on this later.


Lets’ talk about the Suits starting with my least favorite.  The suit of Clouds, though the emphasis is on the mental plane (like Swords), carries a lot of negativity and mental baggage making it, at least to me, a dreaded suit to see in most cases.  Here is the progression through the suit of Clouds:  Ace-Consciousness, 2-Schizophrenia, 3-Ice-Olation, 4-Postponement, 5-Comparison, 6-The Burden, 7-Politics, 8-Guilt, 9-Sorrow, and 10-Rebirth, which does not jive with your traditional 10 of Swords on any level.  I have already expressed my problems with the name of the Suit of Rainbows, but it goes it beyond that for me.  The Ace is called Maturity, things do not start Mature so this is why I have trouble with this card representing an Ace, it brings the potential but not Maturity itself.  Some cards in this suit are easily translatable to traditional Tarot such as the 4-The Miser, 5-The Outsider and 10-We Are The World.  But other cards such as Maturity (Ace), 6-Compromise, 8-Ordinatireness just don’t work for me.  I have some issues with the Suits of Water and Fire as well, but they are minor in comparison to my issues with the Clouds and Rainbows.  Honestly, the more I think about this as I write this review I find the minors better suited as Oracle Cards instead of Tarot Cards.


Onto the Court Cards.  In the introduction of the book they explain that the Court Cards have been “stripped of their feudal titles and given names to simply represent different opportunities for mastery over the four elements that they occupy.” but they still call them by their traditional names (King, Queen, Knight, Page) in the book which just added to my confusion and to my brain continually trying to tie the two together.  Here is a list of the Court Cards by rank with their given names:


Kings:  Fire/The Creator, Water/Healing, Clouds/Control, Rainbows/Abundance.

Queens:  Fire/Sharing, Water/Receptivity, Clouds/Morality, Rainbows/Flowering.

Knights:  Fire/Intensity, Water/Trust, Clouds/Fighting, Rainbows/Slowing Down.

Pages:  Fire/Playfulness, Water/Understanding, Clouds/Mind, Rainbows/Adventure


In this deck I find the Court Cards extremely confusing to identify without keeping out a cheat sheet to remind me that the up-arrow=Kings, down arrow=Queens, arrow to the left=Knights, and arrow to the right=Pages.  That is compounded by the cards having a key word describing an opportunity for elemental mastery versus telling me that it is the King, Queen, Knight or Page, and in several cases I do not even associate said elemental opportunity for mastery with the given court card (i.e. Knight of Water=Trust, King of Water=Healing, Queen of Clouds=Morality, Queen of Fire=Sharing, Knight of Rainbows=Slowing Down, Page of Rainbows=Adventure or Page of Water=Understanding).  The Court Cards in this deck, as a whole set, just do not work for me as court cards.  So yeah, overall, I am probably making this more complicated than it needs to be, but they frustrate me.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but again since when are Rainbows or Clouds elements that can be occupied?  Yes, I am rolling my eyes at this and by now you are probably rolling yours at me which I can understand. 


The Companion book is one of my least favorite companion books of all time. I would have liked to learn more in the introduction about how they are relating Zen to the Tarot, why they chose Rainbows and Clouds as elements (sorry cannot let this go!), and frankly Oshos teachings are just not my cup of tea.  What I do love about it is the artist descriptions of the images.  I got a lot from those.  Towards the back of the companion book there are several spreads:  The Diamond (5 cards) for clarity on a specific issue; The Flying Bird (7 cards) which delves into the balance of our feminine/masculine energies; The Key (8 cards) is to gain insight into hidden and unconscious aspects of a particular issue; The Mirror (12 cards) to gain insight when relating to someone else; The Celtic Cross (10 cards); Relating-A Quickie (4 cards) another spread about relating to someone else; The Super Quickie (1 card) for insight into your day or meditation; and the Paradox in which you split the deck in three and work with your chosen third – this spread is about looking at here and now, your past life influences, and a card you select from the rest of your pile which provides insight into the paradox.  The spreads are interesting.  My favorite part of the book is the glossary of symbolism at the very back and it tells you the symbolism of birds, chains, and everything else you might find in an image.  This section is useful when looking at any deck as a reference.


In 2003 a second book was written for this deck titled “Tarot in the Spirit of Zen – The Game of Life” by Osho.  Of course, I purchased it in hopes that it was better than the companion, but no, it was just more in-depth Osho teachings.  My favorite parts of this book were the Tables of Correspondences starting on page 200-202 which show the Correspondences of the Osho Zen Tarot Cards to the Raider-Waite-Smith and the Thoth decks, and at the very back of the book are some beautiful small glossy Major Arcana cards from the Osho Zen you can punch out.


By now you are most likely questioning why in the beginning of this review I said I liked the deck, yet proceeded to tear it down.  I have said a lot of harsh things about this deck, and they are reflective of my own personal frustrations in trying to use it as Tarot deck.  I do like it just not as a Tarot deck. The Majors work for me OK as Tarot Majors, but the Minors don’t.  The Minors for the most part seem more suited for an Oracle deck.  This deck is truly hybrid, which is another reason I have struggled so much with it.  When I pick up a Tarot deck I want Tarot.  When I pick up an Oracle deck I want an Oracle.  Apparently, when I pick up a hybrid I get frustrated.  As a Tarot reader I was tying myself in knots trying to read this as I read most of my Tarot decks – especially when Court Cards were involved or cards from the suit of Clouds popped up – until I finally just gave into the imagery and began to read intuitively and without paying much attention to suits, the rank of the courts or names of the aces.  I used the key words as spring boards and let the imagery do the rest.  When reading in this fashion I really enjoyed reading with this deck.  The imagery is so rich, thought provoking, and evocative, and when I stopped thinking about suits and ranks I could take the cards in as a whole, so negative Clouds did not matter to me, and the Rainbows were fine, and the Ace of Water “Going with the Flow” and the ace of Rainbows being Mature were no longer issues for me.  As Tarot they just weren’t for me, as an Oracle they were masterful and have incredible depth.  The deck is suitable for all types of readings, it is not a deck that should be pigeonholed into one specific type of reading.  I think it is particularly well suited for meditation.


I would recommend this deck to persons who primarily enjoy Oracles and want to delve more into Tarot, or persons who primarily prefer Tarot and want to work with an Oracle that has more structure to it than your typical oracles and want an Oracle with some “teeth.”  I also recommend this deck for intuitive readers as the imagery is spectacular.  Those persons that like to use cards for meditation would also enjoy this deck.  I would not recommend this deck to a beginner because there is no instruction what so ever on how to start working with or reading the cards, and it will not match up to any other literature you will find in books or online Tarot learning resources.   If you have strong traditional historical Tarot foundations and have expectations of what you will find in each suit stay away from this deck, it will frustrate you.  I do not even consider myself all that into historical tradition and traditional meanings and it frustrated me.  The court cards will absolutely drive you bonkers.  Would I read with this deck for Aunt Fifi?  She would really love the art, nothing offensive here, though some imagery especially in the suit of Clouds might frighten her and if the image did not the key word might, but if she wanted me to I would read for her with it.

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