Tara (Sanskrit: तारा, tara) or Arya Tara, also known as Jetsun Dolma
(rje btsun sgrol ma) in Tibetan, is a female Buddha. She is the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements.
Tara is a tantric deity whose practice is used to develop certain inner qualities and understand outer, inner and secret teachings about compassion and emptiness.
Tara is actually the generic name for a set of Buddhas or bodhisattvas of
similar aspect. These may more properly be understood as different aspects
of the same quality, as bodhisattvas are often considered metaphoric for Buddhist virtues.
The most widely known forms of Tara are:
- Green Tara, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity
- White Tara, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra
- Red Tara, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things
- Black Tara, associated with power
- Yellow Tara, associated with wealth and prosperity
- Blue Tara, associated with transmutation of anger
- Cittamani Tara, a form of Tara widely practiced at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra in the Gelug School ofTibetan Buddhism, portrayed as green and often conflated with Green Tara
- Khadiravani Tara (Tara of the teak forest), who appeared to Nagarjuna in the Khadiravani forest of South India and who is sometimes referred to as the "22nd Tara."
A practice text entitled "In Praise of the 21 Taras", is recited during the morning in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
21 Tara Sadhana Practice:
ZaChoeje Rinpoche commented this practice, "Tara is the spiritual activities and compassionate embodiment of all Buddhas. The 21-Tara practice brings us wisdom and clarity to see and overcome inner obstacles and outer dangers. It will also help us to be successful in accomplishing the spiritual and worldly benefits swiftly. With practice we will find the ways to transform our fears and enabling us to protect self and others fearlessly."
The main Tara mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA
Emergence of Tara as a Buddhist deity
Within Tibetan Buddhism Tara is regarded as a Bodhisattva of compassion and action. She is the female aspect of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig) and in some origin stories she comes from his tears:
"Then at last Avalokiteshvara arrived at the summit of Marpori, the 'Red Hill', in Lhasa. Gazing out, he perceived that the lake on Otang, the 'Plain of Milk', resembled the Hell of Ceaseless Torment. Myriads of being were undergoing the agonies of boiling, burning, hunger, thirst, yet they never perished, but let forth hideous cries of anguish all the while. When Avalokiteshvara saw this, tears sprang to his eyes. A teardrop from his right eye fell to the plain and became the reverend Brikuti, who declared: 'Son of your race! As you are striving for the sake of sentient beings in he Land of Snows, intercede in their suffering, and I shall be your companion in this endeavour!' Bhrikuti was then reabsorbed into Avalokiteshvara's right eye, and was reborn in a later life as the Nepalese princess Tritsun. A teardrop from his left eye fell upon the plain and became the reverend Tara. She also declared, 'Son of your race! As you are striving for the sake of sentient beings in he Land of Snows, intercede in their suffering, and I shall be your companion in this endeavour!' Tara was also reabsorbed into Avalokiteshvara's left eye, and was reborn in a later life as the Chinese princess Kongjo (Princess Wengchen)."
Tara is also known as a saviouress, as a heavenly deity who hears the cries of beings experiencing misery in samsara.
The Tara figure originated in Hinduism, where Tara was one of a number of Mother Goddess figures. In the 6th century C.E., during the era of the Pala Empire, Tara was adopted into the Buddhist pantheon as an important bodhisattva figure. It would seem that the feminine principle makes its first appearance in Buddhism as the "Mother of Perfected Wisdom" and then later Tara comes to be seen as an expression of the compassion of perfected wisdom. However, sometimes Tara is also known as "the Mother of the Buddhas", which usually refers to the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas, so in approaching Buddhist deities, one learns not to impose totally strict boundaries about what one deity covers, as opposed to another deity.
They all can be seen as expressions of the play of the energies of manifested form dancing out of vast emptiness. Be that as it may, Tara began to be associated with the motherly qualities of compassion and mercy. Undoubtedly for the common folk who were Buddhists in India of that time, Tara was a more approachable deity. It is one thing to stare into the eyes of a deity who represents wisdom as void. It is perhaps easier to worship a goddess whose eyes look out with infinite compassion and who has a sweet smile.
Tara then became very popular as an object of worship and was becoming an object of Tantric worship and practice by the 7th century C.E.
Today, Green Tara and White Tara are probably the most popular representations of Tara. Green Tara/Khadiravani is usually associated with protection from fear and the following eight obscurations: lions (= pride), wild elephants (= delusion/ignorance), fires (= hatred and anger), snakes (= jealousy), bandits and thieves (= wrong views, including fanatical views), bondage (= avarice and miserliness), floods (= desire and attachment), and evil spirits and demons (= deluded doubts). As one of the three deities of long life, White Tara/Sarasvati is associated with longevity. White Tara counteracts illness and thereby helps to bring about a long life. She embodies the motivation that is compassion and is said to be as white and radiant as the moon.
Origin as a Buddhist bodhisattva
Tara has many stories told which explain her origin as a bodhisattva. One in particular has a lot of resonance for women interested in Buddhism and quite likely for those delving into early 21st century feminism.
In this tale there is a young princess who lives in a different world system, millions
of years in the past. Her name is Yeshe Dawa, which means "Moon of Primordial Awareness". For quite a number of eons she makes offerings to the Buddha of that world system, whose name was Tonyo Drupa. She receives special instruction
from him concerning bodhichitta - the heart-mind of a bodhisattva. After doing this, some monks approach her and suggest that because of her level of attainment she should next pray to be reborn as a male to progress further. At this point she lets the monks know in no uncertain terms that from the point of view of Enlightenment it is only "weak minded worldlings" who see gender as a barrier to attaining enlightenment. She sadly notes there have been few who wish to work for the welfare of beings in a female form, though. Therefore she resolves to always be reborn as a female bodhisattva, until samsara is no more. She then stays in a palace in a state of meditation for some ten million years, and the power of this practice releases tens of millions of beings from suffering. As a result of this, Tonyo Drupa tells her she will henceforth manifest supreme bodhi as the Goddess Tara in many world systems to come.
Tara as a Saviouress
Tara also embodies many of the qualities of feminine principle. She is known as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion. She is the source, the female aspect of the universe, which gives birth to warmth, compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence. She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation, and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children. As Green Tara she offers succor and protection from all the unfortunate circumstances one can encounter within the samsaric world. As White Tara she expresses maternal compassion and offers healing to beings who are hurt or wounded, either physically or psychically. As Red Tara she teaches discriminating awareness about created phenomena, and how to turn raw desire into compassion and love. As Blue Tara she expresses a ferocious, wrathful, female energy whose invocation destroys all Dharmic obstacles and engenders good luck and swift spiritual awakening.
Within Tibetan Buddhism, she has 21 major forms in all, each tied to a certain color and energy. And each offers some feminine attribute, of ultimate benefit to the spiritual aspirant who asks for her assistance.
Another quality of feminine principle which she shares with the dakinis is playfulness. Tara is frequently depicted as a young sixteen year old girlish woman. She often manifests in the lives of dharma practitioners when they take themselves, or spiritual path too seriously. There are Tibetan tales in which she laughs at self-righteousness, or plays pranks on those who lack reverence for the feminine. Applied to Tara one could say that her playful mind can relieve ordinary minds which become rigidly serious or tightly gripped by dualistic distinctions. She takes delight in an open mind and a receptive heart then. For in this openness and receptivity her blessings can naturally unfold and her energies can quicken the aspirant’s spiritual development.
These qualities of feminine principle then, found an expression in Indian Mahayana Buddhism and the emerging Vajrayana of Tibet, as the many forms of Tara, as dakinis, as Prainaparamita, and as many other local and specialized feminine divinities. As the worship of Tara developed, various prayers, chants and mantras became associated with her. These came out of a felt devotional need, and from her inspiration causing spiritual masters to compose and set down Sadhanas, or tantric meditation practices. Two ways of approach to her began to emerge. In one common folk and lay practitioners would simply directly appeal to her to ease some of the travails of worldly life. In the second, she became a Tantric deity whose practice would be used by monks or tantric yogis in order to develop her qualities in themselves, ultimately leading through her to the source of her qualities, which are Enlightenment, Enlightened Compassion, and Enlightened Mind.
Sadhanas of Tara
Sadhanas in which Tara is the yidam (meditational deity) can be extensive or quite brief. Most all of them include some introductory praises or homages to invoke her presence and prayers of taking refuge. Then her mantra is recited, followed by a visualization of her, perhaps more mantra, then the visualization is dissolved, followed by a dedication of the merit from doing the practice. Additionally there may be extra prayers of aspirations, and a long life prayer for the Lama who originated the practice.
Many of the Tara sadhanas are seen as beginning practices within the world of Vajrayana Buddhism, however what is taking place during the visualization of the deity actually invokes some of the most sublime teachings of all Buddhism.
In this case during the creation phase of Tārā as a yidam, she is seen as having as much reality as any other phenomena apprehended through the mind. By reciting her mantra and visualizing her form in front, or on the head of the adept, one is opening to her energies of compassion and wisdom. After a period of time the practitioner shares in some of these qualities, becomes imbued with her being and all it represents. At the same time all of this is seen as coming out of Emptiness and having a translucent quality like a rainbow.
Then many times there is a visualization of oneself as Tara. One simultaneously becomes inseparable from all her good qualities while at the same time realizing the emptiness of the visualization of oneself as the yidam and also the emptiness of one's ordinary self.
This occurs in the completion stage of the practice. One dissolves the created deity form and at the same time also realizes how much of what we call the "self" is a creation of the mind, and has no long term substantial inherent existence. This part of the practice then is preparing the practitioner to be able to confront the dissolution of one's self at death and ultimately be able to approach through various stages of meditation upon emptiness, the realization of Ultimate Truth as a vast display of Emptiness and Luminosity. At the same time the recitation of the mantra has been invoking Tara's energy through its Sanskrit seed syllables and this purifies and activates certain psychic centers of the body (chakras). This also untangles knots of psychic energy which have hindered the practitioner from developing a Vajra body, which is necessary to be able to progress to more advanced practices and deeper stages of realization.
Therefore even in a simple Tara sadhana an abundance of outer, inner, and secret events is taking place and there are now many works such as Deity Yoga, compiled by the present Dalai Lama, which explores all the results of working with a yidam in Tantric practices.
The end results of doing such Tara practices are many. For one thing it reduces the forces of delusion in the forms of negative karma, sickness, afflictions of kleshas, and other obstacles and obscurations. The mantra helps generate Bodhicitta within the heart of the practitioner and purifies the psychic channels (nadis) within the body allowing a more natural expression of generosity and compassion to flow from the heart center. Through experiencing Tara's perfected form one acknowledges one's own perfected form, which is one's intrinsic Buddha nature, which is usually covered over by obscurations and clinging to dualistic phenomena as being inherently real and permanent.
The practice then weans one away from a coarse understanding of Reality, allowing one to get in touch with inner qualities similar to those of a bodhisattva, and prepares one's inner self to embrace finer spiritual energies, which can lead to more subtle and profound realizations of the Emptiness of phenomena and self.
"Tara is the flawless expression of the inseparability of emptiness, awareness and compassion. Just as you use a mirror to see your face, Tara meditation is a means of seeing the true face of your mind, devoid of any trace of delusion".
Trashi Ganden Choepel Ling
40 Waverley Ave. Glenfield
North Shore City 0629
Auckland New Zealand
Phone: +64 (0)9 444 8886