Praises to the 21 Taras
Why should we recite them and How do we do it?

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Reciting Praises to the 21 Taras - What's in it for me?
(This little tome will answer many of the questions that have been raised about this practice.)

To answer the question, "What's in it for me?" we need to look at our own spiritual aspirations. In our heart of hearts we all want to be happy and free of suffering. From a Buddhist perspective, we need to achieve supreme enlightenment to have that dream come true. So how do we get enlightened?

To do the work of transforming our mind, we need the correct conditions: a qualified Dharma teacher, teaching pure Dharma; a sangha/spiritual community to support us; and the opportunity to practice. We need a place to practice and interact with others, which is why Kadampa Center (KDC) was created. In a direct way, our very happiness depends on having a suitable place to practice Dharma.

To support the growing membership at Kadampa Center, very soon we’ll have to move to a larger venue. This is a fact! How do we go about creating the causes for this KDC of the future? Getting money (external cause) is only a partial answer. To have a new KDC we must individually and collectively create the karmic causes and we must purify/remove obstacles (internal causes). Over time, as the power of our spiritual practice increases, we’ll experience greater happiness, and we’ll attract the conditions to have a center that will meet our needs. This is where the Praises to the 21 Taras fits into the picture. The bottom line is that the Praises are a powerful method of purification and creating merit.

Why the 21 Praises to Tara?
When Geshe Gelek asked Kadampa Center (and FPMT) spiritual director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, what we as a community could do to avert obstacles to having a new center, Rinpoche's response was for us to do Praises to the 21 Taras. For those that don't know Lama Zopa Rinpoche, he along with Lama Yeshe (who died in 1984) are responsible for the very existence of Kadampa Center. If you've benefited from your experiences at KDC, it is ultimately due to the kindness of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He also chose and convinced Geshe Gelek to come teach at KDC. He is a very compassionate, wise, powerful, and skillful holy being who works tirelessly for the sake of others (us). We are hoping he will visit soon.

How do I do the Practice?
Tara is the principle female manifestation of enlightenment in the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tantric tradition. She symbolizes the active principle of compassion, capable of bringing to fruition all activities that benefit others. The assembly of 21 Taras is generally visualized surrounding Green Tara. Tibetans as way of invoking their aid commonly recite prayers incorporating homages to these goddesses. Although Tara is invoked by the faithful to answer even their most mundane prayers (for example: get a job, have a child, cure an illness, etc.), her supreme benefit lies in guiding practitioners along the path to full enlightenment. Also called Swift Liberator and Tara the Savioress, one attribute that makes her a favorite of so many devotees is her swiftness in responding to the calls of those who invoke her. In paintings and poetry she is often depicted as coming to the immediate aid of those in danger.

More about Tara practice
Devotion to Tara implies faith in her abilities, and most significantly - seeing ones own mind, the mind of Tara and your Lama’s mind as inseparable and pure. Since Tara is an enlightened being, she is not limited in appearing in any one form; like all Buddhas, she manifests in whatever guise is most appropriate to the situation. Her ability to assume a variety of forms to answer different needs is illustrated in the commonly depicted assembly of 21 Taras; some of whom are white or yellow and peaceful while others are dark red or black and extremely wrathful.

Motivation is everything
Before beginning the practice always initially reflect on your Bodhicitta motivation – the wish for enlightenment for the benefit of others. Also include in your motivation that as you do the Praises, you are not only increasing your own spiritual power, but are creating the causes for a new KDC facility, for the success of Lama Zopa's Maitreya Project, and anything else that is important to you personally.

What to visualize
As you are reciting the 21 Praises to Tara it is important to visualize/imagine with the "mind's eye" that in the space in front and as large as possible is the actual assembly of 21 Taras surrounding Green Tara - completely made of light like a hologram. The image of the Taras is not just artistic but alive, three-dimensional and they only have the intention to benefit. As you recite the Praises, also imagine being purified and blessed by light and nectar coming from Tara entering your body. Feel that your body, speech and mind are purified and blessed. We may get more detailed instruction from Geshe Gelek when he returns.

Recording your results (numbers of recitations)
Enter your count on our webpage or record your results on the white board at the center. Record your total recitation counts as often as you like. In late June, 2001 the KDC community pledged that we would to do 21,000 Praises before the end of November. Our intention is to dedicate the merit of this practice to our future facility as well as Lama Zopa’s Maitreya Project.

One way to take ownership (if it's to be, it's up to me) for creating a new center is to make a declaration each week on the list serve (in print for everyone to see) how many Praises you will do - then go out and collect the evidence (do the practice). For the week of August 9-15, seven members declared they would do 100 Praises and one other declared 50. One person has a declaration of 1000 by the end of November. Even if one doesn’t have much money to support the Dharma, this is a great opportunity to step up and make a real difference. Don't forget: Wednesday evenings at KDC during August are for group Tara practice.

Where to get copies of the Praises to the 21 Taras
Go to our Online Dharma section to download a copy.

For more information about Tara:
Check out this link to Amitabha Buddhist Center. Much of the information above was gleaned from Images of Enlightenment by Jon Landaw and Andy Weber (Snow Lion Publications) and from conversations with Thubten Pende. I take full responsibility for all mistakes.

Best wishes,
Don Brown

Kadampa Center (a member of the FPMT) ... Raleigh, NC, USA