Tara the Tantric Deity
How Tara became a Buddha
In order to be a tantric deity, a being must have, at some point in time, attained perfect enlightenment and become a Buddha. But paradoxically, Tara is also a Bodhisattva. How can a person who puts off enlightenment in order to help others become enlightened be also a Buddha? Actually, the only way to become a Buddha is to become a Bodhisattva. One who strives for his or her own enlightenment without concern for other's enlightenment is still attached to a concept of a self, and therefore could never be fully enlightened. So because Tara remained in order to help others, she reached enlightenment even more quickly. Because she has already attained Nirvana, and still remains to help others, she is the most perfect of Bodhisattvas.
In Tantric practice, a person tries to identify his or herself with a deity--they actually try to become the deity through meditation. Tara's presence as a female is very important in relation to this idea, because she exemplified the fact that women too can attain enlightenment and become Bodhisattvas. Traditionally, Buddhists did not believe a female form could practice the highest stages of Tantra and become enlightened because the female form was not conducive to spiritual practice. It was taught in both the Mahayana and the Hinayana Sutras that only a male form can reach a very high spiritual level. Buddha taught, in the Pali canon, that "It is impossible, it cannot happen that a woman Arahant should be a Complete and Perfect Buddha." It was only due to Tantric thought that Tara came to be accepted as a female Buddha; because in Tantra, women are revered as the source of wisdom. Guru Padmasambhava, who introduced Tantra to Tibet, once said, "The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female--there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, the woman's body is better." Therefore Tara can give women great inspiration to become a Bodhisattva and a Buddha. Perhaps she can also be considered as one of the earliest feminists.
"Principle features of the Mandala of Nine Taras. The Goddesses are represented by their seed syllables, which after the first spell TA-RE TU-T-TA-RE TU-RE. The five central Taras are peaceful and sit cross-legged, the four outer are wrathful and stand with right legs straight and left bent. Although shown folded down into a plane, the walls and gates should be visualized as three-dimensional."
Here are the seed syllables of the elements that can be seen in the mandala pictured above; all symbols come to a point in the center where Tara and her symbol reside:
From the TAM-letter one should visualize light-rays coming out of it from every direction. This syllable is at the center of the mandala. Because this is only a line drawing of the actual mandala, one does not see the pictures contained in the actual mandala. But in the center, sitting on a blue lotus flower, is Tara along with her symbol (TAM). The light radiating from the center of the mandala palace contains all world-elements, seen as a magical illusion, a rainbow, a mirage, a moon in the water, a reflected image.
Tara as a Bodhisattva
Tara as a Deity
Tara as a Buddha