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--- Dharma Online : The Practice of Tara ---

from a handout prepared by Ven Sangye Khadro

Who is Tara and Why do we Pray to Her?

The origin of Tara

In the past, many eons ago, during the time of Buddha Dundubhisvara (Drum-sound), in the Universe called Manifold Light, there lived a princess by the name of Moon of Wisdom-knowledge. She was a very devoted disciple and would daily set out many offerings to the Buddha and His Sangha. Eventually she generated bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain Enlightenment and become a Buddha herself, in order to help all living beings.

Some bhikshus came to know of this, and urged her to dedicate the merits she had created to be reborn as a male. However, the princess rejected this advice, saying:

Here there is no man, there is no woman,
No self, no person, and no consciousness.
Labelling "male" or "female" has no essence,
But deceives the evil-minded world.

She went on to make the following vow:

"There are many who desire Enlightenment in a man's body, but none who work for the benefit of sentient beings in the body of a woman. Therefore, until samsara is empty, I shall work for the benefit of sentient beings in a woman's body."

From that time onwards the princess dedicated herself to winning full and complete Enlightenment. Once she accomplished that goal, she came to be known as Tara, the Liberator.
(from In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress by Martin Willson, Wisdom Publications.)

Chenresig There is another story regarding Tara which tells that Chenrezig (Kuan Yin) had been working for a long time to help sentient beings. He had been able to help hundreds of thousands of beings become free from samsara, but then he checked and realized there were still so many more beings suffering in samsara. He began to cry, and from the pool formed by his tears a lotus arose and Tara appeared from the lotus, saying "Don't worry -- I will help you." Thus Tara is associated with Chenrezig, as well as with Amitabha Buddha (she has a tiny image of Amitabha Buddha on her crown.)

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Why do we need to practise Tara?

There are many inner obstacles to our mental development, and these inner obstacles can create external obstacles. To obtain success in our Dharma practice, to actualize the path to Enlightenment, we need to rely on a special deity or Buddha, for example, Tara. All actions of the Buddha manifest in the female form, Tara, to help sentient beings successfully accomplish both temporal and ultimate happiness.
(from Tara the Liberator by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Wisdom Publications.)

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The Benefits of Tara Practice

Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains that through practising Tara we can obtain the following benefits:

It is said that Tara protects from the 8 fears, of which there are an internal and an external aspect:
The 8 external fears The 8 internal fears
1. floods 1. attachment
2. fire 2. anger
3. elephants 3. ignorance
4. snakes 4. jealousy
5. lions 5. pride
6. imprisonment/chains 6. miserliness
7. thieves 7. wrong views
8. ghosts 8. doubt

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Green Tara and the Twenty-One Taras

The Symbolism of Green Tara

Tara Green Tara is seated upon a lotus arising from the waters of a lake, just as Tara is said to have arisen from the compassionate tears of Avalokiteshvara. Her right hand is in the mudra of supreme generosity indicating her ability to provide beings with whatever they desire. Her left hand at her heart is in the mudra of bestowing refuge: her thumb and ring finger are pressed together to symbolise the united practice of method and wisdom, and the three remaining fingers are raised to symbolise the Three Jewels of Refuge - Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In each hand she holds the stem of a blue utpala flower. Each flower consists of three blossoms indicating that Tara, the embodiment of enlightened activities, is the Mother of the Buddhas of the past, present and future.

Tara is dressed in the silken robes of royalty. She wears rainbow colored stockings, a white half-blouse and various jeweled ornaments. These symbolise her mastery of the perfections of generosity, morality and so forth. The tiara fastened in her black hair is adorned with jewels, the central one is a red ruby symbolic of Amitabha, her spiritual father and the head of her Buddha family.

She is seated in a distinctive posture, her left leg withdrawn to symbolise her renunciation of worldly passion and her right leg extended to show that she is always ready to arise and come to the aid of those who need her help.

Face of Tara With a warm compassionate gaze she looks down upon each sentient being as a mother regards her only child. Her emerald-green color -- related to the wind element and hence to movement -- signifies her ability to act swiftly and without delay to bring benefits to sentient beings.

(from Images of Enlightenment by J. Landaw and A. Weber, Snow Lion Publications.)

From the teachings of Ven Lama Thubten Yeshe:

Tara is known as the "Mother of all Buddhas." This is because she is the wisdom of reality, and all Buddhas and bodhisattvas are born from this wisdom. This wisdom is also the fundamental cause of happiness, and our own spiritual growth comes from this wisdom. That is why Tara is called the Mother. And Mother Tara has much wisdom to manifest many aspects, sometimes peaceful, sometimes wrathful, in different colours -- all to help sentient beings.
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The Twenty-One Taras

Tara has 21 primary emanations which perform different activities such as pacification, increase and so forth. The different colours of these 21 Taras correspond to the 4 different types of enlightened activity, as explained by Ven. Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche:

Tara is the female Buddha of Enlightened Activity (Tib: trinley), of which there are 4 types: pacifying, increasing, overpowering and wrathful. Each of these is represented by a different colour:

  • White represents the Enlightened activity of pacifying, for example overcoming sickness, causes of untimely death and obstacles to success in one's life or one's practice.

  • Yellow represents the Enlightened activity of increasing the positive qualities conducive to a long life, peace, happiness and success in one's Dharma practice.

  • Red represents the Enlightened activity of power, or overpowering external forces that cannot be tamed through the first two activities, for example, removing obstacles to sickness, untimely death, etc., and forcefully accumulating conducive conditions for one's Dharma practice.

  • Black represents the Enlightened activity of wrath, which involves using forceful methods for accomplishing activities for Enlightened purposes that cannot be accomplished through other means.

    Below is a list of the 21 Taras, their names in English and Tibetan, and their colours:

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    The Mantra of Tara

    Tara's mantra is OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA.

    om tare tuttare ture soha

    OM represents Tara's holy body, speech and mind.

    TARE means liberating from true suffering, the sufferings of samsara, our aggregates being under the control of delusion and karma.

    TUTTARE means liberating from the 8 fears, the external dangers, but mainly from the internal dangers, the delusions, and also karma.

    TURE means liberating from the ignorance of the absolute nature of the I; it shows the true cessation of suffering.

    SOHA means "may the meaning of the mantra take root in my mind."

    Also, in the context of the Lam Rim, TARE refers to the graduated path of the lower capable being; TUTTARE refers to the path of the middle capable being; TURE refers to the path of the higher capable being. So the meaning is that by taking refuge in Tara and doing Tara practice, we can achieve the fully enlightened state with the four Kayas, which is the state of cessation of, or liberation from, the two obscurations.

    Tara To practise reciting Tara's mantra, you can visualize Tara in front of you, with a white syllable OM at her crown, a red syllable AH at her throat and a blue syllable HUM at her heart. As you recite the mantra, visualize rays of light flowing from these three places, and striking your three places. These purify all negative karma and obscurations of your body, speech and mind created from beginningless time.

    Alternatively, you can visualize Tara on the crown of your head, and do the visualization as above.

    Recite as many mantras as you wish. At the end, pray to Tara to help you develop bodhicitta -- your practice of ethics, and your development of bodhicitta are what please Tara the most. This is the best offering you can make to Tara, and will bring you closer to her.

    Then, Tara dissolves into light, which dissolves through your forehead (or crown) and into your heart. Feel "My body, speech and mind are now blessed to become Tara's body, speech and mind." Then dedicate the merit that you will become Enlightened -- like Tara -- in order to be able to help all sentient beings.
    (from Tara the Liberator by Ven Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Wisdom Publications.)

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    Tara & Chenresig Pictures by Bob Jacobson (Osel Shen Phen Ling Virtual Thangka Gallery)

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