Tara (Sanskrit: तारा, tārā; Tib. སྒྲོལ་མ་, Drolma) or Ārya Tārā, also known as Jetsun Dolma (Tibetan language:rje btsun sgrol ma) in Tibetan Buddhism, is a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism who appears as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism.
She is known as the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. In Japan she is known as Tarani Bosatsu, and little-known as Duoluo (pinyin: Duōluó púsà, simplified chinese: 多羅菩薩) in Chinese Buddhism.
Tara is a tantric meditation deity whose practice is used by practitioners of the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities and understand outer, inner and secret teachings about compassion and emptiness.
- White Tārā, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra
- Red Tārā, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things
- Black Tārā, associated with power
- Yellow Tārā, associated with wealth and prosperity
- Blue Tārā, associated with transmutation of anger
- Cittamani Tārā, a form of Tārā widely practiced at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra) in the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, portrayed as green and often conflated with Green Tārā
- Khadiravani Tārā (Tārā of the acacia forest), who appeared to Nagarjuna in the Khadiravani forest of South India and who is sometimes referred to as the "22nd Tārā."
- 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.
It may be true that goddesses entered Buddhism from Shaktism (i.e. the worship of local or folk goddesses prior to the more institutionalized Hinduism which had developed by the early medieval period (i.e. Middle Kingdoms of India) as Buddhism was originally a religion devoid of goddesses, and in fact deities, altogether.
Possibly the oldest text to mention a Buddhist goddess is the Prajnaparamita Sutra (translated into Chinese from the original Sanskrit ca. 2nd century CE), around the time that Mahayana was becoming the dominant school of thought in Indian and Chinese Buddhism.
The earliest, solidly identifiable image of Tārā is most likely that which is still found today at cave 6 within the rock-cut Buddhist monastic complex of the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra (ca. 7th century CE), with her worship being well established by the onset of the Pala Empire in Northeast India (8th c. CE).
Tārā became a very popular Vajrayana deity with the rise of Tantric Buddhism in 8th-century Pala India and, with the movement of Indian Buddhism into Tibet via Padmasambhava, the worship and practices of Tārā became incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism as well.
She eventually came to be considered the "Mother of all Buddhas," which usually refers to the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas, while simultaneously echoing the ancient concept of the Mother Goddess in India.
Origin as a Buddhist bodhisattva
Tārā 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.
Following her cultivation of bodhicitta, the bodhisattva's motivation, she looked upon the situation of those striving towards full awakening and she felt that there were too few people who attained Buddhahood as women.
Tārā, then, embodies certain ideals which make her attractive to women practitioners, and her emergence as a Bodhisattva can be seen as a part of Mahayana Buddhism's reaching out to women, and becoming more inclusive even in 6th-century C.E. India.
Tārā as a saviouress
As Blue Tārā (Ekajati) she becomes a protector in the Nyingma lineage, who 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.
Applied to Tārā 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.
These qualities of feminine principle then, found an expression in Indian Mahayana Buddhism and the emerging Vajrayana of Tibet, as the many forms of Tārā, as dakinis, as Prajnaparamita, and as many other local and specialized feminine divinities. As the worship of Tārā developed, various prayers, chants and mantras became associated with her.
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.
[[File:18th century Eastern Tibeten Thanka, with the Green Tara (Samaya Tara Yogini) in the center and the Blue, Red, White and Yellow taras in the corners, Rubin Museum of Art.jpg|thumb|right|18th century Eastern Tibetan thangka, with the Green Tara (Samaya Tara Yogini) in the center and the Blue, Red, White and Yellow taras in the corners, Rubin Museum of Art)]
He composed a praise to her, and three Tārā Sadhanas.
Martin Willson's work also contains charts which show origins of her tantras in various lineages, but suffice to say that Tārā as a tantric practice quickly spread from around the 7th century C.E. onwards, and remains an important part of Vajrayana Buddhism to this day.
The practices themselves usually present Tārā as a tutelary deity (thug dam, yidam) which the practitioners sees as being a latent aspect of one's mind, or a manifestation in a visible form of a quality stemming from Buddha Jnana. As John Blofeld puts it in The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet:
- The function of the Yidam is one of the profound mysteries of the Vajrayana...Especially during the first years of practice the Yidam is of immense importance.
Sadhanas in which Tārā 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.
Many of the Tārā 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.
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.
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.
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 Tārā sadhana a plethora of outer, inner, and secret events is taking place and there are now many works such as Deity Yoga, compiled by the present Dalai Lamah explores all the ramifications of working with a yidam in Tantric practices.
The end results of doing such Tārā 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 Tārā's perfected form one acknowledges one's own perfected form, that 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.
"The preparations are of two types: external and internal.
As for internal preparations, we should try to improve our compassion, bodhichitta, and correct view of emptiness through the practice of the stages of the path, and to receive a Tantric empowerment of Green Tara.
Terma teachings are 'hidden teachings' said to have been left by Padmasambhava (8th Century) and others for the benefit of future generations. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo discovered Phagme Nyingthig (Tib. spelling: 'chi med 'phags ma'i snying thig, Innermost Essence teachings of the Immortal Bodhisattva Arya Tārā).
Earlier in the 19th century, according to a biography, Nyala Pema Dündul received a Hidden Treasure Tārā Teaching and Nyingthig (Tib. nying thig) from his uncle Kunsang Dudjom (Tib. kun bzang bdud 'joms).
Amongst all Buddhist deities, the most beloved is Tara. She is said to have been born from a lotus that grew
in Avalokiteshvara' tears of compassion.
She is known as the Mother of All Buddhas: the Perfection of Wisdom (the Ultimate True Nature, Emptiness, the immutable source and ground of everything).
As sentient beings we ourselves possess Buddha Nature, the exact qualities of all the Buddhas.
As Buddhists, our path is to discover and nurture those qualities within us.
While we must make this journey alone and through our own efforts, the Buddhas,
in the forms of the gurus and deities, can help us
on the path. Gurus give us instructions, blessings
and the direct experience of our own Buddha nature.
Deities are symbolic representations of the ultimate nature of reality.
Through deity visualization practice we are able to connect with that state and gradually transform ourselves into Buddhas.
While all Buddhas are fundamentally the same and are beyond duality or individualism, they differ in terms of the ways they can benefit us.
These differences are due to their individual aspirations while still on the path. As a Bodhisattva, Tara defied tradition by pledging to obtain omniscience in her female form.
At that time, her aspiration was to achieve enlightenment specifically in order to protect all beings from distress and fear.
Having subsequently attained Buddhahood, Tara is now able to completely fulfill her aspirations. Hence, by supplicating Tara, we can overcome dangers, fears, anxieties and difficult situations.
And through the Tantric practice of visualizing ourselves as Tara, we can cultivate the compassion aspects of our Buddha nature.
Rinpoche, you said that bodhisattvas and bodhisattvis undertake hardships for the sake of others, and also this happens in stages, but I wonder if you could say how to do that if you are a beginning bodhisattva or bodhisattvi and you are suffering yourself?
The Path begins by giving rise to the bodhicitta, the resolve to obtain buddhahood in order to benefit others. In doing so one produces a feeling of great compassion for others, and it this great compassion which is the actual bodhicitta.
So when you've given rise to that great compassion then you have given rise to bodhicitta, you have generated it.
Then you travel through the Path of Accumulation, the Path of Application, the Path of Vision and the Path of Meditation and finally come upon the Path of Perfect Perfection.
On achieving the Paths of Vision and Meditation, from the 1st bodhisattva level up to the tenth, you are what is referred to as a noble being or a realized being, either male or female.
There you are able to perform the benefit of others in a very vast way, tirelessly, and free of difficulty for oneself, effortlessly.
The noble beings on these levels such as Chenrezig and Arya Tara are able to perform the benefit of others by sending out many magical emanation forms.
If we look at Tara she started out as an ordinary girl. She lived in a previous kalpa where she was born as the daughter of a king, so she was the princess in her kingdom.
She meditated upon loving kindness and compassion, developed the bodhicitta and practiced diligently going through inconceivable training.
Finally she developed an inconceivable degree of love and compassion for others which carried her through the different levels of direct realization such that she was able to emanate many magical emanation forms which perform the benefit of others.
She accomplished an incredible feat, and now she works for the benefit of others as a yidam deity.
And she is able to protect one from fear.
There are 8 types of fear that she can protect us from. In a more expanded explanation, there are 16 types of fear she can protect us from.
The description of those is found in her life story.
Alexandra does a dance where she portrays the Noble Tara in the dance.
There is not time to perform the dance that illustrates the whole biography of Tara and the different kinds of fear that she us protects from, but there is time to do a brief portrayal of Tara's activity.