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 Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩), and little-known as Duōluó Púsà (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. 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 metaphors for Buddhist virtues.
The most widely known forms of Tārā are:
Green Tārā, (Syamatara) known as the Buddha of enlightened activity
White Tārā, (Sitatara) also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra
Red Tārā, (Kurukulla) of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things
Black Tārā, associated with power
Yellow Tārā, (Bhrikuti) 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"
There is also recognition in some schools of Buddhism of twenty-one Tārās. A practice text entitled In Praise of the 21 Tārās, is recited during the morning in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
The main Tārā mantra is the same for Buddhists and Hindus alike: oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā. It is pronounced by Tibetans and Buddhists who follow the Tibetan traditions as oṃ tāre tu tāre ture soha.
Today, Green Tara and White Tara are probably the most popular representations of Tara. (Wikipedia)
#8: 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
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
White Tara (Sanskrit: Sitatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-dkar) often referred to as the Mother of all Buddhas and known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra . Her white color signifies purity and she provide a purest and complete form of truth and wisdom.
In iconography, White Tara often has seven eyes – in addition to the usual two, she has a third eye in the centre of her forehead and one on each of her hands and feet. This symbolizes her vigilance and ability to see all the suffering in the world.
White Tara wears silk robes and scarves and her tight fitting garments leave her slender torso and rounded breasts uncovered in the manner of ancient India. Her ornaments are covered in jewels.
White Tara sits with both legs crossed in the diamond lotus position, with the soles of her feet pointed upward. Her posture is one of grace and calm.
Her right hand makes the boon-granting gesture and her left hand is in the protective mudra.
In her left hand, White Tara holds a stem of white lotus flower between her thumb and fourth finger. The flower contains three blooms: the first is in seed and represents the past Buddha Kashyapa; the second is in full bloom and symbolizes the present Buddha Shakyamuni; the third is ready to bloom and signifies the future Buddha Maitreya. These three blooms symbolize that Tara is the essence of the Three Buddhas.
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. For her disciples, White Tara is believed to help them overcome obstacles, espeically those that impediments to the practice of religion.
Green Tara (Sanskrit: Syamatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-ljang) known as the Buddha of enlightened activity and a savior-goddess of compassion. She is the consort of Avalokiteshvara and considered by some to be the original Tara. Like Avalokiteshvara, the Green Tara is believed to be an emanation of the "self-born" Buddha Amitabha, and an image of Amitabha is sometimes depicted in Tara's headdress.
Green Tara is Tara's most dynamic manifestation. The slender, long proportioned body of the goddess is shown dusky olive green in color. In Buddhism, the color green signifies activity and accomplishment. Amoghasiddhi, the Lord of Action, is also associted with the color green.
Green Tara is depicted in a posture with right leg extended, signifying her readiness to jump to the aid of all sentient beings. Her left leg is folded in the contemplative position symbolizing her wisdom.
Green Tara's left hand is in the gesture of granting refuge; her right hand makes the boon-granting gesture. She also holds a stem of closed blue lotuses (utpalas), which symbolize purity and power.
She is adorned with the rich jewels of a bodhisattva.
In Buddhist religious practice, Green Tara's primary role is savioress. She is believed to help her followers overcome dangers, fears and anxieties.
Green Tara/Khadiravani is usually associated with protection from the following eight obscurations:
lions = pride
wild elephants a= delusion/ignorance
forest fires a= hatred and anger
snakes = envy/jealousy
bandits and thieves= wrong views, including fanatical views
bondage = avarice and miserliness
floods = desire and attachment
spirits and demons = deluded doubts
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. 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.
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. A practice text entitled "In Praise of the 21 Taras", is recited during the morning in all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
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 of Tibetan 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."
Whether the Tara figure originated as a Buddhist or Hindu Goddess is unclear and remains a source of dispute among scholars. Mallar Ghosh believes her to have originated as a form of the goddess Durga in the Hindu Puranas. Today, she is worshipped both in Buddhism and in Shaktism as one of the ten Mahavidyas. 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 relgion devoid of goddesses, and in fact deities, altogether.
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
Songtsän Gampo with Princesses Wencheng and Bhrikuti Devi,
this photo tagen at the Kumbum in Gyantse
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
Within Tibetan Buddhism Tara is regarded as a Boddhisattva of compassion and action. She is the female aspect of Avalokitesvara (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 Bhrikuti, who declared: 'Son of your race! As you are striving for the sake of sentient beings in the 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 the 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 Wencheng).
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
The Nepali Princess Bhrikuti Devi, known to Tibetans as Bal-mo-bza' Khri-btsun, Bhelsa Tritsun ('Nepali consort') or, simply, Khri bTsun ("Royal Lady"), is traditionally considered to have been the first wife of the earliest emperor of Tibet, Songtsan Gampo (605? - 650 CE), and an incarnation of Tara. She was also known as "Besa", and was a princess of the Licchavi kingdom of Nepal......
Bhrikuti in Tibet
This is considered to be the oldest copy of the famous traditional history, the dBa' bzhed, states:
"Then during the reign of bTsan po Khri Srong btsan, after his marriage with Khri btsun, the daughter of the king of Nepal, the temple (gtsug lag khang) of Ra sa [Lhasa] Pe har gling was built. Furthermore, the construction of the forty-two temples of the Ru bzhi was requested and the Brag lha [temple] was built. 'Thon mi gSam po ra was sent by royal order [to India] in order to get the Indian doctrine and the model of the alphabet (yi ge'i dpe). . . ."
Wen Cheng's and co-wife Bhrikuti's legacy—Jokhang Temple in Tibet—founded to house statues of the Buddha which each bride brought with her dowry.According to Tibetan traditions, Bhrikuti was a devout Buddhist and brought many sacred images and expert Newari craftsmen with her as part of her dowry. The Red Palace (Mar-po-ri Pho-drang) on Marpo Ri (Red Mountain) in Lhasa, which was later rebuilt into the thirteen storey Potala by the Fifth Dalai Lama, was constructed by Nepali craftsmen according to her wishes. She also had constructed the Tub-wang and other statues in Samye and the famous Nepali artist Thro-wo carved the revered statue of Chenresig, Thungji Chen-po rang-jung nga-ldan. It is also called statue of Mikyo Dorje (Manuvajra) - the Ramoche Jowo or Jowo Chungpa which was housed in the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa. It seems unlikely that the statue there now is the original one brought by the Nepali princes as the temple has been sacked at least two times - first during the Mongol invasions and later it was gutted in the 1960s. It is said that the lower half of the statue was found in a Lhasa rubbish dump and the upper part found in Beijing. They have been since joined together and the statue is surrounded by the Eight Bodhisattvas.
Songtsan Gampo and Bhrikuti built a great temple, the Tsulag Khang (or 'House of Wisdom') to house the images, which is now known as the Jokhang ('House of the Lord') in the heart of Lhasa, and is considered to be the most sacred temple in Tibet. They also built the white palace of dMar-po-ri which shifted the ancient seat of government in the Yarlung Valley to the site of modern Lhasa.
Bhrikuti is usually represented as Green Tara in Tibetan iconography. Songtsän Gampo also married the Chinese Princess Wencheng, who is considered to be another incarnation of Tara (White Tara), in 641 CE, and Bhrikuti and Wencheng are said to have worked together to establish temples and Buddhism in Tibet.
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
Princess Wencheng (Tibetan: Mung-chang Kungco, Chinese: Wencheng Gongzhu) (d. 680), was a niece of the powerful Emperor Taizong of Tang of Tang China, who left China in 640, according to records, arriving the next year in Tibet to marry the thirty-seven year old Songtsan Gampo (605?–650 CE) the thirty-third king of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet, in a marriage of state as part of a peace treaty along with large quantities of gold. She is popularly known in Tibet as Gyasa. The princess was a Buddhist and, along with Songtsan Gampo's Nepalese wife, Bhrikuti Devi, is said to have introduced Buddhism to Tibet.
The Chinese records mention receiving an envoy in 634 from Songtsan Gampo wherein the king requested (Tibetan sources say demanded) to marry a Chinese princess and was refused. In 635/636 the Tibetan king's forces attacked and defeated the 'A zha people (Chinese: Tuyuhun), who lived around Lake Koko Nor in present-day Qinghai, along an important trade route into China. After a campaign against China in 635–6 (OTA l. 607) (during which Chinese won) the Chinese emperor agreed (under threat of force, according to Tibetan histories) to marry a Chinese princess to king Songtsan Gampo as part of the diplomatic settlement. As a marriage of state, the union must be considered a success as peace between China and Tibet prevailed for the remainder of Songtsen Gampo's reign.
The wedding's cultural importance:
Myths about Songtsan Gampo and his Chinese bride Wencheng that appeared around them during the Middle Ages transformed Songtsan Gampo into a cultural hero for Tibetans, based on his marriages. It is widely believed that his state marriages to Nepalese princess Bhrikuti and Chinese princess Wencheng brought Buddhism to Tibet, and further, that their complicated relationship as co-wives led to the construction of the Jokang Temple, whereupon the city of Lhasa. These stories are included in such medieval romances as the Mani-bka'-'bum, and historiographies such as the Rgyal-rabs Gsal-ba'i Me-long.
The Buddhist Goddess Tara, Repousse gilt copper set with turquoise
Nepal, Late 17th-18th century
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
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 aeons she makes offerings to the Buddha of that world system, whose name was Tonyo Drupa. She receives special instruction from him concerning bodhicitta — 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.
With this story in mind, it is interesting to juxtapose this with a quotation from H.H the Dalai Lama about Tara, spoken at a conference on Compassionate Action in Newport Beach, CA in 1989:
There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tara. 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. So she vowed, "I have developed bodhicitta as a woman. For all my lifetimes along the path I vow to be born as a woman, and in my final lifetime when I attain Buddhahood, then, too, I will be a woman."
Tara, 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.