Tara, Ārya Tārā, or White Tara, also known as Jetsun Dölma in Tibetan Buddhism, is an important figure in Buddhism.
She appears as a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and 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. She is known as Tara Bosatsu in Japan, and occasionally as Duōluó Púsà in Chinese Buddhism.
Tārā is a meditation deity worshiped by practitioners of the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities and to understand outer, inner and secret teachings such as karuṇā (compassion), mettā (loving-kindness), and shunyata (emptiness).
Tara may more properly be understood as different aspects of the same quality, as bodhisattvas are often considered metaphors for Buddhist virtues.
There is also recognition in some schools of Buddhism of twenty-one Tārās. A practice text entitled Praises to the Twenty-One Taras is the most important text on Tara in Tibetan Buddhism. Another key text is the Tantra Which is the Source for All the Functions of Tara, Mother of All the Tathagatas.
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. The literal translation would be “Oṃ O Tārā, I pray O Tārā, O Swift One, So Be It!.”
Origin as a Buddhist bodhisattva
Tārā has many stories told which explain her origin as a bodhisattva.
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 infinitely compassionate mental state 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 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 sentient 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 Tārā in many world systems to come.
With this story in mind, it is interesting to juxtapose this with a quotation from the 14th Dalai Lama about Tārā, 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 Tārā. 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 CE India.
Symbols and Associations
Tārā’s name literally means “star” or “planet“, and therefore she is associated with navigation and travel both literally and metaphorically as spiritual crossing to the ‘other side’ of the ocean of existence (enlightenment). Hence she is known literally as “she who saves” in Tibetan.
In the 108 Names of the Holy Tara, Tara is ‘Leader of the caravans ….. who showeth the way to those who have lost it‘ and she is named as Dhruva, the Sanskrit name for the North Star.
According to Miranda Shaw, “Motherhood is central to the conception of Tara“. Her titles include “loving mother“, “supreme mother“, “mother of the world“, “universal mother” and “mother of all Buddhas“.
She is most often shown with the blue lotus or night lotus (utpala), which releases its fragrance with the appearance of the moon and therefore Tārā is also associated with the moon and night.
Tārā is also a forest goddess, particularly in her form as Khadiravani, “dweller in the Khadira forest” and is generally associated with plant life, flowers, acacia trees, and the wind. Because of her association with nature and plants, Tārā is also known as a healing goddess (especially as White Tārā) and as a goddess of nurturing quality and fertility.
Her pure land in Mount Potala is described as “Covered with manifold trees and creepers, resounding with the sound of many birds, And with the murmur of waterfalls, thronged with wild beasts of many kinds; Many species of flowers grow everywhere.”
Her association with the wind element (Vaayu) also means that she is swift in responding to calls for any aid.
Tārā as a saviouress
Tārā also embodies many of the qualities of the feminine principle.
She is known as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion. She is the source, the female aspect of the universe, which gives birth to warmth, compassion, and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence.
She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation, and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children.
- As Green Tārā she offers succor and protection from all the unfortunate circumstances one can encounter within the samsaric world.
- As White Tārā she expresses maternal compassion and offers healing to beings who are hurt or wounded, either mentally or psychically.
- As Red Tārā she teaches discriminating awareness about created phenomena, and how to turn raw desire into compassion and love.
- 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.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.