Tara is a Buddha.
Not a creator of the universe, rewarding and punishing, but one of the many beings who have utterly purified their minds and perfectly enhanced their capabilities. Buddhas will help us liberate ourselves, if we invoke them.
Tara is an embodiment of enlightened qualities.
The Buddhas wish to lead us on the path out of suffering. Since we ordinary earth dwellers relate to colour, shape and other sensory input, Buddhas appear in various forms to communicate with us.
Tara symbolises enlightened activity, with one leg outstretched to leap into action; Chenrezig symbolises compassion, with 1000 arms to help us all, Manjushri symbolises wisdom, cutting through delusions with a sword.
Yet Tara is also called the Mother of all Buddhas, for the wisdom realising ultimate reality that she embodies gives birth to full awakening.
Tara is the feminine aspect of the bodhisattva of compassion.
A bodhisattva is someone fired by bodhicitta, the determination to become fully enlightened to most effectively benefit all beings. The most famous bodhisattvas, including Tara, Chenrezig and Manjushri, achieved this aspiration long ago and are now Buddhas.
It is said that a long time ago, after Avalokiteshvara had achieved enlightenment, every day he was able to liberate countless sentient beings from cyclic existence, leading them from happiness to happiness, to liberation and to enlightenment.
After having worked for sentient beings in such a way every day for many eons, he decided to investigate with his omniscient mind and see how many sentient beings were still left behind. From his investigation, he realised that there were still so many sentient beings left. He became discouraged, saying, “I am not benefiting sentient beings. I still cannot benefit all these sentient beings.” He began to cry and tears fell from his holy eyes. The tears fell on the soil and a tear became a lotus. The lotus bloomed and inside the lotus was Tara.
When Tara emerged from the lotus, she said, “I will help you to free all sentient beings.” Tara said, “Just by reciting my name, reciting my mantra and remembering me, you will purify all obscurations, you will be quickly freed from all fears and from the different kinds of suffering and you will quickly find yourself out of cyclic existence.”
Tara said to Avalokiteshvara, “Please don’t worry. I will help you in your quest to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment.” Tara made this promise.
Tara was once an ordinary being.
Far away and long ago lived a princess who had great confidence in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha of the time, and through investigation and practice developed perfectly impartial love and compassion for every living being.
Senior monks came to know that the princess had developed bodhicitta, the fuel to become a Buddha herself. They urged her to dedicate the merits she had created to be reborn as a man.
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” and “female” has no essence but deceives the evil-minded world.”
Then she vowed,
“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 all sentient beings in a woman’s body.”
Shunning the luxuries of palace life, she vowed to liberate millions of beings each day before breakfast, millions more before lunch, and millions more before sleep. She achieved complete enlightenment, and was called Tara, the Liberator.
Tara is what we can become.
Our extremely subtle mind and body have the potential to transform into the fully enlightened body and mind of a Buddha. When we see or visualise Tara and regard her as the beautiful, strong, fearless Buddha that we will become, we are inspired to cultivate our mind to reach that result.
Gratefully acknowledging inspiration and language from “How to free your mind: Tara the Liberator”, by Thubten Chodron. Snow Lion. 2005.
Benefits of seeing the 21 Taras Thangka
Tara protects the welfare of all beings and those who are devoted to her are especially fortunate. Tara reveals herself in different forms and qualities of the enlightened mind, helping us to overcome all fears and difficulties on the way. She does this by having 21 emanations which all have a specific colour and accomplish a specific function- the 21 Taras.
Powers of the 21 Taras
Praises to the Twenty-One Taras
(as painted in gold onto the 21 Taras Thangka)
at the Tara Institute Bookshop and online – “The 21 Taras”, by Andy Weber, another master thangka painter.