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Who is Tara?

by Leah Leach

INTENTION

My intention is to help make what I have learned in Buddhism approachable to all levels of readers regardless of faith or practice. I also cultivate the intention to share this wisdom with all beings.

WHO IS TARA?

Tara is the female representation of compassion, wisdom, and enlightenment. She is a Buddha in Buddhism and Hinduism. She is not a creator God. She doesn’t manage or control the universe; she doesn’t reward or punish. Depending on the origin story, she was a real person or a mythic figure. Both origin stories are designed to be a learning tool to teach us to be a better person. 

Tara is an example of the best of what we can hope to accomplish. Gal’s Guide would call her a role model or a guide to the galaxy. In her story, we learn that we all have the potential to be wise, to be compassionate, and to be a Buddha (awakened one). Even if you are not a practitioner of the Buddhist or Hindu faith, there is much that Tara can help you with on the path.

TARA AS A MYTHIC FIGURE

A person who is intensely studying the teachings of the Buddha is known as a Bodhisattva. One such student was named Avalokiteshvara (in Tibet, his name is Chenrezig, in China, her name is Kuan Yin). They were working really hard to free all beings from the hell realms. Avalokiteshvara was deeply compassionate and wanted to postpone his own enlightenment until every being was released from suffering. His work in the hell realms finally saw success as he was able to free all beings. Joyous and satisfied, he rested, but when he woke up, the hell realms were full again.

Avalokiteshvara started to cry. He felt it was hopeless and that those ignorant beings would always be stuck in this terrible place. 

From his tears formed a lake. In the lake, there was a lotus. In the lotus was Tara. 

“Do not despair. I will help you to liberate all beings,” said Tara. 

In this story, Tara is the symbol of helping compassion with activity- Avalokiteshvara being compassion and Tara being activity. 

In a further version of the story, I read that the tears of his left side emanated White Tara and the tears from the right eye formed Green Tara. I’ll explain the difference in Taras in another post. 

TARA AS A HISTORICAL FIGURE 

Yeshe Dawa was born a princess. She was drawn to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Those are known as the Three Jewels and represent the Buddha – the awakened state of existence, the Dharma – the teachings, and the Sangha –  the community that practices the Dharma together to become Buddhas.

She wanted to be free of suffering and share that with others. She did care about palace life and the luxuries it provided. She wanted to help people. She made a vow, “to show the way to liberation to millions of being each day before eating breakfast, to millions more before eating lunch, and to even more behind going to sleep at night.” From How to Free Your Mind by Thubten Chodron  

A religious leader laughed at her and told her that she needed to be reborn as a man because only men could reach the state of Buddha.

She did not laugh.

She refused. 

Then she argued about how there is no separation between male enlightenment and female enlightenment and talked about non-duality… big topic, we’ll get there! 

Then she realized, well, if so many Buddhas are being seen as men, it’s about time we have some women as well. 

Yeshe Dawa, now taking the name Ayra Tara (In Tibetan Pagma Drolma), vows to continuously return in a woman’s body. 

She goes into a deep state of meditation and releases millions of beings with the power of her meditation.  

This is why in the Tibetan Buddhism tradition we have 21 Taras.


There is a lot of symbolism in the images of Tara. The idea of these symbols is to remember the teachings and try to generate the same qualities that are in Tara, in ourselves.  

I’ll be going into more detail in further posts and at Tara Circle meet-ups coming to the Gal’s Guide Library. If you have questions email me at leah@galsguide.org


WHAT’S IN A NAME

Yeshe Dawn – Her name means “Moon of Primodorial Awareness”

Ayra Tara – Her name means “Noble Liberator”


TINY BIT OF HOUSEWORK

Buddhism started in India and spread around the world. There are multiple names for some of the same beings, deities, and ideals. Some of the main ones are Tibetan, Chinese, and Sanskrit. Sometimes I’ll share the other translations, but please feel free to Google to see a translation that you might recognize. 

There are also 3 Schools of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Maybe one day I’ll go into the differences, but for now, know that I am a follower of all three with a lineage that goes through Tibetan Buddhism. 

I am a student of the Magyu Lineage (Mother Lineage) under the leadership of Lama Tsultrim Allione of the Tara Mandala Center.


REFERENCES

  1. How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator by Thubten Chodron (Available at Gal’s Guide Library)
  2. https://buddhism.redzambala.com/buddhism/buddha-aspects/tara-mother-of-tibetan-buddhism.html

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