Introduction To Tara:
Tara liberates us from the ocean of samsara. She is a female tutelary deity with various forms, who is regarded as the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. It is said that when Avalokiteshvara plunged into profound grief to see that countless beings were still pouring into hell in spite of his intense effort to liberate them from there, two tears fell from his eyes, and with the blessings of Buddhas, they were transformed into two Taras.
One is Tara in her green form, who is the active force of compassion and the other is Tara in her white form, who is compassion's motherly form.
Tara holds an Utpala flower in her left hand. Tara normally belongs to the deity of action tantra (Kriya Yoga) and especially worshipped in Buddhism as the bestower of life and protector, for those who are frightened with the eight elements of fear.
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Tara Saving Us From Eight Fears
Tara works in eight emanations as protectress and savior. These eight Taras, who call upon them the perils of samsära are symbolized by wild animals, robbers, water, fire, etc. The eight vices that caused men's karma to be reborn in suffering are pride, ignorance, hatred, envy, jealousy, avarice, desire, and doubt. These symbolize water and fire for desire and hatred, lion for pride, snake for envy, elephant for ignorance, etc.
The depiction of eight terrors and protecting from them showing eight Taras has been popular among ancient Indian artists and later amongst Tibetans. A canvas filled with drawings of elephants, lions, and threatened caravans. In one of the paintings from Ratnagiri, Orissa, a miniature scene of the eight great terrors is shown, in which the person in danger prays to a miniature replica of the Tara.
Mostly inside the eight Tara paintings is shown terror of drowning, of thieves, of lions, of snakes, of fire, of spirits, of captivity, and of elephants.
Tara Mantra Recitation:
Mantra is a profound way to exercise Mother Tara. We can not put a picture or statue of Mother Tara inside us, but we can induce the sacred sound energy of Tara inside us. Sound plays a powerful role, it's a gateway between the world of form and the formless. Mantra is a sacred sound. It did not begin with some ordinary person or thing, but it's the voice or original sound of the natural state.
Mantra isn't just random things we're putting out, it’s something that we're taking in to discover ourselves. When we first begin to say the mantra, we should simply try to be apprehensive that the mantra is much more than just our own voice making a series of noises. Realize that mantra is alive, an incarnation of our inner vajra nature.
Meaning of Tara Mantra:
Tara's mantra of ten syllables is: OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA
We use this mantra to practice all forms of Tara.
"The first syllable OM means auspiciousness, peace, and balance. It is also connected to the body of the buddhas which grounds us in the practice.
TARE, is the Tibetan name Drolma which means she is a swift and heroic liberator. Who liberates us from fears and troubles, most importantly from samsara.
TUTTARE reflects her compassionate activity of fulfilling all wishes, bringing beings to Nirvana.
With TURE, we go to the ultimate nondual state of the Dharmakaya, beyond samsara and nirvana.
Finally, SOHA brings us to a state of complete enlightenment.
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How to Recite Tara Mantra?
There are many ways and styles how to say mantras. If we see many great masters chant and each of them has a slightly different style. However commonly recommended to chant is “like the sound of bees nesting,” slightly loud enough to hear yourself that you are pronouncing clearly each syllable. It should be chanted without a definite beginning and end to each repetition.
Chanting Mantra with a speed that is as quick as possible but allows you to keep each syllable clearly in mind. Make sure you pronounce each syllable clearly and precisely, it is important in mantra chant. Try to be aware of the inner sound of the mantra chant.
Mantra recitation is mostly done with a visualization of mantra circling in the deity’s heart center and experiencing the sound as self-reciting.
Effectiveness of Tara Mantra Recitation
In these stories we find by simply calling Tara's name she comes to help beings. In the following stories, we will find the more they recite her mantra the more effective it becomes.
Once there were five thousand men who went together in a great ship to gather treasure, they arrived at the place where it had much sandalwood. In that place, there was a serpent king who was displeased with them. While the men were returning back to their ship the serpent king cast a great wind and seized the boat and blew it. The men were all terrified, they were calling out to gods of the sun and moon for help. But it was of no use. Finally, in the desperate situation, they started to recite Tara's mantra. All of a sudden the wind blew them to the opposite direction and in one evening they were back to their home with the treasure.
There was once a novice monk in India. He was traveling on the road. He saw offerings to a heavenly spirit on the side of the road. But mistakenly he kicked them aside, which made the heavenly spirit angry and attacked the monk to kill him. The monk hurriedly started to recite Tara's mantra, which helped him to escape unscathed. He even asked his five hundred men to recite Tara's mantra to protect them from the heavenly spirit.
These stories convey how the mere mention of Tara's name or the recitation of her mantra is enough to protect us from all terrors.
How to Setup a Tara Shrine?
As a practitioner, you set up a shrine, which is a constant reminder of our practice, meditation, and veneration. We do prostrations before we sit. Why do we prostrate? It is showing big respect and admiration for the teachings. What are we trying to practice? We are practicing to lower our ego-clinging or control. We are not trying to achieve something for personal gain. It is of no use! We’re trying to develop Tara’s compassion, love, wisdom, and non-violence. Her love and compassion are equal for all of us. Therefore we do prostrations to her shrine to nurture our own practice, with profound reverence deep down in our hearts.
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Not necessarily we should have shrines or shrine objects, these are symbols, having it doesn’t mean our practice will be good. Our dedication, Bodhichitta, meditation, and commitment are the true practice or true shrines. Those, which we develop or nourish in our hearts. They are the objects of veneration.
We could develop our practice from a basic level to a very elaborate one. Depending upon our levels we can have different types of shrines. At a basic level, we can have a small shrine with a picture or statue of Tara. Green Tara would be best since she is the source of all the Taras. Offer incense, flower, lamp, or candle in front of her image. For a long time, we have had a tradition of offering flowers, it is best if we could offer flowers to Tara's image, it is showing honor and respect both to her and your own practice.
For a more elaborate practice, we can arrange our shrine in two or three levels. Starting with square and roughly the height of an arrow, covered with a red cloth. On top of it a few inches high with the area smaller than the lower one. Cover it with a red cloth.
Now on a topmost level which stands on a smaller area than the previous level. Put a statue or image of Buddha Shakyamuni in the center, the image of Guru Padmasambhava on his right, and Tara on his left.
On the first level surface, you can arrange on a plate five small heaps of rice in the four directions and center or simply place a drawing of Tara Mandala. Also at the center of the first level, we should put together Bumpa or ritual vase, with a sprinkler of peacock feathers attached to it a picture of Tara. All the objects arranged on the shrine should face us as we sit in front of the shrine. Put saffron water with other blessings substances inside the vase.
For more offerings place tormas, small metal skull cups filled with blessings substances.
When it comes to inner tantra practice we construct a more elaborate shrine. Add a tripod in the center of the shrine on which we place the skull cup with its narrower end facing forward. Then melted butter on the skull cup, if possible also add blessing substances on it. Once the butter is solid, write a BAM letter on it. Place triangular shape wooden pieces on top of the tripod with one point facing front, cover it with a red cloth fold into four layers. On top of it put together a mirror coated with red dust on which syllable TAM is written. On top of all these, we will add quartz crystal.
Not necessarily we need to have all the above objects, if not also it is perfectly fine. Tibetans have always been generous and open-minded in practicing Tara. They have been freely, easily reciting her mantra whenever, wherever they are on their daily course of life. Tara is a protector mother she is always there, in fact within us in our true nature.
Special Times and Places To Do Tara Practice:
There are many secret holy places in the world such as the Earth's twenty-four power spots or acupuncture spots, thirty-two holy places, and eight great cemeteries. Guru Padmasambhava has mentioned dakas and dakinis gather to perform ceremonies at those places at specific times such as the tenth and twenty-fifth days of the lunar month.
According to the Tibetan calendar, the twenty-fifth day is when practices of the female deities, such as Tara, and the Dakini practices are most effective. It will help to release the knots of our channels and bring a clear understanding, and realization. With the right motivation, the realizations will emanate and radiate.
Stories of Tara Helping Ordinary People
The love and graciousness of Tara protect all of us from physical dangers to life-fire and water, wild beasts, and the malignancy of man. She is guarding us against the right and the sixteen great terrors adding doubt, lust, avarice, envy, false views, hatred, delusion, and pride. In fact, just calling her name is sufficient to gain her protection. However, in Tibet reciting her mantra is a must-to-do thing in gaining safety from the snares of life. As Gedundrub says if you know enough to recite Tara Mantra even one’s head is cut off you will still live. Though one’s flesh be hacked to pieces one will live.
Dorje Chopa once said among his Chinese disciples, you can be a householder or monk/nun it doesn’t matter, everyone should practice Tara. Recitation of Green Tara Mantra is effective in order to remove all inner and outer hindrances thus making oneself ready for higher practice.
Under the cover of night a man set a fire to burn his enemy’s house. However inside the house, there was only one girl, as the fire started to catch high she cried loudly for Tara to help her. Suddenly Tara appeared in front of her in a green-colored lady standing above the fire. She helped extinguish fire-making rain fell down like a flood. Again, There was a girl who had a five hundred necklace of real pearls. She ran away taking it in the night and sat beneath a tree. Up in the tree leaves, there was a snake, who came down and wrapped around the girl’s body. The girl cried out to Tara, and all of the sudden the snake was transformed into a jeweled necklace. The girl became pregnant after sitting there for seven days and gave birth to a son.
Once a great merchant who was passing through the wilderness along with five hundred horses and a thousand camels loaded with treasure. At the same time, a robber with a band of thousand men was planning to kill him and take away his treasure. They were ruthless killing anybody on their way. They had killed many merchants and their body was thrown on the streets and even some of the corpses were nailed to the trees. The scared merchant called on Tara. Suddenly he saw a host of soldiers, holding a sword and stick coming out of the sky. The thieves were punished.
One time, there was a robber chief who entered the king’s storehouse but instead of robbing he started to drink stored wines and became drunk. He was caught by the king’s guard and imprisoned. He called out to Tara and suddenly in the sky a five-colored bird appeared and released him from the prison and was taken away. On the same night a beautiful girl came into his dream said to repent his past sins, thus all his robber band of five hundred thieves gave up the wrong path and turned it into a virtuous path.
One time there was a poor farmer who had gone through big hardships. He prayed to Tara to help him. Upon hearing his prayer Tara disguised herself in a form of a girl wearing a cloth of leaves. She instructed him to go east and lie down on the rock. The farmer did what she told him and while laying down he heard the sound of small horse bells and saw a green color horse digging in the ground. Then he went there and checked the ground, found a silver door set with seven precious stones. He went inside and discovered that it was the palace of the serpent kings and demons. He stayed there for a long time and already the king of the previous country has changed three times during his stay. When he came out all his family members were dead a long time back. He thus decided to become a monk. Later, when the king of the country heard his stories, he married the farmer to his daughter. And once the king was dead he was appointed the new king of the country. Under his rule, he repaired 108 buildings of the Tara temple.
At the time of Great King Asoka, He hated a very rich elder whom he wanted to put in prison and punish. Upon knowing this, the elder called out for Tara's help. Once the king’s guard put their feet into his home the front door turned into gold which the elder presented to the king. When he was in jail, again miracle happened. The jewels fell from the sky fell like rain, even this was presented to the king to make him happy. However he was still not released from prison but once withered trees started to bear fruits and flowers, the king was surprised and accept him to release from prison and even appoint him his new great minister.
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THE MIRACULOUS ACTIVITY OF TARA IMAGE
We often hear the miraculous stories of Tara from the images of Tara carved into the rock.
There was once a head monk who had disease of falling brows. The disease has already spread to the other five monks, in which the flesh and brows fall off. There was no cure for it. People were scared to approach them due to fear of getting caught the disease. While the head monk went for begging alms he saw that on a great rock had been carved Tara’s mantra and an image of Tara. He went near to the image, wept, and prayed to rescue him from the terrible infection. Suddenly a liquid-like medicine flowed from the hand of Tara's image. He immediately took it and wash with it, all his disease was instantly cured; he was even adorned will all the signs of a god.
Stories of Tara from ancient India:
There was once a very poor man in India who was tired of his poverty. Upon seeing an image of Tara in rock, he knelt down and prayed to her to help him come out of his dire situation. Suddenly Tara from the image pointed to a shrine. He went there and found a jar filled with jewels, he became very rich. Since he had taken seven generations of poor now his poverty disappeared for the next seven generations.
The story is from northeast of India from the place where the image of Tara was carved on rock Monks would draw water. But the monks were practicing smaller vehicles so whenever they see an image of scripture from the great vehicle they would burn it. Upon hearing this king was angry and wanted to punish all the monks who treated greater vehicle like enemies. Once monks heard the news that king is angry and wanted to punish them they were scared and quickly knelt before the image of Tara and prayed to her to help them. Suddenly they heard Tara saying, “kneel down in the water ditch and hide there.” The king's guard came looking for monks but could not find them, and they were saved.
There was a miraculous stone image of Tara in the temple of Vajrasana. Originally Tara was positioned facing outside but the caretaker had a thought that since all the offerings are made inside, it is not right that we positioned Tara facing outside. Since it was not an ordinary Tara image, she quickly said “All right” and turned inside. Luckily even today it is turned inside. It is said when Atisha came to the temple, Tara said to him: “if you want to pass from ordinary level to the level of Buddhahood, then you must purify your thought of enlightenment.
Story of Tara from Eastern Tibet
Same way in Tibet they have such an image of Tara named the Lady of the Goring Yak. It was found within the ground and was about three inches high, silky sheen with a smooth surface. The present owner Choje Jasto VIII told it was found buried under the earth in Kham about a century ago. It was purchased by his sixth incarnation. Since the lama was Yogi, he lived in a small cave of Drugugon monastery with almost no belongings. He handed out the image to other yogis from the hermitage as it was difficult for him to take care of as he had no proper shrine. Since they were yogis they don’t have much in possession. Every year they would go out begging twice for their supplies. One could not travel alone in Kham for fear of wolves and bears, and Yogis from Drugugon monastery were not allowed to ride on a horse. So while going out begging, yogis had given Tara image to his lay servant for his protection.
In Kham, there are wild yaks who are called eagles. It is five ft high and has its horns pointed forward. It can occasionally attack travelers. One of the servants was gored by the wild yak but fortunately, yak’s horn bent themselves upon the servant’s body. Everybody was surprised to see no single physical harm on the servant's body. They attributed this miracle to the image he was carrying at the time of the attack. This image became known as the Lady of the Goring Yak.
Meanwhile, the original owner of the image died and was reincarnated as the VII ChojeJasto, however, there were many religious politics going on at that time. It was handed to KajegonNyingma monastery near to Gelug sect from the capital of Dragyab. The image was shared among two monasteries with the same facilities and officers. The only difference was the ritual performed by each temple was different.
When the head of Dragyab died, his monastery was taken over by a regent named Zangmartoden. He was a different type of man than his previous abbot. He moved to Chamdo, changed his Nyingma sect, and became a disciple of Gelug lama Pawang Kawa.
Pawang Kawa is a controversial figure in Tibetan history. Some regard him as a great lamas of the early twentieth century and for some different person. He was appointed by the central government in Chamdo to administer Gelug monasteries. Though he was sympathetic, and granted jurisdiction to the people of Kham. Many Kham people remember him as a persecutor of the Nyingma sect, destructing images of Guru, books, and paintings of an ancient tradition.
Pawangkawa appointed Zangmar his new in charge of the Gelug Monastery in Dragyab. He carried his master path becoming sectarian and destroying old traditions. He forced kajegon monks to perform Gelug rituals, upon their objection he used government police to charge treason on them. Police broke into the Kajegon monastery and burn books and paintings. They beat the monks with sticks. At that time the head monk who was carrying the image of tara was beaten by stick and shot back of his shoulder, but miraculously the bullet simply flattened itself upon the head monk’s body. Everyone was surprised to see what just happened in front of their eyes. The head monk remained unhurt and everyone once again was further convinced with the power of Image.
Once everything was over all the belongings were sold to Drugugon. The image was back to its original owner. After 2/3 years of the death of the seventh, it was kept under the guardianship of Dawadragpa who was the treasurer of the monastery.
Dawa Dragpa was fond of great white big horned yaks. He was attacked by both fighting yaks when he tried to separate them. It was a rare sight to see unscratched. Once again the image protected. There was no single big bruise, the horns did not pierce through his skin.
Miracle of Tara Happened in Nepal Airport
Similarly once Tibetan news magazine Sheja reported the following story:
Actual Occurrence of a Miracle | Unable to carry a hand bag
An English national was carrying an image of holy Tara size about a foot, he had paid $4000 for the statue. He was trying to take illegally out of the country. So he had skipped the regular inspection and was able to proceed airfield. But as he move forward towards the airplane his bag with Tara's image became heavier and heavier, eventually unable to carry any further. This alerted the Nepalese customs officials, who later inspected and caught the person for illegal possession and smuggling of the Tara images.