Green Tara- the swift liberator – is seated upon a lotus arising from the waters of a lake, just as tara is said to have arisen form the compassionate tears of Avalokiteshvara. Her right hand is in the boom- granting mudra indicating her ability to provide beings with whatever they desire. Her left hand at her heart is in the mudra of bestowing refuge: her thumb and ring finger are pressed together to symbolize the united practice of method and wisdom, and the three remaining fingers are raised to symbolize the three jewels of refuge – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In each hand she holds the steam of a blue utpala flower and the three blossoms of each indicate that Tara, the embodiment of enlightened activity, is the mother of the buddhas of the past. Present and future.
Tara is the principal female manifestation of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. According to her legend, many eons ago as the Princess Jnanachandra (Wisdom Moon) she devoted herself to the teschings fo Buddha Dundubhisvara (drum Sound) and made copious offerings to that Buddha and his entourage. Eventually, as the result of her untiring practice, she generated the pure, altruistic bodshichitta motivation for the first time and thereby became a glorious bodhisattva. At that time sone monks, recognizing her great potential, urged the princess to pray for a transformation that would allow her to complete her spiritual training as a male. But she rejected this advice, saying,
Here there is no man, there is no woman,
No self, no person, and no consciousness.
Labeling “male” or “female” has no essence,
But deceives the evil – minded words.3
Still, knowing how rare advanced female practitioners were, she made the following adamantine vow: “Until samsara is empty, I shall work for the benefit of sentient beings in a woman’s body.”
From that time onwards the princess dedicated herself to winning full and complete enlightenment. By mastering extremely profound states of meditative absorption she developed great skills in liberating others and hence her name was changed to Tara, the Savioress. Form her spiritual master she received the prophecy, “As long as you manifest the unsurpassed enlightenment, you will be known only by the name of Goddess Tara.”
In a part of Gujarat called Bharukaccha there lived an extremely wealthy merchant. Loading his baggage on some thousand camels and five hundred bulls, he set out for the country of maru. On the way, he came to a wilderness where there lived as many as a thousand bandits. The whole place was full of the flesh, bleed and bones of all the merchants who had come before and had been killed. So the merchant was very afraid and, as he had no other protector, prayed to Tara. Thereupon appeared a measureless army of heroes, wielding weapons, who were emanations fo Tara, and drove the bandits a long way away, but without killing any. Thus the bandits were dispersed, while the merchant went on his way and got back to Bharukaccha safely.
Such traditional tales may seem much removed from our modern – day reality but even nowadays there are many people who tell of being rescued by this compassionate goddess. Not long ago, in fact, a vessel full of Asian fisherman was in danger of sinking in a fierce storm. In response to their cries the merciful goddess Kuan Yin – a far eastern deity who combines attributes of Tara with those of local divinities5 – appeared and calmed the waves. This magical apparition was seen by many people and painted version of the incident has become well known in the East.
The assembly of twenty – one Taras is generally visualized surrounding a Green Tara and prayers incorporating homages to these goddesses are commonly recited by Tibetans as a way of invoking their aid. Dromonpa, Atisha’s main disciple in Tibet, had a disciple of his own who was suffering from a very serious disease. With his heightened awareness Dromonpa realized that if this man recited the homages to the twenty – one Taras ten thousand times he could be cured. However the sick man was in no condition to do such a lengthy and demanding practice, so Dromtonpa consulted Atisha to see what could be done. Atisha in turn consulted Tara directly and from her received a five – line prayer incorporating the essence of all twenty – one homages and the mantra of Tara as well:
OM, I prostrate to the Liberator, the Noble Blessed
I prostrate to the glorious Mother who liberates with
Who eliminates all fears with TUTTARE,
Who grants all success with TURE.
To SVAHA and the other syllables we offer greatest