Most Buddhists know Tara—simultaneously, a friend, savior, caring Bodhisattva and enlightened being. Hindus consider Her one of the Mahavidyas, or Great Wisdom Goddesses—a role she carries on in Buddhism. To advanced practitioners, she is equally the great Wisdom Mother Prajnaparamita. Yet, at the same time, without contradiction, Tara is the intimate and treasured friend.
The Vastness of Tara: Beyond Definition, Friend to Everyone
Do we really comprehend the vastness that is Tara? She is one of the most popular devotional and meditational deities, honored all around the world, practiced by all schools of Vajrayana Buddhism, many Mahayana Buddhists, Hindus, and others. She is so popular, she is called “Mama Tara”—and She never takes Herself seriously. She’s a daily good friend, ready helper, saving hero, precious guide. She always has “time” for everyone—after all, time is relative. She is just as quick to help the prisoner in jail as the faithful practitioner, without discrimination. If Her name is called, She answers.
At the ultimate level, She was the “Non Manifested”, Prajna Paramita in Buddhism, but also the non-manifested Wisdom Mother in Hinduism. At the “intimate” relative level, She can emanate as a shepherd girl, ready to rescue a stranded traveler. Or She can incarnate as a Princess ready to help a nation—two simultaneously, in the case of Her more recent history in Tibet and China.
Yet, Tara goes beyond any constraints of conception, and even imagination: Parajnaparamita, wisdom Dakini Varjayogini, Female Buddha, Consort of great Amoghasiddhi Dhyani Buddha, Hindu great mother, angel to those in distress — all of these and thousands more. There are 21 famous Tara manifestations, one of which is the beloved White Tara. In Vajrayana’s higher tantras she is Chittimani Tara and also, Vajrayogini (Vajra Varahi).
It can be confusing, Her endless labels, but at the same time it defines Her perfectly. She is known by endless names, but consistently as Tara, Arya Tara, and, in Tibetan, Jetsun Drolma. She is simultaneously the spiritual child of Avalokiteshvara, born of tears of compassion, and the Mother of the very same Buddha. Mother and child of the same Enlightened Being. Simply meditating on the vastness of these concepts is, in itself, challenging and rewarding.
Her Practice Is as Simple or Complex as Tara
As with Her vast array of names, appearances and roles, Her practice can be simple or profound. She responds well to just the calling of Her name. Or a simple thought. Her ten-syllable mantra, chanted millions of times each day around the world, is associated with everything from rescues to achieving Enlightenment:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
Simplified Sadhanas for the devout include Green Tara and White Tara practices that can be practiced with or without empowerment. As a practitioner progresses, Tara meditations can become more intense, with Highest Yoga Tantra practices such as Chittamani Tara. Even the famous 21 Taras, can be practiced simply—as a daily verse—or at the ultimate level, with 21 separate sadhanas and mantras (see below). She can be practiced in the form of the great Black Dakini, Throma Nagmo, the wrathful form of Prajnaparamita—a Highest Yoga Practice (mana annut tantra). She can be practiced even without a name, just by simply imagining Her. There is, literally, a Tara, and a Tara practice, for everyone.
For those who take a special interest in Tara, highly realized teachers can initiate practitioners into more advanced meditations.
Tara in Many Forms: Guanyin, Madonna and Others
Many gurus teach that Tara manifests to everyone, not just Buddhists. To Chinese Buddhists She is Guan Yin. Many non-Buddhist spiritual seekers—who have created their own path—have adopted Tara by name. One great Dzogchen Teacher, Chogyal Namnkai Norbu, said in his lecture on the 21 Taras that when he saw a great Madonna statue in Rome he knew it was Tara.
This is typical of the openness of Buddhists and Hindus, who have complete tolerance and acceptance for other traditions. It is also in character with Tara’s all-embracing maternal compassion. The reverse is not always true—it can unintentionally offend someone to state their beloved deity is the same as your deity—but, from a Buddhist point of view, there is generally no spiritual conflict in thinking of Tara as emanations in other traditions.
Tara of All Colours: Wrathful, Peaceful and Everything In-Between
Tara can manifest in myriad—literally endless—forms, suited to the need of the practitioner. Iconographically, She can appear in any color. Famously, She is Green Tara, the savioress—and chief manifestation of Tara. She is equally known as White Tara, the Goddess of Long Life and Healing.
She can be Ugra Tara, the Black Tara who is the secret Mantra emanation—the very source of All, since sound (or frequencies) are often considered the source of manifestation in some Budhdist and Hindu beliefs.
Red Tara enjoys much love for her passionate role as the magnetizing Tara, who attracts and who helps beings with the power of positive attraction. Yellow Tara helps those struggling with poverty, or just to help provide the resources to help other sentient beings. In higher tantric practices Tara can manifest in the body mandala as simultaneous multi-coloured Taras at each of the body’s chakras.
21 Taras: Two Systems, Same Effective Results
The 21 Taras are among the most famous forms of the great Female Buddha. The praises to 21 Taras is still practiced every morning by the devout. Buddhist farmers routinely recite the praises as they work their fields. When in trouble—in need of rescuing, in prison, facing law suit, any distress—practitioners often recite either the main ten-syllable mantra, or the praise to the 21 Taras in Sanskrit, Tibetan or English (see Praise, below).
There are literally thousands of stories of personal rescues from distress—by reliable sources—at the intervention of Tara, often precipitated by the simple calling of Her name, Her mantra or Her 21 Praises.
Confusingly, yet consistently, there are two systems of 21 Taras, known by most as the Atisha system and the more intense Surya Gupta 21 Tara system. Yet, they are all “relative” manifestations or aspects of Tara, regardless. There is no contradiction. The very vastness of Her emanations defines Her.
In the Atisha system, the 21 Taras are visualized as the same Tara, in different colors, with slightly different facial expressions, gestures, attributes and specialities.
In the wondrous Surya Gupta system, the 21 Taras become intense meditational visualizations, with each having different faces, some fierce, some semi fierce, some peaceful, together with a wide array of arms, implements, colors, backdrops, thrones and attributes. Each of the 21 Taras in the Surya Gupta system has its own sadhana—a ritual visualization requiring empowerment—whereas the Atisha system Taras can be visualized anywhere, quickly, and honored with a lovely, but quick verse.
(For more on the 21 Taras, see the praises at the bottom of this feature.)
Tara Does What?
Although all Buddhas and enlightened beings have the same realizations, the first question from people newly introduced to Tara, or any deity, is often “What does She do?”
What does Tara Do? “Does” is a relative term. Relatively, She is wisdom in action. She is compassion in action. Tara is the penultimate combination of both wisdom and compassion. Ultimately, She is Wisdom realizing emptiness. Relatively, She is the ultimate action hero—means and method. Her names include “Swift Heroine,” which describes Her perfectly.
In Tara, Wisdom and Compassion are perfectly combined.
She is swift like the wind. Her green color is representative of the swift, active wind element, fearlessness, and imperturbable wisdom—very much a reflection of Her male consort, Amoghasiddhi. Also, without contradiction, often Tara is seen as the consort of other male Buddhas. She can also be thought of as the female aspect of Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig). She is also seen as their Mother. And, in the case of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig), His spiritual daughter. Consort, mother, daughter, all at once, is a profound and thought-provoking concept. Although this all seems contradictory, that is from a narrow, relative point of view. Ultimately, there is no contradiction. Even, at a relative level, there is no contradiction. (It is important to understand Daughter and Mother do not imply physical family relationships, in the same way that sexual union of two consorts is not physical—it represents the union of Wisdom and Compassion.)
Why is She So Adored
Who doesn’t love a mother? Whether by the name of Mom, Tara, Madonna, or Mother Earth, the mother is a universally approachable concept. Like a mother, Tara doesn’t question Her children. If we need Her help, regardless of our own blemishes, we will get Her help.
Nothing can stand before a mother’s compassion. Literally, mothers have lifted cars off of trapped children. A mother would die for her family. Tara’s love goes even beyond this level. She loves all, with equanimity.
In the famous story of Jigme, an ancient Tibetan tale, She continuously rescues wretched Jigme, time after time—even after he commits crimes and goes to jail. Endlessly, again and again, She comes to his aid. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t learn his lessons. This is motherly love, for all, without discrimination.
Tara rescues all, from the destitute to the Gods. An ancient tale, thousands of years old, tells how Tara, a Hindu goddess, rescues Lord Shiva, the God.
Tara in Hinduism: Second Great Wisdom Goddess in Hinduism
Tara is a great wisdom goddess in Hinduism. Tara Devi (Bengali, Devanagari) predates Shiva, and is one of the oldest known divine beings on record. Her Divine Name in Hinduism, as in Buddhist tradition, means “star.” In Hindu belief, she, like the star, is beautiful, but combustive, at her core the unquenchable hunger of life itself. She is the one who created the Seed from which the Universe took birth as Lord Vishnu.
One of Her earliest legends, is also a “saving” act—familiar to Buddhists around the world. When Lord Shiva saved the world by drinking the poison created by the “churning of the ocean between the Devas and the Asuras” it was Maa Tara who saved Lord Shiva. She suckled Him from Her precious breasts, and neutralized the poisons.
Tara is also seen as a form of Durga or Parvati. As Maa Tara, She is most often seen as blue, with four hands, often standing on Shiva’s body. Like wrathful forms of Tara in Buddhism, She often wears severed human heads as a necklace, and other highly symbolic tantric icons. In Her four hands she carries a sword, severed skull cap, lotus and scissors.
In Hinduism, Her mantra remains the same as in Buddhism:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
In Hindu practice, she has other mantras, including: Om aim hrim strim Tarayai hum phat svaha.
No special initiations or practices are needed to bring Tara into your life. Simply speak Her name. Talk to Her. She’ll listen.
In more dedicated practices, Her devotees would offer Her clean water bowls each morning. Tara doesn’t need our offerings, but our giving brings us merit—beneficial karma. Precious to Her is simple water, or any offering that does not arise from greed, killing, or any negative action. Water is “free”, so that anyone from penniless to prince can make a simple offering and enjoy Her blessings equally.
Harmonically tuning with universal energies of compassion and wisdom, Tara’s mantra is most effective for healing, protection, or just simply building positive karma.
The Tara mantra can be spoken anytime, while walking, driving, or when in need. Or, in more formal practice, while reciting the mantra the practitioner will visualize Her beautiful form, and say Her ten syllable mantra as often as possible:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
This is pronounced Ohm tah-ray tew-tar-ray tew-rey svah ha. In Tibetan mantric recitation, svaha may be pronounced soha.
The next step in visualization of Tara would be formal Vajrayana meditation—which actively uses our minds on a near epic scale, and has been proven to enhance intelligence and concentration. Research has proven the cognitive benefits of Vajrayana visualization. (Please see our feature: Science: Research Proves Vajrayana Meditation Techniques Improve Cognitive Performance.)
To benefit from visualization, while chanting the mantras, build more and more complex visualizations, beginning with Tara’s elegant beauty and important attributes, and progressively increasing the image in detail. The easiest approach is to study an image of Tara, preferably an ironically correct one—since very aspect of the visualization means something.
Your teacher, may give you a proper meditation, but if you have not yet formalized your practice you can think in these terms: Tara is a beautiful young deity, youthful, perhaps sixteen visually—certainly youthful and timeless—of emerald color. Her right hand is in the gesture of supreme generosity, hand open to give blessings, with thumb and index touching and the other three fingers outstretched. The touching fingers represent the union of Wisdom and Compassion. The three remaining fingers represent the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In this hand She lightly holds the stem of an uptala flower, a blue Lotus.
Her left hand is at her heart, in the gesture of bestowing refuge in the three jewels. This mudra (hand gesture) also incorporates the gesture of protection, of fearlessness. This time Her thumb and ring finger are connecting in the Wisdom-Compassion loop. She is saying, “come, I’ll protect you.” In this hand, too, is the stem of an uptala flower. There are three blooms, one open, one half open, one just about to open, representing the Buddhas of the past, present and future.
She is adorned in the most precious ornaments, and seated in an aura of spectacular light. On Her head is a five-sided crown, depicting the five Dhani Buddhas. Above that, are ornaments, rainbow lights, wish-fulfilling gems. And surmounting all, is Her own Guru, Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, glowing red.
Her legs are Her most significant attributes. One is drawn in, showing her mastery and enlightenment. Her other is outstretched, in a gesture that appears to indicate She’s ready to leap up to our aid. She sits on a moon cushion, which arises on top of a Lotus.
In more advanced visualizations, at Her heart is her precious seed syllable, TAM (see below), radiating green light, sending out blessing energy to all beings in the universe.
As you build the visualization, or try to mentally maintain it, it is helpful to chant, recite or even sing the Tara mantra:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
Basic Practice Without Empowerment
Tara can be practiced by anyone, any time. She is all-inclusive. Although empowerments and initiations help advance our progress with Tara, none is required.
A good basic daily practice, if you are not yet being instructed by a qualified teacher, would normally include:
- Taking refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha (Enlightened one), Dharma (Enlightened teachings) and Sangha (the community supporting the Enlightened)
- An offering: water bowls, or just a mentally visualized offering, or more elaborate if preferred (provided physical offerings do not derive from theft, greed, or any negativitiy)
- Four immeasurables: wishes for all beings to be happy, not to suffer and dwell in equanimity
- Seven-limb practice: a seven limb prayer that re-affirms a good practice of praise, offering, declaration of non-virtues, request for Tara to remain as your teacher, request that Tara teach the Dharma, and a dedication of the merit to the cause for enlightenment.
These basic practices, together, take five minutes, to which you might add the above visualization and mantra practices.
Here are some basic words/thoughts that frame the above practice:
Until I reach enlightenment, I take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha. By the merit of practicing generosity and other perfections, may I attain Enlightement in order to benefit all beings.
Mentally visualize seven or eight bowls of water. Or, actually fill up seven or eight bowls of water and offer them mentally. You can supplement the blessing by reciting Tara’s mantra, or, alternately, “Om Ah Hum”. For a more elaborate offering, you could add the meditation in our feature, “Water Bowl Offerings as an Antidote to Attachment”, where the bowls are visualized as the eight traditional sense offerings: water for drinking, water for washing, flowers for the eye senses, incense for the smell sense, butter lamps for illumination, perfume, food for the taste sense, and music for the sound sense. More here>>
May all beings have happiness and its causes,
May they never have suffering or its causes.
May they constantly dwell in joy transcending sorrow;
May they dwell in equal love for both near and far.
To You Venerable Arya Tara, with my body, speech and mind, I respectfully prostrate.
I offer flowers, incense, butter lamps, perfume, food, music and a vast collection of offerings, both actually set out and emanated through wisdom and imagination.
I declare all my non-virtuous acts since beginningless time.
I rejoice in the virtuous merit accumulated by Holy and ordinary beings.
I request You turn the wheel of Dharma.
I beseech You to remain until samsara ends. Please, with your boundless compassion, look upon all beings drowning in the ocean of suffering.
May whatever merit I have accumulated be transformed into the cause for Enlightenment so that I may help all sentient beings.
Around the world, many people begin and end their day with Tara’s twenty-one praises. This practice has been credited with many benefits, including protection from harm, prosperity, and swift progress on the path of enlightenment.
It can be beneficial to chant this in the world’s oldest known language—Sanskrit. The nuances of this practice, the originating sounds, is similar to mantra practice. In Sanskrit:
Om namah spukasam namah Taraye mi Tara
1 Namas Tare Ture vire
kshanair dyuti nibhekshane
trailokya nat ha vaktrabja
2 Namah shata sharac chandra
Tara sahasra nikara
prahasat kira noj jvale
3 Namah kanaka nilabja
pani padma vibhu shite
dana virya tapah shanti
titik sha dhyana gochare
4 Namas tat hagatosh nisha
ashesha paramita prapta
jina putra nishevite
5 Namas Tuttara Hum kara
puritasha dig antare
sapta loka kramakranti
asheshak arshanak shame
6 Namah shakranala Brahma
marud vishvesh varachite
bhuta vetala gand harva
gana yaksha puras krte
7 Namas trad iti phat kara
para yantra pramardani
praty alid ha pada nyase
shik hi jvalakulek shane
8 Namas Ture maha ghore
mara vira vinashani
bhrku ti krta vaktrabja
sarva shatrum nishudani
9 Namas tri ratna mudranka
bhu shitashesha dik chakra
nikara sva Karakule
10 Namah pramudita topa
muku ta kshipta malini
hasat prahasat Tuttare
mara loka vashamkari
11 Namah samanta bhu pala
chalat bhrku ti hum kara
sarvapada vimoch ani
12 Namah shikhanda kandendu
muku tabha ranojjvale
Amitabha jata bhara
bhasvare kirana dhruve
13 Namah kalpanta hutabhug
jvala malan Tara sthite
ripu chakra vinashani
14 Namah kara talaghata
charana hata bhu tale
bhrkuti krta Hum kara
sapta patala bhedini
15 Namah shive shubhe shante
shanta nirvana gochare
svaha pranava samyukte
maha papaka na shani
16 Namah pramudi tabandha
ripu gatra vabhedini
dashakshara pada nyashe
vidya Hum kara dipite
17 Namas Ture pada ghata
Hum karakara bijite
meru mandara kailasa
bhuvana traya chalini
18 Namah sura sarakara
harinika karast hite
Tara dvir ukta Phat kara
ashesha visha nashani
19 Namah sura ganadh yaksha
sura kimnara sevite
abandha mudita bhoga
kali duhs vapna nashani
20 Namah chandrarka sampurna
nayana dyuti bhas vare
hara dvir ukta Tuttare
vishama jvara nashani
21 Namas tri tattva vinyasa
shiva shakti saman vite
graha vetala yakshaugha
nashani pravare Ture
21 Praises to Tara in English
The praises do lose some of the “mystery” and intensity and sheer sound-power in English, but the intention and praise is maintained. Many people chant the praise in English:
1 Homage to you, Tara, the swift heroine,
Whose eyes are like an instant flash of lightning,
Whose water-born face arises from the blooming lotus
Of Avalokiteshvara, protector of the three worlds.
2 Homage to you, Tara, whose face is like
One hundred full autumn moons gathered together,
Blazing with the expanding light
Of a thousand stars assembled.
3 Homage to you, Tara, born from a golden-blue lotus,
Whose hands are beautifully adorned with lotus flowers,
You who are the embodiment of giving, joyous effort, asceticism,
Pacification, patience, concentration, and all objects of practice.
4 Homage to you, Tara, the crown pinnacle of those thus gone,
Whose deeds overcome infinite evils,
Who have attained transcendent perfections without exception,
And upon whom the sons of the Victorious Ones rely.
5 Homage to you, Tara, who with the letters TUTTARA and HUM
Fill the (realms of) desire, direction, and space,
Whose feet trample on the seven worlds,
And who are able to draw all beings to you.
6 Homage to you, Tara, venerated by Indra,
Agni, Brahma, Vayu, and Ishvara,
And praised by the assembly of spirits,
raised corpses, Gandharvas, and all yakshas.
7 Homage to you, Tara, whose TRAT and PHAT
Destroy entirely the magical wheels of others.
With your right leg bent and left outstretched and pressing,
You burn intensely within a whirl of fire.
8 Homage to you, Tara, the great fearful one,
Whose letter TURE destroys the mighty demons completely,
Who with a wrathful expression on your water-born face
Slay all enemies without an exception.
9 Homage to you, Tara, whose fingers adorn your heart
With the gesture of the sublime precious three;
Adorned with a wheel striking all directions without exception
With the totality of your own rays of light.
10 Homage to you, Tara, whose radiant crown ornament,
Joyful and magnificent, extends a garland of light,
And who, by your laughter of TUTTARA,
Conquer the demons and all of the worlds.
11 Homage to you, Tara, who are able to invoke
The entire assembly of local protectors,
Whose wrathful expression fiercely shakes,
Rescuing the impoverished through the letter HUM.
12 Homage to you, Tara, whose crown is adorned
With the crescent moon, wearing ornaments exceedingly bright;
From your hair knot the buddha Amitabha
Radiates eternally with great beams of light.
13 Homage to you, Tara, who dwell within a blazing garland
That resembles the fire at the end of this world age;
Surrounded by joy, you sit with your right leg extended
And left withdrawn, completely destroying all the masses of enemies.
14 Homage to you, Tara, with hand on the ground by your side,
Pressing your heel and stamping your foot on the earth;
With a wrathful glance from your eyes you subdue
All seven levels through the syllable HUM.
15 Homage to you, Tara, O happy, virtuous, and peaceful one,
The very object of practice, passed beyond sorrow.
You are perfectly endowed with SOHA and OM,
Overcoming completely all the great evils.
16 Homage to you, Tara, surrounded by the joyous ones,
You completely subdue the bodies of all enemies;
Your speech is adorned with the ten syllables,
And you rescue all through the knowledge-letter HUM.
17 Homage to you, Tara, stamping your feet and proclaiming TURE.
Your seed-syllable itself in the aspect of HUM
Causes Meru, Mandhara, and the Vindhya mountains
And all the three worlds to tremble and shake.
18 Homage to you, Tara, who hold in your hand
The hare-marked moon like the celestial ocean.
By uttering TARA twice and the letter PHAT
You dispel all poisons without an exception.
19 Homage to you, Tara, upon whom the kings of the assembled gods,
The gods themselves, and all kinnaras rely;
Whose magnificent armor gives joy to all,
You who dispel all disputes and bad dreams.
20 Homage to you, Tara, whose two eyes – the sun and the moon –
Radiate an excellent, illuminating light;
By uttering HARA twice and TUTTARA,
You dispel all violent epidemic disease.
21 Homage to you, Tara, adorned by the three suchnesses,
Perfectly endowed with the power of serenity,
You who destroy the host of evil spirits, raised corpses, and yakshas,
O TURE, most excellent and sublime!