“Tara is without doubt the most beloved female deity in Tibetan Buddhism, revered for her swiftness in helping those who rely on her. She has been described as a Buddha for our modern age, a sublime personification of compassion and wisdom in female form at a time when sorrow and suffering seem to be increasing everywhere. Of all the Buddhas, Tara is the most accessible.” — From the book Tara in the palm of your hand, by Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche 
Tara is the Buddha of Enlightened Activity. Tara (Drolma in Tibetan) is often just called the “saviouress”, not just in the sense of spiritual salvation, but also as a rescuer of beings suffering in samsara here and now. Just as a child might call out for her mother if she is in danger, devout Tibetan Buddhists tend to call out for Tara in times of need. [For an in-depth story on Tara, see this Buddha Weekly feature>>] But just how does that work? Does a goddess sweep down and rescue us? And why is she called the “Mother of all Buddhas?” These are the questions we try to answer, together with some practice suggestions.
All Your Problems Solved?
In Tibet, despite enormous respect and sacred devotion for Tara, She is often just known as “Mummy Tara”. Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron (see video below) wrote
“If you put your full trust in Tara, you will receive the guidance you need and all your problems will be solved…”
There are literally thousands of stories of ordinary Tibetans, fearing for their lives, abused, in pain, in prison, fleeing persecution—who simply turned to Tara in these times of desperation, and were rescued.
Thubten Chodron explains: “When we say, ‘Please protect us from this danger!’ we do not expect a green goddess to swoop down from the sky and rescue us… Rather, we are calling out to our own wisdom, invoking our own understanding of the path so that it can protect us from the dangers…”
Bokar Rinpoche, in Tara the Feminine Divine, explains, “In truth if we realize the true nature of our minds, the deities reveal themselves as being not different from our own minds.”
The Green Goddess Swoops Down?
Zasep Rinoche, in his book Tara in the palm of your hand, describes several stories of Tara’s saving intervention with his students and himself. Bokar Rinoche also tells many stories of Tara rescues.
This isn’t a “green goddess sweeping down” but often takes the form of listening to our own intuitive mind (wisdom). There’s also an element of Karma in these stories. By relying on Tara, this itself is meritorious karma, making our outcomes in life more positive.
On the other hand, devotion and faith are important. Bokar Rinpoche explains: “Tara has the power to help us. However, this power is effective only if we trust it. For Tara to help, we must pray to her and call upon her from the bottom of our hearts without reserve or doubting her interventions.” 
Bokar Rinpoche tells the story of Tara protecting a caravan of valuable sugar from bandits (being taken as an offering to the Karmapa) when he was twenty:
“In 1958, the road to Lhasa was extremely dangerous… Who could protect us better than Tara?… It was impossible for us to evade them. We went off the path to set up our encampment but it was not sufficiently hidden to avoid being seen. From where we were, we could see the Champs coming, menacing and demanding ransom from the nomads who had given us the warning. It should have been inevitable for them to see us… However, they did not sees! Certainly we were scared, but we never ceased to pray to Tara and recite her praise… I am convinced that our safe journey was due to Tara’s blessing and kind protection.”
Zasep Rinpoche, in his book Tara in the palm of your hand, gives several examples of Tara rescues, including two of his own, where he describes a harrowing escape:
“I had parked my car, which had a picture of Tara in it, next to an apartment building. While I was away doing an errand, a concrete balcony on the building collapsed, crushing the two cars next to mine, but leaving mine intact, albeit dusty.”
Tara’s Snow — a Blizzard Saves the Refugees
Bokar Rinpoche gave another gripping story of Tara rescue. At the time, he was with a group that went to Nepal to escape. With sixty people, monks and laypeople, they set off through the mountains. They were pursued by Chinese troops and discovered there were more in front of them from passing nomads. They performed Tara rituals and divination. The result had them set off on the most dangerous path, not the easy one. If the snows came, they might be trapped and lost. They followed Tara’s divination, took the dangerous path, a race against an approaching snow storm and the Chinese troops:
“When we reached the pass, the snow began to fall, causing us many difficulties. We had trouble moving forward and many animals died. We lost several bags. Despite this, we were able to get over the pass and finally arrived at Mustang, a small kingdom of Tibetan culture within Nepal… Later I learned that the Chinese troops were really pursuing us and we were close to being caught. Only the snowstorm hindered them from overtaking us. For us, the storm made everything difficult. Just after we passed, the route was impassable. If the snow had not fallen, or had fallen slightly earlier, or slightly later, we might have been caught… I could not help thinking that this timely snow storm could only be Tara’s blessing; Tara, whose help we did not cease to invoke.”
Ani Choying Dolma’s beautiful singing of Green Tara’s mantra Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha. This version is 2 hours of straight through chanting — good for singing along!
Bhikshuni Chodron tells many personal stories of physical rescue in her book How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator. In the preface to her book, Lama Zopa Rinpoche also told the story of a student who had terminal cancer, who received the practice of Twenty-one Taras (the praise)—and fully recovered. Simply chanting her Mantra, when in need or danger, can bring rescue you from danger:
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
Tara’s mantra “throat chanting” from Lama Tashi:
Tara’s numerous anecdotal stories of rescues, some very dramatic and very recent, are compelling, and one of the reasons she is loved and praised by millions each day.
Zasep Rinpoche tells another more recent story during one of his many teaching tours to Mongolia. He was guiding students on a 108-spring Chod retreat. They were staying in yurts (tents):
“One afternoon, just after we had set up, a fierce hailstorm arose; though it lasted on ten minutes, it was so powerful and destructive it destroyed 15 yurts in the valley. I was alone inside a yurt we were using for meditation. The yurt was very small, maybe ten feet in diameter, and the storm almost blew it away. I held on to the door frame, hoping the yurt would not collapse. My intuition told me to say Tara’s mantra… thanks to Tara the yurt remained standing.”
Why is Tara so Popular?
Bhikshuni Chodron explains why Tara is so popular:
We can relax in her presence and look at ourselves honestly, knowing that Tara will not judge, reject or abandon us due to our shortcomings. Like a mother, she sees her child’s potential — in this case our spiritual potential or Buddha-nature — and wants to nurture it.
She is also popular because she is all about speed — a bid deal to modern people. Thubten Chodron writes, “Aspirations made in the presences of Green Tara may easily grow into results, and requests made to her may be quickly actualized. One reason for this is that by visualizing and praying to Tara, we are energized to create causes for happiness and to eliminate interferences in our Dharma practice.”
Tara’s Omniscient Mind
Like all Buddha’s, She is a fully enlightened being with an omniscient mind. All Buddhas have the same qualities. Buddhas have no defilements. Tara has no defilements. She has no afflictive obscurations, the ones that keep us in samsara: ignorance, anger, and all other karmic afflictions that keep us in cyclic existence. Tara is no different from other enlightened beings, such as Amitabha (Amita), Avaolokitesvara (Chenrezig or Guanine), Vajrapani or Manjushri.
21 Praises to Tara from Her Eminence Jamyang Dagmola Sakya (accompanied by Nyima Gejie):
Tara, the Activity of Compassion
Although the attainments and qualities of equanimity, love, compassion, joy and the six far-reaching attitudes are the same, Tara is considered to be the “activity of compassion”. All Enlightened Buddhas have the same essence. Yet we associate Green Tara with motherly protective activity of compassion. To take other examples, Avalokitesvara is associated with “compassion”, Manjusri with “wisdom” and Vajrapani with “power” — yet all are equally fully Enlightened Beings with the same realizations. All the Buddhas contain these qualities, but Tara attracts those who benefit most from compassionate action.
“Tara is not a concrete, self-existent person with a personality, and for this reason, we train our minds to see her as an emanation of the good qualities that we want to cultivate,” explains Bikshuni Thubten Chodron in her popular book How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator.
She goes on to explain, “A Buddha has two main bodies: a dharmakaya or truth body, and a rupakaya or form body.” The omniscient mind that has eliminated defilements is the dharmakaya, she explains. The rupakaya, are various forms assumed by enlightened beings to communicate more effectively with us.
Who Can Call on Tara for Help?
Anyone. Period. Venerable Zasep Rinpoche explains:
“Anyone can pray to Tara, even people who are not Buddhists. However, if you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, take Tara initiation, and regularly practice a Tara Sadhana, your prayers will be more beneficial.”
Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara at the Maui Bliss Fest 2012:
Why would Tara help a non Buddhist? Putting aside the obvious answer — compassion and love — She is part of all of us. In Buddhist philosophy, all people, all sentient beings — even insects — have “Buddha Nature”, or the potential to become Enlightened. We call on our own inherent Buddha Nature, when we outwardly call on any Buddha or Enlightened Being.
Even someone who has not take Refuge has Buddha Nature. Simply recognizing that nature — which naturally happens if you call out Tara’s name in times of trouble — can be enough to activate that nature. Whether that rescue becomes a subconscious one, where our own mind triggers instinct and motherly intuition that “saves us” from trouble, or an overt one, such as Zasep Rinpoche’s story of the balcony falling on the cars.
“Tara is the mother of all the Buddhas. When you practice Tara you come closer to her, and can feel her motherly love; you feel you are well-loved and nurtured by the most beautiful mother of all Buddhas.” — Tara in the palm of your hand, Venerable Zasep Rinpoche.
Why is Tara often called Mummy Tara? This is not just an endearment, to millions of followers who find refuge in Her active mothering aspects.
She is often called the “Mother of all Buddhas”. This is not in the maternal, physical sense, of course. Just as Bodhisattvas are called the “Sons of Buddhas” — the spiritual children of the Buddhas—Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings who followed a guru Buddha. In a similar way, Tara is considered the “Mother of all Buddhas.”
“Her female form represents wisdom, the essential element needed to remove the ignorance that misconstrues reality and is the root of our suffering.” — Bhikshuni Chodron 
Thubten Chodron continues: “Thus she is called “the mother of all the Buddhas,” for the wisdom realizing reality that she embodies give birth to full enlightenment, the state of freedom from self-grasping ignorance and its attendant self-centredness.”
Tara embodies the feminine principle, which generally symbolizes wisdom. Since wisdom is the mother of Enlightenment, She is called the Mother of the Buddhas (who became enlightened because of Wisdom.) But, in Green Tara’s particular case, she represents the “activity” of wisdom and compassion. Green indicates “wind” and activity in Tibetan symbolism and is the colour of the Buddha family of Amoghisiddi. Wind also refers to inner wind, as in Windhorse (similar to Chi or Prana). It is said that our minds are carried on wind horse, the vital energy of life. Tara is of the “wind” family.
Tara: A Special Combination of Wisdom and Active Compassion
This makes Green Tara very special. Not only is she wisdom (embodied in her female form), she is active compassion (green) and the Mother of the Buddhas. Mama Tara is a “doer” not a talker. Like a mother, She is protective, and as the embodiment of “active compassion” She is also a hero who will rescue those in trouble.
Mother of All Buddhas
Mother of all Buddhas refers to enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas, as in her aspect as Prajnaparamita. In sutra, she is mentioned in the Mahavairocana Sutra, Manjusri-mula-kalpa and others. In Tantric texts, Shakyamuni Buddha called her the Mother of Buddhas when he delivered Her Dharani.
In “Sarva-tathagata-matr-tara-visvakarma-bhava-tantra-nama”, Buddha teaches Manjusri and countless deities in Tushita realm (quoted from Martin Willson’s In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress.)
Manjusri asked the Lord: “Lord, all the Buddhas of the three times are deep. How therefore did She produce them? How is She their Mother?”
And the Lord said, “That is true, Manjusri, but all the Buddhas of the three times are also unproduced and unceasing, not defiled and not immaculate, with decrease or increase, and by nature in Nirvana; for this reason: that is the nature of all dharmas.”
When Manjusri asked Shakyamuni to clarify, the Lord said, “Manjusri, the Ultimate is called Nirvana, the Universal Law (dharmadhatu) is called Nirvana; it is a synonym with the True Goal. It is Great Compassion. Conventional nature is a synonym of samsara. The Mother who produces the buddhas of the three times is beyond this; therefore She is beyond samsara and affliction.
Thus, Manjusri, She is to be regarded as Mother.
And the Lord said: “Therefore, Manjusri, with understanding of the Suchness of dharmas should one meditate on Her; one should recite this dharani, practice earnestly, understand Her qualities and make offerings to Her. One should receive instructions and have no doubts. One should act earnestly in the deeds, remember Her praises, and practice the rites severally.” In these words He taught to the Bodhisattva Manusri the Youthful.
“From My Heart I Bow to Divine Mother Tara”
May Tara devotes chant the “Song of Tara” — almost a complete daily practice — from an 18th century prayer by a noted monk:
From my heart I bow to Divine Mother Tara, essence of love and compassion, the most precious objects of refuge gathered into one. From now until I reach enlightenment, hook me with your great love and kindness to liberate me.
By the witness of the Three Jewels, not just from my mouth but from the depths of my innermost heart and bones, I pray to you morning and evening. Show your blissful face to me, Loving One. Grant me the nectar of your speech.
Great gurus and small gurus cheat us with their made-up teachings, selling Dharma, teaching without comprehension, not observing who is qualified and who is not, being concerned about their own happiness and the eight worldly concerns. Since I can no longer trust friends of this degenerate age, you are my principal guru. Inspire me, Divine Mother, essence of love. Arouse the great power of your compassion and think of me.
I take refuge in you Tara; like you, no Buddha could ever deceive me. But understanding the odd character of these times, most Buddhas have gone into the bliss of nirvana. Even though they have great compassion, we have no connection. Since for me there are no other deities, you are my principal deity. Bestow realizations upon me, Divine Mother, essence of love. Arouse the great power of your compassion and think of me.
Most Dharma protectors do not show their powers. Tired of those who invoke them, they do not act. Other protectors, lacking insight but proud of their power, may be friendly for a while but will later do me harm. Since I cannot rely on other protectors, you are my principal protector. With divine action, Wisdom Mother, essence of love, arouse the great power of your compassion and think of me.
To ordinary view the names of objects are the same as their meaning. Like this, they produce afflictions and bind us to samsara. When it is time to die, unless I understand the true nature, could a wish-fulfilling gem enable me to carry even a sesame seed with me? Since I do not trust in illusions, you are my real richness. Please grant my desires, Divine Mother, essence of love. Arouse the great power of your compassion and think of me.
I cannot rely on the non-virtuous friends for even a day. They pretend to be close to me and all the while have in mind the opposite. They are friends when they wish it and enemies when they don’t. Since I cannot trust in this kind of friend, you are my best friend. Be close to me, Divine Mother, essence of love. Arouse the great power of your compassion and think of me.
You are my guru, my yidam, my protector, my refuge, my food, my clothes, my possessions, and my friend. Since your divine quality is everything to me, let me spontaneously achieve all that I wish.
Although I am overwhelmed by my habitual, uncontrolled mind, please cut these self-centered thoughts so I will be able to give my body and my life millions of times without difficulty to each sentient being. Inspire me to be able to develop this kind of compassion to benefit all.
Empower me to cut the root of samsara, self-grasping, and to understand the pure doctrine, the most difficult middle way, free from the errors of extremes.
Inspire me to practice as a bodhisattva, turning away from what is worldly, dedicating all my virtues to teaching living beings, never for even one instant thinking of just my own happiness. Let me wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all.
Empower me to actualize as much as possible the most subtle vows and to keep them without a careless mind, thus becoming the most perfect bodhisattva.
Outwardly, let me be simple in my practice, while inwardly, actualize the depth of the diamond vehicle with the strong wish to practice the two stages. Inspire me to attain enlightenment quickly for the benefit of all.
Divine Wisdom Mother Tara, you know everything about my life — my ups and downs, my good and bad. Think lovingly of me, my only mother.
I give myself and all who trust in me to you, Divine Wisdom Mother Tara. Being completely open to you, let me be born in the highest pure land. Set me there quickly with no births in between.
May the hook of your compassion and your skillful means transform my mind into Dharma and transform the minds of all beings, whoever they are. They have all been my mother, the mother of one unable to follow the Conqueror’s teachings.
By reciting this prayer three times a day and by remembering the Divine Wisdom Mother Tara, may I and all beings who are connected to me reach whatever pure land we wish.
May the Three Jewels and especially the Divine Wisdom Mother, whose essence is compassion, hold me dear until I reach enlightenment. May I quickly conquer the four negative forces.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha!
The 21 Praises
Around the world, millions chant the 21 Praises to Tara, as first taught by Shakyamuni. Her popularity is universal amongst most Vajrayana Buddhists and many Mahayana Buddhists, and for this reason, lay practitioners regularly, usually daily, chant the praises. The book, Tara in the palm of your hand, by Zasep Rinpoche, is specifically about the 21 Taras practice, from the precious Maha Siddha Surya Gupta lineage.
Because Tara’s quality is “action” the Praises are said to bring immediate benefits, blessings and protection. Here is an English Version:
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!
Praises to Twenty-One Taras in Tibetan to the tradition of Lord Atisha:
Not mainly for temporal success
Lama Zopa Rinpoche is very clear on this area of devotion, for there’s always a danger of attachment:
“…the Twenty-one Taras do not exist mainly for temporal success and healing, but for the ultimate purpose of freeing you from all sufferings—such as the cycle of aging, sickness, death and rebirth, dissatisfaction, relationship problems and so forth—and their cause: delusion and karma and the negative imprints they leave on you mental continuum, and bringing you to the everlasting happiness of liberation and enlightenment.”
 Tara in the palm of your hand, A guide to the practice of the twenty-one Taras, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, Windhorse Press
 How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator, Thubten Chodron.
 Tara The Feminine Divine, Bokar Rinpoche