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Longing for Tara — “Hook me with your great love and kindness to liberate me…”

Green Tara is a deity of the “heart.” While all the Buddhas can be seen as Oneness and Omniscient — and therefore practicing one Buddha can be seen as practicing all Buddhas —there is something “precious,” personal and wondrous about the Wisdom Compassion Buddha Noble Green Tara.

“Tara sees all sentient beings as her only child,” said His Holiness Sakya Trizin. “Every mother loves her child, particularly those mothers with only one child. In their minds, they are constantly thinking about that child, the welfare and well-being of that child. Tara has such great compassion and such great love that all sentient beings are her only child, without any discrimination or exception.” [3]

For many years, three times a day, I have chanted the short prayer “A Song of Longing for Tara, the Infallible,” written by Lama Lobsang Tenpey Gyaltsen, and translated to English by the great Lama Thubten Yeshe. After thousands of recitations, I still adore this “song” in the same way I adore Mother Tara. This song begins:

“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.”

To millions of Buddhists, Tara has indeed hooked us with her “great love and kindness.”

 

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A cropped section of a stunning thangka of Chittimani Tara, the Highest Yoga Tantra aspect of Green Tara, by Jampay Dorje (Ben Christian). See this feature interview with this amazing artist in Buddha Weekly>>

 

Mommy Tara’s “star” Popularity

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Green Tara’s kind face. Tara is known as Tara the Rescuer.

Tara, of course, is probably the most popular Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism — the literal “star” amongst the Enlightened deities. Her name can also be translated as “Star.” She is at the same time “Mommy Tara” and “Mind Jewel Tara” — Chittimani Tara. Why do so many adore Tara? Even if your practice Yidam is another Buddha, chances are Tara shares mind space and altar space with your personal contemplation deity. It is the adoration of a child for a mother.

She has been called the “Mother of All the Buddhas” by many teachers through many lineages. This is not just because Tara, as the Female Divine, represents Wisdom — and Wisdom is the Mother of Enlightenment. She is Mother also “just because” she is our mother. She cares for us, protects us, nurtures us, until we are Enlightened. Do you ever fall out of love with your mother? Chances are, your mother’s love is always with you, even after you marry and give your heart to another. In the same way, even if your Yidam Buddha is another, Tara is always mother. [Forgive the analogy, it’s a generic one, not specific.]

And — not just in this lifetime. We hope our mother Tara is with us in all our lifetimes, until we are fully Enlightened. As the song puts it:

“May the Three Jewels and especially the Divine Wisdom Mother Tara, whose essence is compassion, hold me dear until I reach enlightenment.”

 

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Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha is Green Tara’s mantra. Green Tara is the rescuer, the mother of all the Buddhas and of all beings — Wisdom is mother — and she is known for her quick action on behalf of those who call her name for help.

 

Song of Longing

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Green Tara on a lotus is visualized with one leg outstretched — ready to leap to the aid of people in trouble. Above her head is her own guru Amitabha Buddha.

No where is this raw adoration more apparent, than in the “Song of Longing for Tara, the Infallible” by Lama Lobsang Tenpey Gyaltsen — written in 1852 — and famously translated and taught in modern times by the great Lama Thubten Yeshe (first, in 1979 at Chittimani Tara initiations.) [1]
This wonderful song expresses with joy how Tara means everything to the devout practitioner:

“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.”

Today, many Tibetan Buddhists not only chant the 21 Praises to Tara, but also Tara’s Song. [The song in full is below.] If chanted and visualized with full attention, it is a perfect self-contained devotional practice and aspiration.

A prayer for modern times?

Why is the prayer so appealing in modern times? It touches on modern themes and needs in a very direct way. It reminds us of the perfection of Tara. Especially in the verses on “Gurus” and “friends” it feels very 21st century — yet it is steeped in traditional values.

Perhaps the Song’s most appealing aspect is that it is so personal. Even though Tara is the Highest of the High, the Mother of all the Buddhas, the prayer sounds like we are speaking to Tara while sitting on her motherly knee. Other times, it seems like we’re chatting to our best friend. She is presented as our “best friend” but also our “only teacher” and “only deity.”

 

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A beautiful seed syllable, made up of light at the heart chakra. This is the TAM seed syllable of Green Tara. A seed syllable is the essence of the Enlightened Being.

 

It’s not a sense of — oh, abandon all the rest, your teachers and yidams — but more a testament to Tara’s universal motherly, personal appeal. We can love her as our mother, best friend, Yidam and Guru, while still having our physical mother, our daily friends, and our precious gurus.

Commentary verse by verse

The best commentary on this wonderful song is from Thubten Chodron [4] in How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator. [5] Here, I’m synopsizing that more extensive commentary, which I strongly recommend all Buddhists read.

 

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Green Tara, beloved Mother of the Buddhas.

 

Refuge and love

“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.”

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The 21 forms of Tara include White Tara and Green Tara, among the most beloved deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

Thubten Chodren explains “From my heart” shows that we always approach Tara with the deepest respect and love — “not doing some empty ritual.” We approach Tara as the “mother of all Buddhas” because she is the embodiment of the wisdom realizing emptiness, which is the wisdom that “gives birth to all Buddhas.

We also call her “Mother” to show love, closeness and comfort. “We feel comfortable with Tara.”

The “hook me with your great love” is an aspiration that she help us overcome the objects of attachment such as anger and hate. Thubten Chodron’s commentary on verse one is several pages long, too long to summarize here — but an amazing read.

Tara’s face and speech — aspiring to Emptiness and Dharma

“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.”

By calling the Three Jewels as our witness, we not only show respect, but also indicate we will be honest “from my innermost heart.” Morning and evening is an aspiration to practice.

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Green Tara. From a 19th century prayer:
“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.”

“Show me your blissful face” is an appeal to show us Her wisdom — the blissful wisdom of Emptiness. In other words, we ask to realize Emptiness.

“Grant me the nectar of your speech” refers to the Dharma teachings. We aspire to always received Dharma.

About spiritual friends

“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.”

At first blush this can seem to be critical of our gurus. Our gurus pass on the lineage, but we have to be careful to examine our gurus. However, we can trust Tara since the lineage originates with Tara. She is the source, the ultimate Guru, Wisdom itself embodied — therefore our principal guru. By poetically phrasing it this way, with emphasis on “can no longer trust friends of this degenerate age” we are cautioned to use our own discretion, but to always trust Tara. Today, it is not uncommon to come across “Buddhist teachings” without a genuine lineage back to the Tara (or Buddha). If Tara is the root — there is no question.

 

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“She was scared and came to me. I taught her meditation, visualization and Tara practice. And now, how many years, 32 years later, she’s still alive! She’s still running around smoking!”

 

For example, if you take teachings and empowerment in Chittimani Tara, there is a specific stated lineage, easy to follow, right back to Tara. So, we place our trust in Tara, our principal guru.

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One of the most popular Buddhas is Green Tara, sometimes called “Mother of the all the Buddhas.”

Also, in this verse, it cautions against “Dharma for sale.” Genuine teachings thrive on “dana” and generosity, generally, rather than admission tickets. Certainly, there are costs involved in teachings, and the teacher must be supported, too, but it should be a sense of “dana” — in modern terms “recommended donation” — rather than a ticket from Ticketmaster. (Of course, there are exceptions. Ticketmaster is the easiest way to arrange a big teaching with a big crowd. But, in the spirit of generosity, usually there is a way to attend even if you can’t afford the “ticket.”) It is interesting that Rinpoche wrote this in the 1800s — no Ticketmaster then, but definitely the issue is always top-of-mind.

 

Meditational Buddhas and Yidams

“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.”

While the previous verse seemed critical of “gurus” this verse seems to imply there are “no other yidams” but Tara. As with all the versus in this song, it’s a matter of emphasis. (Later the song compares Tara to our “friends” for example.) This is a matter of positioning Tara as the Mother of All Buddhas. As she is the “source” of all Yidams, she is the same as all Yidams.

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One of the beautiful thangkas of Green Tara final art by Jampay Dorje. See  more of his work and an interview here>>

This also indicates that we have a modern-day connection to Tara. It isn’t that other Buddhas have lost their compassion — quite the opposite — but we have lost our connection? Why? Because of us. Because we are too busy with television and social media. As Thubten Chodron put it:

“‘Even though they have great compassion’ means that from their side, there’s connection, there’s compassion, there’s the wish to help. But from our side there is no connection because we’re too busy watching TV, going to the shopping mall, talking with our friends, or watching sports.”

Thubten Chodron then goes on to explain that “For me there are no other deities, you are my principal deity” doesn’t mean we “w don’t practice Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Chenresig.” She explains “It doesn’t mean we only practice Tara and forget the other Buddhas.” Yet, because Tara is so relatable in modern times, we still think of her, even when we’re busy on Facebook or Netflix. This is because we know Tara is Mother — always supportive, even when we are lax, lazy, or naughty.

What about Dharma Protectors?

In a similar vein, the next verse takes aim at Dharma Protectors. It may seem to denigrate them, but this is furthest from the intention. Again, this is reinforcing that the Dharma Protectors are powerful, but it is we who have “disconnected” them from our lives — and also that we shouldn’t necessarily rely on them for mundane protections. If we call on Palden Lhamo — a fierce protector, who is none other than an emanation of Tara — for help with our practice, we are certain to receive it. If we ask Palden Lhamo to help us in a court case, we’re looking to the wrong mother.

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Photo of a Chittamani Tara thangka. On her crown is Amitabha Buddha, her “spiritual father” — she is part of the Compassion Lotus family of Amitabha. She is also green, associating her with Buddha Amoghisiddi, and “action.” Chittamani Tara is distinguished by two night lotus (Uptala) flowers over her shoulders. She still has her right leg outstretched, as with Green Tara, ready to leap to the aid of her followers.

Tara, on the other hand, is the all-embracing mother, always ready to protect her child:

“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.

Tara, the saviouress, is a protector, of course, in the same way a Mother is a protector. But, her protection is expansive. She protects us in our daily lives, in our mundanities — she even helps those in prison. Dharma Protectors tend to be about “protecting the Dharma” and our practice. To call on Palden Lhamo to rescue you from a wild storm is going outside of our relationship with the great Dharma Protector. The praise to Palden Lhamo says the Great Goddess  “protects the Dharma” and bring conditions “conducive to practice.” While the prayer to Tara, the saviour is “Tara, help me! What do I do?”.

Tara is about the “Eight Great Fears” which are defined in two ways in the teachings — eight external fears and eight internal fears. Tara’s love can never be abused. Her protection is unconditional, based on love of a mother for a child — even a black sheep child.

True Nature

A major aspect of Buddhist practice is the “true nature of reality,” overcoming dualism and other “Wisdom topics.” Tara is a Wisdom Buddha, and therefore we pray:

“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 fullling 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.”

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Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron introduces the practice of Tara during a retreat (Sravasti Abbey). Thubten Chodron is the author of the very popular book How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator.

At the same time, we ask for Tara’s help with “overcoming ordinary view” that binds us, while asking for her help in granting our desires. Thubten Chodron explains that the “real jewels” that Tara offers are the seven jewels of the Aryas:

1. faith, or confidence, in the Three jewels

2. generosity

3. ethical discipline

4. listening to teachings

5. integrity or self-respect

6. consideration for others

7. wisdom dedicating these virtues to enlightenment.

“You are my real richness,” the song beautifully proclaims.

Non-virtuous and virtual friends

“I cannot rely on 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.”

People are imperfect, Buddhas are perfect. It’s that simple. Our friends are also in Samsara, also suffering, in need of help as much as we are. Even our best friend can have bad days, days when they are in distress themselves and cannot help. Days, when they don’t help. Days when they are part of the problem. Addictive personalities (not just referring here to alcohol or drugs, but rather attachments and cravings) can often be mislead by our mundane friends who have similar obstacles and cravings.

Tara always helps — it’s that simple. Of course, Thubten Chodron’s commentary is much more eloquent — highly recommended.

 

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Chittimani Tara (distinguished by her two Blue Uptala flowers) and her mantra.

 

The Power Verse

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Chittamani Tara, distinguished by her two blue uptala flowers.

If you had time to only recite one verse twice a day, this would be the “essence” verse:

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.

Of course, not literally. Tara isn’t our actual food or clothes. Venerable Chodron explains that she provides all that we need help us give up the attachments to the “eight worldly concerns, and clothe ourselves in wisdom and compassion.”

Venerable Chodron explains:

“Tara embodies all objects of refuge-our gurus, meditation deities (yidams), and Dharma protectors. Like spiritual food, the wisdom and compassion passion she represents nourish us. Like clothes, the six far-reaching attitudes she embodies adorn us. Like possessions, the enlightened qualities provide security. Like friends, bodhichitta opens our heart to love and feelings of inter-connection with all sentient beings.”

The last few verses are aspirational, asking for help. They tend to be self explanatory, but again I highly recommend reading the commentary by Thubten Chodron in How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator. [5]

Full Song

A Song of Longing for Tara, the Infallible
By Lama Lobsang Tenpey Gyaltsen (1852)
Translated by Lama Thubten Yeshe

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 us 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!

NOTES

[1] See chapter 7 of How to Free Your Mind, Tara the Liberator, by Thubten Chodron
[2] Thubten Chodron. How to Free Your Mind: Tara the Liberator (p. 107). Kindle Edition.
Tara’s Song appeals to modern Buddhists
[3] Quote from Tara 2020
[4] Thubten Chodron’s website
[5] How to Free Your Mind, Tara the Liberator, by Thubten Chodron — Paperback: 224 pages Publisher: Snow Lion; Reprint edition (July 9, 2013) Language: English ISBN-10: 9781559393980 ISBN-13: 978-1559393980

Lee-Clark-buddha-weekly-5

Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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