Mother Tara’s many-armed protective embrace: 21 Taras according to Surya Gupta — a very special celebration of Supreme Mother Tara, the Liberator

There’s something very precious and special about Tara, the protective Mother, adored by millions around the world. Her energy is, at its root, wisdom — the female Enlightened Buddha.

Tara is as approachable as our own mothers. She embodies the same protective traits, but not just protector: like a mother, she is teacher (usually our mothers teach us our first words), fierce motivator (taking out the garbage and chores), nurturer (always patient with us as we grow and learn.) Like a mother she never judges us: her practice assures us both temporal benefits (helping us in our mundane, daily lives) and profound ultimate benefits — the path to realizations and Buddhahood.

Tara, like our own mothers, doesn’t judge us. And, like our mothers, she can wear many faces (sometimes the stern disciplinarian, other times, the embracing mother). In this way the 21 Taras visualization, based on the Mahasiddha Surya Gupta, is very special. Each of the 21 Taras has a unique name and praise, mantra, and sadhana, with deeply profound symbolism, attributes and practices.

“Tara is without a 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.” — H.E. Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, from Tara in the Palm of Your Hand. [1]

The wondrous Surya Gupta 21 Taras

In this feature, we cover the 21 Taras according to the Mahasiddha Surya Gupta’s rich system, where each of the 21 Taras has a unique name and praise, with deeply profound symbolism, attributes and practices.

  • Save

Detail of a painting of Tara 1, Heroic Red Tara, by V.V. Sapar of the first Tara in the Surya Gupta sytem. In the background is the Lotus Face of Avalokiteshvara. (Full image below in the feature.)

[To get a sense of this wonderous system, scroll down the page and view the many individual Tara images. IN PART 1 of this series, we cover the first seven Surya Gupta system Taras. Here is PART 2 for the next seven>>.]

[NOTE: Individual Tara images illustrated here are by the illustrious artist V.V. Sapar [See our feature interview with V.V. Sapar here>>] commissioned and directedetail by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, out of generosity, makes these wonderful high resolution images available for free download on the Khyentse Foundation website>>]

 

  • Save

The 21 Taras according to the instructions of Tara herself to Surya Gupta appear in different forms, with many arms, poses and symbols, representing all of her Divine activities. Usually, they are so detailed, each of the Taras has Her own Thangka, although occassionally, as here, you see them together. On the top centre is Amitabha Buddha, Tara’s own guru.

 

Starting the day right: with Praise to the 21 Taras

Before their first cup of tea (or coffee, in the west), millions of people around the world start their day with the Praises to the 21 Taras. [Full text of the praises in English and Tibetan below.] Tara is the embodiment of motherly protection, an ideal way to start the day, nostalgically reminding us of our childhood mothers sending us off to school.

  • Save
The flavour and approachability of Tara practice is expressed beautifully by Venerable Zasep Rinpoche:

“Every night, my grandmother recited the mantras of Tara and the other Buddhas until she fell asleep. In the yurt was a small altar on which there were statues of Tara and other Buddhas; a butter lamp on the altar flickered comfortingly. When I would wake up during the night, I would see the statues illuminated by the soft light of the butter lamp; I would feel so protected by Tara, the other Buddhas, and my grandmother’s prayers.” [3]

Chanted in many languages, but especially rythmic and beautiful in Tibetan — where each Tara’s praise is chanted in four lines of eight syllables each — the main differences in practice are in the visualizations of the Taras. Yet, the 21 Taras can be much more than a beautiful praise to start out day. The Surya Gupta tradition, especially — where each of the 21 Taras is distinctly different — is a profound practice, with Sadhanas and Mantras for each of the Taras.

There are at least four 21 Tara traditions, although the two best known are the 21 Taras according to Atisha tradition, and the earlier — but more complex — 21 Taras according to the great Mahasiddha Surya Gupta. Visualizing and practicing in the Atisha tradition is certainly easier, with the main variant being color and some expressions. No empowerment is required. Practice is very simplified.

 

Why practice 21 aspects of Tara?

  • Save

Thangka depicting Mother Tara and the 21 Taras according to the Surya Gupta tradition.

There are many aspects of Tara, including profound emanations “like Vajrayogini, Kurukulle, Machig Labdron, and Palden Lhamo…” H.E. Zasep Rinpoche explains why we honour different aspects:

“This is similar to one person performing many roles, such as being a musician, an athlete, a mother and a wife, and having different personal characteristics such as being artistic, kind, humorous, and clever. While they vary in the details of their appearance and their activity, all the Taras have in common the energy, compassion, and wisdom to free sentient beings beyond number from their suffering.” [1]

 

According to Mahasiddha Surya Gupta’s practice, “each of the twenty-one Taras holds different implements. They may also assume different postures, some sitting, some standing, and may have more than one head and several pairs of arms.”

Rinpoche also answer a question often asked by students: “The twenty-one praises may be recited in Tibetan, English or any other language. It does not matter. Languages have no inherent existence; no one language is inherently superior to any other.” [1]

 

  • Save

Typical inside spread of Tara in the palm of your hand, here showing the visualization of the 10th Tara, “Tara Who Dispels All Suffering” (original illustration) with accompanying “rite purpose”, visualization, seed syllable, praise and special mantra. The book is available on Amazon here>>

 

21 Taras according to Surya Gupta is a profound practice

 

  • Save

Venerable Zasep Rinpoche teaching at a Tara weekend using the commentary book, Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, as a reference.

The earlier practices of Surya Gupta’s 21 Taras is considered more profound, not just be virtue of complexity, but on the strength of deeply meaningful symbolism. The same 21 Taras transform into many forms, with numerous attirbutes. As with other deities, she can be wrathful, semi-wrathful, peaceful.

Zasep Rinpoche described the practice as “more advanced… like a higher Tantra”, although it is actually a Kriya Trantra, approachable to all:

“The Mahasiddha Surya Gupta lineage of the twenty-one Taras is quite different from the Atisha lineage in that each of the twenty-one Taras is very distinctive in appearance and attributes and each Tara has her own sadhana. Although technically the practice of the twenty-one Taras is Kriya Tantra, it feels more advanced, with the sadhanas reading more like sadhanas from a higher level Tantra. Of course, in a sense, our experience of any Tara sadhana practice depends on the state of our mind and our degree of realization.” [4]

 

Mahasidda Surya Gupta

  • Save

The Mahasiddha Surya Gupta and Taras.

According to Thomas Roth: “According to Tāranātha, Sūrya-Gupta was born in present day Kashmir. A Mahāsiddha who practiced and accomplished Tārā for seven consecutive lifetimes, he was a contemporary of such masters as Śantideva, Candrakīrti, and Candragomin, another important master in the various transmission lineages of the Tārā tantras and practices.” [5]

Suryagupta, one of the great Eighty-four Mahasiddas (7th/8th century) had countless visions of glorious Mother Tara. She so cherished the great master — also known as Ravigupta or “Nyi ma be pa” in Tibetan — that she first cured him of leprosy. (As recorded by the Indian scholar Vajrasana of Bodhgaya in the 11th century). [1]

Interestingly, even though Tara instantly cured him of Leprosy, she left one tiny sore on his forehead. When he asked her why, she replied:

“Formerly you were born as a hunter, killed animals and in the end set fire to a forest. In consequence of this, you were reborn in Hell and this is your last rebirth of the 500 rebirths in Hell, and saying so, she bestowed on him the sadhana, accompanied by a stotra. The Tara said with their help, one may perform any kind of magic rite. I shall grant you miraculous powers (siddhi).” [1]

 

What’s in a praise and a name: everything, and nothing

 

  • Save

A 21 Tara thangka in the ATISHA tradition. Compare to the Thangka at the top, noticing the number are arms and postures. In Atisha’s system, mostly colour and facial expression changes.

Her name carries resounding power in our mindstreams on one level. Ultimately, like all names, it is an empty label.

Her name translates from the Tibetan as “Venerable Tara, Supreme Mother, the Liberator” from the praise to Tara:

OM.je.tsun.ma.pag.ma.drol.ma.la.chag.tsal.lo

  • Je — “Je means venerable protector, so Tara is the most precious protector of all sentient beings.” [2]
  • Tsun.ma — “In colloquial Tibetan, tsun.ma means nun and indicates a woman who has pure morality.” [2]
  • Pag — translates as “Supreme”
  • Ma — means “Mother”

 

The praises always begin with the main name praise:

OM.je.tsun.ma.pag.ma.drol.ma.la.chag.tsal.lo

OM, Homage to Venerable

Tara, the Liberator

 

21 Taras according to Surya Gupta

 

  • Save

In the Surya Gupta tradition, the 20th Tara is Siddhi Sambhava Tara — Source of All Powerful Attainments Sidhi Sambhava Tara Ngyu Drob Jung Pi Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar.

The practice of 21 Taras according to the great Mahasiddha Surya Gupta, requires intense visualization. The praises are the same as in the later Atisha system. As with all 21 Tara practices, the devotee can simply chant the praise each morning and let the faith grow over time as Tara helps us day-to-day.

The real practice is properly taught by a teacher or in Tantras, mostly in Tibetan. Some pratitioners choose to do a Tara Sadhana a day for 21 days. On retreat, of course, all 21 sadhanas would be performed. For a specific need, for example, for help with infectious disease (Hint: Tara 2), the Sadhana of the most aligned aspect of Tara might be performed.

Clearly, it is a more involved practice of Tara, since each aspect, in the Surya Gupta method has:

  • Her own self generation (or front generation if you don’t have empowerment)
  • Her own rite and powers (aspect or specialty)
  • Her own Sadhana
  • Her own special mantra
  • Her own appearance and attributes
  • Only the praise and name of the 21 Taras is comparable betwen the Atisha method more commonly practiced, and the older Surya Gupta tradition.

Here, in this feature, there is only space for a brief description and praise, and we’ll include some images to give you a sense of this wonderful and powerful practice.

The only book with full English sadhanas and mantras and modern-day illustrations of the Taras is the wonderful book by H.E. Zasep Rinpoche, Tara in the Palm of Your Hand. [For a book review, please see here>>]

Note: For names, we’ve numbered with English translation, per Tara in the Palm of Your Hand. Below that are the Sanskrit name followed by the Tibetan name.

 

Tara 1 Heroic Red Tara

Pravita Tara / Rabtupa We Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 1 Heroic Red Tara: Pravita Tara / Rabtupa We Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar.

 

Power or Rite: turning back the power of others.

  • Seed syllable OM
  • Colour: red
  • Number of arms: four
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you, the Swift One, the Heroine,

Whose eyes are like an instant flash of lightning,

Who arose from the open corolla

Of the lotus face of the Lord of the Three Worlds.

 

Tara 2 Moonlight White Tara

Chandra Kanti Tara / Karmo a Dang Ge Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 2 Moonlight White Tara: Chandra Kanti Tara / Karmo a Dang Ge Drolma by V.V. Sapar

 

 

Power or Rite: calming infectious disease.

  • Seed syllable TAM
  • Colour: white
  • Number of arms: twelve
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you whose face is like one hundred autumn moons

Completely full, and gathered into one,

Radiating a great and distinguished light,

Superior to the gathering of a thousand stars.

 

Tara 3 Golden Colour Tara

Kanaka Vana Tara / Ser Mo Serdok Chen Ge Drolma

 

 

  • Save

Tara 3 Golden Colour Tara: Kanaka Vana Tara / Ser Mo Serdok Chen Ge Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar

 

Power or Rite: prolonging life.

  • Seed syllable RE
  • Colour: golden (bluish)
  • Number of arms: ten
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you who are golden blue,

Whose hands are beautifully decorated with a water-born lotus;

Who embody the Six Perfections of giving, moral discipline,

Patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom.

 

Tara 4 Golden Tara of Crown Victorious

Usnisa Vijaya Tara / Tsug Tor Nam Pal Gyal We Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 4 Golden Tara of Crown Victorious: Usnisa Vijaya Tara / Tsug Tor Nam Pal Gyal We Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar

 

 

Power or Rite: neutralizing lethal poisons.

  • Seed syllable TUTA
  • Colour: golden
  • Number of arms: four
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you, who crown the Buddhas’ ushnishas,

Whose victorious actions are without limit,

Who have attained all transcendental wisdoms without exception,

And on whom the Bodhisattvas themselves rely.

 

Tara 5 Tara Proclaiming the Sound of HUM

Hum Svara Nadini Tara / HUM Dra Dolpi Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 5 Tara Proclaiming the Sound of HUM: Hum Svara Nadini Tara / HUM Dra Dolpi Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar.

 

 

Power or Rite: subjugating.

  • Seed syllable TA
  • Colour: yellow
  • Number of arms: two
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you, who, uttering TUTTARE and HUM,

Fill the worlds of desire, direction, and space,

Who with your feet press down the seven worlds,

And who by your power draw all beings without exception.

 

Tara 6 Tara Victorious over the Three Levels of the World

Trai Lokya Vijaya Tara / Jig Ten Sum Lay Nam Par Gyal We Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 6 Tara Victorious over the Three Levels of the World: Trai Lokya Vijaya Tara / Jig Ten Sum Lay Nam Par Gyal We Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar.

 

 

Power or Rite: purification of all obscurations and negativities.

  • Seed syllable RE
  • Colour: ruby red
  • Number of arms: four
  • Peaceful or wrathful: peaceful

 

Praise

Homage to you to whom Indra, Agni,

Brahma, Vayu, Ishvara and the other gods offer prayers,

And who are praised by spirits, zombies,

Smell eaters and Yakshas.

 

Tara 7 Tara Who Crushes Adversaries

Vadi Pramardani Tara / Golwa Jompi Drolma

 

  • Save

Tara 7 Tara Who Crushes Adversaries: Vadi Pramardani Tara / Golwa Jompi Drolma. Painting by V.V. Sapar.

 

Power or Rite: transference of consciousness to the Akanistha Pureland at time of death; destroyer of adversaries.

  • Seed syllable TU
  • Colour: ruby black
  • Number of arms: four
  • Peaceful or wrathful: wrathful

 

Praise

Homage to you who with the mantras TRA and PHAT

Completely destroy all the magic wheels,

Crushing them with your right leg bent and your left stretched out,

Burning them completely in a blazing whirl of fire.

For the full Praise — the same praise for any system of 21 Taras — see below with both Sanskrit and English Translated versions. Many teachers recommend this as a daily chant/meditation.

 

For those looking for the book details referenced above:

  • Save

Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, a book by Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche. This feature is an excerpt from the introduction of this book. For more information, visit Amazon>>

Book Details

 

 

 

21 Praises

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

vikasat kesharobhave

 

2 Namah shata sharac chandra

sampurna patalanane

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

vijayananta charini

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

hrdyanguli vibhushite

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

patalakarshana kshame

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

alidha muditabandha

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!

 

 

NOTES

 

[1] Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, by Venerable Zasep Rinpoche, page 28.

[2] Ibid, page 36

[3] Ibid, page 66

[4] ibid, page 75

[5] Jonang Foundation, “21 Taras of Surya Gupta”

Lee-Clark-buddha-weekly-5

Josephine Nolan

Author | Buddha Weekly

Josephine Nolan is an editor and contributing feature writer for several online publications, including EDI Weekly and Buddha Weekly. She is Editor-in-Chief for Blogertize Publications.

Other Popular Stories

Invalid Email

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.