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Tara Book excerpt and teaching: Who is Tara and how can She help us? An introduction to Tara, Karma, Shunyata, Dependent Arising, and Buddha Nature by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche

Who, or what is Tara that she can show us that Enlightenment is in the palm of our hand? 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.

To explain who she is, what she is, and how she can show us the way to Enlightenment is to write of many things, of Western ideas about Buddhism and the Buddha, of Buddha Nature, of the spiritual path, of ideas about “reality” and of the place of faith in a world of rationalism and scientism, for all of these situate Tara and her practice. [Full teaching continues below.]

A 5000-word teaching excerpt from

Tara in the Palm of Your Hand

Used with permission of the author

Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche

Spiritual Director of Gaden for the West

Note: Pictures, captions for pictures and the choice of pull out quotes is an editorial liberty. The book does not, for example, contain these highlighted pullouts. The book does contain numerous illustrations of the 21 Taras, but not the images contained in this feature. For more information on the book, see Amazon information page>>

Green Tara. From a 18th 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.”

What is Buddhism?

To begin, let us look at the question, what is Buddhism? Many people erroneously think that Buddhism is a religion similar to Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism that worships a supreme being or supreme beings who are separate from humankind. But Buddhism is very different from such theistic religions, be they monotheistic or polytheistic. While some aspects of Buddhism, such as the existence of holy texts, sacred places, temples, an ordained Sangha, established rituals and a rigorous ethical code, may make it appear similar to a religion, it is more accurately described as a way of life that is based on teachings of the historical Buddha, who lived sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.

Buddhists do not worship the Buddha in the way that Christians worship God, as a supreme being with the power to grant them salvation or send them to eternal damnation. We do not attain Buddhahood or Enlightenment through divine grace; we attain it through persevering with practices that give us insight into our minds and the nature of reality. No one can become God, but by putting the Buddha’s teaching into practice, we can all become Buddhas. Attaining Buddhahood is the ultimate do-it-yourself project.

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. One of the most complete and clear texts on Tara practice is Tara in the palm of your hand: a guide to the practices of the twenty-one Taras according to the Mahasiddha Surya Gupta tradition. The book contains the entire teaching commentary and practice on this precious Tara practice. Available on Amazon>>

We begin the journey towards Enlightenment by going for refuge; we are seeking shelter from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that is Samsara. We take refuge in the Three Jewels, which are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are not taking refuge in the historical Buddha as a god-like figure, but as an exemplar of great compassion and wisdom; we are also taking refuge in the Buddha within us, in our own natural potential to become enlightened. The Dharma is the teachings that tell us how to realize that potential; we take refuge in the Dharma as the path. We take refuge in the Sangha as the community that helps us as we make our spiritual journey. The taking of refuge in the Three Jewels is in no way akin to the rite of Baptism in the Christian Church: we are not “born again.” Rather, taking refuge is more like a signal that we are ready to begin the work we must do with our minds in order to realize our own Buddha Nature.

Just as they do not understand that Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life, many people in the West do not understand who or what the Buddha is. They think the Buddha was just a man, born in India around 2500 years ago, who became a great teacher. While this is true, there is more: the historical Buddha is a man who became awake to the true nature of reality and who taught others how to do the same. Buddha is actually a Sanskrit word meaning awakened or developed; the Tibetan equivalent is sang-gyey; sang means awakened and gyey means developed. Sang refers to awakening the consciousness or mind to see the true nature of reality; gyey refers to developing all the potential of our mind. Thus Buddha, sang-gyey, means the fully developed or awakened mind.

What is it to have an awakened mind? Just as when we wake from sleep to see the world around us, its sights, its sounds, its smells, so when we have awakened our minds, we see the true nature of reality. We see that nothing exists inherently; we see that everything is part of an endless web of interdependence and interconnection. We experience oneness.

 

The Mahasiddha Surya Gupta and Taras.

 

Buddha Nature

Shakyamuni Buddha is one of many Buddhas. All sentient beings have Buddha Nature, and the capacity to become Buddhas themselves. In this thangka, the 35 Confessional Buddhas with Shakyamuni Buddha at the centre.

Many people also erroneously think that the historical Buddha is the only Buddha; but according to Tibetan Buddhism, there are millions of Buddhas. As I have stated above, every sentient being can become enlightened. Indeed, Buddhahood is already within our mind, our consciousness.

The teachings of Mahayana Buddhism say that every sentient being has Buddha Nature, Tathagatagharba.

There are two kinds of Buddha Nature: primordial or natural, and changing, where our ordinary deluded mind transforms into the mind of a Buddha. The analogy of a river has been used to explain this: in one sense, just as a river is always the same river, we all have primordial Buddha Nature; in another sense, just as the water in that river is constantly changing, so can we change our present deluded mind into that of Buddha.

At present, our delusions obscure our Buddha Nature. Dharma practice, which helps us overcome afflictive emotions and develop positive states of mind, enables us to fully realize our Buddha Nature.

 

Green Tara meditation tankha

Green Tara is a fully realized female Buddha, and a Yidam to many practitioners. She is the active aspect of compassion, compassion in active, but as an Enlightened Being she is also understood to have all of the qualities of all Buddhas.

 

If we follow the path of Dharma, living in accordance with good moral principles, always being mindful and compassionate, then gradually our mind transforms into that of a Buddha. We become who and what we already are, primordially speaking. From this point of view, the subject of this book, the Buddha known as Arya Tara, is no different from us.

Tara is our idea of ourselves as a compassionate liberator become manifest. At the ultimate or Dharmakaya level, there is no difference between ourselves and Tara.

Her story, which I will tell in the next chapter, is that of an ordinary sentient being who practised with dedication and devotion until she achieved Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. By following her path, by doing as she did, we too can transform our ordinary mind into a mind of Enlightenment. We can actually become Tara.

 

An inside spread of “Tara in the palm of your hand.” There are guided meditations (sadhanas) with illustrations for each of the 21 Taras, together with a unique mantra for each. Uniquely, in this case, the 21 Taras are in the precious Surya Gupta tradition — where each of the 21 Taras appears different. In other systems, the 21 Taras appear similar, changing only in colour and a few minor expressions. To order the paperback edition of this book, visit Amazon>>

 

As Tara did, we develop the potential of our minds to attain full Enlightenment through meditation. Meditation is a process of focusing our mind on a virtuous object. The object can be external to us, such as a flower or an image of a Buddha, or it can be internal, such as our mind or our sense of self-identity. Objects of meditation do not have to be beautiful, like sunsets, flowers, or Buddha images. In fact, any object can be utilized as an object of meditation, even one we normally think of as ugly or disgusting.

There is a story about Asanga, a great Buddhist teacher from the fourth century CE who founded the Yogacara or Mind Only School of Tibetan Buddhism. He attained a realization of loving kindness through having a maggot as his object of meditation. For 12 years Asanga had been doing a solitary meditation retreat on Buddha Maitreya, the Buddha of Loving Kindness. Though Asanga devoutly wished to see Maitreya, Maitreya had not appeared to him. Asanga was ready to give up. With a heavy heart, he left his retreat. As he was walking along the road, he saw a dying dog being eaten by maggots; he was filled with compassion for the dog, and cut off a piece of his own flesh to feed it.

The great Asanga, who felt compassion not only for the dog being eaten by maggots, but also for the maggots. Note, Green Tara over his right shoulder.

Then he decided to further ease the dog’s suffering by removing the maggots. But he suddenly had a realization: the maggots were sentient beings too, no different from the dog; there was no inherent difference between the dog and the maggots because all sentient beings have Buddha Nature. Both were worthy of compassion.

Initially, Asanga had been going to use his fingers to pluck the maggots from the dog, but now he was afraid he would hurt the maggots if he did that. So he decided to use his tongue. Kneeling by the dog, he bent his head down, ready to do what would seem to the ordinary person to be a completely repugnant act. As he bent his head towards the maggots, the dog and maggots suddenly disappeared; in their place was Maitreya. He told Asanga that the compassion Asanga had felt for both the dog and the maggots had so purified his Karma that he could now see him, Maitreya.

Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning action. It is sometimes spoken of as the law of cause and effect. The law of Karma says that our actions give rise to our experiences; virtuous actions ripen as happiness, nonvirtuous actions ripen as suffering. If we have a lot of negative Karma, it can be difficult for us to have spiritual realizations until we have purified it.

 

Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, teaching here at Mindfulness Centre of Grey Bruce, is the author of Tara in the Palm of Your Hand, a commentary and practice of the 21 Taras. The book is available on Amazon here>>

 

The story of Asanga illustrates how, because all sentient beings have Buddha Nature, everything, even a maggot, can become the cause and condition of Dharma realizations.

The idea of all sentient beings having Buddha Nature is foreign to much conventional Western thinking. In the West, we think and act as if there is a hierarchy of being, with humans on the top and non-human beings in progressively inferior ranks below. We think we humans are superior beings who have dominion over the natural world by divine right. We have established a hierarchy of worthiness in which a human is better than a dog and a dog is better than a maggot. However, as soon as we begin to accept that all sentient beings have Buddha Nature, we go about our lives differently; we are less quick to do harm, and more inspired to be kind. Through avoiding nonvirtuous actions and cultivating positive states of mind, we will make progress on the spiritual path.

 

Green Tara’s kind face. Tara is known as Tara the Rescuer. In the book, Tara in the palm of your hand, there are 21 Taras, each different yet the same, all Taras but manifesting in 21 different ways. The book contains all 21 of the mantras (each Tara has a unique mantra), together with a practice and illustration for each.

 

Dependent Arising and Shunyata

The first teaching that the Buddha gave after he attained Enlightenment was on what are called the Four Noble Truths.

The four truths are: one, the truth of suffering; two, the cause of suffering; three, “true cessations,” or the possibility of going beyond suffering by eliminating its cause; and four, the true path, which is the path of Dharma.

The Buddha first taught the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

Surely no one would deny the first truth that suffering exists: there is the obvious physical suffering of sickness, infirmity, and death, and there are the more subtle torments of endless dissatisfaction arising from a futile quest for lasting pleasure. Suffering has myriad forms, but, according to Buddha’s teaching, all suffering has the same root cause. The root cause of all suffering is our self-cherishing mind, which arises from our self-grasping, our deluded notion that we – and all other phenomena – exist inherently. But what is inherent existence? The term means that phenomena exist in their own right, independent of our perception, conceptualization, and categorization. If we believe in inherent existence, we believe that every phenomenon has some unalterable, unchanging essence. Mistaken though this belief in inherent existence is, it is a belief to which we have clung since beginningless time. The belief makes us feel separate from other sentient beings and leads us to act without compassion and wisdom to protect what we think of as our inherently existing selves. Self-grasping gives rise to egocentricity and selfishness. The belief in inherent existence is fundamental ignorance; it is the root delusion from which all our negative emotions arise.

But surely, we might argue, it is quite obvious that phenomena are real. And Buddhism might say, yes, they are, but not in the way we typically think of the realness of things.

The teachings of the Madhyamaka school of Tibetan Buddhism, which I espouse, are not solipsistic: they do not say that phenomena have no existence. Rather, the teachings exist as dependent-arising phenomena. This means they arise from causes, conditions, concepts.

As an illustration of this dependent arising, we can think of all the forces that have given rise to our body as it is at the present moment: our genetic inheritance, the places we have lived, the foods we have eaten, the exercise we have done, the health care to which we have access – all are factors. Even cultural concepts of bodily beauty and ugliness, strength and weakness, are part of the web of causes and conditions for the phenomenon we call our body. Our minds likewise lack inherent existence – the values and beliefs we hold, our stock of knowledge – depend on the culture in which we were raised, the ideas to which we have been exposed, and many other causes and conditions. Each phenomenon is part of a web of being with every other phenomenon. No phenomenon exists that is not dependent upon and related to another.

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>>

The essential interdependence and interrelatedness of all phenomena is dependent arising; the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena is Shunyata or emptiness. Dependent arising and Shunyata are inseparable qualities – you can’t have one without the other – but they are not the same; rather they exist relationally and simultaneously with each other. We speak of two truths in one, conventional truth and ultimate truth. Dependent arising is conventional truth, meaning all phenomena have causes and conditions. Shunyata is ultimate truth, meaning all phenomena are empty of inherent existence; through repeated meditation practice on the wisdom realizing Shunyata, we attain a direct realization of the inseparability of the two truths, conventional and ultimate: we experience that whatever arises dependently is also empty of inherent existence, and that whatever is empty of inherent existence also arises dependently.

In the Heart Sutra, which is also known as the Essence of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Shariputra, one of the chief disciples of the Buddha, asks “How should a son or daughter of the lineage  train who wishes to engage in the profound perfection of wisdom?”

Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, replies, “Form is empty, emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness. Likewise, feeling, discrimination, compositional factors and consciousness are empty. Shariputra, like this, all phenomena are empty, having no characteristics.”

In other words, the phenomenal world is empty of inherent existence and every phenomenon is a dependent arising. When we experience a direct realization of Shunyata and dependent arising, we discover that our bodies, our minds, our selves are empty of inherent existence and arise co-dependently from moment to moment.

The Spiritual Path

The purpose of spiritual practice is to relieve suffering, initially our own, and then that of others. We begin by having compassion for ourselves, for our own suffering, for if we cannot help ourselves, how can we help others? The Buddha said, “Be gentle to yourself.” Once we develop compassion for ourselves, we begin to feel compassion for others, much as Asanga did with the maggots. Our heart opens, and we see and feel how we are all interconnected and interdependent. We could say that opening the heart in this way, to embrace all sentient beings, to experience oneness, is the essential practice of Buddhism.

Surya Gupta 21 Taras is more in-depth that typical teachings on 21 Taras. In this tradition, each of the 21 Taras appears different, with their own symbolism and implements.  Each implement in this visualization is meaningful, as is Tara’s red colour. This is the first Tara of the 21 Taras.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are three paths, Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The motivation of a practitioner determines whether he or she is on the Hinayana or Mahayana path. Vajrayana is actually a division of Mahayana. A practitioner who wishes to achieve liberation from Samsara for him- or herself alone is on the Hinayana path. The wish is for Nirvana (nyang-day in Tibetan), which literally means a state beyond sorrow. The Hinayana path emphasizes right conduct. On the other hand, with the Mahayana path, the goal of meditation is to attain the mind of Enlightenment, to transform ourselves into a Buddha so that we can free all sentient beings trapped in the endless cycle of suffering that is Samsara. Right conduct remains important but other factors also come into play. In Tibetan Buddhism, this aspiration to attain the mind of Enlightenment can be accomplished in different ways. Within the higher sutra tradition of the Mahayana, the practitioner trains his or her mind in the three principal stages of the path, Renunciation, Bodhichitta, and the correct view of Shunyata, with the intent of becoming a Bodhisattva, one who works tirelessly for the benefit of others. In the Mahayana, sutra practices like Lamrim and Lojong are an essential foundation to Vajrayana, and are integrated with its esoteric practices. Vajrayana provides a method, that of deity yoga, for attaining Enlightenment in one lifetime and is known as the quick path. Through the faithful practice of deity yoga, we can quickly realize our own Buddha Nature. Using prayers, mantra recitation and visualizations, we transform our ordinary deluded mind into that of the deity. Traditionally, a practitioner must receive an initiation into the secret practice of deity yoga before he or she can begin to practise. However, although Tara is a tantric deity, and belongs to the Vajrayana, she is accessible to all.

There are four levels of Tantric practice. The Tara practices in this book are Kriya Yoga (Action Tantra), which is the lowest and most approachable level of tantric practice. Unique to the Gelug tradition, there is also the Anuttarayogatantra practice of Chittimani Tara, through which practice it is possible to gain Enlightenment in this very lifetime. I will be publishing a commentary on this practice at a later date.

 

Tara is a lower tantric practice, generally, although Chittimani Tara is a Highest Yoga practice. Lower Tantra does not imply it is less important than Higher Tantra. Tara is a beloved Female Buddha, the active protector.

 

The Power of Faith

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

Many Westerners have a difficult time believing that Buddhas like Tara are real. They say, “Granted, the historical Buddha may have existed, but there is no scientific proof that these other Buddhas exist. They are mere figments of the imagination.” At most, they will allow that Buddhas are projections of the mind. They may even think that Tibetan Buddhists are ignorant or backward to believe Buddhas are real. However, Buddhas exist in the same way that all phenomena exist, not inherently, but as dependent-related phenomena, arising from causes and conditions, name, parts, and imputation by mind. For Tibetan Buddhists and those who truly understand Shunyata and dependent arising, reality has room for Buddhas and other manifestations of spiritual energy. For them, Buddhas are always present; no place exists where there is no Buddha.

Indeed, even in the West, it is commonly acknowledged that if we believe something to be true, it is true for us. The mind is such a powerful instrument that faith can bring worlds into being. Faith expands reality.

Thus, if we believe that our mind can be transformed into a Buddha mind, if we practise deity yoga, and visualize Buddhas coming and going, then this is really going to happen. Our mind will bring Buddhas into reality. Lama Thubten Yeshe used to say, if we think about eating chocolate, then we are eating chocolate in our mind. If we think about becoming a Buddha strongly enough, then our mind becomes a Buddha mind. If you meditate on Tara with faith, the practice works. Slowly, surely, you become Tara. But faith is absolutely essential.

The second Tara according to the visually intense 21 Tara Surya Gupta visualization.

There is a story in the Lamrim, the Graduated Path to Enlightenment, about the power of faith. It was a time of famine in India, and many people were dying. An old woman went to her Guru and asked how she could stay alive. He told her to eat stones, and gave her a mantra to make the stones edible. The woman recited the mantra with great faith, and ate the stones. Her son, who was a monk, began to worry about his mother, and went home from his monastery to see her. He was amazed to find her well. When he asked her the secret, she told him the mantra she had been reciting. The son realized that his mother had not been reciting the mantra accurately, and gave her the correct mantra. However, the old woman lost faith in the power of her mantra, and neither it nor the correct mantra would work anymore. It is not the words themselves that give mantras their power; it is the faith with which the words are recited.

Another story, again about an old woman and her son, also speaks to the importance of faith. A man was about to make a pilgrimage to see some relics of Buddha; his old mother, who was very devout, asked him to bring back one of Buddha’s teeth. The man promised, and then promptly forgot. As he was returning home from his pilgrimage, he remembered his promise about the Buddha’s tooth. What to do? He quickly found an old dog’s tooth, and wrapped it in silk. When he arrived home, he gave the dog’s tooth to his mother, telling her it was the Buddha’s tooth. His delighted mother put the tooth on her shrine, and began doing prostrations to it. To the man’s amazement, the tooth began emanating light, just as a genuine relic might. The woman’s deep faith had brought about this miraculous event.

So many people in the West think that having a strong faith like the two old women in the above stories is a sign of ignorance, a mark of stupidity. Yet these same people are more than willing to put their unquestioning faith in science, believing what scientists tell them even if what they are told must be taken on faith. They say, “Scientists say it is so; therefore, it must be true.” They say, “There is scientific proof of this or that,” only to find out some years later that the ‘proof’ has been discredited.

Buddha, on the other hand, said “Don’t believe everything I say just because I am Buddha.” He encouraged intelligent questioning because he knew that if his teachings were put into practice, they would prove true; and indeed, over the past 2500 years, the efficacy of Dharma practice has been proven again and again.

 

White Tara.

 

The secret to doing the Tara practice successfully is simple: do not ask if Tara is real – just have faith that she is, and act accordingly. When you have faith that Tara is real, you will receive profound blessings, blessings that come ultimately not from somewhere or something outside yourself, but from your own compassion and wisdom, from your own Buddha Nature being actualized.

The Benefits of the Tara Practice

Belief in Tara as a fully enlightened being, daily recitation of her mantra, and faithful practice of one or more of her sadhanas will bring enormous benefits to the serious practitioner. The Tara practice has both temporal and ultimate benefits.

1. Temporal benefits

Karmic Wheel or Wheel of Suffering

A universal image in Buddhism is the “wheel of Samsara” which illustrates how clinging, suffering and karma bind us to an unending cycle of rebirth. Tara can help us overcome many of these obstacles.

In our world today, we face many environmental and social problems such as global warming, pollution, the extinction of animal and plant species, scarcity of water, poverty, overpopulation, malnutrition and violence. Most people in the world do not have access to clean water, adequate and nutritious food, or basic healthcare. Education is denied to many. Women especially are oppressed in many parts of the world. Even in a developed country like Canada, people have many problems. They are stressed out from working too hard or from not being able to find work. Many develop stress-related health problems, or have addictions. Mental illness is said to affect one person in four in Canada. No doubt the same is true for other developed countries. How can the Tara practice possibly be of help? The short answer is that it works because it transforms our mind; in so doing, it helps us be the change that we want to see in the world. The Tara practice empowers us to act for positive change wisely and compassionately.

I have been teaching Dharma in the West for more than 35 years. In this time, I have seen many unhappy people. I have seen well-educated people who give the appearance of having successful lives but who are guilt-ridden, and suffer from low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. I have met people with graduate degrees and impressive professional qualifications who nonetheless feel lacking in worth; they are often chronically depressed. The Tara practice is extremely powerful for generating good self-esteem and self-confidence through encouraging the development of divine pride, the belief in one’s potential to be Tara. The Tara practice is also helpful for people who were not loved as children, and who need to feel a mother’s love. Doing the Tara practice will help overcome childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, rejection and abandonment. Tara is the mother of all the Buddhas. When you practise Tara you become 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. If Tara is good enough to be mother of all Buddhas, then she can certainly become a great mother for you, taking you into her loving care.

 

A stunning Green Tara thangka by Jampay Dorje working on in the feature image. To see a feature about Jampay Dorje, who is a student of Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, see here>>

 

The practice of Tara brings other benefits. It is said in the prayer of the benefits of reciting the twenty-one praises to Tara, which I discuss in chapter 5, that those who wish for a child will attain a child. This benefit can be understood on different levels, mundane and spiritual. I have a wonderful story about how it happened at the mundane level. I have two students, a married couple, who desperately wanted a child, but who were having no luck conceiving. I prayed to Tara for them, and gave them a Tara initiation. I asked them to recite 100,000 Tara mantras. They had not even finished saying the mantras when the woman got pregnant; now they a have wonderful son. They are so grateful to Tara.

Another student, who lived in Canada, was very successful in her chosen profession, but was a little lonely for a life companion. This student was very devoted to Tara, and an extremely faithful practitioner. I advised her to ask Tara to help her meet someone. Sometime later, I was about to travel to Australia to give teachings to my downunder students; my Canadian student had a very strong feeling she should accompany me there. In Australia, she met and fell in love with one of my long-time Australian students who was also hoping for a life companion. The two got married, and now live in Canada. They are very grateful to Tara for blessing them with so much happiness.

I myself have had many experiences of the power of Tara, starting from when I was a boy in Tibet. When I was six or so, my grandmother and I, along with an attendant, were riding on a mountain path. Suddenly we came across a mother bear with three cubs. She turned on us as if to attack. My grandmother quickly recited Tara’s mantra. Instantly the bear turned her back on us and ambled off, following her three cubs, which were gambolling away. Just to be on the safe side, my grandmother continued reciting Tara’s mantra all afternoon.

In this classical painting of Green Tara, she is shown rescuing a monk from attackers.

Another time, while living in Toronto, I had parked my car, which had a picture of Tara in it, next to an apartment building. While I was away doing my errand, a concrete balcony on the building collapsed, crushing the two cars next to mine, but leaving mine intact, albeit dusty.

Yet another time, I was flying over Alaska’s Kodiak Islands en route to Asia. There was a lot of turbulence, so much, in fact, that people were screaming and praying. I visualized Tara and recited her mantra; the turbulence stopped, just like that.

Even more recently, when I was in Mongolia doing a 108-spring Chod retreat with three students of mine, I again experienced the power of Tara. During this retreat, we moved each day to a different site along the Kherlen River in northern Mongolia. We meditated and slept in yurts (circular Mongolian tents), which we had to set up and take down on a daily basis. One afternoon, just after we had set up, a fierce hailstorm arose; though it lasted only ten minutes, it was so powerful and destructive that it destroyed 15 yurts in the valley. I was alone inside the 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 onto the door frame, hoping the yurt would not collapse on me. My intuition told me to say Tara’s mantra; I prayed that she would keep the yurt from collapsing. The hailstones were so large, the size of quails’ eggs, that they bruised my hands. My students, who were outside, were covered with bruises from the hailstones. But thanks to Tara, the yurt remained standing. Later, the story of the Lama who saved the tent from collapsing spread among the Mongolian nomads. I became quite famous in the valley.

2. Ultimate benefits

The ultimate goal of Tara practice is to become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. Tara, like almost all other female Buddhas, is the embodiment of the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas; other powerful female Buddhas like Vajrayogini, Kurukulle, Sarasvati, Machig Labdron, and Palden Lhamo are in fact different aspects of Tara. Green Tara is the most common Tara, but there are many, many forms of Tara. The twenty-one Taras celebrated in the twenty-one praises to Tara include Green Tara and twenty other Taras of different colours, each with her own special divine attributes and qualities.

Anyone can pray to Tara, even people who are not Buddhists. However, if you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, take a Tara initiation, and regularly practise a Tara sadhana, your prayers will be more beneficial. This book is a step in the right direction: through reading it attentively, you will get a deeper understanding of the meaning of Tara, and learn how to do the practices of the twenty-one Taras. You will in truth have Enlightenment in the palm of your hand.

Synopsis of Book

The above excerpt was a very thorough introductory teaching — literally the introduction to the book. The balance of the book contains amazing stories of Tara, a complete commentary on the 21 Taras in the Surya Gupta tradition, and the actual sadhanas, mantras and visualizations for each of the 21 Taras.

Description from the Amazon.com page:

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>>

Arya Tara is a fully enlightened being, a female Buddha, to whom Tibetan Buddhists are deeply devoted and on whom they rely for protection and inspiration. Tara has been described as the first feminist, who, according to one of the stories of her origin, having been told by her spiritual advisors to take rebirth as a man, vowed always to take rebirth as a woman. Her practice is, however, equally suitable for women and men. Tara has many manifestations, the best known of which are the twentyone Taras celebrated in the ancient prayer of the twenty-one praises to Tara. The praises pay homage to Tara’s enlightened activity, and the way she skillfully removes both outer and inner obstacles to spiritual attainment. Through daily recitation of the praises and a regular Tara sadhana practice, it is possible to develop an increasingly profound experience of the transformative energy of Tara and to become her ourselves. This guide, which is based on traditional texts, helps make Tara and her practice readily accessible to Westerners. The sadhanas of the twentyone Taras included in the guide are according to the Mahasiddha Surya Gupta tradition. Buddha Weekly Review: “For Tibetan Buddhists, Tara is probably the most popular meditational deity, and there are certainly many books on Tara the savior, the mother, the compassionate action of the Buddhas — beloved by millions of Buddhists. Without question, this tight, yet wonderfully detailed book stands apart, not only because it covers a unique Buddhist teaching — an ancient teaching that should be preserved — but because the author, His Eminence Zasep Rinpoche, engages the reader as if they were his students. “Venerable H.E. Zasep Tulku Rinpoche’s purpose was to preserve the teachings in a specific lineage, the Surya Gupta teachings and practice of the 21 Taras. It should be a complicated subject, particularly with all the very rich visualizations — must more detailed than other 21 Tara practices — but somehow Rinpoche manages to make everything clear, concise and complete in 164 pages. Original line drawings of each of the very richly detailed Taras make it easier, but it is the teachings that make this book a must buy for any Tibetan Buddhist who is devoted to Tara practice. “Rinpoche’s skill in simplifying, without “talking down” to students is legendary, cultivated through decades of teaching in Australia, US, and Canada.” From the Introduction: “Who, or what, is Tara that she can show us that Enlightenment is in the palm of our hand? 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. To explain who she is, what she is, and how she can show us the way to Enlightenment is to write of many things, of Western ideas about Buddhism and the Buddha, of Buddha Nature, of the spiritual path, of ideas about “reality” and of the place of faith in a world of rationalism and scientism, for all of these situate Tara and her practice… “… We do not attain Buddhahood or Enlightenment through divine grace; we attain it through persevering with practices that give us insight into our minds and the nature of reality. No one can become God, but by putting the Buddha’s teaching into practice, we can all become Buddhas. Attaining Buddhahood is the ultimate do-it-yourself project… “… every sentient being can become enlightened. Indeed, Buddhahood is already within our mind, our consciousness. The teachings of Mahayana Buddhism say that every sentient being has Buddha Nature, Tathagatagharba… “… As Tara did, we develop the potential of our minds to attain full Enlightenment through meditation. Meditation is a process of focusing our mind on a virtuous object.”

Info on Book

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Wind Horse Press (January 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0992055407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0992055400
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches

Author Bio

The Venerable Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, a highly realized and internationally respected teacher of Gelugpa Buddhism, was born in Tibet in the province of Kham in 1948. He is currently spiritual head for Gaden for the West, with meditation centres in Canada, U.S. and Australia.

Zasep Tulku Rinpoche was recognized as the 13th incarnation of Lama Konchog Tenzin of Zuru Monastery. In 1959, during the Chinese invasion, he escaped from Tibet and continued his education for sixteen years in India under the tutelage of many of the greatest teachers of Mahayana Buddhism. In 1975, Zasep Rinpoche left India to study in Thailand where he joined the monks of a forest monastery. For eighteen months he studied and practiced with them. He then traveled to Australia and translated for Tibetan speaking Lamas for a number of years.

Since 1976 he has taught western Dharma students in Australia, Canada, and the United States and has developed Dharma centres in each of these countries. Rinpoche regularly visits these centres and offers extensive teachings, initiations and retreats which his many students enthusiastically attend. Zasep Rinpoche now resides in Nelson, BC, close to the Gaden for the West retreat centre (Gaden Tashi Choling Retreat).

In 1999, Rinpoche and his students created the Gaden for the West umbrella organization to more effectively support and nourish the study of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He supports a number of Buddhist projects in Tibet, Mongolia and India through the non-profit society Gaden Relief.

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2 Comments

  1. Gordon Spratt on November 18, 2017 at 5:39 am

    How can I contact, Ven., Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, I would like to become one of his students, I know he works and is very sort after, all over the world.
    I live in Sydney, Australia.
    I am self supportive, and can travel.
    How do I contact him in this regard

    • Lee Kane, Editor on November 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      Dear Gordon, Venerable Zasep Rinpoche does teach often in Australia (at least 3-4 weeks every other year) as part of his ongoing world touring. He is very warm and welcoming, but he is a very busy traditional teacher — one of the born-in-Tibet Lamas of amazing lineage who still tours the world to deliver teachings. Each year he’s in Toronto, Vancouver, U.S., Mongolia, and usually Australia (I can’t remember if that’s every other year). He’s in Toronto (Canada) December 10, 2017 for 2 weeks of teachings. (http://www.gadencholingtoronto.org/)
      As a traditional Lama of high standing, he relies on traditional methods of teaching, not too much by way of email, etc. I first met him at a teaching in Toronto. Usually, that’s the traditional way, watch for the teaching, attend, then introduce and speak to the teacher at the end of the teachings. There is a contact form on his website, which his volunteers monitor for him and will pass on, but because of his schedule (very few breaks through the year, and always traveling) he may be slow to respond that way. The website is http://zaseptulku.com. Every summmer Rinpoche does extensive retreats (overnight retreats for several weeks) in stunningly beautiful Nelson B.C at the wonderful retreat temple. The website is: http://tashicholing.ca/. Event info would be there.

      He usually spends awhile at the retreat centre Hobart Buddhist Meditation Centre http://tashicholing.net/ . I believe these centres are also spiritually directed by Rinpoche:
      Vajra Ling, Uralla, N.S.W.
      Losang Gyalwa Mandala, Sydney, N.S.W.
      Tenzing Ling Centre, Quamaa, N.S.W.
      Dorje Ling Retreat Centre, Lorina Valley, Tasmania

      Rinpoche is a very kind and caring teacher, who always astonishes students with his energy. He is very responsive to student requests, but the best format is to try to find a local event and meet in person first. Hope that helps. In kindness, Lee

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