I was asked to offer more themes about the various Hindu and Buddhist deities so today's theme is about one of the most popular and well-known boddhisattvas spanning many cultures, White Tara. Tara, in Sanskrit, means "star" or "one who saves" and "one who ferries across". White Tara is a figure of immeasurable compassion and longevity in life. Known as "The Mother of all Buddhas", stories say she has more compassion for all people than a mother towards her very own child. Born from one of Avalokite'svara [ah vah lo key taysh vah ra] tears, another boddhisattva known for compassion, White Tara is peaceful and beautiful and transformational. The story tells that Avalokite'svara was so saddened by human pain and suffering that his tears formed a lake. A lotus appeared from the depths of the water revealing White Tara. Water is one of the symbols she is associated with and she is said to, symbolically, carry people across waters.
Documentation of Tara goes back 5,000 years to Finland writings. Native Americans referred to her as Star, and they thanked her for earth's bounties. She is recognized in Hinduism and Buddhism and in Chinese culture is closely tied to Kuan Yin.
There are twenty-one delineations of the Goddess Tara, most of which, are differentiated by color and consciousness. Green Tara would be the other most popular and well-known. There are many different depictions of White Tara so being able to recognize her symbols will help you discern if you are looking at White Tara versus another deity. Sometimes she is standing, other times seated. When she is seated, you will most often find her in lotus position, symbolic of her calm nature. She has her right hand open in a gesture of offering and the other hand, while often described as being in abaya mudra, is actually in a variation of vitarka mudra meaning good fortune (as her ring finger is touching her thumb).
White Tara, as her name suggests, is always depicted with flawless pale white skin. (She is easily distinguishable from Green Tara whose skin color is, you guessed it, green!) White Tara is prominently recognized by her seven eyes. There are three on her head (one where her 3rd eye would be), one on each palm and one on the sole of each foot. With seven eyes, she is better able to see all the places she is needed. I like the following description: "Her seven eyes stand for her perception of suffering that is apparent (the two we normally have,) that is psychological/spiritual (the one in her forehead,) and that is inherent in activity (in her palms,) and in what is usually considered as progress (in her soles.)" khandro.net
Technically, White Tara is a Boddhisattva; one who has reached enlightenment but chooses to remain in the earthly cycle of life and death to help others. She technically could reach her own nirvana by becoming a Buddha but she chooses to stay and help others reach their nirvana, instead.
She is considered the only female eligible for Buddha status and was given the opportunity to reincarnate as a man to do so. She declined stating , "There are many who wish to gain enlightenment in a man's form, And there are few who wish to work for the welfare of living beings in a female form. Therefore may I, in a female body, work for the welfare of all beings, until such time as all humanity has found its fullness."
Some argue that in her enlightened form, she is neither man nor woman; she has transcended being defined by a form.
Tara is the savior who can protect one from worldly dangers. If you were on safari in Africa, perhaps you would appeal to her to protect you from lions. If you were in Alaska, you may seek protection from avalanches. If you live (for some unexplainable reason!) in Chicago, you may seek rescue from cold and snow. Spiritually, she protects us from elements that may lead to our suffering such as greed and jealousy.
Tara is said to alleviate our eight external fears, which correspond to eight internal fears.
1. floods > attachment
2. fire > anger
3. elephants > ignorance
4. snakes >jealousy
5. lions > pride
6. imprisonment/chains > miserliness
7. thieves > wrong views
8. ghosts > doubt
In her headdress, one sees Amitābha [ah me tah bah], "The Buddha of Infinite Light." She holds a lotus flower with three buds in varying stages of being open; the seed represents past Buddhas, the full bloom symbolizes the present Buddha and the bud represents the future Buddha. Tara, herself, the essence of all three.
In Tibetan Buddhism, mantras are considered to be the place where the energy of a deity can be found and called upon. By reciting a deity's mantra, you transcend yourself to their realm of light.
The White Tara Mantra, long version is:
OM TARE TUTARE TURE MAMA AYUR PUNYE JNANA PUTIN KURU SVAHA.
The shorter version can be used to call upon any and all of the Tara's:
OM TARE TUTARE TURE SOHA (svaha in Sanskrit, soha in Tibetan)
It means liberation from samsara; Tara relieves us of our sufferings.
" There are so many inner obstacles to the development of your mind, and these inner obstacles create many outer obstacles. Therefore, for the success of your Dharma practice, of your actualizing the graduated path to enlightenment, you must rely upon a special deity, or buddha, such as Tara. All the actions of the buddhas have manifested in this female aspect of buddha, Tara the Liberator, in order to help living beings to accomplish successfully both temporal and ultimate happiness." ----- Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Nepal, May 1987
The two Tara songs I used in class were "Tare Tuttare" by Deva Premal and White Tara's mantra- follow this link to hear on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZZ-pFa7MJM