Like other Buddhist deities, Tara is a manifestation of the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha. She is considered the mother of all Buddhas. You might think of Tara as the first feminist, a warrior goddess who takes a courageous stand against the prevailing cultural belief that women are inferior. Her attributes and qualities have reminded people for thousands of years of the importance of the feminine viewpoint.
Tara made a famous vow to women and men alike: Until every being without exception is enlightened, she would work for the benefit of all in a woman's body. She has taken on herself the sovereign responsibility to end the suffering of every living being. Like a wise ruler, she is completely selfless. All her care and concern, all of her time, effort and resources, are totally dedicated to guiding and protecting the beings under her care. Those who call on Tara for guidance, healing, or protection, find a dignified and fearless deity who is both beautiful and approachable.
If you already have an altar in your home or a special place where you meditate, the first thing you might do is to place the image of Tara on your altar. If you don't yet have an altar, creating one is easy. Any small table or dresser top, covered with a colorful scarf or cloth, can serve as an altar. In addition to the Tara image, other nice things to place on your altar are a candle, a vase of flowers, incense and images of your spiritual teachers or guides. A traditional Buddhist altar has seven small bowls of fresh water placed in a row along the front edge.
There are many meditation and healing practices I learned from my Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Gehlek Rimpoche, whose main teachers were the junior and senior tutors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has kindly shared these practices with me and I pass them along to you so that many more people can benefit from Tara's compassionate help.
When you wish to meditate on Tara, sit down in front of your altar, either cross legged on a cushion or whatever feels comfortable for you. Spend a few minutes becoming mindful of your breath. Refrain from attempting to control it, rather, simply place your attention on your breath as it gently flows into and out of your nose. You can focus on your image of Tara on your altar, or visualize her in your mind while you chant the following mantra aloud: OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA
A mantra is a special phrase closely connected with a divine being. Chanting or saying this mantra helps to bring you closer to Tara. As you chant or say these Sanskrit words, perhaps seven, or twenty-one, or a hundred times or more, you will attain a sense of peace and centeredness. As you say this mantra, you may want to keep count of the number of times you repeat this mantra, by moving your thumb along a strand of mala beads which is a way to help focus your attention on the mantra. You can also use visualizations of Tara to help connect you to her compassion by imagining her compassionate energy takes the form of light in five colors. This light and liquid washes over you and through you, inside and out, healing and rebalancing the vital energies in your body. You can also invoke Tara's special protection of you by surrounding yourself with concentric shields of light energy.
Although mantras can not really be translated, here is an approximate sense of what Taras mantra means: OM represents the body, speech, and mind of Tara and your own body, speech and mind as you recite this mantra. TARE (pronounced taray) means one who liberates from suffering. TUTTARE (pronounced too taray) means one who liberates from the 8 fears. TURE (pronounced tooray) means one who liberates from all illness. SOHA (pronounced so ha) means lay the foundation. In this mantra, you are asking Tara to join your body, speech and mind to hers and bring you loser to her.
After you recite this mantra several times, you may recite the Prayer to the Noble Tara three times: I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and Tara. May I reach enlightenment for the benefit of all. This prayer continues on and a longer version of it can be found in The Tara Box which includes a book and image of Tara in a decorated box which can be placed on your altar (see credit below).
Doing some kind of daily meditation is a wonderful way to start the day. If you work as a healer of any kind, doing these meditations can support and strengthen your healing work. And when you are feeling especially fearful or when you or a loved one is ill, saying Tara's mantra will remind you that there is a wonderful and compassionate being who is always available to provide loving help and support.
Brenda Rosen is co-author of The Tara Box: Rituals for Protection and Healing From The Female Buddha, Price: $22.95, Boxed Set (New World Library; 1-800-972-6657 Ext/ 52; www.newworldlibrary.com)