In 1983, when I was 18 years old, I had the great honor and pleasure to serve His Holiness Kyabje Zong Dorje Chang for over 6 months in Thubten Dhargye Ling Buddhist Center, Los Angeles. Venerable Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen was the spiritual guide in the centre at that time and he had invited His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche to our center, who is his root teacher. Consequently, we had the great honor to receive many teachings from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche throughout those few months. Many people understood the preciousness of Zong Rinpoche’s presence and took the opportunity to visit Zong Rinpoche daily for audiences, divination, questions, blessings and many other reasons.
Out of all of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche’s followers, there was a Tibetan man named Kelsang, who resided in California. He would come to see Zong Rinpoche and, sometimes helped to cook. It was on one of these occasions that Kelsang brought a Tara tsa tsa to Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and requested Zong Rinpoche to bless the tsa tsa for him – so that he would be taking back a consecrated image. I happened to be in the room to witness Zong Rinpoche decline to bless the tsatsa. Zong Rinpoche said that it is not necessary to bless a Tara image. However, Kelsang-la insisted. So, to make him happy, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche did the blessing on the Tara tsa tsa.
When I asked why Zong Rinpoche initially rejected the request from Kelsang-la, Zong Rinpoche explained that Tara’s image is so sacred, so holy and so full of benefit that her body, speech and mind, and anything that has to do with Tara – is so sacred, that no further blessing is necessary. Anything or any image made in the persona of Tara is automatically blessed and does not need to be consecrated.
The high reverence and high respect His Holiness Zong Rinpoche had for the Buddha Tara, for which he did pujas every month and recitations every single day, made me realize that she is totally incredible. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche had a very special place in his heart for this incredible Buddha… A goddess whom we call Tara which means Saviouress. I always remember this story. Although I have always loved Tara myself and had a lot of faith in her… what Zong Rinpoche said and did, increased my level of faith significantly, a couple of notches to the top.
In the past age, during the time of the past Buddha, Tara was named Dawa Lhamo or Moon Goddess. She was the Princess of a very wealthy king and during that lifetime, she was extremely faithful and very devoted and loyal to the sangha as well as the Buddha. She didn’t want to get married or to have a “princess kind of life”. She was simple, extremely beautiful, very virtuous and very faithful. She would often attend the teachings of the Buddha and because of her wealth, she would always use her resources to take care the needs of the sangha at that time, who were the ordained monks and nuns. The care Dawa Lhamo gave to the sangha include providing them shelter during the rainy season, provide food, robes and medications… whatever the sangha needed at that time. She would do this consistently with the blessings of her father, the king.
One day, when Dawa Lhamo was walking along a path, she chanced upon a very old monk who was not very learned but sincere and pure. This monk had made a statement to Tara saying: “Because of your virtue in sponsoring the sangha, Virtuous Princess, please dedicate that in the future you can take rebirth as a man and you can practice the Dharma as a man because, as a woman, your body is impure and not capable of attaining the highest enlightenment”.
The monk didn’t say this to put her down or to degrade women in any way. The monk really believed that because that was the norm and widely accepted opinion of women during that time – Women were viewed as inferior and not as superior or equal. Since women are considered inferior, their bodies must also be inferior and act as an impediment to achieving enlightenment. That view is the norm of the day at that time. Today, we all know that this is wrong view, we all know that it is incorrect but that is the belief that many ancient societies held in the past.
Upon hearing this statement, the Moon Goddess, Tara-to-be, folded her hands respectfully to the old venerable monk and said: “Venerable monk, what you say is incorrect because the perfect Buddha, the Tathagata, the Sage, the One who has crossed over from samsara has taught that male and the female are exactly the same and their potentials are equal. The female may have slightly more impediment in her physical body in the male society but it does not mean that she is inferior”. So, in front of that holy sangha, that old monk, she vowed to become a fully enlightened Buddha in that very lifetime with her female body, and after enlightenment, she will always predominantly manifest in the female form to benefit sentient beings. In that very life, Dawa Lhamo fulfilled her vows. She had reached very high levels of meditation and meditative absorption and became fully attained in that very lifetime.
Thereafter, she was known to be Tara or Savioress – The one who saves people from different disasters. Ultimately, Tara saves you from the eight main fears, which can be classified as internal and external depending on their source of origin as follows:
|Fear of fire (anger): The fire of anger is fanned by the wind of wrongdoing, which is caused by ignorance.||Fear of imprisonment (avarice): Stinginess is viewed as something negative. Negativity binds us in ways that we are incapable of acting positively, keeping us hopelessly trapped in samsara.|
|Fear of lions (pride): As the king of the jungle, the lion looks down on everyone and listen to no one. This pride will isolate us from help and keep us locked in the control of ignorance.||Fear of floods (attachment): Attachment functions like a violent, rushing river that keeps us trapped in the current of samsara, carrying us further and further from the shores of liberation.|
|Fear of elephants (wrath): Ignorance is like a wild, drunken elephant that will not hesitate to trample anyone who gets in his way.||Fear of demons (doubt): Spirits a linked to the darkness. Likewise, doubt is active in the darkness of ignorance. It frightens and confuses and preventing us from progressing towards clarity and wisdom.|
|Fear of snakes (envy): Like a snake, jealousy hides in the darkness of ignorance. Jealousy causes us to poison the “good” of others.||Fear of robbers (wrong views): A thief steals our valuables. Likewise, wrong view steals our opportunity to make any progress on the spiritual path.|
The Eight Great Fears can be interpreted from a few levels beginning with the outer meaning, which are exactly as described and are tangible and can be experienced physically or materially. At a deeper level, the inner meaning relates to passions, ego and emotions. On the deepest level, these fears relate to tantric techniques and philosophies that, when overcome, lead to realizations and enlightenment.
For example, protection from fire on the outer level means that if you solicit and pray to Tara, you will be safe from fire or disasters related to fire or being burnt by a fire. You may think: “What is the big deal these days as we have smoke alarm”, but this was not the case in villages during the olden days where: when it burnt, you really burned. So, protection from fire was a very big deal. When you meditate on Tara on the inner level, it helps to destroy the quality of anger. Fire is likened to anger on the inside. So, on the outside you are protected by Tara from fire while internally, you are protected from anger and from doing actions related to anger. Therefore, solicitation of Tara is very complete as she protects us from outer, inner and secret obstacles.
If you observe Tara’s iconography, you will see that there are 21 main forms, but in actuality her emanations are unlimited. Within the 21 forms, you will see many types of Tara. The Tara that Kensur Rinpoche gave me is a White Tara. The form of the White Tara has seven eyes: two on the palms, two on the feet and three on the face. The seven eyes represent she can see into the six realms plus ultimate reality, which is emptiness. Each of her eyes can see into one realm of samsara in which she saves, benefits, helps, assists and emanate for the sake of those beings. The extra third eye she has on her forehead is symbolic of her having penetration to the reality of samsara, meaning she has achieved emptiness… that she is a fully enlightened Buddha with unlimited clairvoyance. Her white body represents the purity of enlightenment, unstained by any soils of samsara. She sits in a meditation pose with her legs fully crossed, meaning by meditation and practice she has achieved full enlightenment. So, she encourages us to do our meditations by her pose. Then, she has two full breasts that are exposed, representing the bliss of enlightenment. Additionally, breasts are meant to feed, to take care of as well as to assist, help and nurture. So, Tara’s exposed breasts means that she will nurture you, take care of you, “feed” you and watch over you like a mother for her only child until you are strong, grown and fully able to stand on your own. This is symbolic that Tara will nurture you until enlightenment, where you can rise and be free of samsara if you rely on her all the way.
Tara’s hair is partially tied up on top with three topknots where the highest one represents achievement of full Nirvana and that she cannot ever fall down in samsara again. The remaining half of her hair flows down her shoulders and back, straight and is blue-black in color, representing that although she is fully enlightened, she is still emanating and active in samsara. Tara’s time and her affinity to sentient beings are not over, enabling her to still help in samsara. Therefore, the half of her hair that is down means she emanates in samsara, while the half of her hair that is tied up represents that she is completely free from samsara. Tara wears five ornaments on her body, which is the crown, necklace, armlets, and anklets. Her body being so beautiful and so incredibly out of this world that no beautiful woman on this planet or in samsara can compare to the beauty of Tara. In fact, the beauty of Tara’s body is said to be so great that her body itself represents the 6th ornament. Hence, the 5 ornaments that she wears together with her body represents six ornaments, symbolizing that Tara has perfected the path of all six paramitas.
Paramita is the perfection or culmination of virtues, which are cultivated as a way of purification of karma and accumulation of merit to help aspirant to reach the goal of enlightenment. The six paramitas include giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, contemplation and wisdom.
By practicing, relying and praying to Tara, one can achieve the six paramitas because, we are directly fulfilling the six paramitas. For example, when we make offering to Tara, it is the paramita of giving; When we meditate on Tara, it is the paramita of concentration etc. So by doing the worship of Tara, we are fulfilling the six paramitas. Tara is universal and is free from sects, free from schools of Buddhism and free from labels. Tara is a fully enlightened Buddha. Anyone relying upon her will be blessed, be free of the Eight Great Fears on the inner and outer level. On top of that, you will be able to accomplish lower and higher attainments. Lower attainments include clairvoyance, walking fast, ability to heal and make medicines, control etc. Higher attainments include reaching mahamudra siddhi or gaining full enlightenment.
Therefore, if we wish to do the practice of Tara, you do not need any initiation. You can do the prayer to Tara as written by the first Dalai Lama, which is my favorite.
A Gem to Increase Life and Wisdom
A Praise of White Tara by Gyalwa Gendun Drub, The 1st Dalai Lama
Homage to the Female Buddha beautiful with youth
Who sits on seats of white lotus and moon in nature
Spreading with stainless compassion and knowledge,
Who captures the radiance of snow mountains.
Homage to the Youthful One with budding breasts,
Who has one face and two arms, sits in the vajra posture,
Is bold with grace and calm, has a full moon as backrest
And is filled with great bliss.
Homage to the Ultimately Generous One whose right hand,
Showing the mudra Supreme Giving
Easily releases boundless karmas of peace, increase, power and wrath
As well as the eight siddhis and even supreme Buddhahood.
Homage to the Spiritual Mother who gives birth to Buddhas
Past, present and future; whose left hand
Supporting a blue lotus, grants protection
From lions, elephants, fires and all eight terrors.
Homage to the Refuge of the World, who has eyes
In hands and feet gazing at the four doors of freedom
And who leads all living creatures
Toward the isle of blissful liberation.
Homage to she whose face unites
The beauty of a million autumn moons,
Whose wide eyes gaze with compassion
Whose Joyous mouth smiles equally on all.
Homage to she with head adorned by Amitayus, boundless Life,
The mere thought of whom grants life and wisdom,
Whose hand, in the contemplative mudra,
Hold a vase filled with ambrosia of immortality.
Homage to the All-Beautified One whose crown
Steals the light of sun and moon,
Whose sapphire hair is half knotted on top
And half falling freely over her shoulders.
Homage to the Majestic One of precious ornament blazing,
Whose crown, earrings, necklaces, arm-bands,
Bracelets, anklets and belt so elegantly arranged
Surpass the ornaments of men and gods.
Homage to she of celestial raiment,
Whose shoulder-sash and skirt
Hug her body like rainbows
Hug the crystal mountains.
Homage to the goddess before whose lotus feet
Vishnu, Indra, Shiva, Brahma, the antigods, spirits,
Men, semi-humans and all the world
Submit themselves in devotion.
Merely by reciting your mantra,
Those who make offerings at your lotus feet
Gain immortality, wisdom and merit
And attain all desired siddhis; to you I bow down.
The knowledge, compassion and perfect actions of all Buddhas
Appear in the form of the beautiful goddess
I take refuge in you and offer you my prayers;
Pray eliminate all my obstacles and fulfill all my aims.
Quickly release your perfect action of peace,
Calming all interferences to my practices for enlightenment;
Interferences such as the eight terrors,
Sickness, demons and other harmful agents, inner and outer.
Quickly release your perfect action of increase which multiplies
All good qualities, such as life, merit, unapprehending compassion,
The stainless wisdoms of learning, contemplation and meditation,
And the three higher trainings.
Quickly release your perfect action of power,
Which causes gods, men and spirits
To humbly bow before you
And which fulfils all wishes of the mind.
Quickly release your perfect action of wrath,
Which with punishments befitting the evils done
Destroys demons, interferences and hindrances
Hateful opposing Buddhadharma and its holders.
Pray, bestow quick and easy attainment of siddhis
Such as the magic sword, mystic eye-medicine, fast-walking,
The food pill and the precious vase,
And even mahamudra, the highest siddhi.
In brief, from now until enlightenment
I respectfully make offerings at your lotus feet
I need seek no other refuge
Out of compassion gaze upon me and quickly grant protection.
By the meritorious energy of this practice
May the transcended, perfect Tara
Look upon me forever with pleasure
And never leave me, even for a moment.
May all sentient beings after death take rebirth
Before Amitayus in Sukavati, Land of Pure Joy,
May they live in the ways of the great Bodhisattvas
And come to equal Avalokiteshvara, Lord of Compassion.
May I realise the oceans of Sutras and Tantras
To be able to pass them on to others;
And until samsara be emptied may I strive
To uphold the victory banner of practicing exactly as taught.
Upon completing the above praise to Tara, you can do her short mantra:
OM TARE TUTARE TUREE SOHA
Tara’s mantra, is short but extremely powerful whereby every syllable has a meaning:
- “OM” represents Tara’s enlightened body, speech, and mind.
- “TARE” means one who liberates from suffering.
- “TUTTARE” means one who liberates from the eight fears.
- “TURE” means one who liberates from ignorance with wisdom that brings the true cessation of suffering.
- “SOHA” means may the meaning of the mantra take root in my mind.
Alternatively, or you can do the extended White Tara mantra:
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE MAMA AYU PUNYE JANA PUTIM KURUYE SOHA
You can do this recitation every single day. You can choose either to recite the short or extended mantra, it is your choice. This practice can be done anywhere, but doing the prayer in front of her image, would be excellent. Tara’s practice will help to increase our life, free us from the Eight Great Fears, and if we want particular obstacles to be removed, it is very good to do Tara’s practice. In fact, in Gaden, Sera and Drepung Monastery, Tara prayers are recited every single day, before debates. Additionally, Tara pujas are done by the whole sangha community and tormas are offered to her in a special ritual called Drolchok on a monthly basis. Therefore, Tara’s practice is very much prevalent in the monasteries because her effects and very quick, blessed and she has very special karma to benefit us.
I thought I would give you a little bit of explanation about Tara. Sometime, we have special beings that do their meditations correctly, hold their vows correctly and they could even be very good monks or nuns. Very good monks and nuns on their own are very blessed and the longer they hold their vows the more and more blessed they become. This is why we respect senior, older monks and nuns very much. It is a privilege to serve older monks and nuns: to wash their clothes, to offer them food, to clean their seat, to carry their bags or to make offerings of water or fulfill other needs of the sangha. Making offerings to the sangha is not special only in Tibetan Buddhism only but it is a practice that is started and implemented by Lord Buddha himself. Therefore the sangha is the third of our refuge because the monastic community are virtuous ones who practice, meditate and focus on the Dharma 24 hours a day all their lives.
Without the sangha, the Dharma cannot exist. Without the Dharma, a Buddha cannot arise. So, Buddha is dependent on the Dharma and the Dharma is dependent on the sangha. Without sangha, there is no Dharma, without Dharma there is no Buddha. Some people may say that there are exceptional lay people who hold the Dharma. Yes, there are exceptional lay people who can hold the Dharma but they don’t create a monastic system where their lineage can be passed on to others. So the lineage can be lost… the practices, teachings and Dharma can be lost. Therefore the sangha community is very important. When you have special sangha who are learned, advanced, highly trained and who hold their vows very well, even a piece of cloth from them is considered very holy. If we have the hair and even nails of these being;, they can be placed inside the stupa as an object of veneration, faith and offering. Therefore, sangha, advanced sangha, senior sangha are very blessed beings for us to serve, to assist, to take care of and, also, to show veneration.
In Shar Gaden Monastery we have an elite, senior and older sangha, his name is Kensur Rinpoche Jetsun Lobsang Phende. He is a scholar, a meditation master and an erudite learned person in both sutra and tantra. Kensur Rinpoche received his lineage and practice from the greatest Lamas of Tibet such as His Eminence Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. He has received teachings from these great erudite masters, practiced and put it into complete application and received the results. What are the results? Kensur Rinpoche is still a monk, which shows you he has given up attachment to the world. He is practicing a teaching, which shows you his commitment in spreading the Dharma.
Kensur Rinpoche is always happy, smiling and pleasant and delighted to meet anyone who comes to receive his blessings or ask questions, which shows that he has no attachment to himself. So, this is a great master. I have been his friend for over 25 years. He is a friend of mine from Gaden, for which I am humbled to say. At the same time, I respect Kensur Rinpoche very much for being the first abbot of the Shar Gaden Monastery. When our team went to Shar Gaden Monastery, to make some offerings, we had a great honor and pleasure to be able to serve Kensur Rinpoche, to take him for a full medical check up and also improve his medication. It was at this trip that I was able to call him through my team and speak to him directly and request him to give a series of teachings in the monastery. I also requested Kensur Rinpoche to use his meditative ability to extend his life, to live very long for the benefit of others.
I was extremely honored to receive a special image of White Tara as a gift from Kensur Rinpoche himself. This special image of Tara was taken from Kensur Rinpoche’s personal altar. I wanted to share this White Tara that is double blessed with everyone. Firstly, it is blessed because: it is Tara! As Zong Rinpoche said, if it is an image of Tara, it is so blessed it doesn’t even need to be consecrated. Secondly, it was on the altar of a very holy, senior monk… and it was given to me in that way. I feel very blessed and honored to receive such a great gift. I couldn’t keep such a precious item on my personal alter and selfishly collect all the blessings myself every single day! So I placed this blessed Tara statue in Kechara’s altar in Wisdom Hall, with a label of when she arrived and where she came from together with this blog post about the holiness of this statue. So, if anyone ever comes to Kechara Forest Retreat, please make a beeline path to this image, prepare your khata and make your offering and prostrations and pray for Tara.
I thought I’d share this beautiful image and a little bit of history and story about Tara with everyone. I was inspired by this gift to share about sacred Tara here. Please enjoy it! I wish everybody happiness, long life, excellence, and may everyone sincerely be taken care of by Tara in this life and all future lives.
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