Profile of a Goddess
White Tara is the goddess of compassion. Read the section about "Practice" and try it. Then maybe you would like to show up at one of the many tibetan Buddhist gatherings scheduled in Salt Lake this month.
AKA: Arya Tara, Jetsun Dolma, Divine Mother, Great Protector, Mother of All Buddhas, Mother of Liberation, Universal Mother of Compassion, Tara of the Turned Face, Tara of Seven Eyes, the Great Goddess, She Who Brings Forth Life, Star of Heaven, She Who is the Embodiment of Wisdom, The Great Compassionate Mother, The Faithful One, The Fierce Protectoress, One Who Saves
Different Aspects: White Tara is one aspect belonging to a set of Bodhisattvas (a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others or Buddha to be). Some other aspects are Green Tara (activity of compassion), Red Tara (magnetizing all good things), BlackTara (power), Yellow Tara (wealth and prosperity), Blue Tara (transmutation of anger) and Cittamani Tara.
Mythology: Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana, Vajrayana)
Translation: Star (Sanskrit)
Story & Symbolism: Tara originated as the Hindu goddess Parvati, the Mother Creator, before entering Buddhism around the third century BCE. A few stories speak of her origins in Buddhism. This one describes in words how we usually see Tara depicted:
Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, looked down upon the earth and was so moved by the extent of suffering he observed that tears of compassion flowed down his cheeks and created a pool. From this pool Tara was born, rising from a blooming lotus as the embodiment of love and compassion.
White Tara is seen with breasts uncovered, sitting in the diamond lotus position on a lotus flower. She has seven eyes (two in the usual place, one on each of her hands and feet and a third eye on her forehead) exhibiting that she sees all suffering in the world. Her white color portrays purity and radiance. Her right hand makes the boon-granting mudra (hand position), her left hand is held in the protection mudra while also holding the Utpala (a three-bloomed flower that symbolizes Tara as the essence of the three Buddhas).
AKA in other mythologies: Kuan Yin (China), Great Goddess Tara (Celtic), Tarahumara (S. America), Ishtar (Egyptian), Star Woman (Cheyenne), Tarani Bosatsu (Japan), Tara (Druids, Hinduism, Jainism, Tibetan Lamaism, Polynesian)
Interpretation: An acquaintance who was struggling once asked me, "Is there a goddess of forgiveness that I can turn to?" I considered this for awhile until it occurred to me that one can not find forgiveness without compassion. Then I realized that if one truly feels compassion, there is no reason for forgiveness. If someone hurts you, their unconscious actions come from a story within themselves, a story where you are not really the object. So what is there to forgive? It may have nothing to do with you or everything to do with you; it doesn’t really matter. In either case, they are suffering and you have the choice to feed that suffering or to transform it with compassion, thereby healing both of you. Like the half full/half empty glass metaphor, the reality is in our perception. We are all hurt by others and we all hurt others. You can live your life feeling unloved because you perceive that you lack love, or you can feel abundance with the love you have.
Buddha describes compassion in the "Four Sublime States of Mind," as the way to reduce suffering. The Path of Purification (fifth century CE) states the importance of understanding that first you must feel compassion for yourself before feeling compassion for others. In the next stage, you find compassion for a loved one, which also is easy. In the third stage, focus your compassion on a stranger, and lastly, practice compassion for someone for whom you feel hostility. This is the most difficult stage, but consider this and it will help-we are all the same in this basic desire; we need to feel loved. You develop universal love and compassion when you see every individual that suffers as if she were your child, or as if he were your parent and that you want to end their suffering.
I believe that the cessation of suffering is the result of compassion found through suffering. When you encounter a situation full of pain and suffering, it breaks your heart wide open. In this vulnerable period, you realize love is the most valuable thing you could ever have in your life. All those daily irritations and human infractions mean nothing in comparison. In this moment, you find compassion, because your healing heart has room only for love.
Practice: Compassion is not a passive emotion and it does not occur arbitrarily. You create it by setting your intention and by practicing. During your meditation, try a mantra that Tibetan Buddhists called "Tara Practice." A mantra is a syllable or poem used as spiritual conduit or vibration. Repeating this invocation of Tara helps focus your attention toward achieving compassion: Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha. Pronunce it ohm tahray tootahray tooray sohah.
Om is the cosmic sound that keeps our universe together. Tare invokes Tara. Tutare translates as deliverance into individual salvation, liberation from fear, external dangers and internal delusions; these syllables activate the center of compassion within us. Ture is deliverance into the Bodhisattva path of universal salvation, the end of suffering, liberation from ignorance. Soha means let this be so or amen.
A tangible object can also help your practice. For example, I have a copper bracelet with this mantra etched into it. While wearing it, I often find my fingers running over the beautiful script, constant reminder of my intention. During particularly challenging moments, just touching these words prompts me to exercise compassion. You may connect to a Tibetan prayer wheel, a necklace, a fetish or statue of Tara, a tattoo, or any other symbol that recalls your compassionate intention. Keep it with you for the times you need to call upon Goddess Tara.
Listen to Tara’s Mantra: www.dzogchen.org/chant/tara.htm
Other reading: "In Praise of Tara" (MartinWilson), "Tara the Feminine Divine" (Bokar Rinpoche), "The Cult of Tara" (Stephan Beyer), "How to Free Your Mind" (Thubten Chodron)
In her spare time from teaching kindergarten, raising two mini-goddesses and managing a band, you may find Carol Koleman Taiko drumming, shooting some photos, making talisman necklaces or spinning fire machetes in the desert.