Tibetan and sanskrit script:
ॐ तारे तुत्तारे तुरे स्वाहा॥
Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Svāhā
- ཀརྨ་རྡོ་རྗེ། Karma Dorje doing an audio recording recitation of the mantra above.
Tārā’s name literally means “star” or “planet”, and therefore she is associated with navigation and travel both literally and metaphorically as spiritual crossing to the ‘other side’ of the ocean of existence (enlightenment). Hence she is known literally as “she who saves” in Tibetan. In the 108 Names of the Holy Tara, Tara is ‘Leader of the caravans ….. who showeth the way to those who have lost it’ and she is named as Dhruva, the Sanskrit name for the North Star.
There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tārā. Following her cultivation of bodhicitta, the bodhisattva’s motivation, she looked upon the situation of those striving towards full awakening and she felt that there were too few people who attained Buddhahood as women. So she vowed, “I have developed bodhicitta as a woman. For all my lifetimes along the path I vow to be born as a woman, and in my final lifetime when I attain Buddhahood, then, too, I will be a woman.”
Regarding the practice of Tara, she is an enlightened being on the twelfth bhumi or stage of enlightenment, able to fulfill all the wishes of beings. Tara is the manifestation of the compassion of all the Buddhas of the three times. She is also the goddess who carries out and accomplishes the enlightened activities of the Buddhas.
There have been countless Buddhas of other aeons and eras. In the beginning of our aeon, there was a particular Buddha, the Buddha of that era, known as Mahavairochana. In the time of this Buddha, there was a great king who had a daughter by the name of Princess Metok Zay, Princess ‘Beautiful Flower’. Princess Beautiful Flower was devout in prayer, and carried out marvelous activities to benefit other beings. While still a young girl, Princess Beautiful Flower made vast offerings and dedications, performing generous, courageous, patient, and compassionate activities of the greatest virtue on behalf of sentient beings.
When Buddha Mahavairochana asked the Princess what it was she wished for, what was the intent of her heart, she replied, “I shall remain in this world until every single being is fully liberated.”
This was a joyful surprise to the Buddha, who had never heard anyone offer such a noble, selfless, and courageous aspiration. In response to her personal sacrifices, her virtue and aspirations, and inspired by her wishes on behalf of beings, Buddha Vairochana spoke spontaneously the prayer of the twenty-one praises to Tara, a praise to twenty-one qualities of Tara.
As a result of this praise spoken by Buddha Vairochana, it came to be known that Princess Beautiful Flower was the emanation of the goddess Tara, who had originally come forth from the tears of compassion shed by the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, or Chenrezig.
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva had immense compassion for other living beings. Although he strove ceaselessly to help other beings, he felt great sorrow that so many beings continued to fall helplessly into the lower realms of existence such as the hells. He saw that very few beings were making progress on the path to enlightenment. In utter despair, out of unbearable compassion, Avalokiteśvara cried in anguish, In utter despair, out of unbearable compassion, Avalokiteśvara cried in anguish, praying that it would be better that his body be broken into pieces and he die, since he was unable to fulfill his task of rescuing living beings from suffering. From his tears of compassion, the goddess Tara arose.
Upon appearing miraculously in this way, Tara spoke to Avalokiteśvara, saying, “O noble one, do not forsake the sublime task of benefiting sentient beings. I have been inspired by and have rejoiced in all of your unselfish deeds. I understand the great hardships you have undergone. But perhaps, if I assume the form of a female bodhisattva with the name of Tara, as a counterpart to you, then that might assist you in your most worthy endeavors.” Hearing this aspiration by Tara, Avalokiteśvara was filled with a renewed courage to continue his efforts on behalf of beings, and at this time both he and Tara were blessed by Amitābha Buddha for their commitment to the bodhisattva path.
At the time when Avalokiteśvara had cried out in despair, his body broke into one thousand pieces. Amitābha Buddha then blessed his body so that Avalokiteśvara arose in a new form with eleven heads, and with one thousand arms with an eye in the palm of each hand. In this way, we can see the close connection between Avalokiteśvara and Tara.
It is said that since that time, whoever will recite this praise to the twenty-one Taras spoken by Buddha Mahavairochana is sure to receive incredible benefits. Buddha Vairochana was able to fulfill all of his wishes. Even for Buddhas, there are times when they are unable to satisfy the needs of some sentient beings. However, after giving rise to this praise to the twenty-one Taras, Buddha Vairochana was able to not only fulfill all of his own wishes, but he was also generally able to fulfill all of the wishes of all who approached him.
Once an old woman came to Buddha Vairochana. She was quite poor, but had a daughter who was extraordinarily beautiful. This daughter had a royal admirer who desired her hand in marriage. In ancient India, if a peasant girl was to marry royalty, it was the custom that the girl’s family should try to provide at least the jewelry to be worn by the bride. The impoverished old woman had no means with which to obtain jewelry for her daughter’s wedding.
This woman had heard that Buddha Vairochana could grant anyone’s wishes, and so she approached him. She came before the Buddha, asking if he could give her some jewelry so that her daughter might marry the king and fulfill the wishes of many people. At that time, Buddha Vairochana was staying in the Bodhi temple of Bodhgaya.
At the Bodhi temple there were many images of Green Tara. As he had no jewelry of his own to give her, the Buddha requested of one of the special images of Green Tara at the Bodhi temple that she give her crown to him, so that he could please the old mother and that her daughter might become a queen. This statue of Tara removed her own crown, and presented it to Buddha Vairochana, who was able to then offer it to the woman for her daughter’s marriage.
It is said of Green Tara that not only will she give to beings whatever they may need, but also that she is able to allay each of the major fears of beings, such as the eight or sixteen common fears of beings which include fear of robbers and thieves, fear of water, of snakes, of poison, of imprisonment, and so on, as well as all the inner fears. Whatever fears beings suffer from, whenever they would recite the twenty-one praises to Tara, or even merely recite her ten-syllable mantra, OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SVAHA, their fears have been pacified, and their needs have been fulfilled.
Buddha Mahavairochana appeared in a very, very ancient time, far before the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is also said that later, in our own era, Buddha Sakyamunī himself spoke the exact same prayer, repeating the words of Buddha Vairochana. This is recounted in the Kangyur collection of the words of the Buddha.
Thus, Tara was also greatly praised by Buddha Sakyamunī himself. In this way, the prayer to the twenty-one Taras carries immense blessing and power. Countless Mahayana Buddhists chant this praise every day; whether they are ordained or lay Mahayana Buddhists chant this praise every day; whether they are ordained or lay practitioners, whether they are young or old, this prayer has resounded as a constant murmur in the mouths of the faithful, since long before our present aeon.
In much more recent times, Tara has been the goddess relied upon as a meditational deity by many of the greatest masters in Buddhist history, great Indian Mahayana Buddhist philosophers and Mahasiddha adepts, such as in particular the esteemed Indian masters Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. The Indian pandita scholar Chandragomin had visions of Tara and received direct transmission from Tara. So many of the greatest of these masters have been devoted adept practitioners of Tara. The Indian Mahasiddha Virupa, founder of the Lam Dre lineage of Buddha Hevajra, received blessings from Tara.
One of the greatest Indian masters, who had a very important role in introducing the practice of Tara in Tibet, was the Bengali pandita scholar Atiśa. Atiśa had been invited many times to visit Tibet, but he had always refused, having heard about the high altitude and harsh climate of Tibet, as well as the unruly and uncouth character of the Tibetan people. He doubted that he would be able to go there and really turn their minds to the path of dharma.
The Indian master Atiśa, being a great devotee of Green Tara long before he journeyed to Tibet, one day received a prophecy from Tara. Tara herself told Atiśa that he should go to the land of snows, Tibet, where he would, like the sun, illuminate beings with the teachings of the Buddha, dispelling all their darkness.
In this way, he would bring great benefit to the sentient beings in the northern countries. Tara further told Atiśa that there he would meet a great disciple of his, one who would be in fact an emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. She prophesied that the combined activities of Atiśa and this disciple would cause the teachings to flourish for thousands of years and spread everywhere.
Only after hearing these prophetic words spoken by Tara did Atiśa relent in his judgments regarding Tibet and the Tibetans, and he resolved to go to Tibet. Although Atiśa did face some initial difficulties in Tibet, such as not finding qualified translators and meeting with harsh conditions, nonetheless in time he did meet up with his prophesied disciple, Dromtonpa. Dromtonpa went on to become the founder of the Kadampa school, which became the source from which the Dalai Lama incarnations have arisen.
It is from the influence of Atiśa that the teachings of Green Tara came to flourish in Tibet. Although the earlier Nyingmapa tradition worshipped the goddess in various forms, this was not so widely spread until Atiśa came to Tibet and propagated the praise to the twenty-one Taras. These are some of the blessings and gifts of holy Tara.
Chandragomin was another of the great Indian masters who played a significant role in the spreading of the traditions of Tara. He was not a monk, but was an upasaka, a lay practitioner holding eight vows.
Due to such masters, the praise to the twenty-one Taras, her mantra, and rituals, spread to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, all of which continue to rely on the practice of meditation on Tara. There are a great many stories of spiritual masters in Tibet who relied on Tara as their meditation deity.
In the sixteenth century in Tibet was a very great master called Jonang Taranatha. ‘Tara’ means ‘savior’, ‘Natha’ means ‘protector’ in Sanskrit. He was said to be in an almost continuous direct communion with Tara herself. He sought out Indian Buddhist traditions when there was almost nothing left of the Buddhadharma in India, and was said to have found and recovered many sources of dharma teaching.
Taranatha wrote an elaborate history of Tara and her practices. He was very careful about dating and identifying different Indian masters who were associated with the practice of Tara. Taranatha’s writings on Tara survive in his collected works, and there are English translations of this work that include explanations of the twenty-one praises to Tara.
There are specific mantras for each of the twenty-one forms of Tara. Specific forms of Tara can be invoked for particular obstacles or fears, and one can practice them in this way once one has received empowerment and transmission of the twenty-one praises to Tara.
To set the benefit of these blessings of the Buddhas, of Tara, and of all these masters, in motion, it is said that after receiving the transmission of the twenty-one praises to Tara, one may choose to recite this praise, or recite the long dhāraṇī form of Tara’s mantra, or even just recite the ten syllable mantra of Tara. One may recite any or all of these three, whether it be early in the morning, or in the middle or the day, or in the evening, or in the middle of the night. It is said to be especially important and helpful to recite these whenever one’s mind is troubled and cannot be pacified by other means.
One whose mind is so troubled may speak about their problems to some friends, but still they remain disturbed. Friends may support our point of view and understand our fears, yet still, our wishes are not fulfilled. Even if they are supportive and agree with us, our problems still remain; just because they are in sympathetic agreement with us does not mean they are able to truly help us. It even happens that one may be worse off than before as a result of such friendly consultations!
On the other hand, any faithful devotee may recite the twenty-one praises to Tara, or may recite the long dhāraṇī mantra or even the short mantra of ten syllables, OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SVAHA, whenever they may be in crisis. When their needs and wishes are being denied or frustrated and cannot be fulfilled, leaving them feeling crippled or confused, if at this time they pray to her, she will be there to heal their fears and tribulations.
This approach presents us with an alternative to our ordinary response to difficulties. When we are troubled, normally we would immediately seek out a friend or counselor to validate our misery. Wishing to find comfort and pacify our turmoil, we may instead stir things up and actually make them worse. Another approach worth trying is that we might instead recite the praise to the twenty-one Taras, or recite her mantra, and in this way find the comfort and resolution we are looking for.
The practice of Tara is also very beneficial and effective for dharma centers. Those centers that do the pujas or prayer rituals of Tara find themselves rewarded with success, as their wishes for the spread of the teachings of Buddha are fulfilled! Deep and heartfelt wishes that we give rise to out of inspiration and devotion are much more easily fulfilled, especially when they are for the sake of others!
Virtually every Tibetan monastery performs Green Tara puja prayer rituals every morning, whether they have five monks or one thousand. The praise to the twenty-one Taras has been chanted continuously by countless beings stretching all the way back to Buddha Vairochana in an earlier age long, long before our present era. The fact that this prayer is so ancient and has been so popular and widely practiced over the ages contributes to its great power and effectiveness.
All the accumulated blessings of that have arisen due to the prayers of the faithful throughout the ages come down to us and are received by us when we pray with faith and devotion to Tara. Through regular practice of the praise to the twenty-one Taras and the mantras of Tara, these blessings are cultivated and can ripen in our mindstreams, in our experience. It is for this reason that the worship of Tara makes such an excellent daily practice.
- ཀརྨ་རྡོ་རྗེ། Karma Dorje compiled this page as a supplemental guide and motivational support for others, please forgive him for any errors.