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The Legend of Tara

The Legend of Tara

Tara’s name means One Who Saves. Her compassion for living beings and her desire to save them from suffering is said to be stronger than a mother’s love for her children. Tara is the Bodhisattva who represents the miraculous activity of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.

Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of the World, was looking down from his heaven on the world of suffering beings, and he wept to see that more and more of them were in pain no matter how many he delivered. From the tears streaming down his face two Taras were born, a peaceful white one from the left and a fierce green one from the right. As the quintessence of the miraculous activities of all Buddhas, they gave him courage not to give up striving in his impossible task. Tara is the female companion to Avalokiteshvara, “Mother of Buddhas of all three times,” (as expressed in the Tara Tantra) and the compassionate savior of all beings.

Tara overcomes inharmonious conditions and destroys external threats and obstructions. She is the ultimate reality, the true body of the Buddhas. She is the immovable source from which the miraculous saving activities emerge. Tara shakes the three worlds, dispels the effects of poison, eliminates conflicts and nightmares, cures diseases, and overcomes ghosts and demons.

Tara is the savior from the eight dangers. Just by being called to help, she instantaneously saves the faithful from attacks by:

  1. Lions and pride;
  2. Wild elephants and delusions;
  3. Forest fires and hatred;
  4. Snakes and envy;
  5. Robbers and fanatical views;
  6. Prisons and avarice;
  7. Floods and lust; and
  8. Demons and doubts.

Her left hand is raised with extended three fingers upward, in the gesture of granting refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddhism — the Buddha (Teacher), the Dharma (Teaching), and the sangha (Community).

Hindu legends tell of Tara’s abduction by Soma, the moon-god. A war was fought for her recovery, and after her return she gave birth to Soma’s child. Tara means “star” in the Hindu language.

White Tara

Solid and luxurious, White Tara’s nature is to offer peace, prosperity, long life, health, and good fortune. She is believed to protect human beings while they are crossing the ocean of existence. Her body is seen by the practitioner as being as dazzling white as a thousand autumn moons. She has a third eye on her forehead, symbolizing her direct vision of the unity of ultimate reality simultaneous with her two eyes seeing the dualistic relative world of beings. She is often depicted with extra eyes on her palms, symbolizing that her generosity is always accompanied by perfect wisdom, and a lotus flower at one or both of her shoulders.

White Tara is regarded as consort of Avalokiteshvara, and sometimes of Vairochana. She is portrayed usually seated, dressed and crowned like a Bodhisattva, although sometimes White Tara is portrayed in a standing, dancing position.

In Tibet, White Tara is associated with the 7th-century Tang princess Wen Cheng, the wife of King Songtsen Gambo, who brought the famous Jowo statue of Shakyamuni to Tibet and was instrumental in constructing the Jokhang, the great temple in Lhasa.

Green Tara

This is Tara’s most dynamic manifestation, often artistically rendered as a fluttering liveliness. She is portrayed similar to White Tara with the exception being that her left hand holds a half-closed lotus or water lily flower with long petals often colored blue. Her green body color signifies her association with the Buddha clan of Amoghasiddhi, the Transcendent Buddha of the north. He transmutes the poison of envy and turns it to the positive energy of all-accomplishing wisdom. Like him, Green Tara is a semiterrific manifestation propitiated in order to overcome obstacles, to save oneself from dangers, and to deal with evil in general.

In Tibet she is associated with Bhrkuti, the Nepalese queen of Tibet’s first great religious king, Songtsen Gambo (d. 649), and credited with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet and China. In the Lamaeist Tradition, Green Tara is incarnate in all good women.

The Legend of Historical Tara

Thirteen hundred years ago, Songtsen Gambo, powerful king of the area now known as Tibet, fell into a dilemma rather typical of his times. He had succeeded, through force and intrigue, in securing for himself the entire plateau between the Chinese empire and the vast Himalayan chain that formed the ambiguous northern border of Nepal. He was king of all he surveyed for the moment, but alliances changed quickly in those days.

Not wishing to be swallowed up by the larger kingdoms around him, Songtsen Gambo devised a strategic tribute. He demanded one princess from each of two neighboring realms, to serve as his wives. Having such “hostage” brides from Nepal and China in his court wouldn’t permanently forestall hostilities, but they were unlikely to be a concern during his own lifetime.

Songtsen Gambo was clever; the Nepalis and Chinese even more so. Well aware of the persuasive powers of their women, each ruler sent over a princess of extraordinary beauty. Both were thoroughly schooled in the sexual secrets of Tantra (a religious sect specializing in the control of human sexuality to achieve spiritual enlightenment), as well as in the more esoteric delights of Buddhism. Between the two of them, the mighty Songtsen Gambo was converted to Buddhism in a very short time — and the Taras were justly rewarded by being reincarnated as Bodhisattvas of compassion.

The princess Bhrkuti from the verdant Kathmandu Valley came to be known as the “green” Tara. Her colleague from the north, Tang princess Wen Cheng, was the “white.”