The Teachings of Tārā
My everlasting love of mythology offers me a window through which to peer through time to see the most prized virtues and customs of eras gone by. How civilisations separated by many miles and hundreds of years can reach similar conclusions about why the sun beats down upon us, why the moon fluctuates in size monthly or understanding how we can journey elegantly through the cycles of life.
No one encompasses the latter more than Tārā. Bodhisattva, Goddess and groundbreaking feminine icon who refused to reincarnate as a man to find enlightenment.
Pictured above as green Tārā, in a seated position, one leg tucked in the other ready to spring into action. The mudra in her left hand, known as 'Surya Ravi mudra', unites the elements of earth and fire, promoting health, vitality, and positive life changes. Her open palm resting on her leg is a welcome sign of teaching and reassurance.
Her two main origin stories are very different but achieve the same message eloquently. Worshipped across Buddhism and Hinduism, I believe these two origin stories are from each belief system.
Most Buddhists believe Tārā was a member of a royal Tibetan family, affectionately called 'wisdom moon'; she was incredibly studious and was extremely close to attaining enlightenment. On the precipice of Buddhahood, she was to make a sacred vow before Buddha himself - a vow to remain on the path to elevate the needs of others above her own. Her devotion didn't go unnoticed, so Buddha decreed that if she prayed to be reincarnated as a man, she would attain enlightenment.
Tārā smiled and replied: "Here, there is no man; there is no woman, no self, no person, just consciousness. 'Male' and 'Female' are hollow, oh how worldly fools delude themselves. Those who wish to attain enlightenment in a man's body are many, but those who wish to serve the aims of beings in a woman's body are few indeed. Therefore may I, until this world is empty, work for the benefit of all humans in a woman's body?"
And it was so; Tārā was reborn in feminine form and went on to mediate for 10,100,000 years, consequently liberating the same number of beings from the bondage of small thinking. Through this mammoth achievement, she became a Goddess.
Her alternate origin tale speaks of the day she arrived earth-side through the tears of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. He cried as he saw all the pain of humankind; from his tears, a lake appeared, from which a single lotus flower grew. Tara appeared moments later from the lotus with a flash of energetic vibrancy to begin her work.
Hinduism and Buddhism recognise the importance of suffering, a natural part of the human experience. However, suffering often comes from wanting or craving, giving way to disappointment.
Tārā's teaching is simple, recognise the impermanence of everything in life and fill this incarnation with the joys of simple living.
Tārā's origins are murky as she is considered the third oldest Goddess in human worship. Her roots are likely in Shaktism, a precursor to Hinduism, as Buddhism was devoid of deities altogether until the branches of Mahayana and Vajrayana began to spread across Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia and Japan in the 3rd century BCE.
Due to this migration, she's become an embodiment of many things and now has 21 avatars:
Green Tārā; is the most widely recognised and worshipped throughout Asia. A manifestation of nature, she offers wisdom and protection through the worldly cycles of samsara (birth, death and rebirth), teaching individuals to journey ever closer to nirvana (bliss) every day.
White Tārā; personifies maternal compassion, offering healing to beings who are hurt physically, mentally or emotionally, promoting long life and serenity.
Red Tārā; is a fierce model of attraction and positivity. She melts away the material and focuses on the raw, shifting lust and desire into compassion and love.
Blue Tārā; is associated with the transmutation of anger. Swift, sometimes painful spiritual growth is bound to her and often unwanted in the moment but necessary in the grand scheme of life.
You'll also find black, burgundy, yellow, orange, purple and pink Tārā's, each symbolising a unique element of this ancient Goddesses' power.
In recent history, Tārā is also the etymological origin for the word Terra; Latin for 'earth'. Binding her numerous earthly cycles of life to modern western language as well.
Which Tārā would you look to for guidance today?
If you enjoyed this article, I invite you to join me on a day retreat centred around the history of yoga. We'll delve into the origins of the tradition, the crossover with Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism and how to colour your future practice.
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Mythological, philosophical and whimsical ramblings of a curious minded yogi.