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Green Tara and White Tara: Feminine Ideals in Buddhist Art
Article of the Month - November 2000 by Nitin Kumar Email the author

Goddess Tara, a female Buddha and meditational deity, is arguably the most popular goddess in the Buddhist pantheon. She is considered to be the goddess of universal compassion who represents virtuous and enlightened activity.

The word Tara itself is derived from the root 'tri' (to cross), hence the implied meaning:' the one who enables living beings to cross the Ocean of Existence and Suffering'. Her compassion for living beings, her desire to save them from suffering, is said to be even stronger than a mother's love for her children.

The story of Tara's origin, according to the Tara Tantra, recounts that aeons ago she was born as a king's daughter. A spiritual and compassionate princess, she regularly gave offerings and prayers to the ordained monks and nuns. She thus developed great merit, and the monks told her that, because of her spiritual attainments, they would pray that she be reborn as a man and spread Buddhist teachings. She responded that there was no male and no female, that nothing existed in reality, and that she wished to remain in female form to serve other beings until everyone reached enlightenment, hence implying the shortfall in the monk's knowledge in presuming only male preachers for the Buddhist religion. Thus Tara might be considered one of the earliest feminists.

Another legend of Tara is that she was born from the compassionate tears of Avalokiteshvara (The Buddha of compassion):

"Homage! Tara, swift, heroic! With a glance like flashing
lightning, born from a blooming lotus sprung from the tears on
the face of the Lord of the World!"

... Chapter III, Tara Tantra

The above verse refers to the legend of Tara's origin. Avalokiteshvara 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. 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. Tara is thus also often referred to as Avalokiteshvara's consort.

In a historical sense, Tara is associated with the two pious and virtuous wives of Tibet's first great religious king, Songsten Gambo  (d. 649). White Tara is associated with his wife from imperial China, Wen Cheng, and Green Tara is identified with Bhrkuti, his Nepalese wife.

Tibetan GoddessesTo the Buddhists the symbolism of color is of great import. The sadhanas (ancient manuals laying down procedures for worship) are very particular in stipulating the colors of the deities visualized. This color is intended not only to unfold the nature of the deity represented but also to indicate the functions to be performed by that deity. Specifically colors are used in the paintings under a definite mystic scheme, based on the psychic experiences of the sadhaka (worshipper).

No wonder then that her devotees visualize Tara in a myriad variety of colors:

'Some have a vision of you (Tara) as red as the sun with rays
more brilliant and red than the lac and the vermilion. Others see
you blue like the sapphire. Some again see you whiter than the
milk churned out of the milky ocean. Still others see you golden.
Your visva-rupa is like a crystal which changes its color with
the change of the things around it.'

... Arya-Tara-sragdhara-stotra
 

The most popular of all the known forms of Tara are the widely worshipped Green and White Taras. It is believed that the first artists modeled Green Tara on a young virgin, and the White Tara on a physically mature, voluptuous woman. Thus traditionally whereas the Green Tara is visualized as young girl having a mischievous and playful nature, the White Tara is represented as a mature woman, full-breasted and wise. This tradition survives to the present times.

Green Tara

Green Tara is Tara's most dynamic manifestation. Her color symbolizes youthful vigor and activity. The Buddhist Lord of karma (action), Amoghasiddhi, is also associated with the green color, thus signifying that they belong to the same family. This is a further affirmation of the perception that Green Tara is a goddess of action.

She is often depicted in a posture of ease with right leg extended, signifying her readiness to spring into action. The left leg is folded in the contemplative position on the lotus pedestal, the two together thus symbolizing the integration of wisdom and art.

Her left hand, in the gesture of granting refuge holds the stem of a blue lotus that floats over her left shoulder as a symbol of purity and power. With her right hand she makes the boon-granting gesture.
 

Thangka Paintings

 

On a lotus seat, standing for realization of voidness,
(You are) the emerald-colored, one-faced, two-armed Lady
In youth's full bloom, right leg out, left drawn in,
Showing the union of  wisdom and art -  homage to you!
Like the outstretched branch of the heavenly turquoise tree,
Your supple right hand makes the boon-  granting gesture,
Inviting the wise to a feast of supreme accomplishments,
As if to an entertainment-homage to you!
Your left hand gives us refuge, showing the Three Jewels;
It says, "You people who see a hundred dangers,
Don't be frightened-I shall swiftly save you!"
Homage to you!
Both hands signal with blue blue utpala flowers,
"Samsaric beings! Cling not to worldly pleasures.
Enter the great city of liberation!"
Flower-goads prodding us to effort-homage to you!

... First Dalai Lama (1391-1474)

 

 

Green Tara in Buddhist Art

 

 

 

In visual arts she is shown as resembling an exceptionally lovely human being in everything but the color of her skin and the splendor of her ornaments. The slender, long proportioned body of the goddess is shown dusky olive green in color and her coloring reverberates against the striped cushion of her throne back. The painting technique itself is extremely refined, the pigment flat and thin, and it does not emphasize linear outlining except in the most subtle way. The mysterious and intriguing nature of Green Tara is marvelously captured in the medium of painting by the ingenious blending of the typical iconographical setting with the color scheme.

 

 

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Article Reviews

  • i am so very proud because they are beautiful. sana ipagpatuloy pa nila ang paggawa nito thank you ganda ko
    - ma.castillo ganda nase
    3rd Mar 2014
  • Mother Tara has saved me Eversince I started chanting her mantra.. The moment you call her name she will be in your heart to help you .
    - Sally tan
    17th Dec 2012
  • I am currently getting a half sleeve of the green tara on my arm. Its been 4 hrs so far and its only about half way done. its so beautiful in appearance and meaning. i love the Green Tara's inspiration more than any other deity. everyone always asks me about my tat and I try to explain most people just don’t understand the depth and power she has. My tat was started 3 months ago and she has already had an enormous impact on my life. I feel stronger and more inspired than I ever have. I feel a over whelming sense of liberation and belonging in my life. Thank you Green Tara.
    - Amanda Riddle
    29th May 2012
  • I (as others here) have a long history of spiritual practice with various gurus. I find myself very drawn to Tara. She seems easily accessible and quite "real".
    If anyone wants to practice with Her, I recommend that you begin by simply giving Her your love and regard. After a short while, you can begin to feel Her Regard, in various ways.
    Specific instruction on practices can be found by emailing me. (tried to post url here but they don't allow that)
    Blessings and best of luck to everyone. It would be nice to have an online forum for those interested in Her. It is even possible to meditate together, online. I've tried that on a small scale and it really can work. Feel free to contact me.


    - ElectricMan (chasryan@hotmail.com)
    21st Oct 2011
  • Very beautiful, thank you so much for this wonderful information and beautiful pictures
    - Sannyasi Shraddhamurti
    24th Oct 2010
  • I am highly inspired with green Tara and instantly in love with "OM tare tuttare ture svaha"
    its calm and I am eager to know more and more about this deity... need religious Tibetan / Buddhist friends :)
    - yogi (yogimalhotra@gmail.com)
    12th Oct 2010
  • HAPPY TO FIND THIS NEWSLETTER. NEED BUDDHIST FRIENDS AND INFO. ALICE
    - Alice Lesh
    9th Oct 2010
  • check out what the Dalai Lama has to say about New Kadampa - and no proslytizing please
    - pema wangmo
    29th Sep 2009
  • Is there any suggestion you can give on how, when and where reciting/chanting the mantra? is there just one mantra for green and white tara?
    thanks
    - tarab
    14th Oct 2008
  • Sorry, didnt understand how the site worked. Just a little info for those of you who wish to use the Green Tara mantra. Under the Tibetan tradition, the blessing and mantra needs to be transmitted by a Lama, it isnt considered appropriate just to use the mantra without.

    best wishes
    - Kunga Lhamo
    19th Sep 2008
  • please tell me how to use her baths, candles and incenses
    - cathleen ryant
    28th Jan 2008
  • For all the people who are interested in connecting with Lady Tara; check out New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) Buddhism. Tara worship is a big part of this path. Reciting her mantra will surely help, but a great way to connect very potently with her is to receive a Tara empowerment at one of their centres. This is an amazing thing to do for yourself and all beings- Love x
    - Deborah Turnbull
    27th Dec 2007
  • Please tell me how to worship her.
    - Kie Tjeng
    7th Dec 2007
  • Amazing,being a "Tara" !
    - Tara
    25th Oct 2007
  • Tara's mantra is "Om Tare Tuttare Ture Swaha" (pr. "Om Ta-Ray Too-Ta-Ray Too-Ray So-Ha")... that's the best way to get close to Her! :D
    - I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, and in Tara!
    8th Oct 2007
  • i Love Tara and i fell inlove with her auro and her goddes figure..i want to know more infos about her and her worships..Please tell me more..
    - Jeremy Tan (tan_laifu@hotmail.com)
    7th Oct 2007
  • Hey! Can anyone contact me on my email: danim9@gmail.com and tell me more about tara and meditation on tara and/or her worship??!!!!! Please help!?!?!?!?!
    - Danilo (danim9@gmail.com)
    18th Apr 2007
  • She is beautiful and Powerful. And always there with me. I am so greatful for her and for the person who introduce me to this beautiful goddess
    - Marissa (babudayang@yahoo.com)
    10th May 2006
  • So lovely to read about the white Tara.
    She has been introduced to me/ me to her just four days ago by a wise woman in Lichtensten. She told me to meditate on her evry day, and thanks to you i found her picture and information about her. I am at the beginning of something profound and healing and I thank you so much fo helping me on my journey.

    Several years ago a Ladakhi Amshi gave me apicture of the Buddha of compassion, I see she came from his tears. and there is such love that fills e when I look at her.
    This has been a wonderful discovery, thank you for the information and the wonderful pictures
    - julie Hewson
    4th Nov 2005
  • Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha" how do you say this mantra is said as it looks or is it chanted differently im very interested as i wish to try this mantra green tara has been making her precence felt with me by litterally jumping out of my deck of goddess cards ( i use these for guidence ) apon reading a little about her i understand she is trying to get me to listen to her and the aspects she embodies are indeed very poinyant in my world at the moment if it hadnt have been for this artical i may have put her 'jumping' as coinsidance but realise know that it cant be
    - Danielle (Vixen@wytchcraft.net)
    17th Aug 2005
  • The Tara in her many manifestations has been a great inspiration and comfort. When I feel stressed, I chant the "Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha" mantra. It always brings me back to the present and reminds me of the importance of our practice of compassion.
    - Jim
    2nd Jul 2005
  • It is indeed heart-warming to read and understand the Goddess Taras . A Lama
    performed a puja at my house recently and my family was told to recite and chant The Green Tara mantra . Your article is very informative and timely. My family would like to express our sincere thanks to you and may Goddess Taras bless you .
    - Stanley Ng
    26th Jun 2005
  • My thanks for the diverse and clear story behind White Tara. I am drawn to her and Qan Yin, and folow whatever guides I can find to information regarding what is written about them. Qan Yin is more than writing and reading, while White Tara I am just now coming to know in greater depth.

    Regards,
    peace and joy be with you,
    - Martin Thomas Miami, Florida.
    14th Jun 2005
  • Thanks for all the info...undoubtedly Tara is blessing us!
    - IPC
    30th Apr 2005
  • it is so seldom we can discover our inner core from the viewpoint of a great light shining within one of our sisters or brothers. Let there be Peace in our time and separately within our hearts.
    - Freeman
    22nd Jan 2005
  • Wonderful!
    As a yoga teacher in the west, I am often looking for good information on hindu and buddhist mythology, as I try to explain the meaning and significance of it to ourconsciousness. These articles are very informative and the artwork just great! Thanks a lot and keep up the good work.
    - ineke (savitriyoga@hotmail.com)
    23rd Nov 2004
  • A dear friend sent this article to me. Bless him and you all
    - Rossella
    22nd Nov 2004
  • Very informative article with referance to Green and white tara. The quotes from the Dalai Lama give facinating commentary of the magnificent diety.
    - Eric Wilson
    17th Dec 2003
  • CIAO
    - Paola
    28th Aug 2003
  • It's so great to have this article to read.
    - Louis Xiao (louis_xiao@hotmail.com)
    22nd Jan 2003
  • Hi! This is a wonderful page! Could I translate this article into Chinese and put it in a Chinese web site?
    Waiting for your reply soon.
    Sincerely
    <br>
    Nathaniel Zhang
    - Nathaniel (nathaniel@sina.com)
    21st May 2001
  • Thankyou, for the excellant informative report.
    - Doris Singer
    3rd May 2001
  • What a pleasant surprise on my birthday - thank you so much for the lovely and informative article - I look forward to receiving more. Peace.
    - Blackfish
    3rd May 2001
  • I found this information very interesting, and appreciate having it sent to me. The pictures are nice, and well placed through out the paragraphs.
    - W. von Dille
    3rd May 2001
  • I throughly enjoyed the article on the Taras. Please keep sending your newsletter. Thank you
    - Sharon Hille
    3rd May 2001
  • What a great article. I hadn't seen it yet. Aren't the accompanying photos of the art work beautiful? Thanks for sending this.
    - Alfie
    3rd May 2001
  • Very much enjoyed the piece on Tara, and accompanying images. You write so well, it is like a lesson in art appreciation. Thank you for keeping me on your mailing list.
    - John Scarborough
    3rd May 2001
  • Thank you thank you thank you! What a wonderful article and pictures. I have always enjoyed the features of the month, but since I was named after the Green Tara I had to write in and express my gratitude. Thank you again. Please continue the stories of the Goddesses. Namaste
    - Tara Jaya Ma
    3rd May 2001
  • Thank you very much for your newsletter. I found it most interesting, and I am already looking forward to the december issue.
    - Lloyd-Sackler Andrew
    3rd May 2001
  • Thank you so very much. This was such a blessing to read! Reminding one in a time of need about the suffering on this plane is a blessing. May this beautiful Tara send her compassion always to those in need. How beautiful to even try to think of a Love stronger than a Mothers Love. Blessings and Love
    - Sharon
    3rd May 2001
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