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):
Tara, swift, heroic! With a glance like flashing
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
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:
have a vision of you (Tara) as red as the sun
and red than the lac and the vermilion. Others
you blue like
the sapphire. Some again see you whiter than the
milk churned out
of the milky ocean. Still others see you golden.
is like a crystal which changes its color with
the change of
the things around it.'
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 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
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.
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
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,
Cling not to worldly pleasures.
Enter the great
city of liberation!"
us to effort-homage to you!
... First Dalai Lama (1391-1474)
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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