This is the second installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.
Going for refuge
I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. (3x)
Je Tsongkhapa explains the primary causes of going for refuge are fear and faith. Fear of lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, or solitary peace; and faith in the three jewels to provide us protection from these fears. When we engage in Tara practice, even though the refuge prayer we recite is the same as in so many of our other practices, we should mentally generate a specific faith in Tara, understanding her function. In particular, Tara promised Atisha that in the future she would provide special care for all of his followers. Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition, and all Kadampas take his Lamrim as our main practice. Tara is, in many ways, the Buddha of Lamrim. Her mantra reveals that her main function is to bestow upon our mind the realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope of Lamrim, thus protectingus from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace. Viewing her as our spiritual mother and the Buddha of Lamrim, we go for refuge to her with deep faith.
Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all. (3x)
The way we generate bodhichitta is different for each practice we engage in, even if the words we recite are exactly the same. Of course, our compassionate wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings is the same, but the specific flavor of the bodhichitta we generate will depend upon the practice we are doing. The difference is identified in how the practice we are about to engage in contributes to our enlightenment based on its uncommon function. Tara helps us in ways that are different than say Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara, and so generating bodhichitta for Tara practice is different because it is informed by how she helps us. The more clearly we understand her function, the more precisely we will understand how reliance upon her will help move us towards enlightenment, giving our bodhichitta prayers a unique Tara-like flavor. What is Tara’s function? She is our spiritual mother, she helps us gain Lamrim realizations, and she swiftly helps us dispel all fears. We need a spiritual mother, the lamrim realizations, and fearlessness in order to progress swiftly towards enlightenment. Wanting these things and understanding her power to help us attain them, we generate bodhichitta.
Generating the four immeasurables
May all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes,
May they be free from suffering and its causes,
May they never be separated from the happiness that is without suffering,
May they abide in equanimity, without feeling close to some out of attachment or distant from others out of hatred.
As with bodhichitta practice, our practice of the four immeasurables should also have a Tara-like flavor when we recite them. To do so, we should not just generate the four immeasurable wishes in a generic sense, but we should try align ourselves with Tara’s four immeasurable wishes for all living beings. How Tara feels and experiences these four immeasurable wishes will be informed by her own understanding of her function and how she helps people realize these four wishes. If we are to align ourselves with Tara’s blessings, we need to not only generate faith in her, but we need to align our motivation with hers.
When Tara thinks may all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes, she does so as a spiritual mother would. When she thinks may they be free from suffering and its causes, she does so as somebody who has the power to dispel all fears would. When she wishes everyone never be separated from the happiness without suffering, she does so as somebody who has the power to bestow the lamrim realizations of freedom from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace would. When she wishes everyone abide in equanimity, she does so as a mother would who loves equally all her children and wishes only that they also love each other. As you engage in the four immeasurables, ask yourself, “how would Tara feel these wishes,” and then try to feel them in the same way she would. This will make your practice particularly powerful and align your mind more precisely with her blessings.
Inviting Arya Tara
From the supreme abode of Potala,
Born from the green letter TAM,
You who liberate migrators with the light of the letter TAM,
O Tara, please come here together with your retinue.
Potala is her Pure Land. Definitive Potala is the clear light Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas. An enlightened mind is the union of the completely purified wind and mind. The completely purified very subtle wind is the vajra body of the Buddha, and the completely purified very subtle mind is the vajra mind of the Buddha. When bodhisattvas are progressing along the Tantric grounds, they imagine that out of the Dharmakaya their vajra body (or illusory body) emerges out of the Dharmakaya. Their very subtle wind takes the form of a seed letter of the future Buddha they are to become. For Tara, her seed letter is the green letter TAM. Once a Buddha attains enlightenment, they send out countless emanations and blessings to help all living beings – these are their emanation bodies. Taken together, this verse means from her inner pure land of Dharmakaya Potala, she emerges as her enjoyment body in the aspect of a letter TAM, which then sends out infinite light rays in all directions ripening and liberating all living beings, who then appear in the aspect of countless Taras surrounding her and the twenty one Taras.
Gods and demi-gods bow their crowns
At your lotus feet;
O Liberator from all misfortune,
To you, Mother Tara, I prostrate.
Typically, gods and demi-gods bow to nobody thinking themselves superior to all, but when they are in Tara’s presence, they spontaneously bow their crowns out of respect a her lotus feet. They do not do so out of fear or political loyalty, but deep respect understanding her to be the Holy Mother of all the Buddhas. When we recite that she is the Liberator from all misfortune, we understand that she has the power to liberate all beings who are now around us in the aspect of Taras, and we imagine that all beings spontaneously bow down to her out of love and respect to her as our spiritual mother.
The feeling this evokes for me is like in Game of Thrones with Daenerys Stormborn liberated countless slaves from their masters, and tens of thousands of them spontaneously started calling out to her as Mhysa, their liberating mother. Tara is our Mhysa, and we imagine all living beings surrounding us feel the same loving respect.