The eighth of every month is Tara Day. Geshe-la once said during a commentary to Tara practice that, “we should make our own commentary” based on our experience. As my offering to her and to help celebrate her day and to deepen my own relationship with her, over the next twelve months, I will provide my own understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow. Nothing I say should be taken as definitive in any way, I am simply sharing my personal experience of this practice. I hope others might also share their own experience and understandings of the practice in the comments. Then, we can all learn from each other.
In the introduction to the Sadhana, Geshe-la says:
Tara is a female Buddha, a manifestation of the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas. Each of the Twenty-one Taras is a manifestation of the principal Tara, Green Tara. Tara is also known as the ‘Mother of the Conquerors’.
The ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas is the wisdom directly realizing the emptiness of all phenomena. Sometimes we think of emptiness as a state that somehow exists on it’s own – everything is empty – but in reality, it does not exist without a mind realizing it. Emptiness is also dependent upon the mind realizing it, and so is also empty. Tara is a being who has imputed her “I” onto the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas – she is this ultimate wisdom. She appears in the aspect of the twenty-one Taras, just like a single diamond can have twenty-one facets to it. All other Buddhas arise from her ultimate wisdom, just as waves arise from an ocean. In this sense, she is the Mother of all the Buddhas – they literally emerge from her, she gives birth to them all.
Tara is our common mother, our Holy Mother. When we are young we turn to our worldly mother for help. She protects us from immediate dangers, provides us with all our temporal needs, and guides and encourages us in our learning and personal development. In the same way, during our spiritual growth we need to turn to our Holy Mother, Tara, for refuge. She protects us from all internal and external dangers, she provides us with all the necessary conditions for our spiritual training, and she guides us and inspires us with her blessings as we progress along the spiritual path.
Our spiritual life can begin at any point in our life, sometimes when we are young or sometimes when we are older; but in either case, Tara is our spiritual mother. She cares for us in the earliest stages of our spiritual life, nurturing it to make sure we eventually ripen into an independent, functioning spiritual adult able to sustain our practice on our own for the rest of our life. This is why it is especially important for new practitioners to take Tara practice as their main deity practice. Establishing an early relationship with Tara will ensure that we ripen onto the math in a mature and stable way. All we need to do is put our faith in her and request that she nurture our spiritual life into spiritual adulthood.
In some New Age circles, they talk about us choosing our parents in this life. Generally speaking, according to the Kadampa teachings at least, we are trapped in samsara, which means we necessarily take uncontrolled rebirth. We did not “choose” our parents, we we karmically thrown into rebirth as their child. It is true that we may have generated attachment for our mother as she was engaging in intercourse with our father, but that is quite different from “choosing” our mother. Despite this, through reliance upon Tara in this life, we can choose to have her as our spiritual mother in all of our future lives. The paths of future lives are very uncertain and samsara’s distractions and deceptions are endless, but our spiritual mother can care for us and guide us to the spiritual path, help us enter it, and then once again ripen us into spiritual adulthood. People buy insurance policies all the time to protect themselves against eventualities. Reliance upon Tara is like a spiritual insurance policy for making sure we once again find and enter the path in all of our future lives until we attain enlightenment. Every day, I pray, “May Guru Tara be my eternal mother in all my future lives.”
Tara’ means ‘Rescuer’. She is so called because she rescues us from the eight outer fears (the fears of lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, water, bondage and evil spirits), and from the eight inner fears (the fears of pride, ignorance, anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness and deluded doubts). Temporarily Tara saves us from the dangers of rebirth in the three lower realms, and ultimately she saves us from the dangers of samsara and solitary peace.
There is a close relationship between the eight outer fears and the eight inner fears – indeed, the eight inner fears create the eight outer fears. The eight outer fears are not just literal lions, elephants, snakes, and so forth. Rather, these animals are symbolic of types of outer circumstances which give rise to fear. Through relying upon Tara, we pacify the eight inner fears, and as a result we no longer fear the eight outer fears.
For example, pride is a mind that thinks we are better than we actually are, or that takes some characteristic we have about ourselves and generates a feeling of superiority over others due to this trait. Lion-like outer fears are situations that call our exalted view of ourselves into question. We fear others criticizing us or discovering that we are a fraud. We try exert our domination or superiority over others and feel threatened by those who challenge our authority or position. All of the outer things we fear as threats to our status, reputation, or position are fearful to us only because we have the inner fear of pride.
Ignorance has two types, conventional ignorance of not knowing what to do and ultimate ignorance of not knowing how things truly exist. People’s lives are plagued by the elephant of insecurity and uncertainty. We don’t know what the day will bring, and we have no idea what karma will ripen. To try control against these fears, we try gain control and reduce uncertainty, and we fear anything that could increase our insecurity or uncertainty. All of our outer fears associated with insecurity and uncertainty come from the inner fear of conventional ignorance. If we knew clearly what objects are to be abandoned and what objects are to be attained, we would not fear an uncertain world because we would always know what to do and how to respond. We would have confidence in the laws of karma that if we responded wisely to whatever arises, our karmic circumstance would definitely get better, so we would fear nothing. Further, ultimately, the only reason why we fear anything is because we still grasp at things existing from their own side, independently of our mind as causes of our happiness or suffering. But if we understood that everything depends upon how we look at it and everything can be transformed into a cause of our enlightenment, we would quite literally have nothing to fear at all. Thus, eliminating the inner fear of ignorance removes all of our outer fears.
All of the other outer fears are likewise born from the inner fears of anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts. We can think about all of the things that give rise to our anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts. Normally we view these things as our “problems” because they give rise to feelings in our mind. But if we eliminated these delusions from our mind, then we would no longer have outer fears.
If we rely upon Mother Tara sincerely and with strong faith, she will protect us from all obstacles and fulfil all our wishes. Since she is a wisdom Buddha, and since she is a manifestation of the completely purified wind element, Tara is able to help us very quickly. If we recite the twenty-one verses of praise, we shall receive inconceivable benefits. These praises are very powerful because they are Sutra, the actual words of Buddha. It is good to recite them as often as we can.
The power of any Buddha to help us depends almost entirely upon the strength of our faith. Faith is like electricity for our spiritual life. The entire modern world would come to a screeching halt without electricity, in the same way our spiritual life is inert without the electricity of faith. Faith can also be likened to our sails, and the Buddhas blessings to winds filling our sails. If our sails are raised and aligned with the pure winds of the Buddhas, we will be blown swiftly towards enlightenment. Tara is the completely purified wind element, which means the winds of her blessings are particularly powerful and swift. Through generating faith in her, we will enjoy all of the benefits and protections explained in the sadhana. Through faith in her, we will come to feel her presence in our life and enjoy her protection, which will increase our faith further in her in a self-fulfilling cycle of enlightenment.