The Cult of Tara

Topics: Tibet, Vajrayana, Gautama Buddha Pages: 12 (2490 words) Published: February 9, 2015
Tara in Tibetan Buddhism

“The worship of the goddess Tara is one of the most widespread of Tibetan cults, undifferentiated by sect, education, class, or position; from the highest to the lowest, the Tibetans find with his goddess a personal and enduring relationship unmatched by any other single deity, even among those of their gods more potent in appearance or more profound in symbolic association.”1 Tara is thought to protect her people from “the cradle to beyond the grave; and, as Stephanie Beyer, author of The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, profoundly elucidates: the poignant relationship Tibetans have with this goddess of compassion, totally unrelated to their place in life. Tara takes many forms – whether a fierce manifestation of herself with frightening figures and allegories of death, or a compassionate figure such as Green or White Tara holding lotus flowers. This kind, sweetly smiling goddess is venerated by all in every one of her many forms through a variety of styles of worship – offerings, praises, and prayer – by ceremonial forms of the monastic community and continues to live on in the Tibetan people’s hearts.2 She is, arguably, the warmest and inviting of Tibetan deities because of her compassionate nature and willingness to help anyone who calls upon her; and the fact that thangka paintings and sculptures are equally powerful tools of veneration for her and do not detract from her identity, but rather reinforce it with their iconography. One of the most important aspects of Tara is that she is an “abiding deity,” her never-ending availability best symbolised by daily repeating her ritual instead of an annual ceremony to commemorate her – she is more of a personal deity rather than a monastic patron.3 It is no surprise that Tara is one of the most popular deities in Tibetan Buddhism because of her readiness to help those who follow her. In Tibet, Tara is often depicted on thangka paintings with bright, saturated colour, characteristic of Tibetan art; and are centrally-planned around the primary figure. In Tibetan, Tara is roughly translated as “she who saves,” which corresponds to her function as a Tibetan deity who seeks to help those who follow her attain Enlightenment through meditation.4 She is thought to have been born from the tears of Avalokitesvara as he saw all of the suffering in the world. Thangkas are intrinsically primary objects of devotion and show these central figures – principal deities – surrounded by attendants, structured in a hierarchal manner; and, unlike murals, they contain many less figures are do not portray paradise scenes.5 Thangkas involving the goddess Tara, the female emanation of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, are recognisable by the generally voluptuous but small-waisted central female figure – usually sitting – with a sweet smile upon her face. There are twenty-one major forms of Tara, and each of them has a particular colour and a corresponding spiritual attribute.6 One of the most common forms of Tara is Green Tara. In a mandala called “Mahashri Tara and the Twenty-One Taras,” the depictions of Tara (compassionate and wrathful figures alike) are arranged within the branches of a flowering tree. Each Tara is identifiable by colour and, according to the text on the twenty-one Taras (see The First Dalai Lama’s Six Texts Related to the Tara Tantra, trans. Glenn H. Mullin, Tibet House, New Delhi, 1980, pp. 7-28).78 All of these depictions of Tara are less common as the central Green Tara, but they are still very important to the identity of this compassionate deity, and what she can provide for her worshippers. The worship of Tara through looking at thangka paintings is an extremely emotional and moving experience, especially since many of them are very large and quite colourful. Bright and strong colour is an essential part of Tibetan Buddhism, and is helpful in identifying Buddhist works as Tibetan due to the saturated colours used in...

Cited: Beer, Robert, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols (Illinois: Serindia Publications, Inc., 203), 169
Berzin, Alexander, “The Thirty-Two Excellent Signs (Major Marks) of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body,” revised excerpt from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, An Anthology of Well-Spoken Advice 1 (India: Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1982) .
Beyer, Stephan, The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, (California: University of California Press, 1973), 55
Kossak, Steven, Jane Casey Singer, essay by Robert Bruce-Gardner, Sacred Visions (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), 27
Trans. Glenn H. Mullin, The First Dalai Lama’s Six Texts Related to the Tara Tantra, (India: Tibet House, New Delhi, 1980), 7-28
Purna, Dharmachari, “Tara: Her Origins and Development,” Western Buddhist Review 2, 1997
Rhie, Marylin M., Robert A.F. Thurman, A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection (New York: Tibet House US, 2009), 139
“Tibetan Buddhism: Tara’s 21 Forms,” Yowangdu: Experience Tibetan Culture, 2012 .
Images found in A Shrine for Tibet.
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