White Tara, “She of the White Lotus,” is one of the manifestations of the Great Goddess Tara, who originated in India as a Hindu goddess. Tara has 108 names and many aspects or qualities. Her worship extended into Buddhism, and she is the most revered female Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Tara’s name means “star” in Sanskrit and also “She Who Brings Forth Life.” As the star is seen as a beautiful but perpetually self-combusting thing, so Tara is perceived at her core as the absolute, unquenchable hunger that propels all life. Tara is by far the most popular deity in the Tibetan pantheon. A bodhisattva is one who is able to reach nirvana but chooses instead to delay this blissful reward out of compassion to aid others who still suffer.
Tara is worshipped throughout Tibet, Nepal and South-East Asia. She is known as the “mother of liberation,” and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. In Japan she is known as Tarani Bosatsu. Her tantric meditation practice is used by practitioners of the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities and understand outer, inner and secret teachings about compassion and emptiness. White Tara is a three-eyed goddess of the day who is pictured with the wheel of time on her chest. She travels across the ocean of existence in a celestial boat and her countenance is filled with love and compassion. Sometimes she is pictured with seven eyes. She has a third eye on her forehead and one on each of her hands and feet to symbolize her vigilance and ability to see all the suffering in the world. “Tara of Seven Eyes” is the form of the goddess popular in Mongolia.
In Hinduism, the Tara, meaning “rescuer” in the feminine gender, is the second of the ten Great Wisdom goddesses. Tara is also known as a saviouress, a heavenly deity who hears the cries of beings experiencing misery in the samsara, or endless cycle of birth, suffering and death of earthly life. The mantra of Tara om tare tuttare ture svaha is the second most common mantra heard in Tibet, after om mani padme hum.
White Tara is sometimes called the Mother of all Buddhas, and she represents the motherly aspect of compassion. Her white color signifies purity, wisdom and truth. Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action, and it is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother’s love. She is richly adorned with jewels and wears silk robes and scarves that leave her slender torso and rounded breasts uncovered in the manner of ancient India. White Tara is believed to help her followers overcome obstacles She also brings longevity, protects travel, and guards her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. The oldest known reference to the goddess Tara is found in an ancient saga of Finland thought to be five thousand years old. The saga speaks of a group known as Tar, Women of Wisdom.
White Tara is shown seated in the diamond lotus position, with the soles of her feet pointed upward. Her posture is one of grace and calm. Her right hand makes what is called the boon-granting gesture, and her left hand is in the protective mudra. White Tara holds an elaborate lotus flower that contains three blooms in her left hand. The first is in seed and represents the past Buddha Kashyapa; the second is in full bloom and symbolizes the present Buddha Shakyamuni; the third is ready to bloom and signifies the future Buddha Maitreya. These three blooms symbolize that Tara is the essence of these three Buddhas.
As Yeshe Dawa, “Moon of Primordial Awareness,” she was a princess from millions of years ago who attained Bodhichitta, the “Awakened Heart.” She resolved to be reborn only as a woman until all the wounds of humanity would be healed. As Tara, she will then manifest the supreme bodhi, or spirit of enlightenment, in many world systems yet to unfold. In Japan, temple bells are rung 108 times at midnight on New Year’s Eve to counteract humanity’s sins. As the wheel of the seasons starts the cycle of the calendar again, I can set my sites on noble endeavors and vow to serve the greater good.
Based on and excerpts from Goddesses for Every Day © 2010 by Julie Loar. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA www.newworldlibrary.com