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Friday, November 5, 2010

Tara Practice and the Meaning of the Tara Mantra

Excerpt from "Tara the Liberator" by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Relying on Tara
There are so many inner obstacles to the development of your mind, and these inner obstacles create many outer obstacles. Therefore, for the success of your Dharma practice, of your actualizing the graduated path to enlightenment, you must rely upon a special deity, or buddha, such as Tara. All the actions of the buddhas have manifested in this female aspect of buddha, Tara the Liberator, in order to help living beings to accomplish successfully both temporal and ultimate happiness.
Many Indian yogis relied upon Tara. By taking refuge in Tara, they completed the path and did great works for the teachings and for living beings, leading uncountable numbers in the path to temporal and ultimate happiness. For example, the great pandit Lama Atisha, who completed the whole graduated path to enlightenment, relied upon Tara.
Lama Atisha was invited by the religious king of Tibet, Yeshe O, to re-establish and spread Buddhadharma in Tibet. Lama Atisha also wrote the text, Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment, which established the term graduated path to enlightenment. By listening to, reflecting and meditating on Lamp of the Path of Enlightenment, so many people have achieved enlightenment.
Besides benefiting the Tibetan practitioners who are experimenting on and accomplishing the path to enlightenment, Lama Atisha's text is nowadays even benefiting extensively in the West. The light of this lam rim teaching has dispelled so much ignorance, even in the minds of many thousands of people living in the West. Because Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment integrates all the teachings of Buddha into a step-by-step practice by which anyone can achieve enlightenment, many practitioners have been able to use it to train their minds in the path to enlightenment.
Even though Lama Atisha passed away a long time ago in Tibet, he is still benefiting us by having given us the opportunity to understand the teachings of the graduated path to enlightenment. Understanding and practicing this path gives you confidence and much happiness. By understanding the cause of happiness, you have the opportunity to obtain whatever happiness you wish. These are Lama Atisha's actions benefiting all living beings.
Lama Atisha was able to offer these extensive benefits to living beings and the teachings through depending upon Tara. Throughout Lama Atisha's life, Tara always gave him advice. When Lama Atisha had to make decisions about doing works for living beings—such as traveling to Tibet—he always asked Tara, and then followed Tara's instructions. Like this, even present-day Tibetan yogis who are actualizing the graduated path to enlightenment, having great success in developing their minds, also rely upon Tara.
The benefits of Tara practice
Tara is quick to grant success in obtaining the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. You receive much good merit, or cause of happiness; it prevents a suffering rebirth in your next life; you receive initiation from millions of buddhas; and you achieve enlightenment. Besides these, however, Tara practice has many other benefits. Reciting the Twenty-one Taras' prayer with devotion, at dawn or dusk—or remembering Tara, singing praises and reciting mantras at any time of the day or night—protects you from fear and dangers, and fulfill all your wishes. If you pray to Tara, Tara is particularly quick to grant help.
There are also many temporal benefits from Tara practice, either reciting the Tara mantra or the Twenty-one Taras' prayer. Tara can solve many problems in your life: liberate you from untimely death; help you recover from disease; bring you success in business; help you to find a job; bring you wealth. When you have a really serious problem, such as a life-threatening disease, if you rely upon Tara, very commonly you will be freed from that problem; you will recover from that disease. If you eat poison, if you rely upon Tara, the poison will not harm you. By doing Tara prayers and mantras, couples with difficulty having a child can have a child—and whichever they want, a son or a daughter. These are very common experiences. Through Tara practice, you can obtain any happiness of this life that you wish.
If you recite the Twenty-one Taras' prayer once every evening, it is impossible—I can put my signature to this!—for you to die of starvation. It is also a very common experience for lay practitioners, monks and nuns with financial difficulties to have such problems relieved by doing Tara practice. In my personal experience, I have seen many instances of people who have prayed to and taken refuge in Tara and been saved from the danger of untimely death from disease without taking medicine.
The meaning of TARE
The Tara mantra is OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA. To explain the meaning of TARE TUTTARE TURE: TARE means liberating from samsara. This samsara means these aggregates: the aggregate of form, or the physical body; of feeling; of recognition; of karmic formations; and of consciousness. These aggregates, on which the I is labeled, are caused by the contaminated seed of karma and disturbing thoughts. Under the control of karma and disturbing thoughts, the past-life aggregate of consciousness circled to this life. Because these aggregates are contaminated by the seed of karma and disturbing thoughts, on meeting desirable and undesirable objects, the different disturbing thoughts such as attachment and anger arise. As the seed of the disturbing thoughts is there, you again create karma. And the karma and disturbing thoughts again cause the aggregate of consciousness to circle, or join, to the aggregates of the next life.
Even though this gross body has no continuum into the next life, the aggregate of consciousness does continue to the next life. From life to life, it continuously circles. From one life to the next, from the past life to the present, the aggregate of consciousness circles. It joins to these present aggregates, then later joins to the aggregates of the next life. This is why these aggregates are called samsara, or cyclic existence.
So, TARE shows that Mother Tara liberates living beings from samsara, from true suffering, or problems. You can relate this to the particular sufferings of human beings: birth, old age, sickness and death; meeting undesirable objects and experiencing aversion; not finding desirable objects or finding them but gaining no satisfaction. No matter how much pleasure you enjoy, there is no satisfaction. No matter how much you follow desire, there is no satisfaction at all.
Also, nothing in samsara is definite. You have to leave the body again and again, and take another body again and again. Like this, again and again you experience the suffering of joining to another body.
Your present-life mother came from her mother, your grandmother; your grandmother came from another mother; and that mother came from another mother. It is the same with your father. You can see this body that you have now as a collection of all the sperm and blood that has continued from parent to child for inconceivable generations since this earth evolved, since human beings began. This collection of sperm has come to you through your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, and so on. It is the same with the blood, which has come to you through your mother, your grandmother, and so on. Since this body you have now is a continuation of all this sperm and blood from all these other beings, there is no essence to cling to; there is no reason to get attached to this body, this samsara. The waste from all the toilets in a big city is collected into one big sewer—the body is just like this sewer.
By joining again and again to the body like this, again and again you experience problems. If you have high status, you fall down to low status. Again and again this happens. When you are born, you are born alone without any companion; when you die, you also die alone. Even this body does not accompany the consciousness; the consciousness has to go alone to the next life. All these are the problems of true suffering. If you rely upon Tara by taking refuge in her and doing Tara practices—such as the recitation of mantra or praises—with TARE, Tara liberates you from all these true sufferings.
The meaning of TUTTARE
The second word, TUTTARE, liberates you from the eight fears. There are eight fears related to external dangers from fire, water, air, earth, and also from such things as thieves and dangerous animals. However, the main dangers come from ignorance, attachment, anger, pride, jealousy, miserliness, doubt and wrong views. These eight disturbing thoughts that you have in your mind are the main dangers. By taking refuge in Tara and doing Tara practice, you are liberated from these eight internal dangers, these eight disturbing thoughts. In this way, you are also liberated from external dangers, as these external dangers come from the inner disturbing thoughts.
This second word, TUTTARE, which liberates you from the eight fears, frees you from the true cause of suffering: karma and the all-arising disturbing thoughts. All-arising means that disturbing thoughts bring all the sufferings. By taking refuge in Tara and doing Tara practice, you are liberated from the true cause of suffering: this is the meaning of TUTTARE.
The meaning of TURE
The third word, TURE, liberates you from disease. Now, of the Four Noble Truths, TURE shows the cessation of suffering, which is the ultimate Dharma. In terms of liberating from disease, the actual disease we have is ignorance not knowing the absolute nature of the I, and all the disturbing thoughts that arise from this ignorance. These are the actual, serious diseases that we have. With cessation of all these diseases of disturbing thoughts, all the true sufferings, all the resultant problems, are also ceased. By liberating us from disease, TURE actually liberates us from the true cause, disturbing thoughts, and also the true sufferings.
How can we achieve this ultimate Dharma, this true cessation of the cause and result of suffering? What can lead us to this state, the cessation of suffering, which is the meaning of TURE? You achieve this by practicing the true path. As revealed in the Lesser Vehicle paths of the Hearer-Listeners and Self-conquerors, and in the Mahayana path, the true path is the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. This is the absolute Dharma. Actualizing this wisdom within our mind leads us to the state of cessation of suffering. This true path is contained in TUTTARE, which liberates us from the eight fears—the word liberates indirectly indicates the true path. And as I have just explained, the third word, TURE, liberates you from the actual disease, the disturbing thoughts.
The conclusion is that by taking refuge in Tara, doing Tara practices such as recitation of the Tara mantra, and practicing the path contained in that mantra, you can achieve the fully enlightened state with the four kayas, which is the cessation, liberated from the two obscurations. In short, OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA means "I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all the Victorious Ones." Tara is the mother of all the Victorious Ones, or buddhas. Why are buddhas called Victorious Ones? Because they are victorious over the two obscurations.
Tara the Mother
Tara is called Mother because it is the mother who gives birth to children. The actual meaning of Tara is the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, which sees the absolute and conventional truth of all existence. This is the absolute guru, the real guru—and we should understand this real meaning of guru. Now, even though they have different aspects and different names, all the buddhas are born from this transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, which is the dharmakaya. In reality, every buddha is the embodiment of this absolute guru: one manifests in many; many manifest in one. The absolute guru manifests in all these various aspects of buddha; the essence of all buddhas is the absolute guru. The real meaning of guru, the absolute guru, manifests in ordinary aspect as the conventional-truth guru, the lama from whom you receive the teachings directly.
As Khedrup Sangye Yeshe explained: "Before the guru, there is not even the name 'Buddha'." The whole Guru Puja expresses that the foundation is the guru, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness. From the very beginning, while experiencing great bliss, we manifest as the guru-deity. Even the front-generation merit field comes from inseparable bliss and voidness, and from this merit field we take initiation; we request to be granted blessings to generate the realizations of the graduated path to enlightenment from beginning to end; and we also make the four types of offering (outer, inner, secret and absolute). We train our mind with these meditations, which evolve from non-dual bliss and voidness.
First we meet the guru externally and separately. After receiving teachings, we listen, reflect and meditate on the path that is revealed by this guru. On the basis of correct devotion to the guru, we gradually actualize the remedy of the path and remove our obscurations. When our obscurations are completely removed, we meet the guru mentally.
On the basis of actualizing the Three Principles of the Path, we receive the four perfect Highest Yoga Tantra initiations, which definitely plant the seeds of the four kayas within our mind. This allows us to practice the unification of the clear light and illusory body. By gradually actualizing this path, we can completely cut off even subtle dual view, ceasing even the gross minds of the white, red and dark visions, which are more subtle than the preceding gross minds but gross when compared to the subtle mind of clear light.
When you achieve dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, you have achieved the guru. You have achieved the wish expressed in our usual dedication prayer: "Due to all these merits may I quickly achieve the guru-Buddha's enlightenment, and lead every single living being to the guru-Buddha's enlightenment." In reality, by training your mind in these meditations, developing your mind in the path, your mental continuum actually becomes that of the guru. In the future, you actually become the guru you have been visualizing.
So, all the buddhas are born from the absolute guru, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, which is the actual meaning of Mother. This transcendental wisdom, this completely pure subtle mind, manifests in this female aspect that is labeled "Tara".
Normally children feel much closer to their mother than to their father. When they have some trouble, most children seem to scream for their mother. I don't know about in the West, but in the East even adults, when they have some severe pain or problem, rely on their mother.
My father died when I was small, and I don't remember at all what he looked like. People say that he had a beard, was very good at reading texts, and did not speak much. All I can remember clearly is my father's sheep-skin chuba. Everybody in the family slept under that big chuba—it was our blanket. The whole family tried to get underneath it. I can remember that very clearly. I was introduced to my father's chuba—that is all I remember.
So my mother was the only adult in our home. My sister, because she was a little older, was able to help my mother a little by taking our animals out on the mountains and bringing them back home. Otherwise, the rest of us—there were three, including me—were useless. Since my sister had to look after the animals, all the hard work was done alone by my mother.
One day my mother had to go into the forest to get firewood. We waited outside the house. Because none of us could cook, we waited outside for her to come home and give us some food. She came back very late from the forest with a very heavy load of firewood. After she returned, she could not make a fire because she was sick, with much pain. There was no fire in the stove, and no food. She lay down next to the fireplace, screaming for her mother: "Ama! Ama!" My grandmother, who was still alive at that time, lived quite near to us, maybe five or ten minutes' walk away.
The three of us—me, my brother Sangye, and another young brother who had a small piece of tail, and later died—didn't know what to do. We just sat around the fireplace looking at our mother. There was no fire; none of us could make a fire. We just sat and watched our mother.
Like this, somehow, naturally, even grown-ups call their mother when there is some really serious pain or problem. However, Tara is much closer to us than our mother.
This female aspect, Tara, Mother of all the Victorious Ones guides you and other living beings from the danger of falling into samsara or the lower nirvana, and leads you to the perfect state of enlightenment, which is qualified with the five transcendental wisdoms and the four kayas.
The rough meaning of these three words TARE TUTTARE TURE is: "To you, embodiment of all the buddhas' actions, I prostrate always—whether I am in happy or unhappy circumstances—with my body, speech and mind."
All the paths (Lesser Vehicle, Mahayana, Paramitayana, tantra) from the beginning up to enlightenment are contained in TARE TUTTARE TURE. The remedy of the path and all the obscurations it removes are contained in TARE TUTTARE TURE. In regard to the lam rim, TARE is the graduated path of the lower capable being; TUTTARE, of the middle capable being; and TURE, of the higher capable being. All the outlines of the lam rim meditations are contained in this mantra. In the mantra TAYATA OM MUNI MUNI MAHAMUNIYE SOHA, MUNI MUNI MAHAMUNIYE can also be related to the lam rim in the same way.
The final word SOHA means establishing the root of the path within your heart. In other words, by taking refuge in Tara and doing Tara practice, you receive the blessings of Tara in your own heart. This gives you space to establish the root of the path, signified by TARE TUTTARE TURE, in your heart. By establishing the path of the three capable beings within your heart, you purify all impurities of your body, speech and mind, and achieve Tara's pure vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind, which are signified by OM. Your body, speech and mind are transformed into Tara's holy body, holy speech and holy mind. This is the rough meaning of OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA.
Visualizing Tara
When you recite the mantra, visualize Tara in space in front of you, level with your forehead, at a comfortable distance of about one body-length. As I mentioned when explaining the mantra, first think of the transcendental wisdom of great bliss of all the buddhas, which fully sees all existence. Think of this holy mind of dharmakaya, the absolute guru. Because the holy mind of all the buddhas, the absolute guru, is bound by great compassion for you and all living beings, who are obscured and suffering under the control of karma and disturbing thoughts, it manifests in this particular female form of Tara. This happens due to compassion. Just as you act under the control of anger and attachment, the buddhas work for you and other living beings under the control of compassion.
The holy mind of all the buddhas manifests in this female aspect, Tara. What does this aspect look like? Tara is in the nature of green light, with one face and two arms. Her face is very peaceful, with a slight smile. Her hair is very dark, half tied up and half loose, and decorated with an utpala flower at the crown. Tara is adorned with jewel ornaments of necklace, bracelets, armlets, anklets, and so on. Her eyes, very loving and compassionate, are not opened widely but are fine and a little rounded. Tara's eyes express compassion for you, like the look of loving kindness a mother gives her beloved only child. Tara's right hand, holding the stem of an utpala flower, is in the mudra of granting sublime realizations. Her left hand holds the stem of another utpala flower, with three fingers standing upright to signify refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
With fully developed breasts, Tara is adorned with a jewel necklace and also with jewel garlands and various scarves. Her right leg is stretched out, and the left one contracted. Behind her is a moon disc. Tara is adorned with the complete holy signs and exemplifications of a buddha. On her forehead is a white OM, essence of the vajra holy body; at her neck, a red AH, essence of vajra holy speech; and at her heart, a blue HUNG, essence of the vajra holy mind.
White nectar beams come from the OM, strike your forehead, and enter inside you to purify all the obscurations and negative karmas you have accumulated with the body from beginningless rebirths until now. From the AH at Tara's throat, red nectar beams are emitted and strike your own throat; all obscurations and negative karmas accumulated with your speech are completely purified. Then, from Tara's heart syllable HUNG, blue nectar beams are emitted and enter your heart; all the obscurations and negative karmas accumulated with your mind from beginningless rebirths until now are purified. Out of compassion for you and all living beings, Mother Tara has purified you. Concentrate on this as you recite the mantra: OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA. Or if you wish, you can visualize Tara on your crown as in the short Tara sadhana.
When you finish the meditation, pray to Tara: "Without delay of even a second, may I become Tara and in each second free uncountable numbers of living beings from all their sufferings and lead them to full enlightenment."
Pray to achieve this through generating bodhicitta, the wish to achieve Tara for the sake of other living beings. Because you are not following the selfish mind but have changed your attitude to one of using your life to serve others, to obtain their temporal and ultimate happiness, Tara is extremely pleased with you. Your practicing the loving, compassionate thought of bodhicitta and morality, which means keeping your vows, please Tara the most. These essential Mahayana practices are the best offerings you can make to Tara; these bring you closer to Tara, so that she quickly helps all your actions to succeed. How much Tara helps you depends on how much you practice the essence of the Mahayana teachings.
So, because of your attitude of bodhicitta, Tara is extremely pleased with you; she melts into green light, enters through your forehead, and absorbs into your heart. Think: "My body, speech and mind have been blessed to become Tara's vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind." By receiving the blessings of Tara with a calm, devoted mind, you plant the seed to develop your mind and actually achieve Tara.
After the absorption, if you wish, one-pointedly concentrate on the nature of Tara's holy mind. Then conclude your practice by dedicating the merits to the generation of bodhicitta and to your achievement of Tara, in order to lead every living being as quickly as possible to Tara's enlightenment.

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