Tara or Arya Tara, also known as Jetsun Dolma in Tibetan, is a female Bodhisattva or female Buddha in different Buddhist traditions. She is also a tantric meditation deity used to develop certain inner qualities and understand secret teachings about compassion and emptiness.
The most widely known forms of Tara are:
- Green Tara, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity
- White Tara, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity
Within Tibetan Buddhism, Tara is regarded as Bodhisattva of compassion and action. She is the female aspect of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig – the Buddha of Compassion) and in some origin stories she comes from his tears. She eventually came to be considered the "Mother of all Buddhas," which usually refers to the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas, while simultaneously echoing the ancient concept of the Mother Goddess in India.
Green Tara/Khadiravani is usually associated with protection from fear and the following eight obscurations: lions (= pride), wild elephants (= delusion/ignorance), fires (= hatred and anger), snakes (= jealousy), bandits and thieves (= wrong views, including fanatical views), bondage (= avarice and miserliness), floods (= desire and attachment), and evil spirits and demons (= deluded doubts).
Tārā has many stories told which explain her origin as a bodhisattva. One in particular has a lot of resonance for women interested in Buddhism and quite likely for those delving into early 21st century feminism.
In this tale there is a young princess who lives in a different world system, millions of years in the past. Her name is Yeshe Dawa, which means "Moon of Primordial Awareness". For quite a number of aeons she makes offerings to the Buddha of that world system, whose name was Tonyo Drupa. She receives special instruction from him concerning bodhicitta — the heart-mind of a bodhisattva. After doing this, some monks approach her and suggest that because of her level of attainment she should next pray to be reborn as a male to progress further. At this point she lets the monks know in no uncertain terms that from the point of view of Enlightenment it is only "weak minded worldlings" who see gender as a barrier to attaining enlightenment. She sadly notes there have been few who wish to work for the welfare of beings in a female form, though. Therefore she resolves to always be reborn as a female bodhisattva, until samsara is no more. She then stays in a palace in a state of meditation for some ten million years, and the power of this practice releases tens of millions of beings from suffering. As a result of this, Tonyo Drupa tells her she will henceforth manifest supreme bodhi as the Goddess Tārā in many world systems to come.
H.H the Dalai Lama said about Tara (at a conference on Compassionate Action in Newport Beach, CA in 1989): "There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tara. (…) She looked upon the situation of those striving towards full awakening and she felt that there were too few people who attained Buddhahood as women. So she vowed, "I have developed bodhicitta as a woman. For all my lifetimes along the path I vow to be born as a woman, and in my final lifetime when I attain Buddhahood, then, too, I will be a woman."
The main Tara mantra is: om tare tuttare ture svaha.