If you’re Buddhist, or have friends who are, you may have heard of practices involving the deity Tara. It’s a common practice in Tibetan Buddhism, but who is Tara? As Lama Palden Drolma explains in her teaching “Tara the Liberator,” Tara “is ‘she who ferries beings across the ocean of samsara.’”
Tara is the most beloved by Tibetans of all the female awakened beings. Her praises are sung and she is supplicated in all Tibetan monasteries and by many laypeople as well. Tara is renowned for her swift and compassionate activity. Whether devotees have worldly or spiritual motivation, Tara gives benefit to all and leads people to awakening.
The Tibetans call her Jetsun Drolma. Drolma is Tibetan for the Sanskrit word Tara. Je means the power to liberate others; tsun means that she benefits herself and all others, that she is beyond samsara, and that she has the stainless wisdom body.
Read the rest of Lama Palden Drolma’s teaching here, and read about how she — and fellow Buddhist teachers Trudy Goodman and Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara — are changing the face of Buddhism in “Feminine Principal,” which is now online in full.
In “Enlightenment in Female Form,” published in Buddhadharma, Gelek Rinpoche introduces Tara this way:
We find images of Tara throughout Eastern culture, although she may be referred to by different names. In China, she is called Kuan Yin. In Japan, she is Kannon. In Tibet, we call her Drolma. Tara is her Sanskrit name. It means “one who liberates.” Tara is known as the “Mother of all buddhas.” She is especially associated with long life and wisdom. And as a female manifestation of the enlightened energy, Tara is said to come to our aid quickly and powerfully.
Gelek Rinpoche goes on to explain that enlightenment is possible only when female and male energies are both fully present. Using Tara practice, he says, can bring enlightened female energy into our lives. Read the rest of his teaching here. And in “Tara, the First Feminist,” also from Buddhadharma, Lama Tsultrim Allione explains that though she’s faced challenges and sexism in her life as a teacher, Tara’s vow to work for the benefit of all beings in a woman’s body has been a source of guidance and inspiration.