From Embodying Tara: Twenty-One Manifestations to Awaken Your Innate Wisdom © 2023 by Chandra Easton. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.
Tara, the beloved Buddhist goddess and female buddha of compassion, manifests in twenty-one different forms—some peaceful, others fierce—with different enlightened qualities that can help us through the joys and hardships we experience. Just as a ray of light hitting a prism creates a rainbow, when Tara’s enlightened intent illuminates the prism of your own mind, it manifests as a myriad of colors, sounds, symbols, and moods that reveal her compassionate power. The twenty-one Taras’ iconography, mantras, and enlightened activities are expressions of different enlightened qualities all radiating from the same source—the Great Mother, the womb of totality.
As a fully awakened buddha, Tara emerged from the slumber of ignorance that kept her separated from her true nature, true power, and true potential. In Tara we may find themes similar to our own life and ways we have or can overcome obstacles to heal and embody our true wisdom and power. Tara’s story helps us wake up to the ways we are asleep in our lives, dulled by an ignorance that clouds our luminous true nature. Understanding Tara’s facets and history—the roots of her traditions and spiritual practices that originated in India and spread to Tibet and elsewhere—we are more able to appreciate, practice, and ultimately embody her wisdom and compassion in our lives.
The First Tara:
Tara the Swift Heroine
Homage to Tara, swift heroine
Whose eyes flash like lightning.
Born from the blooming pistil of the lotus face
Of the Lord of the Three Worlds.
Welcome to the world of the first Tara, whose power removes obstacles and increases bodhichitta, the compassionate wish to awaken for the benefit of oneself and others. As her name and homage imply, Tara the Swift Heroine is quick as the wind, protects beings from fear, and liberates them from suffering. She is red in color and has a semifierce disposition. She is fully activated dynamic energy, always infused with love and joy but never wrath. She is bliss and power manifest in a fantastic state of orgasmic potency arising from the dynamic collision of opposites: peace and fierceness/ferocity.
Tara Turavira in Sanskrit means “Savioress (Tara), the Swift (tura) Heroine (vira).” The Tibetan rendering of her name, Drölma Nyurma Pamo, means essentially the same thing: “Savioress (Drölma), the Swift (nyurma) Heroine (pamo).” Thus, we get Tara the Swift Heroine, or we could call her Tara the Swift Liberatrix.
oṃ tāre tuttāre ture bodhicitta svāhā
om tare tuttare ture bodhichitta svaha
oṃ! Tara! Be swift, Tara! Bodhichitta! So be it!
First Tara: Tara Turavira Embodiment Meditation
Before you begin, recall the three samadhis of emptiness, compassion, and the union of the two. Remember that all appearances of self and deity are empty of intrinsic existence, yet manifest as ceaseless compassion. This is the foundation upon which deity yoga is based.
Allow your eyes to close or remain open, and let your attention settle into your body. If the eyes are open, let them rest at a gentle downward angle. Breathe deeply into the abdomen and release any tension you feel with the exhalation. Take nine relaxation breaths: For the first few breaths, breathe into any physical tension in your body; then release it with the exhalation. For the next few breaths, breathe into any emotional tension in your body, then release it with the exhalation. For the last few breaths, breathe into any mental tension you are holding, feel where you may be carrying mental tension such as worries or concerns in your body, and then release it with the exhalation.
Then release any control of the breath and breathe naturally. Simply rest in the feeling of being in the moment with the breath in your body and let go of any thoughts with the exhalation. Spend as much time as you like here before continuing.
Imagine that from luminous empty space Tara Turavira appears in the sky above you, about three arms’ lengths in front of and slightly above the crown of your head. She is red and semifierce, smiling and passionate, with her canine teeth showing. Her eyes are wide open and flashing like lightning. She is seated on a full moon disc atop a lotus flower, surrounded by numerous wisdom beings, including the other twenty Taras, buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakas, dakinis, protectors, wisdom holders, and so on. Imagine these wisdom beings filling the sky like masses of clouds across all of space. Tara and all the wisdom beings appear radiant yet empty of solidity like rainbows in the sky, smiling and gazing upon you with loving presence.
Tara Turavira is swift like the wind, liberating beings from the suffering of samsara. She increases the awakened heart of bodhichitta and removes obstacles to liberation. Her right leg is extended slightly, stepping down to help beings in samsara. Her left leg is close to her body, symbolizing resting in nirvana. Her left hand is at her heart in the gesture of the Three Jewels, holding the stem of a blue lotus that rises and blooms above her left shoulder. Upon the lotus is the self-blowing white conch shell, symbolizing the healing sound of the Dharma that brings love, joy, and compassion to all beings. Her right hand rests on her right knee, facing upward, palm open, in the gesture of Supreme Generosity.
Recite the Refuge and Bodhichitta Prayer
Noble Tara, the essence of all refuges,
you liberate beings from fear and suffering.
I take refuge in your vast, loving compassion.
In order to bring all sentient beings to the state of enlightenment,
I generate the twofold bodhichitta of aspiration and action.
(Recite three times.)
Now imagine that you become Tara Turavira by sounding her seed syllable tāṃ three times:
First tāṃ: As you sound tāṃ out loud, long and slow, imagine that your body transforms into the body of Tara Turavira, red in color, semifierce, and wearing her sambhogakaya ornaments. You are seated on a moon disc upon a red lotus flower. Your right leg is extended slightly, stepping down to help beings in samsara. Your left leg is folded close to your body, symbolizing resting in nirvana. Your left hand is in the gesture of Three Jewels, holding the stem of the blue lotus, which blooms above your left shoulder. Upon the lotus is the white conch shell that resounds the healing sound of the Dharma. Your right hand is resting on your right knee with an open, upward-facing palm in the gesture of Supreme Generosity. Your eyes are wide and flashing like lightning; your mouth is smiling yet fierce, teeth showing. Feel free to take this position or simply imagine it.
As Tara Turavira, your body is luminous and hollow like a balloon, empty of solidity. Imagine that in your heart center is an orb of red light the size of a walnut. Within this sphere is a white moon disc with a red tāṃ syllable in the center, standing upright. It is fine and effervescent, as if written with a single hair. Feel free to imagine the syllable in Tibetan, Sanskrit, or English script.
Second tāṃ: As Tara Turavira, sound tāṃ a second time and imagine rainbow light emanating outward from the tāṃ syllable at your heart. Feel that rainbow wisdom light, which is the purified essence of the five elements and five wisdoms, as an offering to all the wisdom beings in the space above you. They joyfully receive your offering. Let yourself truly sense this connection between you as Tara Turavira and all the wisdom beings in the sky above you.
Third tāṃ: With the third sounding of tāṃ, imagine that all the wisdom beings send rainbow wisdom light back to you, blessing and empowering you. Feel the light entering your heart and spreading throughout your entire body, filling you with illumination and bliss. This light fully activates you as the red Tara Turavira. Take your seat, and don’t hold back. Truly feel what it would be like to be a fully awakened buddha, Tara Turavira, a being of radiant light and infinite love and capacity.
Mantra Recitation and Enacting Tara’s Enlightened Activities
As you recite the following mantra, imagine it circles counterclockwise around the tāṃ in your heart. The mantra garland (mala) stands vertically around the edge of the moon disc facing outward. If you were to look down into your heart from above, you would see the flat circular white moon disc, the top of the tāṃ syllable, and the top of the mantra garland circling around the tāṃ in a counterclockwise direction, like a locomotive going around the edge of the moon disc. All of this appears within a luminous orb of red light. Reciting the mantra causes the syllable tāṃ and the mantra garland to vibrate, sending rainbow wisdom light in all directions, removing obstacles, bringing relief from suffering, and increasing bodhichitta. The healing sound of the conch shell soothes and releases beings from fear, consoles them, and brings them hope. See all beings become free from suffering and awaken to their true nature. The light and sound are expressions of Tara’s love and compassion for all beings without exception.
om tara tuttare ture bodhichitta svaha
Recite the mantra as many times as you like (but at least twenty-one times). Genuinely feel yourself as Tara Turavira.
Dissolution and Rest in Awareness
When your mantra recitation feels complete, dissolve the visualization. Imagine that the world and its inhabitants dissolve into blissful rainbow light and this light then dissolves into you as Tara Turavira. Then you yourself dissolve into light from the crown of your head and the soles of your feet, slowly converging at the sphere of red light at your heart chakra. Then the red sphere dissolves into the moon disc, the moon disc into the mantra garland, and the mantra garland into the tāṃ. Lastly, the tāṃ dissolves from the base all the way up to the flame atop the circle (bindu). Then everything becomes luminous emptiness.
Rest in spacious awareness—the vast, luminous, and wakeful nature of your own mind. Release into presence. When concepts arise, release them with the outbreath. Your eyes may be closed or open, gazing into space just above the horizon line. In either case, relax the muscles behind and around your eyes. Simply rest your awareness in its own nature. This is the very essence of Tara. Rest here as long as you like.
When you are ready, return to your form as Tara Turavira, and feel yourself fully integrated with her. Slowly open your eyes and look at the world with a new gaze through the eyes of Tara. As you move about your day, blend the meditative state with the post-meditative state, recalling the compassion and love of Tara Turavira within and all around you. You may find it easiest to do this by reciting or singing her mantra throughout the day.
Close your session by giving rise to a sense of gratitude to Tara and her blessings and to your teachers, ancestors, all beings, and the Earth that sustains us. Conclude by dedicating the positive energy from your practice with the following verse.
Dedication of Merit
Through this virtue, may I quickly attain the state of Noble Tara.
May I bring each and every being, without exception, to that state.
May all beings be healthy, free from suffering and its causes, and may they awaken to their true nature.