Monday, February 7, 2011

Meeting the White Tara

A few days ago I had a wonderful meditative experience.  This is particularly interesting after having spent some time reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying of late.  As per usual, when I meet a new character in these meditations I usually haven't a clue who they are.  Normally my meditations lead me to a temple of Hermes Trimegistus - a large stone, sandalled foot broken at the ankle to what would have been a massive statue of Hermes Trimegistus facing out to the ocean.  This time though, I remained facing out to the ocean with my back to the temple and the waves started to behave strangely, curling in an unusual way.  The sun was directly in front of me on the horizon like the morning sun and the moon was directly above my head.  From the horizon I could start to see the waters parting and slowly, a beautiful woman with long wavy white hair, a Nepalese face covered in white clay in an all-white costume came towards me very calmly, serenely.  I patiently waited for her and she embraced me in a beautiful hug, where she then proceeded to put me on like a piece of clothing by slipping her hand through my back like a puppet with the rest of her body following until we were merged as the one being.  I felt the coolness of water throughout me, a white glow and wonderful feeling of peace.  Who was this Goddess?  I then looked her up...

Sometimes called Mother of the Buddhas, White Tara is meant to have so much compassion for humankind that she exudes more love than a mother for her child.  Tibetan Buddhists refer to her as the Mother of Liberation as the word Tara itself is derived from the root 'tri' (to cross), hence the implied meaning:' the one who enables living beings to cross the Ocean of Existence and Suffering'.   She protects her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment, particularly to overcome obstacles which may inhibit the practice of religion. 

Many myths surround her, but always as an incredibly pious character whether those stories had her derive from an actual person or purely in the form of deity.  One myth tells of the White Tara being born from the tear of Avalokiteschvara, also known as Chenzering, who the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of.  One day Avalokiteshvara looked upon the world with such compassion that he began to cry over the suffering of mankind in its imbalance.  Tears from each eye created the White Tara and Green Tara respectively.  Another similar myth states that Avalokiteshvara cried an entire lake where a fully opened lotus formed and the White Tara emerged like Venus from her shell, as did Green Tara’s lotus, but not completely open.  White Tara was born into the world to relieve suffering and provide longevity to her followers for the long journey through the Ocean of Suffering.

Green Tara, with her half-open lotus, represents the night, and White Tara, with her lotus in full bloom, symbolizes the day. Green Tara embodies virtuous activity while White Tara displays serenity and grace. Together, the Green and White Taras symbolize the unending compassion of the goddess who labors day and night to relieve suffering. (1)

Some believe that the Green and White Taras represented ancient royalty:

In seventh-century Tibet, Tara was believed to be incarnated in every pious woman. She especially came to be associated with two historical wives of the first Buddhist king of Tibet, Srong-brtsan-sgam-po (d. 649). His wife from imperial China was said to be an incarnation of White Tara, while the king's Nepalese wife was an incarnation of Green Tara. It may be that the desire to regard both these pious women as incarnations of Tara led to the concept of the goddess's green and white forms.

She is pictured as being endowed with seven eyes (on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and her forehead) to symbolize the watchfulness of the compassionate mind.

White Tara mantra

(text in Tibetan Uchen)

Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Mama Ayuḥ Punya Jñānā Puṣtiṃ Kuru Svāhā


“Omm Taraye, Tuttaraye Tooraye

Mahmah Aryoob Punya-Gnyana Pooshtim Kuru Swa-ha”

My interpretation of this chant:

Praise to Tara, Hail!  May I be blessed with wisdom, happiness & long life.  May my experiences teach the importance of living ethically and with wisdom.  May the merit my actions of compassion and devotion be felt by others, in their hearts and amongst all of nature itself.  May we all feel the wealth of these efforts. For those who live with such compassion and merit will always live in Kuru - make it so!  I will take into me the serenity and grace of White Tara in her love, compassion and piety.  Blessed Be.

Om = It represents the energy at the Ajna chakra , the third eye energy center (chakra), where the feminine and masculine currents become joined and consciousness becomes Unitary .. into the Whole Unity of existence. You will have noticed that all Mantras begin with Om .This is because Om is the supreme sound
from which creation was born.  It is the Cosmic vibrationOm is the sound that reveals all other wordsand their different meanings.  Om also has a luminous nature and reveals things.  Hence we must first contact the power of  Om for
other mantras to work and for their specific meanings to be known.  We must first contact Om to know the Guru or  Divine guiding power within us.
Therefore “Om Tāre Tuttāre Ture” = Praise to Tara, Hail!
Mama = mine.  You or you would like your friend to have long life, merit, wisdom and happiness.

Ayuh is long life (as in Ayurvedic medicine).

Punya = the merit that comes from living life ethically, and this merit is said to help one to live long and happily.

Jnana = wisdom.

Punya and Jnana are known as the Two Accumulations. In order to become enlightened we need to accumulate merit (that is, to develop positive qualities through living ethically and meditating) but we also need to develop wisdom through deep reflection. Wisdom cannot arise without a basis of merit, but merit alone is not enough for us to become enlightened, meaning that becoming a nicer person isn’t enough — we have also to look deeply into ourselves and the world around us and to see the impermanent and insubstantial nature of all things.
Pushtim = wealth, abundance, or increase.

Kuru is a mythical land to the north of the Himalayas, which was said to be a land of long life and happiness (it may have been the original northern home of the aryans). Perhaps the association with the mythical realm of Kuru doesn’t hurt when doing the mantra. But (and with due thanks to Arpad Joo’s comment below) it’s also a verb form meaning “do it!” or “make it so!” (second person singular active imperative or the root k.r if that’s of any interest to you) which is what it means here. The “make it so!” refers back to an increase in wisdom, merit, and long life (for the practitioner). We’re imploring White Tara for these things so that we can gain enlightenment and help all sentient beings.

svaha = an exclamation meaning “hail” or “may blessings be upon” and is a common ending to Buddhist mantras. So after making the rather bold request of White Tara above, we end with an equally emphatic salutation.


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eardcwen said...

You interpretation of the original chant is just as beautiful :)

Elspeth said...

Thanks! It's funny, now I've started to think of spiritual discipline in a very different way when you have the Eastern perspective - in a stereotypical way in one sense, but I like the idea of 'training' spiritually aswell.