Green Tara is a Tibetan meditation deity. She’s a goddess who teaches us through having us meditate on her. That way we viscerally integrate her teachings in our experience. When we imagine ourselves as Tara, we practise what it feels like to be enlightened.
Tara is the goddess of compassionate skillful action, and protects us from fears. She has one leg drawn back in meditation posture; the other is forward a bit, so she can leap up and help when she’s needed. She shows us how to live the deep insight of meditation, and apply that in action in the world. A good role model for mothers!
Tara comes to us from an ancient, unbroken, living tradition of practice.We’ve developed a special way of working with traditional practices. It’s essence work, using simple images drawn from the more detailed classic images and texts. These transcripts come from guided meditations working with groups, dakini circles. Each text works with a single theme, out of the huge range of approaches and possibilities for practising with Tara. We concentrate especially on the bodily experience of Tara – what it feels like. The texts are not meant to be exhaustive. They’re not the only way to practise. They’re designed to set you off in fruitful directions.
Tara teaches us on many levels, how to live in the world as an enlightened wise person. We’ll briefly lay out some of the range of what she teaches.
Wisdom and compassion are the two qualities of enlightenment, the two wings we fly with to enlightenment. They turn out to be interwoven.
We usually start our work with compassion. It’s more personal, more accessible. With Tara, we practise what it’s like to be a compassionate wise woman.
As part of compassion work, we also work with our emotional difficulties and traumas. Then we can understand the deep wisdom teachings more clearly. Emotional and psychological healing is an important part of moving towards enlightenment. As long as we are in emotional confusion and distress, we don’t have the calm and openness to see clearly the nature of mind.
Tara is so skillful that she works with our emotional healing, while also constantly by her nature, reminding us that emotional healing is to liberate us from suffering, through full awakening. When we become her, we become the wise woman within, who knows how to be in the world with an awakened mind. We release our confusion and fears, so the wise woman can shine forth.
Tara protects against fears. That has many levels from psychological healing to overcoming our sense of separateness in the world.
What sort of fears are we talking about? ultimately, any emotional disturbance is a fear. It causes us to be tied up in emotional patterns that separate us from the world.
Traditionally, Tara works with eight fears:
Pleasure and pain
loss and gain
praise and blame
notoriety and fame
another way the fears are described is: fear of water, lions, fire, snakes, elephants, thieves, false imprisonment, ghosts.
Both these lists can be found in the outer world; it’s also easy to see how they represent our inner emotional turmoils. We explore many ways of working with all this through Tara.
One way is to understand Buddhist teachings on overcoming suffering, by understanding impermanence, and how greed, hatred and ignorance cause us suffering, by the way we cling to having this and not having that.
Through our relationship with Tara in meditation we deal with fears also in more visceral intimate ways. We can work with her as a companion, or become her ourself.
When we meditate on her in front of us, separate from ourself, she’s our companion. We develop a relationship with her. It’s a practice ground for how we relate to ourself and to others.
Tara’s an enlightened goddess who can see our wisdom and goodness, even when we cannot – and love us, despite our confusions. For me, this work has been like re-mothering. The wounds of childhood come largely from imperfect parenting. I imagined Tara as like a ‘perfect mother’, and spent years practising how to relate to her, how to feel her as loving, protecting and all the qualities I needed, to heal childhood lacks.
Re-mothering can seem like working on an emotional and psychological level only. However it’s the way we develop compassion. Re-mothering is learning to love and be loved, which we have so many lacks around in our Western culture. We build a healthy self, through seeing the light in Tara’s eye for us.
Sometimes I thought, this is idiotic – I’m just imagining it. However, imagination can be a place we can explore, experiment, and let our creative powers take us to new discoveries. In meditation, it can help us deeply integrate and embody healthy states of being. We take ‘imagining’ to a deeply visceral level.
When we are ourself the body of Tara, we use the green light, of which her body is made, to let the feeling of compassion grow in our own flesh. This helps us develop a sensitive awareness of what’s happening in our body. Emotional traumas stored in the body can be compassionately rought to awareness, and this in itself heals them. We can also use variations on the ‘clearance’ methods developed by Namgyal, my teacher. (explained elsewhere)
When we’ve learnt how to experience Tara’s love towards us, and we’re full to the brim, we then beam it out to all other beings. This helps us see how interconnected we all are, and that increases our compassion.
Wisdom gained in meditation is not so much an intellectual knowing; it’s a whole-body-presence knowing. It opens up through many steps. The first is to understand we are not the thralls of our thoughts. Gradually through learning to rest in the present moment, we experience in a whole new way what it is to be a ‘self’ in a body, a form in union with void. In the next few sections we explore how Tara helps us embody this wisdom, by meditating that our own body is the wise body of Tara.
CALM AND PEACE
This is the first lesson of Tara the meditator. The first thing we look for in meditation is calm. It’s also the first step in wisdom: to go beyond the net of thoughts and anxieties, that we’re mostly caught in. Then we can see more clearly.
Tara help us understand the power of peace. The peace and calm we achieve in meditation is not a blanked out state. It’s a beautiful delightful, powerful, being present in the present moment, able to respond to anything that is needed.
PRESENT IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
This is the heart of meditation practice. The present moment is called Mother of all Buddhas. It’s the only place we can awaken. It can seem strange to visualise the complicated figure of a goddess, to bring ourself into the present moment. It works though. There’s no other place we can visualise ourself as Tara but in the present. We become a peaceful awakened goddess, resting in the present moment.
VOID AND THE GREAT MOTHER
Tara’s green body of light, that arises out of emptiness, or spaciousness, is direct teaching on what it feels like to live in the lap, or embrace, of the Great Mother, and explore what the Great Mother herself feels like,
This is the heart Buddhist teaching: ‘form is void, void is form.’ Form and void are the same, not two separate states. Void or emptiness are the commonest Buddhist terms used. They can feel impersonal, often frightening. For women they can feel neutral, in a way that makes us feel we must set aside our femaleness, to experience it.
Often in Buddhism, void is called Great Mother. For people who are open to the idea of working with the Great Mother, it’s proved an easy way to access the feeling of what ’emptiness’ really is. It’s not empty – it’s a state of primordial loving awareness.
WHAT KIND OF SELF DO WE GROW INTO?
We often hear Buddhists talk about the death of ego. This is not the death of a sense of self. It’s letting go fears, worries and anxieties about how I want to be, and how I don’t want to be. It’s a complete change of how we understand what our ‘self’ is.
Tara as an enlightened goddess obviously has a strong presence, as some kind of self. She hasn’t evaporated by being enlightened. She’s become more empowered, even more capable of acting with compassionate skillful means. She’s an empowered resilient ‘self’, who can be fully present in the world, while at the same time knowing she’s also emptiness – that’s felt through her body of green light.
She also knows she’s totally connected with all beings. Meditating on her, we get to explore what it feels like to live in a different kind of self.
A word about the methods of visualisation. First, this is not only about visualising with the sense of sight. We use all our inner senses to create the image – kinesthetic, touch, sound, smell. A better word for this is sensualisation.
All our life experience comes through our senses. Tara shows us our creative mind, how we create our world. The way she arises out of Great Mother spaciousness, and dissolves back into that, shows us how our thoughts and perceptions constantly arise and pass away. They’re impermanent – and impermanence is not scary. It’s creative. Tara shows us how we can use this creative mind to lead us to wisdom.
The method sends a dream image to the depth for it to grow around. When we dream, our depth sends up an image to our conscious mind, as part of its healing process. When we create the image of Tara, we send this healing image to our depth, like a reverse dream. We create a relationship with our own depth, commonly called the ‘subconscious,’ which assists the process of healing.
EMPOWERING THE WISE WOMAN
Both men and women practise Tara. In addition, Tara serves a special purpose for women. Long ago, she vowed always to be reborn as a woman, to show women it’s possible to awaken in a woman’s body.
Even in our modern age, women still suffer from internalised oppression, which can make us feel unworthy and inadequate. Tara is a role model, for what wisdom can be like in a woman’s body. This can be very enriching and empowering work for women.
TARA THE ENVIROMENTALIST
One title of Tara is Khadiravani: of the forest. I believe she may originally have been an ancient nature deity. Her compassion extends to trees, animals and all creatures as well as humans. She’s an environmentalist.
A further dimension of work with Tara, is that she embodies an entire paradigm shift, a culture shift in how we understand what life is for, what values bring us happiness, how to live and work with our interconnection with all creatures.
Her practice is part of an ancient tradition called tantra, which means a thread in woven cloth. It’s about how to live as part of the weave of the world – without being entangled in the nets and traps of believing it to be permanent and solid.
This life-affirming path teaches us not to withdraw from the world to find our spirituality, but to experience ‘ordinary’ daily life as full of the magic and mystery of spirit.
This is what Riane Eisler calls the Partnership paradigm. It’s the same as the one developed by western goddess spirituality and ecofeminism.
These teachings of how to live as part of the weave of the world can be applied on an inner personal level, to live in the world in a liberated way. We can also apply it to our relationships, with the people around us and the nature. it can also be the basis of a clear vision of what we need, to create a lasting sustainable way of life on this planet, for all of us.
This may seem very large. Can Tara save the world? Yes indeed. To take on a big task like saving the world, we need a clear vision, to keep us going. We also need the almighty compassion of Tara. And we need the personal empowerment and support she brings us.
H.H. The Dalai Lama has been calling women to come forward and save the world. He says women, because we are mothers, have deeper compassion and sensitivity to suffering, and are better geared to find peaceful ways to dialogue, rather than trying to use war to solve problems. Yes, with Tara as companion and guide, we can save the world – as well as ourselves.