What is Tara in Buddhism?
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
Tara - is an important figure in Buddhism and probably the most beloved deity in Mahayana Buddhism. She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. “Tara” means “the liberator.” She liberates us from ignorance, which is the root of cyclic existence, and from self-centered thought, which impedes us from attaining the full awakening of a buddha.
According to Vajrayana Buddhism, Tara is a completely enlightened Buddha who made a promise in the distant past that after reaching complete enlightenment she would always appear in female form for the benefit of all beings.
There are many different forms of Tara. Tibetan temple banners frequently show 21 different Taras, colored white, red, and yellow, and grouped around a central Green Tara.
For Tibetans the two practices that everybody is doing, whether you are in the monastery or outside the monastery, are Tara, or at least the praises to Tara, and Avaloketishvara, the mani-mantra and the praises to Tara.
The most common form is Green Tara, who’s primary role is savioress . The White Tara represents longevity and the Red Tara - power. Tara comes in all colors and degrees of wrathfulness, with varying numbers of faces, arms, and legs.
Green Tara, with her half-open lotus, represents the night, and White Tara, with her Tlotus 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.
Tara guards against the eight and sixteen fears. The Eight Great Fears are water, lions, fire, snakes, elephants, thieves, false imprisonment, and ghosts. These are meant literally, though they also point to inner and secret meanings. Tantric Buddhism commonly presents an interpretive model of three levels of meaning: outer, inner, and secret. The outer meaning of the eight fears is exactly what is described above: real fears that were commonly encountered in ancient times and sometimes even today.
For Tibetans the two practices that everybody is doing, whether you are in the monastery or outside the monastery, are Tara, or at least the praises to Tara, and Avaloketishvara, the mani-mantra and the praises to Tara. Majority of Buddhist knows these mantras by heart. Everybody chants them; when you are riding on busses, in dangerous situations and when you feel scared. Chanting mantras of Tara is believed to help overcoming fear and obstacles.
When requesting Tara to free us, we are actually calling upon our inner Tara—the seeds of our own wisdom and compassion. As we gradually cultivate these qualities, they protect us from the damage inflicted by the disturbing emotions.
How does Tara liberate and protect us from danger and fear?
She cannot make a problematic situation magically disappear. The fundamental way Tara—or any other buddha—benefits sentient beings is by teaching us the dharma and inspiring us to investigate its meaning so we reach a correct understanding.