Green Tara

To have this precious life is not enough. From the spiritual point of view the purpose of life is to be happy and make others happy, to love ourselves and others, and to have compassion for ourselves and others. This is an opportunity to learn how to do these things. I don't have much to share, I only have a little understanding of these things. If we don't have the motivation to help others, no matter how often we visualize the enlightened beings, it won't help. Love and compassion are the essence of the practice. The only difference between enlightened beings and us is that they are awakened and we are not. Tara represents the wisdom nature of all enlightened beings. Her name is Sanskrit means liberator. There are many stories about her. Buddhism says that all enlightened beings were once ordinary persons like ourselves. In a previous life she was a spiritual practitioner who took the vow to only be reborn to benefit others in the form of a woman.

We all meet fearful situations in this life. It is not healthy to live in fear. By practicing Tara it is possible to gain fearlessness. I can say from my own experience. I did a solitary retreat for three months doing Tara's practice. Whenever fear arose, I thought of her and the fear disappeared. There are many stories of great practitioners in the past. Garchen Rinpoche, who is like a living Buddha, was imprisoned and tortured for twenty years and was not allowed to do any spiritual practice. He practiced Tara while pretending he was asleep. And through his practice, he completely realized her. Many Drikung masters and the First Karmapa faithfully did her practice. Some people do her practice for realization and others do it for success in life. Both can be accomplished through her blessing. Some people have unpleasant dreams or situations in life. By doing her practice they can be freed of these problems. So this is a very powerful practice. Even if you are not a Buddhist, you can recite her mantra and take her as a friend and protector. Having an enlightened friend can be very beneficial. What practice we take depends on our interests and desires. Saying her prayer and making wishes is fine. Reciting her mantra is also fine. So there are different levels of interest.

Tara's mantra delivers benefits faster than any other tantric practice, which is why it is so popular. First we visualize a light within our heart and then dissolve it into emptiness. This is to show that enlightenment is not out there somewhere, it is within ourselves. So the practice of Tara is a method for recognizing our wisdom. Reciting Tara's mantra is a simple method. Sometimes our fear will arise during the practice. If it does, just be strong, calm, and aware. After the recitation just be calm, quiet, and relaxed. Sometimes you may still hear the mantra or feel its energy after the recitation. The mantra can reach a certain level of insight, but the silent meditation afterwards can reach further. Every sound you hear will not bother you. A woman from Canada told me after practicing, her two kids crying did not irritate her.

Q: Do you need an empowerment to do Green Tara practice?

A: You need the transmission, but it is good also to have the empowerment. I have a Tara prayer by Jigten Sumgon and I will give you the reading transmission.

The Tara practice starts with the refuge prayer. Buddhists take refuge with enlightened beings. These are persons who through their study and practice have dispeled their negative emotions and developed great compassion. We take refuge in them so that we can follow them and they can direct our path. We vow to attain enlightenment to liberate all beings. When we attain enlightenment it is easier to benefit other beings. We take refuge in the triple gem: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Buddha is the person who has attained complete enlightenment. The Dharma is their teaching, the Sangha is those enlightened bodhisattvas who can help us. We have the same qualities inside us as the enlightened beings. They act as a mirror of these qualities. The only difference is that we have not realized them yet. When we have realized them, then the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha will be inside us. But we need to first practice the outer Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha to get this realization.

The next line talks about the motivation for taking refuge. It is to protect all beings from samsara. To do this we have to practice the two kinds of bodhicitta, conventional bodhicitta and ultimate bodhicitta. It is important to reflect on the meaning when reciting this. If we do this, our motivation will grow stronger.

Next comes a mantra in Sanskrit: "om shunyata jana badzra svabhava atma koham." It means that the nature of myself and all things is empty. This doesn't mean empty like an empty cup or house. It means the interdependent nature of all things. A tree does not exist by itself, it depends upon its causes: the seed, water, soil, sunlight and so on. In the same way our body and mind are interdependent. Therefore, they are empty. This mantra is recited to cut off our deluded thoughts. Our love and compassion is dependent on other beings who are their objects. Whatever happens outside or inside, we should remain relaxed and calm. That's the practical expression of emptiness in the practice of meditation The emptiness of compassion is the highest expression of compassion. The emptiness is the wisdom side and the compassion is the skilful means side.

From the emptiness we should generate thoughts of love and compassion, the wish to benefit oneself and others. This is the inner bodhicitta mind, and is very important. If we do this before the visualization, then the visualization will be very powerful. We visualize the lotus, which represents our pure nature.On top of the lotus is a moon disk. It represents our energy body. On top of that is the seed syllable TAM, which is green and radiates light. It represents consciousness or our true nature. It manifests in the form of Tara, a young woman, wearing ornaments. She is in the form of the sambhogakaya. The ornaments she is wearing represent the six perfections. In her forehead is a white light, in her throat a red light, and in her heart a blue light, which represents the buddha's body, speech and mind. They radiate light in all directions as an offering to all the buddhas, and this blessing is returned from them.

Next comes the offering. The offering is the antidote to attachment. Many masters, especially in Atisha's tradition, did offering practice. This also includes the Kagyu tradition, because Gampopa first studied in Atisha's tradition. Even if you only have a single candle to offer, you should multiply it in your imagination into millions of candles. All the offerings are associated with the five senses. The seven offerings are washing water, drinking water, flowers, incense, perfumed water, food, and music. The offerings represent the objects of the five senses.

The visualization of the first part of practice is called the generation stage. It mimics the process of birth. The dissolution of the visualization mimics the process of death. By doing this practice regularly we prepare ourselves for death. Life does not end with death, the consciousness goes on. Tibetan Buddhism discovered a positive way to deal with the process of death. When you practice, you should not short change the meditation part for the ritual part. I have studied the ritual since an early age, but the meditation part is also very important. So both parts need emphasis. It's like when I see yoga practice. People learn the body postures, but don't learn the yoga philosophy. Most times I emphasize the meaning rather than the ritual. When people ask about the ritual I tell them, "I don't know." But learning some ritual is important. So do you have any questions?

Q: Could you explain the significance of TAM?

A: The TA comes from the first syllable of Tara's name.

Acharya Lama Gursam
August 16 2009
Breathe Books