The Story Of The Goddess Tara And How She Reminded Us Women Are Divine
Tibetan culture is widely known for its prayer flags, bone jewelry, and whole-hearted commitment to Buddhism; but what about the statues and images of the green woman, plastered everywhere in temples and homes? That particular artistry is not just a small part of Tibetan religion, nor a minor mythological story. It’s actually a huge part of what makes Buddhism’s history and what makes so universal today. The name of this woman is Tara, and her story…and what it means for Tibet and Buddhism…will fascinate you.
Tara, (like Buddhism itself) is believed to have originated from Hinduism. Tara is thought to be a manifestation of the goddess Parvati, the personification of love and devotion. But to be more specific, the story of Tara’s origin comes from Avalokiteśvara, or the “lord that looks down”. This bodhisattva (a being that has the sole wish to remove suffering from humanity), began to weep one day at the intense suffering of sentient beings. Eventually, he cried so much that his tears began to form a lake…and out of this lake sprang forth a lotus containing Tara. Tara, having been birthed from compassion, began to labor behind the scenes day and night to relieve suffering from humanity, eventually incarnating in multiple forms…all women.
Her Meaning and Importance
Tara eventually took on multiple “interpretations” in Buddhism, which led to depictions of different colors. Each one represented a different aspect of Divinity. The most popular were her green and white forms; green for enlightened activity, white for serenity and grace.
But quite possibly the most important aspect that came out of this story is not even Tara herself…it’s the recognition that all women had Tara within themselves. Back then, (around 600 BC) it was not exactly commonplace to give women an equal standing with men. Especially in regards to religion. So, when there was a mass acceptance of a goddess that emanated Divinity, and the belief that all women carried that same Divinity with them, suddenly there began to be a shift in consciousness in the way women were treated. The Dalai Lama actually even talked about this very issue in 1989:
There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tara. Following her cultivation of bodhicitta, the bodhisattva’s motivation, she looked upon the situation of those striving towards full awakening and she felt that there were too few people who attained Buddhahood as women. So she vowed, “I have developed bodhicitta as a woman. For all my lifetimes along the path I vow to be born as a woman, and in my final lifetime when I attain Buddhahood, then, too, I will be a woman.”
That thought process, combined with the stories of compassion, helped to put women in Asia in a much better position than had previously existed in the world.
It’s amazing to think that when we recognize the fact we all have Divinity within ourselves, we can treat each other the way we are supposed to be treated. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget we all contain those aspects…and it takes a reminder (like Tara) to help us realize that truth.
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