Meaningful Mantras: Connecting With The ‘Mantra For Compassion’
“She was born from a teardrop of an enlightened being, which fell to the ground and formed a lake” – Mischka Prem
I recently participated in a mantra meditation course and was deeply moved to hear of the story of the Buddhist Goddess Tara. Commonly referred to as the ‘Mother of all Buddhas’, Tara is said to have been born out of a teardrop of an enlightened being named Avalokiteshvara.
According to the story the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) Avalokiteshvara was sitting high on the distant plains, looking back on to the Earth, and seeing the suffering of humanity he shed a tear of compassion. The tear fell to the ground and formed a lake, and out of its waters rose up a lotus that opened to reveal the Goddess Tara. It is believed that Tara was born to work with us on Earth and to share her compassion and liberation freely with all. As a Goddess, Tara possesses a feminine energy that promotes a soft and fertile creative spirit and a nurturing nature brimming with compassion.
The more I heard about her story the more I wanted to know. I felt captivated by this image of an almighty deity God casting his gaze across the whole of our planet and shedding tears of sorrow for our suffering. If our planet could somehow look down on itself from above in today’s modern world I wonder if it might feel a similar emotional pain?
The name ‘Tara’ can also mean ‘star’, which is synonymous with her role of guiding those lost on their path. The embodiment of femininity, nurturing and divine energy, her compassion for all beings is believed to be flowing continuously. Protecting from fear and danger, healing from illness, increasing lifelong longevity and imbuing prosperity are just a fragment of the benefits promised to those who incorporate devotion to Tara into their lives. The awakening of inner wisdom to reveal the true nature of reality is one of the ultimate fruits of a dedicated mantra practice. The powerful story of Tara’s capacity for compassion and liberation is ripe in these uncertain times that we are living in. The good news is that we need not be an ordained monk or meditation expert to benefit from her offerings. An open mind and an ability to confront personal comfort zones are the only prerequisites.
The colors of compassion
Tara is believed to exist in many forms and colors, recognized by Tibetan followers as the twenty-one (21) distinct representations, and multiplied to a traditional one hundred and eight (108). Blue Tara is considered ferocious and invoked for destroying enemies, red Tara promotes love and protection and yellow is an angry Tara.
Tara’s ‘six-shield practice’ uses visualization techniques to envisage shields of different colored light to be radiating from Tara and encircling the practitioner and their loved ones in concentric spheres of protection. It is believed that the shields transform common neuroses into their wisdom nature, generating uplifting surges of energy and healing power. There is widespread consensus amongst Tibetan buddhists that the two most popular and major forms of the Goddess are Green and White Tara. If we reflect on the mythological context of Tara as a teardrop we learn that Green Tara was born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara’s left eye and White Tara his right eye. These two particular forms of Tara are also considered complementary to each other in many ways.
Green Tara is often represented as a half-open lotus, symbolizing night. She is also believed to be the embodiment of activity who is ready for immediate action. White Tara is portrayed as a lotus in full bloom, representative of daytime. White is believed to be the color of purity, wisdom and truth; and therefore White Tara is projected as the embodiment of grace, serenity and love – in particular the love of a mother for her child.
Tara Mantra – Goddess of Compassion and Buddha of Enlightened activity
Internationally respected teacher of Gelugpa Buddhism and author of Tara in the Palm of your Hand Venerable Zasep Rinpoche explains that anyone can access Tara’s teachings and blessings, including people who are not Buddhists.
“We begin by having compassion for ourselves, for our own suffering, for if we cannot help ourselves, how can we help others?” he shares.
“Once we develop compassion for ourselves, we begin to feel compassion for others. Our heart opens, and we see and feel how we are all interconnected and interdependent”, he adds.
How can we invoke the compassionate energy of Tara in our everyday lives?
One of the most popular methods for connecting with Tara’s compassion is through a method of meditation called Mantra. Mantras offer an effortless complement to a daily yoga practice and promote divine connection and healing vibrations that have a positive influence on consciousness.
Mantra meditation is becoming increasingly popular within Western yoga communities. Whether it be the most basic or common ‘OM’ mantra or the deeper practices of Gayatri, Shanti, Shiva and many others; the chanting of these ancient Sanskrit ‘sacred sounds’ offer ideal conditions for release, surrender and letting go to the divine forces guiding us on our path. Mantra guides and teachers place dedicated focus and energy on techniques that prepare the physical body for receiving the bliss and connectedness commonly associated with mantra practice. This can include how to sit during mantra meditation or how to position the face and mouth muscles for greater levels of experience. The use of harmoniums, guitars, drums and Tibetan bell chimes are just some examples of instruments that support and enhance the sacred journey of sound for beginners and experienced practitioners alike.
A deeper understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of specific mantras can also assist in enhancing the overall meditation experience and connection. Some practitioners argue that an understanding and appreciation of the origins and historical context to which the mantra originated from is paramount to receiving the spiritual benefits and deep connection of the vibration and frequency of the sound.
According to Lily Cushman, Brooklyn Yoga School co-founder and Chief of Staff to world-renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, mantras are sacred sounds or syllables that serve as a means to steady the mind and open the heart.
“The word mantra originates from the Sanskrit language and was adopted into the English language in the late eighteenth century. The word can be broken into two roots, man and tra. Man is associated with the root for the word manas, which means ‘mind’. Tra is defined as ‘crossing over’. Combined, the literal translation of the word mantra is ‘crossing over the mind’”, Lily explains.
Emanating from a myriad of cultures and religions across the world, the practice of mantra can be traced back not only to Hindu and Buddhist traditions but also to Judaism, Christianity, Paganism and many shamanic traditions. In yoga the roots of mantra meditation and sacred Sanskrit chants can be traced to the Vedic scriptures believed to date back as far as 10,000 BC. Mantras have been used for thousands of years to unlock our true nature and potential for love and healing. Importantly they not only foster a compassionate mindset but help to create community circles of compassion with likeminded people (commonly described as ‘sanghas’). Lily’s 2019 book A Little Bit of Mantras offers a beginner’s guide to working with the sacred sounds of mantra practice.
“I would never have thought doing something as simple or weird as reciting words in another language could have such a profound effect on my life – but they have”, she muses in the opening pages.
We will now take a closer look at the Om Tare Tuttare mantra, a Tibetan Buddhist Chant dedicated to ‘Tara’, the Goddess of Compassion.
The Mantra for Goddess Tara
Tara has her very own mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, represented by the following Sanskrit verse and translation:
“Om Tare Tutare
‘Om’ – represents Tara’s sacred and enlightened body, speech and mind,
‘Tare’ – means liberation from discontent,
‘Tuttare’ – liberation from the eight fears, the external dangers and also internal dangers,
‘Ture’ – removal of confusion and liberation from duality, and
‘Svaha’ – may the meaning of the mantra take root in my mind.
Ideally it is best to be introduced to mantra practice by an experienced practitioner, however by simply reciting the words within the mantra in a repetitive fashion during meditation can bear fruits of Tara’s blessing.
The current state of flux we are experiencing in the world offers a chance to grow as a global community, to learn and to help others and most importantly to help ourselves.
A touch of Tara might be all we need to move forward as one.
“Tara possesses a feminine energy that promotes a soft and fertile creative spirit and a nurturing nature brimming with compassion” ~ Lulu Prem ~.