Oh Tara, Protect Us

Vajrayana practitioners supplicate deities and buddhas to help clear obstacles on the path. In this teaching, Thubten Chodron comments on a prayer to the buddha Tara to protect us from the eight dangers.

Tara is one of the most beloved buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism. Her name 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. She also liberates us from the eight dangers, each of which has an outer and inner aspect: the lion of arrogance, elephant of ignorance, fire of anger, snake of jealousy, thieves of wrong views, chain of miserliness, flood of attachment, and carnivorous demon of doubt.

How does Tara liberate and protect us from danger? It is not by swooping down and carrying us away to heaven or by making a problematic situation magically disappear. Enlightened beings cannot take our defilements away, like pulling a thorn from our foot. Nor can they give us their realizations, like pouring water into an empty bowl. 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. She then guides us in meditation practice so we generate transformative realizations.

Through practicing what we learn, we generate the wisdom that realizes emptiness, and through meditating on emptiness, we cleanse our minds of defilements and actualize the cessation of suffering.

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.

Tara liberates us by embodying all the realizations of the path. Visualizing her emerald-green form made of light, we contemplate the path and internalize its meaning, as each aspect of her form represents an aspect of the path to awakening. Tara also liberates us by being a role model. Formerly a princess who was told to pray to be reborn as a man, she attained full awakening in a woman’s body, encouraging us to overcome whatever prejudice, discrimination, or discouragement we may encounter.

Excerpted from the Fall 2014 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, available on newsstands and by subscription.