Buddhism A–Z
Who is Tara, the Buddhist Deity?
Tara, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Courtesy of Louis V. Bell Fund, 1966

Tara (Sanskrit; Tibetan: Dolma; literally, “Savioress,” or “she who saves”) is a deity revered as a female bodhisattva in Tibetan Buddhism. Tara is often referred to as the “mother of liberation” and “the mother of all buddhas” and symbolizes the feminine element of compassion as well as general success and achievement. 

In Chinese Buddhism, she is known as Duoluo Pusa, while in Japan, she is called Tara Bosatsu. That she has so many names and forms (more on these below) reflects her role in inspiring and guiding tantric meditation practitioners worldwide toward spiritual liberation.

Origin and Legends

One popular narrative says that Tara was born from a teardrop of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and then joined him in liberating others from suffering. As such, she is considered to be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. A variation holds that she arose from a ray of light from the eye of the Buddha Amitabha. 

Another origin story involves a princess named Jnanachandra or Yeshe Dawa, who, millions of years ago, offered prayers to the buddha Tonyo Drupa and received instruction on bodhicitta, the boundless wisdom and compassion of a bodhisattva. When urged by monks to be reborn as a male for further progress, the princess passionately dismissed gender as an obstacle to enlightenment. Instead, she committed to being reborn as a female bodhisattva until all suffering had been eradicated. This tale aligns with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s acknowledgment of a feminist movement within Buddhism centered around Tara, marking Mahayana Buddhism’s evolving inclusivity towards women.

Symbolism and Role

Tara, in the Tarastottarasatanamavali (108 Names of the Holy Tara), is depicted as the leader guiding lost souls. Central to her essence is motherhood, with titles like “loving mother,” “supreme mother,” “mother of all buddhas,” and “mother of mercy and compassion.” Often portrayed with the blue lotus, she’s linked to the moon and night. Tara’s forest goddess aspect, especially as Khadiravani, associates her with plants, trees, and the wind, making her a healing and nurturing deity. Her pure land in Mount Potala is a lush haven teeming with life and beauty. Her connection to the wind element ensures her swift response to pleas for assistance.

Forms of Tara

There are twenty-one primary forms of Tara, each representing different qualities and aspects, both peaceful and wrathful.

 Her most prominent peaceful forms are:

Green Tara (Khadiravani, or Syamatara)

Often portrayed with her right foot stepping forward, she represents active compassion and is believed to act swiftly to assist those who call upon her. She protects from eight fears: pride, ignorance, anger, jealousy, wrong views, avarice, desire, and doubt. 

White Tara (Saraswati, or Sitatara)

Often depicted with seven eyes (three on her face, one on each palm, and one on each footsole), she embodies compassion, longevity, healing, and serenity.

Red Tara (Kurukulla)

Red Tara is a popular form of Tara, focusing on control and magnetism. She excels in drawing people, resources, and favorable conditions for dharma practice to thrive. Her practice empowers one to positively influence others, particularly in calming their minds and leading them to the dharma.

Related Reading

Green Tara: You Are the Divine Feminine

No matter your gender identification, you can do Green Tara practice and help bring yourself—and the world—into balance. Lama Döndrup Drölma offers step-by-step instructions. Watch Lama Döndrup Drölma in Lion’s Roar’s upcoming free online event, “<a href="https://promo.lionsroar.com/the-women-of-wisdom-summit-free-registration/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">The Women of Wisdom Summit.</a>”

Green Tara: Feel Her Wisdom and Love

A fully enlightened female buddha, Tara is the actuality of compassion and wisdom. Meditating on her, says Lama Palden Drolma, can awaken our own buddhanature.

Oh Tara, Protect Us

In this teaching, Thubten Chodron comments on a prayer to the buddha Tara to protect us from the eight dangers.

How to Do Green Tara Practice

Lama Palden Drolma teaches us how to visualize the deity Green Tara, who embodies our own buddhanature.

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