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.
Tara is awakened awareness manifest in a female form. She’s a beloved Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist figure whose countless devotees have invoked her compassionate presence since the late sixth century in India. While Tara’s wisdom is inconceivably profound, she’s immediately accessible to us in any moment.
Wisdom and compassion are the two wings that carry us to awakening. As the divine feminine, Tara represents wisdom, which is the essential counterpart to the masculine principle of compassion. Tara is the dynamic expression of mind’s empty essence, which is pure, unbounded potentiality and creativity—the womb of all that is. As such, she’s the mother of all the buddhas. Tara embodies innate wisdom and unconditional, boundless love as she continuously nurtures and protects sentient beings.
While Tara is an embodiment of the sacred feminine, her practice is of importance to all of us, regardless of gender.
Tara’s name is derived from the Sanskrit root tṛ, which means “to traverse” or “to cross.” Tara guides and protects us as we journey across the ocean of the suffering of cyclic existence and arrive at the shore of enlightenment. In Tibetan, she’s known as Jetsun Drölma. Jetsun means “noble, revered” and Drölma means “she who liberates.” Tara is the noble one who liberates us from the ocean of suffering.
She arises in many forms of varying colors and demeanors, each of which has a specific way of supporting us on the path to liberation. Green Tara is a principal form of Tara whose activity is to remove obstacles and protect us from fear and danger. Green Tara has an entourage of twenty-one forms, each of which protects us from a specific type of fear, danger, and calamity.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, various colors represent different facets of awakened awareness and how we experience them on an ordinary level. The color green is associated with enlightened activity, wisdom, and compassion in action. So Green Tara is the embodiment of enlightened activity; her unimpeded action is instantly and precisely attuned to the needs of each moment. She knows just what’s needed to facilitate our liberation. Green is also associated with the wind element, and Tara’s green form expresses her unwavering commitment to act for the benefit of beings with the swiftness of the wind.
Beyond her color, every aspect of Green Tara’s appearance is imbued with meaning. Her boundless, unbiased generosity, joyful diligence, patience, ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom adorn her as fine silks and jewel-encrusted earrings, necklaces, and bangles. Her golden crown expresses her realization of the five disturbing emotions as being wisdom in their essence. Her black hair is partially drawn into a topknot symbolizing that she’s attained full realization, while the rest of her hair flows down her shoulders and back indicating her commitment to benefit all beings mired in suffering.
Green Tara’s right hand rests on her knee, palm up, expressing her compassionate, open-hearted generosity, which flows freely to all beings without exception. Her left hand forms a gesture that welcomes us to take refuge in her. That is, she presses the tips of her ring finger and thumb together, while her other three fingers point to the sky. Green Tara’s joined thumb and finger represent her realization of the union of wisdom and compassion, while her other three fingers represent her confidence in the three jewels: the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. She holds this gesture at her heart, communicating that she’s never separated from awakened mind. Between the thumb and ring finger of her left hand is the stem of a rare blue lotus that blossoms at her left ear. The lotus symbolizes the capacity of the dharma to manifest in and liberate us from the “mud” of cyclic existence.
Green Tara sits on top of a fully blossomed lotus and the luminous disc of the moon. Her left leg is drawn in, representing that through her contemplative practice she’s realized wisdom. Her extended right leg represents compassion, as she’s primed to leap up the moment we call upon her.
Green Tara is a stainless mirror reflecting the truth of our innate, awakened nature, which is temporarily obscured to us. Through Green Tara practice, we gradually lift the veils that keep us from recognizing that our body, speech, and mind are inseparable from her awakened body, speech, and mind. This practice involves engaging with her by visualizing her and symbols associated with her, and by reciting her mantra. In Green Tara practice we initially visualize her in front of us. Then, as the practice progresses, she dissolves into us, and we arise as Green Tara. We come to recognize that we, too, are manifestations of awakened awareness.
While Tara is an embodiment of the sacred feminine, her practice is of importance to all of us, regardless of gender. In a time when gender issues are a part of mainstream discourse, the Buddhist perspective of the feminine and masculine principles can broaden the conversation. While in the West we focus primarily on anatomy when discussing gender, the Buddhist understanding of feminine and masculine energy brings more subtlety to an issue that’s often viewed strictly as binary.
From a Buddhist perspective, any person born from a womb comprises both masculine and feminine qualities. The masculine qualities are related to clarity, compassion, skillful means, activity, and coolness, while the feminine qualities are related to wisdom, openness, emptiness, receptivity, and warmth. When engaging in Vajrayana practice, we work to bring these masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves into balance and union. Ultimately, we aim to move beyond these dualistic labels and concepts. Only then can we fully realize our buddhanature. For this reason, engaging in Tara practice is beneficial for all of us. It’s a precious and accessible jewel among a sea of masculine-oriented practices, offering an opportunity to develop the feminine qualities.
For women, Tara offers representation and empowers them as they engage in spiritual practice. For millennia, religion has been dominated by male iconography, male clergy, and the idea that women lack the capacity for full spiritual development. To have the opportunity to engage in a practice where the central figure is female is affirming. To see that female figure embodying ultimate wisdom and compassion can bring a fundamental sense of validation and help to heal the impact of years of subjugation and marginalization. One of Tara’s origin stories reflects her experience and understanding of this inequality.
It’s taught that many eons ago, she was a princess named Wisdom Moon. Wisdom Moon was deeply devoted to the buddha of that time. After many years of making offerings to him and his disciples, she was moved to commit herself to awakening and benefiting all beings by taking the vow of a bodhisattva. The monks in attendance counseled her to pray to be born in the body of a male so that she could attain her aspirations of awakening and benefitting beings, as doing so in a female form wasn’t possible. Wisdom Moon reminded the monks that ultimate true nature is beyond concepts of male and female and that those are divisions arising from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality. She then made the commitment to attain awakening and liberate all beings while in a female body.
Wisdom Moon’s aspiration reminds us that the benefit of the Tara practice extends beyond the personal to the transpersonal. As we engage with Tara practice and begin to experience some relief from our suffering, we have the bandwidth to recognize that every being suffers just as we do and that all beings yearn for safety and happiness. This allows for our inherently compassionate heart to open, and we engage in the practice not just for ourselves but for others as well.
Through the practice, we recognize that Tara is a reflection of all beings’ buddhanature and that in interacting with anyone, we’re interacting with Tara. This impacts how we engage with our loved ones, our colleagues, and the world around us. We’re inspired to be emissaries of wisdom and compassion who, just like Tara, are attuned to what’s most needed in every moment and have the courage to act on that insight. We recognize and experience the degree to which all life is interdependent and realize that by bringing the feminine and masculine aspects into balance within ourselves, we’re helping to restore imbalance as it’s experienced collectively in our global community.
This journey begins by simply opening our hearts to Tara and inviting her into our space. Just as we’d cultivate and attend to a budding friendship, we begin to engage regularly with her. As this relationship develops, Tara becomes a constant companion, a beloved friend who’s unconditionally present for us no matter how much joy or despair we’re experiencing. Her wise, loving presence is like a reassuring embrace when we’re feeling anxious, fearful, isolated, stuck, or filled with doubt. She’s fully committed to being there for us the moment we reach out to her.
We experience Green Tara in the warm embrace of a gentle wind, in the beauty of nature and the earth. She’s our breath, our life force. She’s the air we breathe. She’s the movement of our progress, change, growth. She’s ever-present.
How to do Green Tara Practice
1. Take Refuge
Find a quiet place to sit and settle into a posture that allows you to be alert yet relaxed. Take several breaths. Let go of any thoughts or concerns and welcome the present moment. When settled, take refuge in all awakened beings and your innate basic goodness by reciting: “Until awakening I take refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and noble sangha. By the merit of my acts of generosity and other awakening qualities, may I attain full awakening for the benefit of all beings.”
2. Visualize Tam Turning into Tara
With eyes open, gaze into the sky in front of you, taking in the openness of space with a sense of receptivity. Visualize that unconditioned compassion emerges from that openness in the form of a green Tam, the mystical seed syllable associated with Tara. (See the script on top of the lotus at right.) The Tam instantly transforms into Green Tara who sits upon a luminous disk of the moon atop a fully blossomed lotus. Her body is made of blue-green light, the color of a clear, alpine lake. Like a rainbow, she appears, yet her form is not substantial.
3. Empower Your Visualization
Visualize rainbow-colored light radiating out from your heart. It purifies the world, makes offerings to the awakened ones, and invokes Green Tara’s wisdom and compassion to be present with you. In response, many forms of Tara rain down and dissolve into the Green Tara that you originally visualized, empowering your visualization. Have confidence that all your teachers’ mind streams are united with hers and that she’s truly present in the sky in front of you.
4. Chant Green Tara’s Mantra
Begin to chant Tara’s mantra Om Tare Tu Tare Ture Svaha as a way to connect directly with her. The mantra is Tara’s wisdom and compassion manifesting as sound and vibration. Feel the vibration of the mantra in your body and feel that resonate with Tara’s body. As you chant the mantra, visualize that a stream of wisdom-awareness nectar begins to flow from her open right hand. It’s like liquid light that’s blue-green in color. This river of nectar flows into the crown of your head and removes all fear, gives protection, removes obstacles and obscurations, and transmits awakened awareness to you and all beings. Make any prayers to Green Tara that you would like, and allow yourself to receive her blessing.
5. Know That You Are Tara
See Green Tara dissolve into light and that light dissolve into you. As it enters your body, it illuminates you from the inside out, and your ordinary body now arises in the form of Green Tara. Experience your blue-green body of light as being emptiness and form inseparable. Your awakened qualities adorn you as silks and jewels. Your hands and legs rest in the same gestures and manners as hers. Experience your mind as being inseparable from Green Tara’s mind. In your heart area is a blue-green Tam. As you continue to chant the mantra, light radiates out from your heart, sending joy, compassion, loving-kindness, strength, and equanimity to all beings without exception.
6. Dissolve the Visualization
When you’re done reciting the mantra, take a moment to sit and feel the impact. Then, gradually dissolve the visualization until there’s just a drop of blue-green light left in your heart center, radiating brilliantly the essence of your true nature. Then the light dissolves into space, like a rainbow disappearing into the sky. Rest your mind naturally for a few minutes or longer.
7. Share the Benefit
End this practice session by sharing with all beings any benefit that came from your connecting with Green Tara. Do this by reciting: “Through this goodness may awakening spontaneously arise in our streams of being. May all obscurations and distortions fall away. May all beings be liberated from suffering and the stormy waves of birth, sickness, old age, and death.”