With so many representations of the Divine Feminine from the different religions and spiritual traditions, it’s easy enough to get confused. For example there are 21 different aspects of Tara alone!
So how do we make sense of it all? Where do they all fit in?
And the feminine aspect is, at best, an afterthought in our current world dominated by the patriarch. So let’s begin to change that right here and now, for the betterment of everyone as we explore the beauty and meaning behind the sacred emanation in all Her glory.
The Feminine Principle, or force, is a set of characteristics used to represent creation, bounty, humanity, and the natural world.
Whatever language we use to describe it, whatever names we give, whatever their origination stories and cultural and religious backgrounds—it all represents feminine source power.
Creation. Life. Destruction. Earth. Cycles. Beauty.
The most well-known manifestation of the feminine principle within Tibetan Buddhism is Tara. Known by many names in many traditions (Tarani Bosatsu in Japan, Guanyin in east Asia), she is the Divine Mother.
In Buddhist traditions, we often see her depicted as youthful and charming, but her real power lies in her perfect wisdom and her desire to benefit all sentient beings.
She is sometimes thought of as a diety (meaning she has god-like qualities and powers), and sometimes thought of as a bodhisattva or Buddha (meaning she shows us true and perfect compassion). Either way, Tibetan Buddhists view her as the great mother protector, offering wisdom, purity, compassion, and love to all who call on her. She offers courage to those who need it, strength to surmount any obstacle, and protection from all dangers. In higher levels of practice, her specific meditation is used to develop inner and outer qualities of compassion and emptiness. But she is available to us in daily life as well.
It’s enough to center ourselves within the feelings of protection and compassion, then call on Tara, naming our specific concerns, genuinely asking for help and guidance. It is believed that her love for all people is stronger than a mother’s love for her child, and therefore, prayers are answered swiftly and definitively.
Like many embodiments of the Feminine Principle, Tara has many origination stories. In Tibetan Buddhism, she is the consort of Chenrezig, God of Compassion, and sprung from the tears he shed when he could not bear to look at the immense suffering in the world.
Prior to being worshipped by the Tibetans (beginning sometime during the fourth century), she was worshipped by the Hindus as Parvati.
There are many Hindu goddesses representing the Feminine Principle, and all are manifestations of that primal energy; Parvati, Lakshmi, Kali, Durga all represent various aspects of the mother and the cycles within creation and destruction.
In fact, in the Hindu tradition, Tara and Kali are often depicted with similar visages—including blue skin and a necklace of skulls! This fierce facade reminds us that death is a part of life and creation and destruction go hand in hand.
There are modern day living breathing Taras among us as well. One recognizable woman is Amma, The Hugging Saint. She has been a spiritual leader in India for many decades now and works tirelessly to bring comfort to lives long stressed by extreme poverty. Amma offers a hug to all who meet her and her deep compassion radiates out and touches people profoundly. Many have been inspired to bring about powerful transformations in their lives after coming into contact with her.
As a living emanation of the Divine Mother, her gift is to strengthen the characteristics of the Feminine in those she meets.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (believed to be a manifestation of Chenrezig, Tara’s consort), also sees evidence of modern day Taras:
“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.”
(Compassionate Action Conference, Newport Beach, CA, 1989)
This helps to bring the wise ancient energy of Tara into our daily lives; as we look to Tara we can feel empowered by her energy and strength.
Another practice which is easy to implement is to begin to see all women as embodiments of Tara. If it feels forced at first, stick with it.
Use each encounter to wonder to yourself what strength, wisdom, and compassion each woman has had to call on in her life. How has she helped others? How can you help her? Over time, this practice will become easier and will help us to connect not just with others, but with the Feminine Principle within ourselves.
Tara, and the Divine Mother energy that she represents, is never far from us. We can see her in our leaders, in our friends, in strangers, and within ourselves.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photos: Wikimedia Commons user Eugene a