Vajrayogini and Tara
February 4th 2009
The dakini empowerments continued today, first with the conclusion of Jomo Menmo’s series of Vajrayogini abhishekas, and then moving on to another practice of Vajrayogini and practices of Tara, compassion embodied in a female form. Vajrayogini is, in contrast, ‘the anthropomorphic form of shunyata,’ as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once put it. She is how emptiness might look if one were to actually meet it. As a deity, she is visualized as a dancing, wrathful goddess surrounded by the flames of compassion, holding the holding a knife that cuts conceptuality in one hand and a skull cup filled with the amrita in the other.
Vajrayogini practice is special to the Shambhala community because it was the sadhana that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught in most depth. Many of the students of Trungpa Rinpoche, including myself, have practiced Vajrayogini intensively at some point. It’s been poignant witness such a wide variety of Vajrayogini empowerments. The range in which the practice can be presented continues to fascinate me, as does the cohesiveness of imagery, energy and style that goes with every family of practice we’ve encountered thus far.
Tara, or Drolma in Tibetan, is often called ‘She Who Liberates.’ One of her principle expressions of compassion is to liberate beings from fear. The great Indian teacher Nagarjuna wrote a praise to twenty-one forms of Tara, and most if not all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism have a wide range of Tara practices. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has written a short Tara practice, and there is at least one short Tara supplication in the Tibetan works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the draft translation process.
Tara’s story is quite relevant to all of us. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche explains that many eons ago Tara was born as a virtuous and gifted being with great faith in the Buddha of that era, and the dharma. At that time she was a princess named Yeshe Dawa, Moon of Wisdom. She had an enormous ability to practice and through this had a glimpse of supreme bodhicitta, the heart of enlightenment. At that time, all the ordained monks around urged her to pray that she be born a man through the power of her merit so that she could accomplish the benefit of the teachings.
This seemed a mistaken understanding to Princess Yeshe Dawa. So, she replied:
“Here, there are no men, there are no women,
There is no self, no individual and no perception.
These labels as ‘male’ and ‘female’ are meaningless,
They are the utter confusion of weak-minded worldly beings.”
Thus she taught the equality of all things.
“Many are those who wish to attain enlightenment with a male body,
But no one wishes to do so with a female body.
Therefore, with a female form, till samsara is emptied,
I will vastly accomplish the benefit of beings.” Thus she vowed.*
And so Tara has continued to benefit beings to this day in a female form.
Tara’s two most popular practices are White Tara and Green Tara. White Tara is well known for conferring vitality and also fertility. In a monastery near Swambunath Stupa in Kathmandu there is a White Tara statue that has, on occasion, actually spoken. The statue wears a great variety of jewelled necklaces that were given to it by women who’d been unable to conceive until they came and made prayers before it. Green Tara is more associated with protection and activity. She is often practiced when people are travelling. The Sixteenth Karmapa, for example, would practice Tara when taking off and landing in airplanes.
As for what Tara protects us from, the eight fears to be protected from are the fears due to lions, elephants, people, snakes, thieves, imprisonment, water and demons. Some of these fears are more rare in the modern world than in ancient India. However, Orissa is still a place where cobras, tigers and elephants roam wild, and Shambhala Mountain Center is occasionally host to rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. These eight fears are sometimes connected with eight negative states of mind: pride, delusion, anger, jealousy, wrong views, avarice, desire and doubt. Tara’s vow is that she will manifest to those who sincerely request her help during times of great distress.
* These two verses were composed by Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in 1997. They are part of his text, The Origin of Tara In Brief. Translation by Chryssoula Zerbini. Copyright 2009, Marpa Foundation.