Tārā is a female bodhisattva and an important goddess deity in both Buddhism and Hinduism. More properly, she may be regarded as a set of forms or avatars that represent different aspects of the same qualities, principally those of compassion and sympathetic action. Tārā represents the fundamental female aspect of the universe, which gives birth to warmth, compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence (samsara). She engenders, nourishes and has profound sympathy for all living beings, but also acts to relieve suffering wherever she can.
Tārā is considered to be the female aspect of Avalokitesvara (or Chenrezig), the compassionate Buddha, who is incarnated in the Dali Lama. In some origin stories she comes from the tears flowing from Avalokitesvara's left eye, as he perceived for the first time the agonies of the living and cried out that it would be better that his body be broken into pieces and he die, since he was unable to rescue them all. As she took form Tārā declared: "As you are striving for the sake of sentient beings in the Land of Snows, intercede in their suffering, and I shall be your companion in this endeavour!"
Tārā traditionally holds an utpala, or blue lotus, in her right hand at chest level, which simultaneously displays the vitarka (teaching) mudra. This suggests that those who gain the most from Tārā do so by listening and learning from her teachings. The utpala is a night-blooming flower, and so it is made clear that Tārā protects at our time of greatest fear, during both the physical night and while we exist in the darkness of our ignorance. In addition, the lotus is renowned for its purity, remaining unstained in even the most contaminating of environments and reminds her followers that awakened wisdom can exist in the world without becoming tainted or corrupted. Her left hand displays the varada (bestowing or giving) mudra, symbolising her commitment to helping others.
Whether the Tārā figure originated as a Buddhist or Hindu goddess is a source of dispute among scholars. She may have entered Buddhism via Shaktism (the pre-cursor to institutionalized Hinduism) since Buddhism was originally a religion devoid of deities altogether. The oldest text to mention a Buddhist goddess is the Prajnaparamita Sutra in the 2nd century CE, describing a female being personifying the "Perfection of Wisdom". The first textual reference to Tārā herself in this form came in the Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa, around the 5th century CE. The earliest identifiable image of Tārā dates to the 7th century CE and her worship was well established by the 8th century CE. Indeed her emergence as a principal deity at this time was part of Buddhism's reaching out to women and its overall expansion from India into new territories such as Tibet. Eventually she came to be known the "Mother of all Buddhas," which simultaneously refers to the her role as activator of the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas while endorsing the ancient concept of the Mother Goddess.
Whether she is classified as a deity, Buddha or bodhisattva, Tārā today remains very popular in Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan, and is worshiped as Quan Yin in China and Tarani Bosatsu in Japan. Tārā also has a lot of resonance for western women interested in Buddhism and embodies certain ideals that make her attractive to modern feminists. H.H the Dalai Lama spoke about Tārā at a conference on Compassionate Action in Newport Beach, CA in 1989: "There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tārā. 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."
Amongst the various schools of Buddhism there is recognition of twenty-one Tārās in total. In the west, the most widely known forms are:
Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of Enlightened Activity. She offers succour and protection from all the unfortunate circumstances encountered in the samsaric world.
White Tārā, known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity. She expresses maternal compassion and offers healing to beings that are hurt or wounded, either physically or spiritually. She may easily be distinguished from Green Tārāby the presence of eyes in the palms of her hands, the soles of her feet and her forehead.
Red Tārā, of fierce aspect, associated with the attraction of the positive. She teaches discriminating awareness about created phenomena, and how to turn raw desire into compassion and love.
Blue Tārā, associated with the transmutation of anger. She expresses a ferocious, wrathful, female energy whose invocation destroys all dharmic obstacles and engenders good luck and swift spiritual awakening.
Black Tārā, associated with power.
Yellow Tārā, associated with wealth and prosperity.
The principal prayer to Tārā consists of 21 praises. It's dedication to Green Tārā will not only provide the reciter with whatever they may need, but also allay all major fears, including those related to the physical plane such as fear of thieves, water, flying, snakes, imprisonment and so on, but also all inner fears. There are also specific mantras for each of the twenty-one forms of Tārā. Her principal mantra consists of 10 syllables and is second only to the mantra of Avalokitesvara in popularity, as follows:
Om Tare Tuttāre Ture Svāhā (pronounced Om Tāre Tu Tāre Tur-e So-ha)
While the mantra has no real literal translation, it can be broken down thus:
Om is a sound representing the entire universe, past present and future.
Tāre represents salvation from mundane worldly dangers and suffering.
Tuttāre represents deliverance into the spiritual path from suffering.
Ture represents the culmination of the spiritual path, the Bodhisattva path for personal enlightenment and compassionate connection with the sufferings of others.
Svaha, means "Hail!", "Hail to!" or "May a blessing rest on!"
Her mantra can therefore be rendered as something like "OM! Hail to Tārā (in her three roles as saviour)!"
Linda has a Honours degree in Marine Biology and a PhD in Ecology from the University of NSW, Australia. She has travelled extensively and is a passionate writer on subjects as diverse as the role played by women throughout history, tribal communities and their customs, symbology and ethnology, talismans and their history. Occasionally she also writes about her travel experiences, her new life on a 25 acres in the Northern Rivers region of northern Australia and her black miniature poodle Phoenix. She is currently writing her first book on talismans.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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