A Tara Puja and Commentary

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Dharamsala, India

This Tara puja was compiled by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in July, 1982, and includes an explanation of the meaning of the prayer and advice on the visualization. Rinpoche created the practice for the benefit of all sentient beings in general, and for the success of the FPMT and its students in particular. First published in a Report on the First Enlightened Experience Celebration (EEC1), which was held in Bodhgaya and Dharamsala from January to June 1982.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche painting Tara at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976. Photo: Peter Iseli.
tara puja

For the success of Nalanda Monastery, the other FPMT centers and all Dharma activities.

1. Take refuge and generate bodhicitta: sang gye chhö dang...

2. Meditate on the four immeasurables.

3. Offer the seven-limb puja and a mandala.

4. Recite one set of the long Praises to the Twenty-One Taras.

5. Recite, with prostrations, as many as possible of the following short prayer, which contains the essence of the long praise, in English or Tibetan.

PRAISES TO THE TWENTY-ONE TARAS
(abbreviated version)

OM CHOM DÄN DÄ MA LHA MO DRÖL MA LA CHHAG TSHÄL LO
OM I prostrate to the goddess foe destroyer, liberating lady Tara.

CHHAG TSHÄL DRÖL MA TARE PÄL MO
TUTTARA YI JIG KÜN SEL MA
TURE DÖN NAM THAM CHÄ TER MA
SVAHA YI GER CHÄ LA RAB DÜ

Homage to TARE, savioress, heroine,
With TUTTARE dispelling all fears,
Granting all benefits with TURE,
To her with sound SVAHA, I bow.1

During this recitation bring to mind strongly, again and again, the following requests:

  • May the wishes of those who work for Nalanda Monastery be fulfilled immediately, without any hindrance.
  • May the monks and nuns of Nalanda quickly complete the practices of listening, reflecting and meditating for the benefit of all sentient beings.
  • May Nalanda Monastery itself be greatly beneficial for all sentient beings by preserving the Buddha's pure teachings of sutra and tantra.
  • May the FPMT and all other Dharma centers be successful in spreading Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings, especially in the West, by immediately and effortlessly receiving all conditions necessary for and pacifying all hindrances to this.
  • May the students of Lama Yeshe and all other sentient beings fulfill all their wishes in whatever temporal or ultimate happiness they seek

After the request think with great faith that Arya Tara has accepted gladly and immediately fulfills all your wishes and grants all success.

6. Dedicate the merits of this practice.

Compiled by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Dharamsala, July 1982.


A commentary on this puja

Lama Zopa Rinpoche painting Tara, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976. Photo: Peter Iseli.Firstly, to help you understand the meaning of the prayer, it could be glossed as follows:

OM: I and all (members of Nalanda Monastery and the other centers and all sentient beings—think that you are leading them all in the prayer and prostrations) prostrate to the liberator (Tara), the transcendental bhagawati (CHOM DÄN DÄ MA—the mother who has destroyed all obscurations, attained all qualities and gone beyond samsara and nirvana.) You are the glorious mother who liberates with TARE; you are the mother who eliminates all fears with TUTTARE; you are the mother who grants all success with TURE; to the syllables SVAHA and all (the other syllables of the mantra) we offer the greatest homage.

OM contains three sounds AH, O and MM, and signifies the immeasurable qualities of the enlightened beings' holy body, speech and mind. According to the tantric teachings, the paths contained in the mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SVAHA lead to the omniscient state of mind. Through actualizing these paths in our mind we purify our impure body, speech and mind, transforming them into Arya Tara's vajra holy body, speech and mind. In this mantra, OM stands for the goal and TARE TUTTARE TURE for the path.

TARE (Tibetan, Drolma): the liberating female. Usually Tara connotes liberating or releasing us from the suffering of the three lower realms, the general sufferings of samsara and the bondage of nirvana, the blissful state of peace. If we gain freedom from samsara but simply attain arhatship and fall into the blissful state of peace for ourselves alone, it takes us an incredibly long time to escape from that and do extensive work for sentient beings. Compared with the motivation of achieving the omniscient state of mind in order to do extensive work for the benefit of other sentient beings, the idea of attaining nirvana for oneself alone is extremely limited and mistaken because it represents concern for only our own peace. Thus Tara not only liberates us from the bondage of samsara, she also liberates us from the blissful state of peace, leading us to the omniscient state of mind. This is the usual meaning of the first TARE: it represents everything from which we should be liberated, the liberating path—the entire method—and the goal to which Tara leads us, the omniscient state of mind.

However, the meaning of TARE here is explained as being liberation from samsara, indicating the first of the four noble truths, the truth of suffering.

TUTTARE: dispelling all fears. "Fears" is the translation of the Tibetan word used here—the main fear dispelled is that of the delusions; the suffering of attachment, which is like a great flood; the suffering of hatred, which is like fire; the suffering of ignorance, which is like an elephant; the suffering of jealousy, which is like a snake; the suffering of pride, which is like a lion; the suffering of miserliness, which is like a chain; the suffering of wrong views, which is like a thief; and the suffering of doubt, which is like a spirit. Thus an example is given for each delusion. If we take refuge in Tara, recite her mantra and practice her method, she will release us from not only the internal suffering of the delusions but also from external dangers such as floods, fires and thieves.

Hence TUTTARE means that Tara liberates us from the true cause of suffering—karma and the unsubdued mind from which the karma arises. By reciting this our fears are dispelled, which shows us that Tara leads us to the true path of the three vehicles, according to our level of mind, and to the absolute Dharma—the real remedy for the cause of suffering.

TURE: she who grants all success.  Here success refers to the goals of those of the three levels—lowest, intermediate and highest —of capability: the bodies of the happy transmigrators, arhatship, or nirvana, and the great nirvana, the omniscient state of mind. Furthermore, as it is taught here, all success also refers to success in all the pursuits of this life—business, other worldly activities, finding perfect conditions for our Dharma practice and accomplishing our Dharma goals.

SVAHA. Each word of the mantra—from OM to SVAHA—performs the functions explained above; each brings incredible benefit. Thus to the letters SVAHA and the rest we pay great homage.

SVAHA: "May the blessings of Tara, which are contained in the mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE, take root in our hearts." If we want to harvest fruit in our garden, that is where we should plant the root of the tree. Similarly, if we want to attain the omniscient state of mind, we should plant the root of the complete path, which is contained in the mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SVAHA, in our hearts. By praying to Tara and reciting her mantra we receive her blessings. As SVAHA implies, through the blessings of Tara entering our heart we are able to generate the entire path to the omniscient state of mind. By generating the path—method and wisdom—in our own minds, our impure body, speech and mind are purified and transformed into Tara's vajra holy body, speech and mind.

The Visualization

When you recite the prayer; visualize that light beams with nectar running down them—like raindrops running down a wire—emanate from the point where Tara's left thumb and ring finger touch each other. These reach you and all other sentient beings. Visualize in particular the people you dislike or who dislike you, in front of you. The rays and nectar flow constantly, purifying the hindrances to Dharma practice and the two obscurations of yourself and all other sentient beings. Remember, too, all those with specific problems for whom you are praying to Tara.

The rays and nectar flow to all sentient beings: narak beings, pretas, animals, humans, asuras, devas, intermediate state beings, arhats and bodhisattvas. In the midst of whatever suffering they are experiencing—you can visualize, for example, humans fighting in wars, or full of anger, pride and jealousy—rays and nectar enter their bodies and minds, and pacify completely all their true cause of suffering and the true sufferings themselves. All sentient beings become totally liberated. Recite the prayer with this meditation.

You can also visualize the person for whom you are praying, yourself and all other sentient beings under Tara's right hand, which is in the mudra of granting refuge, completely covered and protected by it.

Think repeatedly, with deep conviction, that Tara has accepted your request and answers your prayers. You can do one rosary of the prayer with the purifying meditation, and another where you and all sentient beings become one with Tara. With each prayer identical Taras emanate from the principal Tara you are visualizing and dissolve into you and all other sentient beings. You become one with Tara's holy body, speech and mind.

The story behind this prayer

Once, when Lama Atisha was at a place in Tibet called Nyitam, his translator, bhikshu Legpai Sherab, was suddenly taken ill. Dromtonpa, Lama Atisha's closest disciple and founder of the Kadam tradition, made a psychic prediction through the mirror technique, that if the translator recited strongly the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras ten thousand times, he would recover from his illness. However, because he was so sick he could not do this.

Lama Atisha requested Arya Tara for advice. She herself gave him this short prayer and soon after reciting it ten thousand times Legpai Sherab overcame his disease, clear evidence of how effective it can be. Thus this prayer is greatly blessed and quickly brings success. Reciting it once is equivalent to reciting one long Praises to the Twenty-One Taras.

explanation of the puja

Lama Zopa Rinpoche painting Tara, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976. Photo: Peter Iseli.The following explanation of this puja was given to a group of students practicing it at Tushita Retreat Center, July 4, 1982, by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.

The reasons for our reciting this prayer to Tara are given in the requests; the essential reason is the last: "May the students of Lama Yeshe and all other sentient beings fulfill all their wishes in whatever temporal or ultimate happiness they seek." May whatever they seek to accomplish be accomplished rapidly, without difficulty, effortlessly. That is the whole thing. And, naturally, we are doing this to fulfill our own wishes too.

To elaborate, Lama Yeshe and many Sangha members have been working so hard, putting much effort into establishing Nalanda Monastery for monks and nuns; to make it a place where monks and nuns can stay together to fulfill their responsibility of continuously studying and practicing—which are the same thing—the Dharma. So while praying specifically for the success of this project, we should also pray for the benefit of all sentient beings in general, especially those in Western "barbaric" countries; for the darkness of ignorance in their minds to be dispelled by the light of Dharma.

We all understand how important is the need for Dharma centers. You must have heard what His Holiness Zong Rinpoche said during the Enlightened Experience Celebration—it benefited me a great deal. His Holiness said that if, when we wash our bodies in the morning, we wash with attachment, that action becomes digpa, negative karma. Rinpoche taught that in the mornings we have to arrange our altars and make offerings to the merit field, and that we should do so with clean bodies Thus this should be our reason for washing. So if you look at Western people bearing this example in mind, you can understand the nature of their lives.

Over a great many lifetimes they have accumulated merit and prayed to receive a human body. Life after life they have borne many hardships to practice charity, the cause of resources. Life after life they have borne many hardships to practice morality, the cause of rebirth in the higher realms. After countless lives they have finally reached their goal, they have found a human body. But just look at how it is used. After all that time and effort, after many lifetimes creating the cause, now the result is found but how it is wasted; it is used to create the cause of their return to the lower realms. As if it is not enough to create the karma for lower rebirths while born in the lower realms, they seem to have taken their human bodies simply to create even heavier negative karma, karma that will send them down again. It makes no sense at all.

They keep themselves fully occupied, day and night, through attachment: concern for the comfort of only this life. Busy studying, working, doing all kinds of things that look different but are basically the same—done with attachment to the comfort of this life. As His Holiness Zong Rinpoche said, in the example of washing the body, all such actions are negative, no matter how they appear.

Look at the difference between what we are doing here today—this Tara puja—and how they live their lives. Look at the difference in the purpose between our lives and theirs. They are so busy, they have so much worry and suffering. Don't look so much at their material resources and enjoyments; consider their attitude, the way they dedicate their lives, how they spend their time. Try to understand the difference between the benefits of what we are doing just this one day and what they do in their entire life. No matter how much they do, with attachment, it cannot benefit them at the time of death or in their future lives, much less bring them to enlightenment. But our actions here can bring all such temporal and ultimate benefits.

Thus you can see how ignorant of Dharma they are, how blind is their wisdom eye. The minds of the high society millionaires, the middle classes and those below the poverty line hold only this life; they think of nothing else. On top of that, concerned for themselves alone, they are full of worries and fear of losing their comforts and loved ones, of meeting undesirable circumstances, of not finding what they want. Being deeply ignorant of karma and the existence of past and future lives, they live their lives in suffering. When you compare their lives and attitudes with what we are doing just today, you feel much pity and upset; they become objects of compassion. Hence you can understand the great need for spreading Dharma in the West.

For that reason there is a need for Dharma places and workers to organize things, arrange teachers, create the conditions for practice and so forth. In our centers there are many such workers, people working so incredibly hard that sometimes they don't even have enough time to relax, to eat, to sleep; they are so busy working for others. They don't find time to study or retreat. Sometimes they get very discouraged and feel sort of hopeless. Moreover—working for others, creating the conditions for others to study Dharma, working so hard themselves that, even though they would like to, they don't find time to relax or get enough sleep—the workers, such as the director, get criticized by the members of the center. They complain, "He isn't doing a good job," even though he is trying his best, according to his capability and understanding, even though he has dedicated himself sincerely, from the heart. Instead of thanking him, others put him down. The workers face such difficulties.

To be successful in spreading Dharma far and wide, bringing it to various kinds of people, certain conditions have to be created. Those who work have many worries that their efforts will not be successful. They meet many difficulties and experience much hardship of mind and body. But if they didn't dedicate themselves to this work, others would not have the opportunity of studying or retreating; such opportunities, places, teachers and other necessary conditions come from those hard workers. Sentient beings would not have the chance to receive teachings, to study and so forth, if others had not dedicated their lives and worked hard, sacrificing their own desires of spending their whole time studying, getting educated and retreating.

The actions of all the buddhas have manifested in the aspect of Tara, to grant the wishes of us sentient beings. Hence it is very important for us to pray to her. Because many of us do have close contact with Tara and because of her great compassion and love for all sentient beings, if we pray to her with great sincerity and faith, taking refuge in and relying on her completely, she can definitely help eliminate hindrances and bring success in spreading the pure teachings of the Buddha, especially in the West.

If the centers at which we study develop, we, as individuals, each have more opportunity to receive teachings and develop our own Dharma practice. However, the development of each center depends on the collective karma of its members, not just on the karma of the director. If something goes wrong it is not only the director's fault; if people do not get the opportunity to study, the difficulties are the result of their collective karma. Some people always find it easy to study at a center; others find it very difficult. This depends on each person's own merit. Hence each one of us who wants to study must accumulate his own merit, the cause of progress, by himself. Each time we pray to Tara we are doing just that, creating the cause for us to succeed in our studies for the sake of ourselves and others.

If you want to complete the study and practice of Dharma so that you can benefit other sentient, beings extensively, either through a Dharma center or through your own actions, you should create the cause, such as praying each day to the special deity Tara, and engaging in fundamental practices like offering mandalas and performing the seven-limb puja. Such activities bring temporary and ultimate happiness to yourself and others, and the fulfillment of all wishes. If you do not create such causes, despite your strong wishes for success and sincere dedication, you will meet incredible difficulties; even though you find a qualified teacher, you will not be able to study with him because you do not have a visa, or money, or because you have a problem with your husband or wife, or because of sickness; there are so many hindrances to continued Dharma practice. Even though you want to retreat for years, something will prevent it. Thus everything depends on creating the cause, accumulating extensive merit and purifying hindrances. Even business people—who do not practice Dharma, who are not religious—need luck to be successful. Without luck, nothing works out for them. So, this luck or merit has to be accumulated.

When you pray to Tara you should remember those who work so hard for the centers, completely dedicating themselves night and day to create the conditions for other sentient beings to meet and practice Dharma. At the beginning we ourselves had to meet the Dharma somewhere; the kindness of some other sentient beings made it possible for us. That is how we first met the Dharma; somebody else arranged the conditions. And in particular, since the teachings exist in dependence on the vinaya, it is important for there to be a monastery. That is the great significance of Nalanda. You should pray for the Sangha to increase by hundreds, thousands and millions through their receiving all the necessary conditions; to complete the study of Dharma by receiving the means of living effortlessly; to preserve the pure sutra and tantra teachings of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and Lama Tsongkhapa; and to establish these teachings in the minds of all sentient beings. Please pray for the Sangha in this way.

You should also pray for the success of all the other centers, that they might find whatever conditions are necessary for establishing the pure sutra and tantra teachings of the Buddha, and that through each center these teachings will reach the minds of all sentient beings. Pray for the fulfillment of the wishes of all the members of each center and that they might find whatever conditions they need without difficulty. Make the scope of your prayers as wide as possible. Pray that any people who come to the center, even before they receive any teachings, by just putting their feet on the ground of that place, all their wrong views and wrong conceptions cease spontaneously, their minds get subdued automatically, and they find it very easy to generate renunciation, bodhicitta and the realization of shunyata, mere emptiness. Please pray like this, asking Tara for help.

When you dedicate the merits it is good to dedicate them to your being able to give material help to those who study Dharma, to the Sangha, not only to your being able to give teachings. Pray to Tara to be able to make material offerings to help other practitioners overcome the difficulties that they might encounter in their means of living. Use the tong-len practice, dedicating to the human beings your body, material possessions and past, present and future merits, which become the means of living and other conditions necessary for the practice of Dharma. These are enjoyed and become the cause of the teachings developing in their minds. Finally, pray for the enlightenment of all sentient beings; that is the conclusion.


Notes

1  This version (above) is according to Praises to the Twenty-One Taras, 2008 edn, available from FPMT Foundation Store. The 1982 version of the short prayer, found in the EEC1 report, is below:

Om chom.den.day.ma -phag-ma drol.ma la chag.tsel.lo
Chag tsel drol ma tare pel mo
Tut ta ra yi jig kun sel ma
Tu re don nam tham che ter ma
So.ha yi.ker che.la rabtu

Om. I and all prostrate to the liberator, the transcendental bhagawati.
You are the glorious mother who liberates with tare;
You are the mother who eliminates all fears with tuttara;
You are the mother who grants all success with ture;
To the syllables soha and all we offer the greatest homage.

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