Ārya Tārā or in Tibetan, Jetsun Dölma is especially revered in Tibetan Buddhism. The word “Dölma” in Tibetan means “she who liberates”. She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. She is renowned as a savioress, and is frequently depicted in an active posture, ready to leap to the aid of those who call on her. Tārā is a meditation deity revered by Tibetan Buddhists due to her reputation as being the swiftest to intercede on behalf of beings. Meditation on her qualities is reputed to allow practitioners to develop certainty in their own loving-kindness and compassion. As an embodiment of compassion, she is frequently associated with Avalokiteśvara, from whose tears she is said to have sprung.
The earliest known textual descriptions of Ārya Tārā appear in the 8th century in The Root Manual of the Rites of Mañjuśrī (Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa), a Kriyā tantra. In that text, the instructions are given on how a painter should be instructed on the correct depiction of Tārā within the entourage of the noble Avalokiteśvara:
The goddess removes all obstacles
And is the ultimate destroyer of fear.
For the protection of the practitioner,
She should be painted as the virtuous granter of boons.
The goddess takes the female form
And arises, along with her ten powers, from compassion.
She should be painted granting the boon
Of good fortune to all beings.
The goddess is the mother of the divine youth—The Noble Root Manual of the Rites of Mañjuśrī, verses 4.91-4.93.
Mañjughoṣa of great splendor.
Many great masters have relied on the intercession of Tārā, writing profound prayers and promoting the practice of her sadhana. Lord Atiśa, devoted to the practice of compassion and founder of the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism, was a devotee of Tārā. He composed a praise to her, as well as three Tārā sadhanas. There is a famous story that when Atiśa was crossing the ocean to meet his teacher Dharmakīrtiśrī (Tib. Serlingpa) in Sumatra the ship was in danger of sinking. At that time he uttered a prayer to Tārā:
ཨོཾ། འཇིགས་པ་བརྒྱད་སྐྱོབ་མ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། །
om jikpa gyé kyobma la chaktsal lo
Oṃ! Homage to you, lady who protects us from the eight fears!
tashi palbarma la chaktsal lo
Homage to you, lady who blazes with the splendour of auspiciousness!
ngensong go gekma la chaktsal lo
Homage to you, lady who closes the door to lower rebirth!
tori lam drenma la chaktsal lo
Homage to you, lady who leads us on the path to higher realms!
taktu khyé kyi dongdrok dzé
You are the one who holds us always in your care—our guide, support, and friend;
ད་དུང་ཐུགས་རྗེས་བསྐྱབ་ཏུ་གསོལ། །Prayer to Ārya Tārā
dadung tukjé kyab tu sol
So protect us still, we pray, with all of your vast compassion!
With this fervent supplication, Tārā appeared to him directly and saved them all from peril.
Tilopa, the founder of the Karma Kagyu school, also composed a Tārā sadhana.
Tārā appears in many manifestations, and there are various lists of her 21 different emanations. Green Tārā, associated with peaceful enlightened activity is the most frequently depicted and often is the central Tārā figure from which the 21 Tārās emanate. Green Tārā, or Khadiravaṇi-Tārā (Tārā of the Acacia Forest) was said to have appeared to the master Nāgārjuna in the Khadiravani forest of South India. She protects supplicants from the eight great fears. White Tārā, another popular manifestation, embodies the qualities of long life, health, and compassion. The ḍākinī Yeshe Tsogyel is said to have been an emanation of Ārya Tārā.
A practice text entitled Praises to the Twenty-One Tārās is one of the most well-known texts in Tibet, chanted on a daily basis by monastic and lay people alike. The main Tārā mantra is oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā.
When the incomparable Lord Atiśa was staying in Nyethang, he suddenly became quite ill. He supplicated Tārā and requested her intervention. The noble goddess appeared before him and told him that to cure his sickness he must recite the Praise to the Twenty-one Forms of Tārā at least ten thousand times in a single day. Atiśa replied that it would be impossible for him to do so and asked if there weren’t another way. Tārā replied by granting him this extremely concise praise; coming from Tārā herself, this praise is said to be highly blessed.
om jetsün pakma drolma la chaktsal lo
Oṃ. I submit obeisance to Tārā—she who is both exalted and revered.
chaktsal drolma taré pamo
I prostrate to Tārā the courageous saviouress,
tuttara yi jik kün selma
Who dispels all fear with Tuttāra
turé dön nam tamché ter ma
And grants all with Ture.
སྭཱ་ཧཱ་ཡི་གེར་བཅས་ལ་རབ་འདུད། །An Extremely Concise Praise of the Twenty-One Tārās, trans. by Sean Price, attributed to Atiśa
soha yiger ché la rab dü
With Svāhā, I offer my final homage.