For the last part of the session we look more how to actually do the practice, because if you are not familiar with how to do the practice, there won’t be very much benefit… So we better make sure you are clear about how to do the practice, not in great detail but in general overview. So if you are going in the Tara puja here in the morning, you will have partly a sense of how you should practice, without necessarily all the details.
The practice starts as always with refuge and bodhicitta. This is in all of your Vajrayana practices. During the refuge you can imagine Tara in front of you and you think you take refuge in Tara as a representation of Three Jewels and Three Roots. You don’t have to think of the whole refuge tree, but you just think Tara in front.
Best is, whenever you do a practice like this, you have a picture, a small picture in front of you, so you know what Tara looks like. It’s easier for the visualisation. So we visualise Tara in front of us in space and we take refuge and then we develop bodhicitta, we want to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. After that there is a seven-branch prayer.
The seven-branch prayers are part of many practices. The seven branches are always the same, but there are long and short seven-branch prayers. They are always to gather accumulations. If you remember we talked about the five paths, so we are at the path of accumulation. That means we want to spend as much time and as much focus and energy as we can on gathering the accumulations. That means we want to focus on making offerings, focus on all the different branches of the seven-branch prayer both in our practice and in general life, in our activities.
The seven branches are also said to reduce our negative emotions. They are a practice or an exercise that helps us to reduce our negativities. First of the branches is to pay homage and make prostrations. We are imagining we are paying homage and making prostrations to Tara. This counteracts pride. The second branch is: we make imaginary offerings, and this counteracts greed and selfishness. Then we have regret. We are regretting any mistakes or negative actions. This reduces aversion and anger. Then we are rejoicing all the good actions we have done and all others have done, this reduces the power of jealousy. We request the wheel of dharma to be turned, that counteracts ignorance, and then we request Tara and her 21 aspects, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas to always stay, be present and act for the benefit of all beings. And this is a remedy for wrong views. It’s like overcoming ignorance.
The last part is dedication, and in a way the dedication is also part of generosity, counteracting greed and selfishness, so when we are dedicating we are giving. So there is the seven-branch prayer there.
Throughout Tara puja you will have sections of offerings, sections of praise, offerings and praises. There are a lot of offerings being made, again as part of this idea of accumulating merit. There are several places where you are offering the eight offerings, and there are several places where you are offering a mandala offering. Here, whenever there are offerings, we basically think we are making mental offerings to Tara and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas as a way of overcoming our attachment.
The eight offerings are the drinking water, washing water, flowers, incense, lights, perfume, food and music. These are the offerings that you see often on the shrines: offering bowls with all the flowers etc. These are the symbolic offerings that are offered and obviously it is not as if the Buddha had told us he needs offerings but they are for us to overcome our attachment and to generate generosity.
But it also symbolises, for example the drinking water, the fact that we are offering drinking water is a symbol or request that all beings will quench the thirst for the dharma, satisfy all their needs for the dharma. So in a way the offerings can also be interpreted as a symbolic offering. When there is the water for bathing, it represents the removal of impurities of the defilements. Not just bathing the body of the buddhas, but it represents the removal the impurities of defilements of our mind.
Offering of flowers is the beauty and richness of the dharma. The incense, generally it’s said it represents the pure fragrance of right conduct, and the light represents clearing away the darkness of ignorance. Lights clear away the darkness of ignorance. In that way we can think however you want to, however you feel you can relate to the offerings. You think of them in that way, but throughout the practice there are a lot of offerings.
There is a mandala offering, where you think you offer the whole universe; everything that the universe contains is within that offering.
In general there are four sections of offerings and four sections of praise. Before we do the praises to Tara there are the eight offerings and the mandala offering.
Then we also think that we ourselves become Tara. This is a meditation where you have both what is called the self visualisation and the front visualisation. It says that instantaneously we become Tara and we don’t think of a body like flesh and blood, we think it as an appearance like a rainbow, appearing but empty, transparent. And we think in our heart is a green letter tam (drawing on the left). Tam is the seed syllable of Tara. It’s a Tibetan syllable; if you are not aware of it somebody can draw it for you. We think that from this tam lights radiate out and invite Green Tara in space in front of us.
It means we ourselves are Tara and now we also have Tara in front, Tara surrounded with the 21 aspects. So there is Tara and the 21 aspects and there are also all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, the yidams, dharma protectors, all the deities that we have in the refuge tree, they are there surrounding Tara with the 21 aspects, who are the central figures.
We think that now we are Tara, and we have Tara in front, throughout, up until the mantra it remains like that, you stay as Tara and Tara is in front as well. Throughout all the offerings and the praises you have the self and front visualisations.
You make offerings and praises. Again it says that the main point in this practice is to recite the 21 praises, and we praise all the different aspects of Tara. For the first praises, like I said before, the right hand of Tara is outstretched on her right knee, this is mainly thinking of the front visualisation. We are mainly focusing on the front visualisation. The right hand is outstretched on the right knee in the mudra of Supreme Giving of Bestowal of Accomplishments.
Then for the first time we recite the praises. Just being aware of Tara in front, visualising Tara in front with that mudra, visualising all the surrounding, if we can be aware of the presence of Tara like that. Then again, after we have recited the praises we make the eight offerings and the mandala offering. We feel that all of that is presented to Tara in front. All these eight offerings that were mentioned before, we imagine they are all offered to Tara and buddhas and bodhisattvas. The mandala offering of the whole universe is offered to Tara.
Then again we recite the praises, and now we think that the right hand of Tara is turned around facing downward. In a way it is placed above us, the mudra of giving refuge or protection. While we recite the praises we really feel we are getting this protection from fear and then we recite the praises two times.
After the praises we repeat the eight offerings, we imagine they are presented to Tara, to 21 aspects, and to buddhas and bodhisattvas in front; and also the mandala, the whole universe, is again offered. Then we do the praises for the third time, this is where we would normally do it seven times. This is the last time round it comes in the text. And here there is a little extra verse that we recite.
We visualise that from Tara in front of us – and we can also think if we want of all the 21 aspects of Tara – flows nectar through the crown of our heads and fills us up completely, so we receive all the blessings of Tara. We imagine a stream of amrita entering us through the crown of our head, fills the bodies of oneself, and we can also think of others that need protection, we can think next to us are the beings, we think it also enters their body, and it fills us up with a blessing, so it fills us with joy, with wisdom, compassion, fearlessness. We feel very warm, very pleasant feeling, blissful. We should try and imagine that, as we are reciting the prayers. Try to have the feeling of being filled up with all those qualities, every single aspect we can think of that we want to develop through the Tara practice is entering us at that time.
If we would have done it complete, we would have done the praises two times, three times and then seven times. Like that, or one, two and three times.
After that you are actually reciting a continuation of the praises, which is called the Benefits of Tara. It comes at the end of the praises, and you recite a short prayer here, which says: “Jet-sun pa-ma drol-ma che chen-no jig-dang dug-nal kun-le chap-tu sol.” It’s a supplication to Tara saying: “Tara please take care of us, think of us, take care of us, protect us from all fear and suffering.” So it’s a supplication.
And then reciting after that the benefits of the practice, which is saying: whatever we wish for, may it be accomplished. May we accomplish fearlessness, may all our negativities be pacified, overcome all difficulties very swiftly, may we accomplish everything that we wish for, such as wealth or – it says if we want a son, then we get a son, if we want a daughter we get a daughter, if we want students we get students, if we want wealth, we get wealth. The idea is that whatever we wish for, may it be swiftly accomplished and may all obstacles be overcome and defeated.
Then in the text after that there is a torma offering. In the daily practice you could leave out the torma offering or if you have the torma you can offer torma, or you can also offer something like have a plate of cakes and little sweets that could represent the torma. Some people who do that and they are not familiar with the torma making, they have a little plate with sweets, and if they do it every day, daily, they add a little bit, they add something to the plate. I saw Lama Lodro in Birmingham, he has it like that, so you don’t have to spend the time on the torma making. If people are working and you don’t have a lot of time. In the monastery you would do it with a proper torma, but it is possible to do it without torma, then you offer something symbolic instead.
The torma represents in a way the destruction of all our negativities: belief in a self, habitual patterns, selfishness. The fact of offering this is like overcoming that, it is a representation of overcoming selfishness, self-cherishing negativities, and it’s offered again to Tara and the whole retinue in front. That’s followed by prayers for fulfilment of wishes. It’s often like that: you make an offering and then after that you request for the things that you would like to happen, such as long life, good health, accomplishment, wisdom, knowledge, all the qualities etc.
Then it is followed by praise to Tara reminding us of the qualities of Tara. There are more offerings as well and then wishing prayers.
When we talk about these practices, if we look at our own meditation, whatever we do, all of it has to do with accumulation of merit and purification of negativities. All the wishing prayers, when we do recitation, are connected with accumulation of merit and purification. So it’s not just like as if we were requesting somebody something, give us something, we are trying to put ourselves in the right frame of mind, to remember what is really beneficial, to try and focus what is really beneficial to focus on.
At the end of the wishing prayers you have a short part for the mantra recitation. What happens for the mantra recitation is that all of the front visualisation, Tara that has up until now been in front and surrounded by the 21 aspects and with all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, now Tara dissolves into light and merges into yourself as Tara. You are still Tara, but now the front Tara merges into you, just before the mantra recitation. Again with that you feel that all of the compassion and realisation and activity of body, speech and mind of Tara and the 21 aspects, they become part of yourself as Tara. We were already Tara, but we are becoming enriched, through this we are becoming even more Tara, even more full of qualities, even more convinced that we are full of qualities. We are inseparable from Tara.
Then we recite the Tara mantra: om tare tuttare ture soha. While you recite the mantra there are a few different ways of meditating. During the mantra recitation it’s recommended that you can try and visualise or be very clear about identifying with Tara. Like an appearance of a rainbow but without substantiality, we feel sort of made of light, we feel that we are Tara. We can try and focus on that, focus very clearly on oneself as being Tara in this light form, is one way.
Then you can also think of the syllable tam in your heart: light radiates from this tam, it radiates out in all directions, it radiates outwards and upwards and you think it radiates out to all the Pure Realms and makes offerings to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. It’s not that you have to visualise them there, you just think all those pure realms are always there.
Limitless offerings radiate out. In fact it says: “From the tips of the light rays offerings are emanated.” Whatever one can think of, offerings to all buddhas of the three times are made. And then the light returns charged with all their blessings. It merges into us and we receive the blessings of all the buddhas.
And we also imagine that this light from our heart radiates out to all the beings in the six realms. In a way with the buddhas we think it radiates upwards and now with the six realms it radiates down and out to all the six realms, to all the beings there. We feel that it reaches them and protects them from all their fears and suffering, as it gets into contact with all the beings in god realms, jealous god realm, human realm, animal realm, hungry ghost and hell realms. It relieves all their suffering and it establishes them on the spiritual path and makes a connection for them, frees them from suffering and fear.
We can also simply listen to the sound of the mantra, rest our attention clearly on the sound of the mantra, or we can think of the meaning of the mantra, concentrate on the mantra itself. The mantra itself, if you translate it means something like “The Swift One”, which is Tara’s name relating to Tara’s activity. Tuttare means “protecting from fear”, a quality of Tara, and ture relates to accomplishing our wishes in the dharma, meaning accomplishing our spiritual practice and eliminating all the negativities and also achieving all the good qualities to help others.
So you can choose between these different ways of focusing while you recite the mantra. This is all the development stage, the kyerim, and at the end you have the dzogrim, the completion phase.
After the mantra first you recite the hundred-syllable mantra three times to purify any mistakes, and there is a short prayer to purify any mistakes in our visualisation or meditation. And then there is a dissolution of oneself as Tara. So you think that you yourself as Tara, you dissolve first into the tam in the heart, and then the tam dissolves into voidness, and then you rest for few moments in that state of clarity and no thought. That’s what we call the dzogrim.
Then after that you have dedication prayers, so we are dedicating the merit to all beings and there are different end prayers, long life prayers to the lineage etc., dedication.
That was really like a very brief instruction in the Tara practice, quite few of you were unfamiliar with the Tara practice, so if you go to the puja, you have a sense of what you are meant to focus on. It is really a combination of offerings and praises. You think you are Tara and Tara is in front, and you are presenting all these offerings and praises to Tara. You focus during the praises on the amrita etc.
Do you have the questions at the end? Actually somebody asked about the eight fears. Generally they are classified as eight fears and they are represented by eight animals, so I said that I would let you know what the meaning is.
It says Tara protects from the fear of elephants. These are animals that would have been in India at the time, when this was practiced in India. So it says Tara frees beings from the danger of elephants and this actually is interpreted as it frees us from ignorance. Elephant is representing ignorance. The elephants are quite dangerous at certain times of the year, they rampage and attack just about anybody who gets in their way.
The next one is the fear of lions. The lion represents here pride, overcoming pride. The next is a poisonous snake, and that represents jealousy. Then it talks about water, literally it says: “The water of the rivers”, and this is interpreted as meaning attachment, both physical and mental aspects of attachment.” So the water of the rivers refers to attachment, grasping.
The next one is the fear of fire, and that represents the fire of anger and hatred. Then it is mentioned the fear of ghosts. The ghosts here is interpreted as meaning doubt. The ghost of doubts, having doubts and confusion.
There is a fear of iron chains, which represents the grasping desire. Grasping, more intense than the attachment. And the last one is the fear of thieves. Erroneous philosophies are the thieves. It is similar to wrong views. These are the eight fears that are mentioned. Do you have questions?
Q: Can you explain the visualisation while you are reciting the mantra?
L.Z.: Yes, the first one was just be aware of yourself as Green Tara. Just visualise yourself as Green Tara but in a form like light, appearance and emptiness, very clearly and having all the form and clear representation, but not solid. Identifying. You really have a sense that you are Tara.
The second one is the lights going out. This covers both the lights radiating out to all the Buddhas with offerings, and lights radiating out to all beings, purifying all their negativities and suffering.
That’s like one, you can do first the offerings to the buddhas and the all beings, if you like, but this is actually very common, you come across this in many of the visualisations, this thing of making offerings and purifying suffering.
The third one is that you are aware of the literal meaning of the mantra or else you can focus on the sound of the mantra. If you are reciting it loudly just resting your mind on the sound of the mantra or concentrating on what it means, as you recite it.
Q: In the offerings it says …shapta tratitsa… What is tratitsa?
L.Z.: It means “please accept”. Tratitsa soha, soha means “so be it”. Please accept all these offerings. Benza, when there is “benza”, it means it becomes a pure offering, not just an ordinary offering but a very pure indestructible sublime offering. You say. “Om aria tara saparivara…” Aria tara is a name of Tara, and saparivara means: along with your entourage, so it means Tara along with all the other aspects.
Q: Could you tell something more about the dissolution?
L.Z.: In the dissolution you imagine that you yourself… up until now during the mantra recitation you are imagining yourself as Tara with the tam in the heart. Now you imagine that you dissolve, and you normally imagine, when a deity is dissolved you dissolve simultaneously from the top downwards and the bottom upwards, into the syllable. Now you think you have the tam. Then the tam dissolves from the bottom up. Just from the bottom up until the nada is left like a little thread and then that dissolves. Then you rest in that state. It’s like everything becomes finer and finer, till there is just that little thread left. Then you dissolve that and rest in the state of clarity, voidness. The idea is, we try to rest in a state with no sense of “I”, but still being clear. It’s not a sleepy or dull state, but clear state being very present, not having a lot of mental activity.
In a way we are training also in that. You can see it as a training, even if we feel that maybe we don’t have that clearly there, we still try and you are experimenting.
When you are doing the practice on your own, you can spend a bit more time on the dissolution. It’s always different to do the practice by yourself or to do it in a puja together with many people. In that puja normally there is not a lot of emphasis on the dissolution, ‘cause you can’t really do that as a group together very much. In the puja you go quite quickly over, but on your own you can spend more time on that.
Q: What is the meaning of the mantra?
L.Z.: Om tare tuttare ture soha. The om itself represents the body, speech and mind qualities of all the buddhas. Just by the sound om. And tare is translated as the Swift One, tuttare means protecting us from all fear, and ture represents fulfilment of our spiritual path. And that really represents the idea that we want to purify whatever needs to be purified and we want to accumulate whatever needs to be accumulated. Meaning we want to purify all our negativities and we want to develop all of the positive qualities. And soha just means so be it, may it be like that.
We will dedicate the merit.