|Date Range||1200 - 1299|
|Material||Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton|
|Collection||The Cleveland Museum of Art|
Tibetan: drol ma jang ku
"On an eight petaled lotus...is Holy Tara, reddish-green in colour, one face and two hands. The right [hand] is in the gesture of supreme generosity and the left holds with the thumb and ring finger an utpala [flower] to the heart. Wearing beautiful jewel ornaments and various heavenly garments, the hair as a crown, seated in a posture with the right leg extended and the left drawn up." (Thartse Panchen Namka Chime, 1765-1820).
Dark green in colour, she has one face and two hands. The palm of the right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of fearlessness holding the stem of a flower blossoming above the shoulder. A small donor figure is in a kneeling posture below the open right hand. Held to the heart, the thumb and ring finger of the left hand hold the stem of a blue utpala blossom. Peaceful, smiling and youthful she is adorned with flowing silks of various colours and jewel ornaments, gold tiara and the like; seated with the proper right leg slightly extended in a relaxed manner and the left drawn up. The double lotus in this composition has more than the traditional eight petals as described in liturgical texts.
Tara is seated in a temple structure with a seven tiered roof. At the top are three stupas. Slightly below the middle stupa, in a small niche, is the Buddha Amoghasiddhi, green in colour, with the right hand in a gesture of blessing at the heart. On the lower left and right of the tiered roof are niches containing three figures each. On the left side is Prajnaparamita and two attendant figures. On the right side is Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara and two attendant figures.
Arranged vertically in the two pillars to the right and left sides of the central Green Tara, all identical in form to the central figure, are the Eight Taras Protecting from the Eight fears. The eight represent protection from Wrongful Imprisonment, Elephants, Bandits, Ghosts, Water, Snakes, Fire, and Lions. A depiction of a human figure and each object of fear is found below each of the Tara forms.
These eight: (1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts are meant literally, but also have a deeper significance. Tantric Buddhism commonly presents an interpretive model having three and sometimes four levels of meaning: 1. Outer, 2. Inner, and 3. Secret. The outer meaning of the eight fears are exactly as described above which are real fears experienced in ancient times and even now in the present day world. They all relate to the physical person and the fears presented in a physical material world. The inner meaning relates to passions, ego and negative emotional characteristics. The inner meaning relates to the mental world. The secret meaning has to do with tantric techniques and philosophies to transform these negative mental states into enlightened Buddhist states. (See the Eight Fears Outline).
From Indian sources Tara is a completely enlightened buddha who had previously promised to appear, after enlightenment, in the form of a female bodhisattva, goddess-like, for the benefit of all beings. In one Tibetan tradition, based on the apocryphal text called the Mani Kabum, Tara is described as emanating as a tear from the form of Avalokiteshvara with eleven heads and one thousand hands.
Practiced in all Schools of Tantric Buddhism her various forms are also found in all four classifications of tantra, both Nyingma and Sarma. Her ten syllable mantra and the short tantra text known as the 'Twenty-One Praises of Tara' spoken by the buddha Samantabhadra are memorized and popularly recited by all Tibetans from the time of early childhood. Her primary activity is to protect from the eight and sixteen fears.
Tara is a completely enlightened buddha and having promised to appear in the form of a female bodhisattva and goddess for the benefit of all beings she especially protects from the eight fears. Practiced in all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism Tara is second in popularity only to Avalokiteshvara. Her practices are found in all classes of tantra - Nyingma and Sarma.
Jeff Watt 1-2013