Tara, the Savioress
Tara once was a virtuous human being, a woman on the path of awakening. In response to the prejudice against women that she encountered she made a powerful intention: she prayed that in the future she might manifest in female form for the rest of eternity to fulfill all the wishes and needs of beings who were suffering.
Another story tells of the time when Tara first appeared in her full compassionate transcendent form: the great Bodhisattva Chenrezi, the Hero of Compassion, was gazing at the universe and witnessing the continuous throes of suffering in the numerous realms of beings. As he considered everyone's pain and the ignorance that prevented each being from seeing the ways they were perpetuating their own suffering, a tear fell from his eye. That tear manifested as Tara; so it seems she has a definite relationship with water in general and "the water of compassion" in particular.
Tara has many different forms; Martin Willson's book, In Praise of Tara: Songs of the Savioress, there is a translation of "The Praise in 21 Homages," a tantra spoken by Buddha Vairochana, the central male buddha of the five-fold mandala. The tantra details twenty-one different aspects of her wisdom activity. Some are fierce, some are serene and some are joyful. She is apparently unable to ignore anyone's request for help, even requests for the smallest assistance.
In Willson's book, there is a Praise of Arya Tara composed by a student of the Dzogchen master Manjusrimitra named Akshobya-vajra. His praise is specifically noteworthy in that it focuses on Tara's five-fold aspects in relation to the mandala of the elements. It also gives a glimpse of the transcendent aim of the view of Dzogchen in that it is a praise that aspires to go beyond striving directly into the experience of recognizing the truth of inherent buddha nature, uncovering the ineffable perfection within:
Homage to the Venerable Arya-Tara!
Homage to Tara, the Dharmakaya,
resting in the Realm born of Knowledge,
Great Bliss, simple and free of concepts,
quite pure, Ultimate Bodhicitta!
Homage to Tara, the Sambhogakaya,
the beautiful Body of youthful exuberence
and radiant face of the finest color
resting amidst a mandala of goddesses!
Homage to Tara, the Nirmanakaya,
sending out, from Her secret heart mandala
forms of perfect Knowledge,
saving beings from the six realms of confusion!
Homage to Tara who is Buddha!
Whose supreme Mind,
free of wrong concepts and sleep of unknowing,
appears as anything knowable;
homage to Her
who receives the praise of perfect Buddhas!
Homage to Tara who is true Dharma,
showing Great Bliss, Nirvana's peace
the highest of holy Dharmas,
the ten Wisdom-Knowings and Ten Perfections!
Homage to Tara who is Sangha,
Who has realized the body speech and mind
of all Enlightened Ones of the past present and future,
the Dakini of Total Wisdom!
Homage to Tara the Desirous,
who, wanting to calm the sorrow of wandering beings,
devotes herself to the three realms
in the form of a Goddess who loves
like a mother!
Homage to Tara free of desire,
who, knowing samsara's nature is pure,
has no attachment to the three realms--
the form of the Mother who births the
Homage to Tara, the Non-abiding,
who, by uniting Method and Wisdom
abides in neither samsara nor nirvana,
neither desirous nor free of desire!
Homage to You, O Buddha Tara,
body of all the Buddhas' Gnosis,
dispeller of the darkness of ignorance
from sentient beings blinded
Homage to You, O Jewel Tara,
collection of all the Buddha's virtues
subduer of the mountain of pride
of sentient beings overpowered
Homage to You, O Lotus Tara,
immaculate Speech of all the Buddhas,
dispeller of samsara's thirsts
for sentient beings pained
Homage to You, O Karma Tara,
supreme Activities of all the Buddhas,
extractor of the thorn of envy
from sentient beings overcome by jealousy!
Homage to You, O Vajra Tara,
vajra-body of all the Buddhas,
annihilator of weapons of hate
in sentient beings oppressed
Homage and praise to Your Vajra Body,
you whose form is like a reflection,
free of gross or subtle matter
and bearing Marks and Signs of Perfection!
Homage and praise to Your Vajra Speech,
you who utter sounds like an echo,
abandoning syllables and phrases,
transcending the ways of words
Homage and praise to Your Vajra Mind,
you whose mind is like a dream,
whose experience is not real, unreal
or something else,
not knowing existence or nothingness!
To Tara, immaculate and all-pervasive
I give praise with speechless vajra words,
free of sound and utterance,
beyond the fixation of praise
or object of praise.
To Tara free of both experiencer
I bow down with vajra mind,
beyond knower or knowing,
beyond observer and observed.
White Tara is connected specifically with longevity and the source of all life. She will become the elixir of life that is enjoyed by all at the tea ceremony.
There is no conflict between the color relationships of the mandala of the elements and the fact that White Tara is in the center. "White Tara" is only like a general name. According to the conditons, there are a blue, green, red, yellow and white aspect of White Tara, reflecting her responsiveness to the needs of beings in different circumstances.
There are women who practice the Praise to the 21 Taras and dance as these aspects of Feminine Wisdom in places around the earth for the sake of peace. Prema Dasara is the practitioner who has brought these women together, and more information about this practice can be found here.