Tāranātha’s Descriptions of Tārā

The following post is titled, "A Description of the Various Aspects of Tārā as Contained in Jonang Tāranātha’s Ocean of Yidam Deities, the 100 Deities of Narthang and the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākara-Gupta." This is the 1st in a 2 part series. By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

Jonang Tāranātha’s famous compilation of yidam deities, known as the Ocean of Yidam Deities, contains the descriptions and short sādhanas for altogether 417 deities. Among them are no less than 42 aspects of Tārā. Tāranātha’s Ocean of Yidam Deities has often been published in omnibus with two other, smaller collections. Namely the 100 Deities of Narthang and the Vajrāvalī, compiled by the famous 12th century Indian scholar and tantric master Abhayākara-Gupta.[1]

The 100 Deities of Narthang contains another two aspects of Tārā, whereas there is only a single one to be found in the Vajrāvalī. That however, is the most important form of Vajra Tārā, whose practice was very widespread, particularly in the Indian regions of Bhaṅgala and Oḍiviśa, which corresponds to most of present-day Bangladesh and the eastern Indian state of Orissa.


To convey at least a rough idea of the iconographic diversity of many of these aspects of Ārya Tārā, I have extracted their descriptions from Jonang Tāranātha’s compilation as well as from the two others.[2] First the Tārās in the Ocean of Yidam Deities collection. In order to avoid repetition, I do not follow the exact sequence as they appear in the Ocean of Yidam Deities. There, the various sādhanas are grouped together as those “auspicious at the beginning,” then groups of different sādhanas of various deities such as Avalokiteśvara, Tārā, Vajrapāṇi, etc. Then groups of sādhanas according to the various classes of tantra, and groups of sādhanas considered “auspicious at the end.” Where possible, I have tried to include the Sanskrit names of these Tārās.

Cintāmaṇicakra-tārā in the tradition of Atīśa (Jo lugs kyi Sgrol dkar yid bzhin ‘khor lo). This is White Tārā as she is commonly known, with one face, two arms, and seven eyes, sitting in the cross-legged posture. Her name, Cintāmaṇicakra, meaning “Whish-fulfilling Wheel.”

Cintāmaṇicakra-tārā in the tradition of Bari Lotsawa (Ba ri lugs kyi Sgrol dkar yid bzhin ‘khor lo). White Tārā as before, but with two eyes only.

Cintāmaṇicakra-tārā in the tradition of Nyen Lotsawa (Gnyan lugs kyi Sgrol dkar yid bzhin ‘khor lo). She is depicted with three eyes. While she has the third eye at her forehead, she lacks the eyes in the palms of her hands and feet.

Cintāmaṇicakra-tārā in the tradition of Mahāpaṇḍita Vana-ratna (Paṇ chen nags rin lugs kyi Sgrol dkar yid bzhin ‘khor lo). This White Tara is described in the same way as the one in Atīśa’s tradition.

Six-Limb Tārā in the tradition of Nyen Lotsawa (Gnyan Sgrol yan lag drug pa). This is the standard green Tārā as she is commonly known, with one face and two hands. Her name implies a connection with the system of the ṣaḍañga-yoga.

Tārā from among the four Kadam deities (Bka’ gdams lha bzhi’i Sgrol ma). A standard green Tārā with one face and two hands, the left hand holding the stem of an utpala flower at the heart, the left one in the gesture of ultimate generosity, her left leg tucked in, the right one extended. She is adorned with silks and jewels.

Green Tārā in the tradition of the great Paṇḍita of Kashmir (Sgrol ljang kha che Paṇ chen lugs). Another standard green Tārā.

White Tārā in the tradition of the great Paṇḍita of Kashmir (Sgrol dkar kha che Paṇ chen lugs). A white Tārā with two eyes, surrounded by eight identical emanations.

Tārā who is peaceful by day and wrathful by night (Sgrol ma Nyin zhi mtshan khro). The peaceful aspect appears like the standard green Tārā. The wrathful one is white, with one face and two arms, standing upon a lotus and sun. The right hand holds a vajra, the left one displays the threatening gesture. She is surrounded by fire and wears tiger and leopard skins as well as snake garlands and jewel ornaments.

Pīṭhiśvarī Uḍḍiyāna-tārā (U rgyan Sgrol ma gnas kyi dbang phyug ma). She is red and wrathful with four faces with three eyes each and eight arms, standing in a dancing posture. The central face is red, the left one green, the right one black and the one on top is yellow. Her right hands hold ḍamaru, skullcup, sword and vajra. The left hands hold utpala, jewel, khaṭvāṅga and bell. She wears a crown of dry skulls, a necklace of [51] freshly severed heads, the five bone-ornaments and a tiger-skin loincloth.

Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Tārā or Cintāmaṇi-tārā (Sgrol ma Yid bzhin nor bu). She is yellow with one face and two hands, standing upon lotus and moon. Her left hand plucks a fruit from a wish-fulfilling tree, the right one is in the gesture of ultimate generosity. She wears silks and jewel ornaments.

Red Tārā of the Sakya Tradition (Sgrol ma Dmar mo sa lugs). She is red with one face and two arms, sitting on a red lotus and moon. Her right hand holds a hook above the knee, the left one holds the stem of a red utpala blossom. She has three eyes and is adorned with silks and jewels. She sits in the sattva posture.

Wealth-Granting Tārā (Sgrol ma Nor sbyin ma). She is green with one face and four hands and appears within a palace, upon lotus and moon. Her first right hand displays the gesture of ultimate generosity, the second one holds a rosary. Her two left hands hold utpala and book. She is adorned with silks and jewels and sits in the sattva posture. She is surrounded by eight other Tārās of various colors and appearances and the four door-keepers of her palace.

Yellow Tārā with two attendants in the tradition of Mahāpaṇḍita Śakya-Śri (Sgrol ma Gser mo gtso ‘khor gsum Paṇ chen śakya śrī’i lugs). She is yellow with one face and two arms and sits in the sattva posture. The right hand displays the gesture of ultimate generosity, the left one holds the stem of a yellow utpala flower. On her right appears yellow Jambhala on a treasure flask, holding a fruit and a mongoose. On her left appears yellow Vaiśravana on a lion, holding club and mongoose.

Tārā Showing Dreams or Svapna-tārā (Rmi lam ston pa’i Sgrol ma). She is white with one face and two arms, sitting with her left leg extended. Her right hand shows the gesture of ultimate generosity, the left one holds the stem of a white utpala flower.

Five-Deity Tārā (Sgrol ma Lha lnga). The central Tārā is a standard green Tārā, except for her right hand, which displays the gesture of granting protection. On her east is white Pratisarā, holding a jewel and a lotus marked with a flask. On her south is yellow Mārīcī, holding a vajra and the branch of an aśoka tree. On her west is red Vārāhī, pig-faced, holding skull and knife. On her north is black Ekajaṭā, also holding skull and knife.

Eight-armed Tārā (Phyag brgyad Sgrol ma). She is green with four faces and eight arms. The first pair of hands are in the utpala gesture at her heart. The other three right hands hold rosary, arrow and wheel. The remaining three left hands hold banner, bow and flask. She sits with her right leg extended and is adorned with silks and jewels.

Ārya Kāpali-tārā (Rje btsun ma Kā pa li tā ra). She is blue-green, with one face and two arms, standing with her back against a heavenly tree. Her right hand shows the gesture of highest generosity, her left hand displays the gesture of granting protection while holding the stem of a blue utpala flower at the same time. She is adorned with silks and jewels.

Ārya Cundā-Tārā (‘Phags ma tsunda Tā ra). She is red, with one face and two arms, sitting on a lotus and moon at the foot of a sandalwood tree. Her loose hair is adorned with strings of pearls. Her right hand holds the fruit of a Picula tree, the left one the stem of a lotus marked with a book. She sits in the cross-legged position and is adorned with silks and jewels.

The following post will be on a description of the twenty-one Tārās according to the tradition of Sūrya-Gupta.[3] Stay tuned!






 

Endnotes:

1. In Tibetan, Yi dam rgya mtsho’i sgrub thabs Rin chen ‘byung gnas or just Rin ‘byung for short, Snar thang Brgya rtsa and Rdo rje phreng ba. See also the related post, Tārāyogīni Tantra & Practice.

2. See Rje btsun tA ra nA tha'i Gsung 'bum,'Dzam thang, vol. 15. The same text from the Phun tshog gling edition kept in the Stog palace in Ladakh is also in volume 15. There is another stand-alone edition which comes together with the two above-mentioned compilations, published by the Bkra shis lhun grub chos grwa.

3. See also the related post by Gene Smith on the TBRC Blog, Green Tārā.
 

 

 

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Comments

Arya Cunda Tara is beautiful. I have recently been studying these and I have found them to absolutely fascinating. Thank you for the informative article and helping me on my search for more knowledge.