By Dido Dunlop
Green Tara is a role model, to become a wise woman, and live in an ecofeminist way. Many of us who are women have a hard time finding women we can take as role models. This one has helped me transform my life. In one way, Green Tara is just an image; yet her image is designed so that when I work with her, I develop the wise love she embodies.
For any chance of surviving the climate emergency, we need to build a regenerative way of life, based on the patterns of nature’s life-supporting ecosystems. It’s peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian, and in harmony with nature. Tara embodies this culture shift, in how we understand what life is for, what brings us happiness, how to live interconnected with all creatures, how to live as a community. When I lived in a permaculture ecovillage, Green Tara seemed to me our patron goddess, and patroness of activists.
Green Tara is a meditation deity, practiced by all Tibetan Buddhists, men and women. She’s a different kind of goddess from what we usually think of. She’s ‘our own mind, in the form of Green Tara.’ She teaches us as we meditate on her.
When we imagine ourselves as Tara, we practise what it feels like to be in a state of awakened compassion. Her body is made of green light, the light of compassionate skillful action. I infuse my body with her light, and explore all through my body what it feels like. Meditating is a bodily process. Being in my body as her, so the green light’s all over my body and helps me feel like her. My woman’s body can identify with Tara.
When we imagine her in front of us, separate from ourself, she’s our companion. We develop a relationship with her. It’s a practice ground for how we relate to ourself and to others.
Like a Dream
When we imagine Tara, we use all our inner senses to create the image — touch and body sensation, sound, smell. It’s usually called visualisation; a better word is sensualisation.
We send this healing image to our depth, like a reverse dream. When we dream, our depth sends up an image to our conscious mind, to heal us. We send a dream image of Tara, for the depth to grow around. We create a relationship with our own depth, commonly called the ‘subconscious.’ It has its own healing processes.
Sometimes I thought, this is idiotic — I’m just imagining it. However, with imagination, we can explore, experiment, and let our creative powers take us to new discoveries. In meditation, we take ‘imagining’ to a deeply visceral level, to integrate and embody healthy states of being.
As a modern woman, watching patriarchy destroy our living planet through the climate emergency, poisoning of environment and people, social injustice and all the interrelated issues, Green Tara empowers me to persevere in trying to create a way of life that can sustain us. To that end, I practise and teach her in an unconventional way, that works for me and my friends, in our modern life.
Tara’s life-affirming path teaches us not to withdraw from the world to find our spirituality, but to experience ‘ordinary’ life as full of magic and mystery. This is a woman’s way. We live our spiritual life around children, in our work in the world; in our relationships with people and nature.
Can Tara save the world — as well as ourselves? Yes indeed. This may seem very large. To take on such a big task, we need the almighty compassion of Tara, and the personal empowerment and support she gives us.
H.H. The Dalai Lama has been calling women to come forward and save the world. He says women, because we are mothers, have deeper compassion and sensitivity to suffering, and are better geared to find peaceful ways to dialogue, rather than going to war to solve problems.
Tara comes to us from an ancient, unbroken, living tradition of practice. I believe she originates from a time before patriarchy; she demonstrates all the features of ecofeminist culture. Her practice is part of an ancient tradition called tantra (different from the kind that specializes in sexual practice.) Tantra means a thread in woven cloth. It teaches us to live as part of the weave of the world — without getting entangled in the nets and traps of believing it to be permanent and solid.
It’s the ecofeminist way. Riane Eisler calls it the Partnership way. It’s still lived in many indigenous cultures all over the world. In what follows, I’ll point out some of Green Tara’s features as an ecofeminist heroine.
One Side Wisdom, One Side Compassion Action
Green Tara has one leg drawn back in meditation posture; this side of her rests in the deep peace of primordial wisdom. Her other leg is forward a bit, so she can leap up and help when she’s needed. Her right hand on her knee is in the gesture of giving; the left at her heart shows fearlessness. Tara is a goddess of compassionate skillful action. She gets her hands dirty, pulling us out of ignorance and suffering. She shows us how to live the deep insight of meditation, while active in the world.
Wisdom and compassion are the two wings we fly with to awakening. They’re interwoven. With Tara, we practise what it’s like to be a compassionate wise woman: resting in union with the vast spacious peace of the Great Mother, commonly called void in Buddhism. We still live and act, in our worldly body, while knowing at the same time we’re not separate, but a part of it all.
Compassion connects us. Love and compassion are the basis of our cooperative culture. Like Tara, we provide for all creatures in an interconnected world. We restore nature’s ecosystems.
‘Compassion’ usually means, compassion for suffering. In Buddhism there are four kinds of love. First, friendliness to all creatures: each is equally precious in Mother Nature’s ecosystems. Second is compassion for suffering. Third is delight in beauty and happiness. Fourth is equanimity: to stay in a state of love towards whatever arises.
I wanted to develop these qualities in myself. I needed to learn to love. It was easy to be compassionate to others: but to have Tara be compassionate to me? And me to myself? I learned to attend compassionately to my plentiful miserable emotions; also I learned how to delight in good things. That’s helped me become a warmer person.
Tara’s love extends to many areas:
Tara The Environmentalist
One title of Green Tara is Khadiravani: of the forest. Perhaps she was originally an ancient nature deity. Her compassionate action extends to trees and all creatures, as well as humans. In this time of climate emergency, we need this.
Tara Protects Against Fears
Part of our compassionate work is with emotional difficulties and traumas. Emotional and psychological healing is an important part of moving towards awakening. As long as we’re in confusion and distress, we don’t have the calm and openness to see clearly the nature of mind.
Tara skillfully works with our emotional healing. By her nature she reminds us that emotional healing is to liberate us from suffering. When we become her, we release confusion and fears, so the wise woman within can shine forth. We overcome our sense of separateness in the world. We learn to live in the world with an awakened mind.
Light and dark
What sort of ‘fears’? Ultimately, any emotional disturbance is a fear. It ties us up in emotional patterns that separate us from the world. At present, we have to deal with a whole range of terrifying emotions aroused by climate emergency, pandemic, economic collapse, and a host of related horrors.
Traditionally, Tara works with eight fears:
Pleasure and pain
Loss and gain
Praise and blame
Notoriety and fame
Another way the fears are described is: fear of water, lions, fire, snakes, elephants, thieves, false imprisonment, ghosts. It’s easy to see how they represent our inner emotional turmoils as well as outer fears.
Buddhist teachings overcome suffering, by understanding impermanence, and how greed, hatred and ignorance cause us suffering. We cling to having this and not having that. This is what’s causing our climate emergency. With Tara, we deal with fears also in more visceral intimate ways.
Tara helps us embody this wisdom, by meditating that our own body is the wise body of Tara. The green light, of which her body is made, fills our body, and helps the feeling of compassion grow in our own flesh. We develop a sensitive awareness of what’s happening in our body. Emotional traumas stored in the body can be compassionately brought to awareness, and this in itself heals them. We can also use variations on the ‘clearance’ methods developed by Namgyal Rinpoche, my teacher.
Tara sees our wisdom and goodness, even when we can’t; and loves us, despite our confusions. For me, this work has been like re-mothering. Many of the wounds of childhood come from unskilful parenting. I imagined Tara as like a ‘perfect mother’, and practised how to relate to her, how to feel her as loving, protecting and all the qualities I needed, to heal childhood lacks.
Re-mothering is learning to love and be loved, which we have so many lacks around in our Western culture. It’s a way we develop compassion. We build a healthy self, through seeing the light in Tara’s eye for us.
When we’re full to the brim with Tara’s love, we beam it out to all other beings. This helps us see how interconnected we all are; that increases our compassion.
Mothering values, like Mother Nature’s, are the heart of our regenerative culture. Caring, connecting, nurturing, helping children and everyone else, and nature, grow into our healthy potential.
Beauty, Happiness, Delight
Green Tara is beautiful, smiling, ‘alluring to the heart.’ Pleasure and happiness are life-giving, they support our health. This is a deep shift from patriarchy’s dour attitude that suffering is holy.
Wisdom gained in meditation is not so much intellectual; it’s a whole-body-presence knowing. The first step is to understand we are not in the thrall of our thoughts. Gradually, through learning to rest in the present moment, we experience in a whole new way what it is to be a ‘self’ in a body, a form in union with void.
Calm And Peace, In The Present Moment
The first thing we look for in meditation is calm. It’s also the first step in wisdom: to go beyond the net of thoughts and anxieties. Then we can see more clearly.
Tara helps us understand the power of peace. The peace we achieve in meditation is not a blanked out state. It’s beautiful, delightful, powerful, being present in the present moment, able to respond to anything that is needed.
This is the heart of meditation. The present moment is called Mother of all Buddhas. It’s the only place we can awaken. It can seem strange to visualise the complicated figure of a goddess, to bring ourself into the present moment. It works though. There’s no other place we can visualise ourself as Tara but in the present. We become a peaceful awakened goddess, resting in the magic and mystery of the present moment.
Void And Great Mother
Tara’s green body of light, that arises out of emptiness, or spaciousness, directly teaches what it feels like to live in the lap, or embrace, of the Great Mother: in union with her. When we’re a body of light, it’s easier to feel part of vast spacious love than in our solid flesh. Gradually I learned to feel it in my ‘solid’ body too.
The heart Buddhist teaching is: ‘form is void, void is form.’ Form and void are the same, not two separate states. Void, or emptiness, can feel impersonal, often frightening. For women it can feel neutral, in a way that makes us feel we must set aside our femaleness, to experience it.
Often in Buddhism, void is called Great Mother. For people open to the idea of working with Great Mother, it’s proved an easy way to access the feeling of ‘emptiness’ as a state of primordial loving awareness.
Western ecofeminists describe the Great Mother in just the same way as Buddhism: innate, immanent in all that appears.
Great Mother strengthens me as a woman who wants to become wise. The magic in nature is not just neutral; it’s a living force. I think we call her Mother Nature not just because she mothers creatures. She feels like the living vibrant energy in my body. Men have it too. We’re all nature’s children. It’s my mother. It’s a comfortable state of love.
Someone said, ‘ Oh, it’s all right for you. I didn’t have good mothering.’ She thought I must have. I didn’t. Tara and the Great Mother helped me fill that lack.
All our life experience comes through our senses. Tara shows us our creative mind, how we create our world. The way she arises out of Great Mother spaciousness, and dissolves back into that, shows us how thoughts and perceptions constantly arise and pass away. They’re impermanent — and impermanence is not scary. It’s creative. This creative mind can lead us to wisdom.
What Kind Of ‘Self’ Do We Grow Into?
We often hear Buddhists talk about death of ego. This is not the death of a sense of self. It’s letting go fears, worries and anxieties about how I want to be, and how I don’t want to be. It’s a complete change of how we understand what our ‘self’ is.
Tara, the awakened goddess, obviously has a strong presence, as some kind of self. She hasn’t evaporated by being enlightened. She’s become more empowered, more capable of acting with compassionate skill. She’s a resilient ‘self’, who can be fully present in the world, while at the same time knowing she’s also emptiness — we feel that through her body of green light.
She also knows she’s totally connected with all beings. Meditating on her, we get to explore what it feels like to live in a different kind of self: the person we can be, in a partnership culture.
Empowering The Wise Woman
Both men and women practise Tara. In the ecofeminist paradigm, women are valued alongside men. For all genders, meditating on Tara trains us to experience wisdom in female form.
In addition, Tara serves a special purpose for women. Long ago, she vowed always to be reborn as a woman, to show women it’s possible to awaken in a woman’s body. In our modern age, women still suffer from internalised oppression, which can make us feel unworthy and inadequate. Tara is a role model, for what wisdom can be like in a woman’s body. This is enriching and empowering work for women. We can feel proud to embody the ecofeminist way to live.
Originally published at https://wisebirds.org on March 18, 2020.