Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching

Good morning, everyone. This is Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching. Today we’re going to discuss how to practice Dharma in Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching.Praises to the Twenty-One Taras. First, I will recite it once as a transmission. If you have received a transmission from an unbroken lineage before you listen to a Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching, then reciting it is more beneficial and meritorious and contains more blessings. I received this transmission from Choden Rinpoche, and I also received both the transmission and the commentary of Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching from Geshe Tsulga-la. Before we start, you should set up a proper motivation. Think: “I must achieve the state of full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. For that reason, I’m going to receive this transmission and engage in the practice of Tara.”

 [Everyone recites the “Praises to the Twenty-One Taras” in English, then recites the “Prayer of the Benefits.”]

The Praises to the Twenty-One Taras or the Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching comes from a sutra which was composed by the Buddha. The origin story is from the translated teachings of the Buddha, from a section on tantra. There are thirty-five chapters, and according the First Dalai Lama’s commentary, the third chapter of that teaching on tantra explains the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras or the Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching.

You don’t need to have received an initiation in order to recite or do the practice of the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras. If you recite it and make requests or prayers, you will receive the blessings.

Do you understand what the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras are talking about? Usually the praises are very difficult to understand—perhaps we don’t understand them when we recite—we just say “blah, blah, blah….” Maybe it’s easier to understand in English, but in Tibetan it’s very hard.

Tara is a female Buddha who lived many years before Buddha Shakyamuni, during a time when there was a Buddha called Dundubhisvara or “Sound of the Drum.” Tara’s name at that time (before she achieved enlightenment) was Yeshe Dawa, which means “Wisdom Moon.” During that time, she made many offerings and prayers to the Buddha and the Sangha and made a commitment to work for the benefit of sentient beings in every lifetime in a female form. Some of her friends tried to persuade her to be reborn in a male form, but she refused, saying that there were so many buddhas and bodhisattvas in the male form already. She vowed to take rebirth in the female form until the very last sentient being achieved enlightenment. In the presence of Buddha Dundubhisvara, she generated the mind of enlightenment, or bodhicitta, and benefited numberless sentient beings. She received the name Tara, or “The Liberator,” because Buddha Dundubhisvara said, “You will help so many sentient beings to be free from cyclic existence and suffering, therefore, your name should be ‘The Liberator.’”

How did the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras come about? At one time, Manjushri was receiving a teaching from Buddha Shakyamuni, and he asked Buddha Shakyamuni about Tara. Manjushri said “I have heard about the deity Tara—her name is mentioned in the sutras. It is mentioned that she has benefited so many beings and freed them from cyclic existence and suffering. What is the history of Arya Tara?” Buddha Shakyamuni then said, “Venerable Arya Tara is a female buddha who was enlightened a long time ago. Later, during Buddha Amitabha’s time, Buddha Amitabha offered a praise to her and the praise was written in this way.” Shakyamuni Buddha then recited the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras.

You might have seen the pictures of the twenty-one different Taras. There are many different versions—different shapes and colors—but they’re all essentially the same. Tara can appear in different forms and different aspects based on sentient beings’ karma. The one that is well-known to all of us is Green Tara—there is also a White Tara. If we engage in this practice and pray to Venerable Arya Tara, all our wishes, temporal and ultimate, will come true. The temporal benefits are mentioned in the Prayer of the Benefits —“those who wish for a child will have a child; those who wish for wealth will have wealth,” and so forth. Temporal benefits have the function of removing obstacles or hindrances and destroying all unfavorable conditions. That’s what we need, right? However, the ultimate wish is to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, which can be achieved through the practice of Tara.

Since this topic is included in the teachings of the Buddha, it is also contained in the commentaries. If we try to read only the root text without referring to a commentary, we will not understand much of it. Trying to comprehend the root text is like biting a stone. If you’re not careful, you might break your teeth. Then you’ll have to go to the dentist!

There are several different commentaries or Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching on the Praises to the Twenty-One Taras in the Kangyur and Tengyur, but there are only a few written by Tibetans. Gyalwa Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama (1391–1474), wrote a commentary, but I am not sure if it has been translated into English. Based on the commentary by the First Dalai Lama, we will discuss as much as we can. The commentary breaks down the ten-syllable Tara mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA by giving a detailed explanation of the entire twenty-one praises. The first line of the twenty-one praises is:



OM I prostrate to the noble transcendent Liberator

This is the homage to Venerable Arya Tara, which also includes a brief explanation. OM consists of three letters: AH, O, and MA, which symbolize the qualities of Buddha’s holy body, speech, and mind. It also indicates the enlightened qualities of Arya Tara’s body, speech, and mind. At the moment, our body, speech, and mind are contaminated by delusions. We can be free from these contaminations and achieve a fully enlightened body, speech, and mind.

“Noble” is referring to someone who is at the highest level, such as a king, minister or leader. A benevolent king is called “noble” because he rules sentient beings with compassion and great kindness and leads them to a to a better life, therefore he is called JE which means noble or venerable leader.

TSÜN means making effort. We have to make effort to engage in the practice by observing vows and morality. Of course, Arya Tara does that, so she is called JE TSÜN. Through observing these moralities purely, she has subdued her body, speech, and mind and she is not stained by the delusions. 

PHAG MA means transcendent, superior, or higher than ordinary beings—even higher than hearers, solitary realizers, or bodhisattvas—the highest, fully enlightened beings. In Venerable Arya Tara’s case she is fully enlightened, so she is the highest; nobody can transcend her. “Liberator” indicates that Tara liberates sentient beings from the fears of cyclic existence and the suffering of the lower realms.

“Prostrate” has physical, mental, and verbal aspects. The physical aspect is making prostrations, such as bowing down. The mental aspect, in Tibetan, is CHHAG, which means to sweep away the delusions. You are making a request to Venerable Tara, or to whichever deity you are making requests or prostrations, to help you sweep away all the delusions. TSHÄL means “I wish that”—I wish that all the delusions and the unwanted and unfavorable conditions be removed, cleared and swept away. LO is the completion of the word about making prostrations, and its function is just to complete the word—it doesn’t really have a meaning. DROL MA means “Liberator,” the one who liberates from all the suffering. She is called “Liberator” because she is protecting all sentient beings from suffering.

Twenty-One Praises to Tara Teaching Day One is complete.