Red Tara

Red Tara

Red Tara Practice

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What is the Red Tara practice?

Red Tara Commentary

by Chagdud Khadro

 

Countless aeons ago, in a time beyond the beginning of our time, a buddha appeared in a worldly realm called “Various Lights.” A princess in that realm, named Moon of Wisdom (Tib. Yeshe Dawa), developed great faith in and devotion toward the buddha. She paid homage with body, speech and mind, making immeasurable offerings to him and his retinue. When, by virtue of her vast accumulations of merit and pristine awareness, the thought of supreme enlightenment awakened in her, the monks of the realm advised her to pray for rebirth in a male body, for they thought that such a body would be a superior vehicle for enlightenment.

Because Yeshe Dawa had realized the empty nature of all phenomena, she recognized that there was no inherent reality in either the male body or the female body. Confronted by the relative reality of ignorant insistence on such differentiations, however, she made the commitment always to take rebirth in female form.

Eventually she attained a profound meditative state from which she was able to place innumerable beings in realms beyond suffering. In our own world system she manifested as Tara through the compassion of Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezi), and here she made the particular vow to liberate beings from eight great fears that are the projections of negativities within the mind. These are fear of elephants as the projection of ignorance, of fire as the projection of anger, of lions as pride, of robbers as false views, of floods as avarice, of snakes as jealousy, of handcuffs (imprisonment) as miserliness and of demons as doubt. This traditional delineation of fears encompasses all the fears and phobias that arise from our habits of attachment and aversion. Ultimately Tara offers liberation from any fear of samsaric suffering. For this reason she is called the Swift Savioress.

History of the Lineage of Red Tara

Tara is the female buddha. Although all feminine deities are aspects of and inseparable from her, we pay particular homage to twenty-one Taras who emanate as goddesses of the padma, vajra, ratna and karma families. The methods we use to attain the enlightened qualities of Tara have been passed down through many perfect lineages of highly realized Tibetan Buddhist practitioners.

The lineage of this Red Tara meditation practiced under the guidance of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche began in an exalted way in the intentional mind of Amitabha Buddha. From Amitabha it passed to Avalokiteshvara and then to an emanation of Tara herself. From Tara it went to the renowned Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna and then to Padmasambhava, the great Buddhist teacher who brought vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the ninth century. Padmasambhava gave this teaching to the son of the Tibetan king Tri-song Detzen. He also gave it to his wisdom consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, and asked that she hide it as a treasure to be discovered at a later time, when it would produce the most benefit.

Thus, the treasure of the Red Tara cycle was discovered and codified more than a thousand years after Padmasambhava, by Apong Terton, a great Nyingmapa lama who lived in this century. Its formal title is The Condensed Essence of the Treasure of Supreme Enlightened Mind: The Mandala Ritual of the Noble Red Tara Called the Wish-Fulfilling Essence.

At the end of his life, Apong Terton summoned a monk whom he had initiated into Red Tara and told him, “I am dying—I ask that you do something for me. When I am seventeen years old in my next incarnation, come to me and give me the initiation and oral transmissions of the complete Red Tara treasure.”

After Apong Terton died, the Chinese consolidated their conquest of Tibet, and the monk, like so many others, was forced to flee. He became a refugee in the small country of Bhutan. Apong Terton reincarnated as His Holiness Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakyapa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. When Sakya Trizin was seventeen years old, the monk tried to go to him at a place near Dehra Dun in northern India, but he could not get a passport. It was not until several years later that he, appearing rather ragged in the richly ornamented meditation hall of Sakya Trizin’s monastery, was able to meet his former teacher.

A few moments after the monk spoke to Sakya Trizin, the assembly of monks in the shrine room was surprised to be dismissed and to learn that His Holiness would take initiation from the outwardly undistinguished visitor. The monk then gave the Red Tara initiation to Sakya Trizin and Sakya Trizin’s remarkable sister, Jetsunma.

On his way to meet Sakya Trizin, the monk encountered Chagdud Rinpoche, who was in Tso Pema, a sacred site in the Himalayas of northern India where Padmasambhava had meditated with Mandarava, one of his great wisdom consorts. Rinpoche had always had a connection to Tara practice—his mother, a famous lama, was in fact an emanation of Tara. He had accomplished extensive Tara practice in retreat, but despite his affinity for red deities of the padma family, he had never received a Red Tara practice. In Tso Pema he had many auspicious dreams indicating that soon his ability to benefit others would greatly increase.

Upon meeting him, the monk suggested to Rinpoche that if he were given the Red Tara empowerment, great benefit would ensue. Rinpoche agreed and after receiving the initiation from the monk made an extended Red Tara retreat, during which he experienced many signs of accomplishment.

Although Rinpoche became renowned for his miraculous activities as a Tara practitioner, he did not teach the practice widely until he came to the United States fifteen years later. In 1980 he began teaching Red Tara to some students in Oregon, guiding their development in the steps of visualization and offerings.

The Red Tara treasure is an extensive cycle that includes preliminary practices, dream yoga, healing practices, yoga of the subtle channels and energies (Tib. tza lung) and extensive teachings on the nature of mind. The main practice has been translated and is performed regularly at Chagdud Gonpa centers. The steps of the Red Tara practice are interspersed with prayers of homage to the twenty-one Taras written by another great Nyingmapa lama, a contemporary of Apong Terton, Khenpo Ngaga.

Chagdud Rinpoche has also distilled the essence of the practice in a more accessible, concise English version. This shorter text contains two levels of practice: the first is a visualization of Tara in the space in front of oneself that does not require initiation; the second involves visualization of oneself as Tara and does require initiation. Through initiation, the blessings of the lineage are formally transmitted and one’s mind is ripened in order to realize the profundity of the practice.

Chagdud Rinpoche uses the short English text as the framework for Tara dream yoga and healing practices. Like all Tibetan liturgies (Skt. sadhana), the text is divided into three sections — the preliminary prayers, the main practice, and the concluding prayers. The explanation of the English practice offered in the present book is similarly divided and closes with some advice on how to use Tara meditation in daily practice.