Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bodisattvas of Compassion

The Taras
It was not until the adoption of the Yogachara system, taught by Asanga in the fourth century AD, that the feminine principle began to be venerated in Mahayana Buddhism. Around the sixth century, the goddess Tara was considered as a Sakti of Avalokitesvara (sometimes as his wife). The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (seventh century) claimed to have seen many statues of this deity in northern India. However, she was not accepted by followers of the Theravada, and her image is rarely to be found in Sri Lanka or in South-East Asia (except perhaps in Java, where a temple was dedicated to her in 779).

Green Tara

Many legends have sprung up around this goddess. According to one of them she was born in a beam of blue light emanating from one of the eyes of Avalokitesvara; another has her born from a lotus, floating in a tear on his face. It was believed in Tibet in the seventh century that Tara was reincarnated in every virtuous and pious woman: thus two of the wives of King Srong-btsan Sgam-po, Wencheng, who was Chinese, and a Nepalese daughter of Amsuvarman, came to be considered as incarnations of Tara. To differentiate between the two wives, the Tibetans created two distinctive Taras, white for the Chinese, with a full-blown lotus as her emblem, and green for the Nepalese, whose emblem is the blue (half-open) lotus. Each is believed to have been born from an eye of Avalokitesvara (open and half-closed). Hence they came to be considered as symbols of the day (full-blown lotus, eye open) and the night (half-open lotus, eye half-closed). But this couple soon multiplied, and 21 Taras are mentioned.

In China, this goddess was practically unknown, and was not at all common. In Japan, she was given the rank of Bodhisattva (Tarani Bosatsu), and she combines both aspects (white and green) of the Tibetan Tara. She is practically only found on mandalas or temple banners. She holds a pomegranate (symbol of prosperity) and a lotus. She is pale green.