Day Two: The Initiations of ‘Knowing One Frees All’ - The Many Forms of Tara
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
21 December, 2014
At 5.30am His Holiness’ car left Tergar Monastery, its headlights cutting through the early morning fog, as he made his way to the Monlam Pavilion to begin the preparations for this morning’ s three empowerments. Two hours later, there was still a distinct chill in the air as monastics and laypeople, wrapped up warm in jackets, scarves and woollen hats, waited patiently to pass through security control into the pavilion.
On the stage inside the pavilion, the ritual master put the finishing touches to the golden mandala shrine, checking that all the sacred objects necessary for the morning’s three empowerments—White Tara with Retinue, Tara of the Acacia Forest, and Single Tara Who Shakes the Three Worlds— were ready. Inside the shrine, as if suspended, an opaque crystal Tara rested on a wooden dais, an ornate white torma standing before her. This torma will be used for all the Tara empowerments,but each session the offerings and ornaments are changed to reflect that session’s deity. Clouds of purifying incense drifted across the stage from a censer swung steadily by a young monk. Leaving the stage, he began the task of purifying the huge pavilion itself, weaving his way carefully between the congregation already seated, awaiting the Karmapa.
At 8.00am promptly, the chant masters began the recitation of the “Praises of Twenty-One Taras”.
The two heart sons, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche were already seated on raised seats to the left-hand side of the magnificent black and gold throne. During each stage of the empowerments they would represent everyone and receive the three aspects of body, speech and mind directly from the ritual master. At the conclusion of each empowerment, however, His Holiness descended from the throne in order to give the final torma initiation for each deity directly from his own hands to his two heart sons, to the Rinpoches and tulkus sitting behind them, and to the two translators.
After the Gyalwang Karmapa arrived, the recitation of the “Praises” continued for a few minutes more, and then, on a signal from His Holiness, the assembly rose as one to prostrate and recite the refuge prayers, followed by the Vajradhara Lineage Prayer.
2. White Tara with Retinue
First, His Holiness bestowed the body, speech and mind blessing empowerment of White Tara with Large Retinue, according to the tradition of the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dönden, which had been passed down unbroken until the time of 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje when it became part of the Karma Kamtsang lineage of realisation.
His Holiness explained that there are many forms of Tara in the activity tantras, but this form includes all aspects of Tara’s body speech and mind. Tara in her essence is non-arising, she is the Prajnaparamita, the mother of all the buddhas of the three times. Therefore, it is difficult to say to which tantra she belongs. However, the great masters of the past have said that she is the mother of the Lotus family in the kriya tantra. Of all the yidam deities of the kriya tantra she is considered the greatest because:
- She can bestow the four different types of activities: pacifying, increasing, magnetizing and subjugating.
- Through her practice we can accomplish the eight mundane siddhis: clairvoyance, clairaudience, flying in the sky, becoming invisible, everlasting youth, or powers of transmutation, as well as the supreme accomplishment.
- She is able to dispel the eight external and internal dangers: floods and attachment, fire and anger, elephants and ignorance, snakes and jealousy, lions and pride, imprisonment and miserliness, thieves and wrong views, ghosts and doubt.
In the sadhana which Karmapa Thongwa Dönden wrote, White Tara is surrounded by a retinue of all the Taras of the different families. Consequently, by receiving this empowerment, you receive an empowerment for all the forms of Tara, His Holiness explained.
Although it is possible to give this empowerment in summary, he continued, this would break the lineage, so he read it exactly from the empowerment text. The initiation began with refuge and generation of bodhichitta, echoing what His Holiness the Sakya Trizin had told the assembly the day before,that the motivation for receiving empowerments should be bodhichitta, concern for the welfare of all sentient beings, and not any concerns for this life or future lives.
The section concluded with a thanksgiving mandala offering which also served as a request mandala for the next initiation.
3. Green Tara of the Acacia Forest with Five Deities
His Holiness explained that Tara arose from the tears of the noble Avalokiteshvara who was distraught at the suffering of sentient beings, because, however many activities he performed, the number of beings in samsara was never reduced. As two of these tears fell on the ground, one became White Tara and one became Green Tara. The two Taras promised to help him perform his activities to benefit sentient beings. So, it is said that there are as many emanations of Tara as forms of Avalokiteshvara benefitting beings.
There are several traditions of Tara. This one comes from the Indian scholar Suryagupta who composed a collection of 21 names of Tara, 21 forms and 21 mandalas. In this tradition Tara belongs to the mother tantra of the unexcelled yoga tantra.
The tradition of Green Tara of the Acacia Forest comes from Nagarjuna, who was meditating in an acacia forest when Tara appeared to him. He requested Tara to benefit sentient beings and she agreed. He built a temple for her there which she herself blessed and consecrated. Consequently, all those who practised there were able to achieve the ordinary siddhis very quickly. Out of compassion for people who lived far away from the sacred place, Nagarjuna composed the sadhana of Green Tara of the Acacia Forest.
Later this tradition was passed down to the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, and became one of his five sets of five meditational deities. The five sets were: Tara, Hayagriva, Vajravarahi, Chakrasamvara and Hevajra. The transmission lineage for all except the last one are still extant in the Kamtsang tradition. This tantra has always held a special place in the Kamtsang Kagyu tradition; it was transmitted from Nagarjuna, through one of his four principle disciples, Nagabodhi, in an unbroken transmission until it became part of the Kamtsang lineage of realisation at the time of Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.
In an interesting aside, His Holiness mentioned that there are two sources which support the claim that Nagabodhi lived for an exceptionally long time. One comes from the account of the Chinese translatorXuanzang, who visited South India in the seventh century and describes meeting Nagabodhi who was extremely old by then and living in a forest. The other tells of an Indian master who was sent to study with Nagabodhi because he was a direct disciple of Nagarjuna.
4. Single Tara Who Shakes the Three Worlds
His Holiness began with a short description and history. This form of Tara has four faces and eight arms. It is a mother tantra within the Lotus family of kriya tantra. The practice comes from the tantra known as “The One Hundred and Eight Names of Tara” which was taught by Chenresig on the Potala Hill. The Indian master Chandragomin composed a sadhana for each of the 108 names. (He was called ‘chandra’ because of a moon-shaped birthmark on his forehead, and ‘gomin’ because he held strict upasaka vows.) A renowned scholar who received blessings directly from Tara, he received this tantra directly from her, and the lineage was passed down unbroken until it finally entered the Karma Kamtsang tradition through the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje.
His Holiness then gave the empowerment.
As if by the blessing of Tara, the sun finally broke through the mist at 10.30am, and the pavilion began to warm up slowly.
5. Single Kurukulla
During the afternoon session, for the first time, illustrations of each deity were posted on two huge video screens.
The Lady Kurukulla is often known as Red Tara. Four-armed and red in colour, she is one of the Three Red Deities for achieving the ordinary siddhis.
His Holiness explained that this yidam deity has a very complex lineage history. One tradition tells how, in olden times, there was a King who had many wives. There was one he never visited. Therefore, she sent her maidservant to the market to find a way to attract the king. In the market the girl encountered a dark-red woman who said she could help. The dark-red woman gave the servant a special pill, and told her that anyone who ate the pill would fall in love with her. However, when the servant delivered the pill to the queen, the queen thought it might be harmful so she didn’t give it to the king. Instead she threw it into a pond where a naga ate it. The naga transformed himself into the likeness of the king and began visiting the queen at night. She became pregnant and when the king heard about it, he confronted her. She told him what had happened so the king sent her servant to the market again. There the servant found the red woman and brought her back to the palace. Immediately, the king saw her, he recognised her as the Lady Kurukulla. Later the king became very learned, a great scholar, and achieved the siddhis. In this tradition, the king himself wrote the sadhana.
Another tradition says that Kurukulla appeared to Nagarjuna and gave him this sadhana directly.
6. Single Auspicious Tara who Accomplishes Aims
This form of Tara is yellow-skinned, and has four faces and eight arms. This sadhana also comes from the sadhanas of “The One Hundred and Eight Names of Tara” composed by Chandragomin.
In summing up, His Holiness told everyone that translations into Chinese and English of all these sadhanas from the “Knowing One Frees All” did exist but were awaiting final checking before publication. It was possible they would be translated into other languages as well.
During the afternoon session there were several fluctuations in the power supply. At one point a power surge caused one of the lights behind His Holiness to explode, showering the stage with glass fragments. His Holiness looked surprised but unperturbed and carried on. Then the central lights began to flicker. Twice the power was cut and the teachings were interrupted. At the end of the session he finished session on a humorous note:
“This is the first time such a thing has ever happened at the Pavilion. Perhaps the Tara who Shakes the World is active.”