The Legend of Tara and the Sacred Feminine
by Lisa Erickson
This month at Buddha Chick Life we are ‘Celebrating the Feminine’, a theme I now love, but was actually slow to warm up to in my own spiritual journey. When I first began meditating in college, I was resistant to the idea of a sacred feminine – which of course seems strange to me now that I work so much with Women’s Energetics! But at the time, I was attracted to the idea of working at the level of mind and spirit, and I felt that these transcended the body and its concerns, including gender. I also was so steeped in the idea of gender equality – socially, politically, and spiritually – that I hesitated to discuss how men’s and women’s spiritual journeys might be different, because difference seemed to somehow imply inequality.
My journey into chakra and energy work, and the intersection of healing and spirituality, gradually changed my view on this. I no longer view the body, mind, and spirit as independent from each other. Instead, they are a fluid spectrum, and they engage with each other all the time. When we experience spirit, it is also in our body, a vibration that we feel in our very pores. And the experiences of our daily physical life are infused with spirit, from hugging our children, to watching a beautiful sunset, to eating an exquisite meal. To me, we can’t talk about mind and body, or spirit and body, as separate, so of course we can’t discount differences in men’s and women’s experiences, since our bodies (and energy bodies!) are indeed different.
A legend that exemplifies this for me is that of Tara, honored in multiple Buddhist and Hindu traditions as an embodiment of feminine enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are actually multiple Taras, each a different color, representing various aspects of enlightenment. The most well-known are Green Tara, representing compassion in action, and White Tara, also representing compassion, along with purity and undifferentiated truth.
Tara is sometimes referred to as the ‘first feminist’ within Buddhism because of a vow she made to incarnate continually in a woman’s body, aiding all sentient beings. According to this legend, before incarnating here in human form, Tara existed as a young princess named Yeshe Dawa, or ‘Moon of Primordial Awareness’, in another realm. She was a devout Buddhist in that realm, and became known for her spiritual attainments. Because of this, some young monks approached her and praised her, advising her that she should pray to be reborn as a man in her next life, to further her progress. To which she replied:
“Here there is no man; there is no woman, no self, no person, and no consciousness. Labeling ‘male’ or ‘female’ is hollow. Oh, how worldly fools delude themselves…Those who wish to attain supreme enlightenment in a man’s body are many, but those who wish to serve the aims of being in a woman’s body are few indeed; therefore may I, until this world is emptied out, work for the benefit of sentient beings in a woman’s body.”
- from The Origin of Tara Tantra, by Jo Nang Taranatha
I love this response because it captures the seeming paradox of talking about the sacred feminine – that on the one hand gender is irrelevant – “labeling male and female is hollow” – and yet acknowledges that there is also something distinct about “serv[ing] the aims of being in a woman’s body.”
Within the tradition of Tantra, this is captured beautifully in the idea of embodied enlightenment. Our bodies – physical and energetic – are like prisms that each refract the clear white light of Source in a unique way, creating our own distinct rainbow. Women’s and men’s bodies refract light differently, so our spiritual experience and practice are at times distinct, but we are both reflections – and both awaken to – the same clear, essential light within us.
This for me is the sacred feminine - embracing the unique ways that women refract, experience, and awaken to the clear light of Source. This is not better or worse than the sacred masculine, and indeed one doesn’t exist without the other. Embracing both, and the beautiful symbols we have for each, is part of the joy of walking a spiritual path. As is embracing our totality - mind, body, and spirit - as one beautiful whole.
May Tara, Mother of Compassion, bless you with her insight this month, and may you indeed celebrate the sacred feminine as it expresses itself in you!
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