Tara is a fully enlightened buddha, who can be understood at both the relative and the ultimate levels.”‘ At the relative level, Buddha Tara displays characteristics that can be understood by ordinary, conceptual human minds. Tibetan lore provides an almost limitless supply of wonderful stories about Tara in her relative aspects.
Tara’s life story starts by relating how she appeared in the world. One teaching explains how, many eons ago, a princess named Yeshe Dawa, or “Moon of Primordial Wisdom,” developed the thought of bodhichitta by the grace of her vast devotion to the buddha of that era. She vowed to become enlightened for the benefit of all the boundless beings who suffered in samsara. The religious leaders of that time, believing that it was only possible to become enlightened in a male body, advised her to pray for a male reincarnation.”’ Princess Yeshe Dawa, however, vowed to attain enlightenment and to carry out all her enlightened activities throughout the three times (past, present, and future) in female form. Eventually this female bodhisattva became a completely enlightened buddha and became known as Tara.
At the ultimate level of wisdom, there is no distinction of male and female. At the relative conceptual level, however, these distinctions are considered to be significant. Each type of physical system, male and female, has its own special strengths in developing our realizations. The female, which is the form that Princess Yeshe Dawa chose, manifests the absolute, open, and spacious nature of mind, which we can call the Great Mother.
Another story of Tara’s origins establishes her connection as an emanation of the compassion of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig. For uncounted eons he had been working tirelessly to fulfill the bodhisattva vow to liberate all sentient beings from suffering. Finally, he felt that his work was completed and that every last being was liberated. He thought that now they were blissfully established in the enlightened state named Potala, the pure land of Avalokiteshvara and Tara. However, when Avalokiteshvara looked again at the six realms, everything was unchanged, still filled with suffering beings! There were just as many, and the same sufferings, miserable conditions, and difficulties were being endured. Seeing that, Avalokiteshvara threw himself on the ground and shed tears of love and compassion. From the tear of his left eye emanated the female bodhisattva White Tara, and from the tear of his right eye emanated Green Tara. Both Taras said, “Don’t worry! We two will help you.”
Source: Tara’s Enlightened Activity by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche.
Image of White Tara by Images of Enlightenment, dakiniasart.org.