OM to the transcendent subduer, Arya Tara, I prostrate.
Homage to the glorious one who frees with TARE.
With TUTTARE you calm all fears,
You bestow all success with TURE,
To the sound SOHA I pay great homage!
~ Prayer to Tara

Many eons ago in a different universe lived a princess named Yeshe Dawa. Based on her own investigation and experience, she had great confidence in the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. She understood the unsatisfactory nature of cyclic existence and thus determined to be free from all sufferings. Thinking that all living beings were like her in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, Princess Yeshe Dawa developed genuine, impartial love and compassion for each and every living being. She was not enchanted by the luxuries of palace life; instead, she vowed to show the way to liberation to millions of beings each day before eating breakfast, to millions more before eating lunch, and to even more before going to sleep at night. Because of this, she was called Arya Tara (Tib: Pagma Drolma), meaning the “noble liberator.” Arya indicates that she has directly realized the nature of reality and Tara shows her liberating activity. When the religious authorities of that place suggested that she pray to be reborn as a man in future lives, Tara refused, pointing out that many Buddhas had already manifested in male bodies. She vowed to attain full enlightenment in a woman’s body and continuously to return in female form in order to benefit others.

Whether we’re men or women, this historical Tara is a role model for us. Just like us, she was once an ordinary being with problems, stress, and disturbing emotions. But by training her mind in the Buddha’s teachings, she attained full enlightenment. Likewise, if we practice the Dharma with joyful effort, we too can attain her state. Smiling at us, Tara says, “If I can do it, so can you!” thus encouraging us along the path.

In another legend, Tara is said to have been born from Avalokiteshvara’s tear. As a bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara (Tib: Chenresig; Chin: Kuan Yin) worked diligently to free all beings from the hell realms. Having done this, he rested a while; but when he awoke, he found the hells completely repopulated with sentient beings born there by the power of their harmful actions. For a moment he despaired and began to weep with sorrow for the plight of these ignorant beings. From one of his tears, Tara emerged and encouraged him on the bodhisattva path, saying, “Do not despair. I will help you to liberate all beings.”

In this story, we again see Tara as a person, one with a miraculous birth. This legend can inspire us not to lose faith in the arduous process of benefiting beings. Such patience and perseverance are necessary for as we know, ignorant beings such as we are at present often do the opposite of what brings happiness and peace. Tara’s optimism gives us strength in difficult situations through showing us that suffering can be overcome.

From “How to Free Your Mind, Tara the Liberator” by bhikshuni Thubten Chodron.