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Lions Roar : November 2012
Tara the Liberator A teaching by Lama Palden Drolma. TARA, THE SAVIORESS, is “she who ferries beings across the ocean of samsara.” Tara is the most beloved by Tibetans of all the female awakened beings. Her praises are sung and she is supplicated in all Tibetan monasteries and by many laypeople as well. Tara is renowned for her swift and compassionate activity. Whether devotees have worldly or spiritual motivation, Tara gives benefit to all and leads people to awakening. The Tibetans call her Jetsun Drolma. Drolma is Tibetan for the Sanskrit word Tara. Je means the power to liberate others; tsun means that she benefits herself and all others, that she is beyond samsara, and that she has the stainless wisdom body. In other words, Tara is fully enlightened; she is inseparable from the absolute true nature, the dharmak- aya. She rushes to the aid of beings when we call upon her with heartfelt devotion. Meditating on her helps us awaken our buddhanature. In order for Tara to be able to benefit us, we need to approach her with an open heart and mind. Through continued meditation practice on Tara, we can establish a relationship in which we are able to trust and rely on her. It is like getting to know new friends—we have to invite them over to our home many times until we get to know them. The more we are able to open to her, the more she is able to benefit us. In Western culture, we lack female archetypes that embody the complete range of our potential qualities, but in Buddhism we see embodi- ments of all aspects of pure form. Tara is both peaceful and wrathful, beautiful and powerful. She is the actuality of wisdom and sensuality, compassionate and sexual, empty yet fully manifest. In this way Tara transcends dualistic limitations. She leads us beyond duality to the infi- nite bliss and emptiness that is our most precious opportunity. ♦ female lamas in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. She moved to Marin County, California, and began teaching in her living room. But her students quickly outgrew the space and in 1996 she founded Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a center dedicated to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. “Kalu Rinpoche authorized some women as lamas who have still never really taught,” says Drolma. Vajrayana Buddhism is basically still “a boys’ club,” she continues, so it’s intimidating for women to assume teaching roles. “Women being supported is really a key issue. I think if my parents hadn’t been supportive of me and Kalu Rinpoche and all my other teachers hadn’t been 100 percent supportive, I would never have become a teacher.” According to Drolma, there’s a difference between rinpoches who have a lot of realization and what she calls the “middle man- agement lamas,” who aren’t as realized and are more culturally bound. The highly realized rinpoches, such as the Dalai Lama and Kalu Rinpoche, tend to treat women students with respect and they’re willing to abandon some arguably sexist traditions. The example Drolma offers from her own experience is that when she was in the Himalayas there were certain sacred rooms where women weren’t supposed to go. But the high masters sim- ply said, “Oh, you can come in,” and they allowed women to live in the monasteries and study. Drolma is grateful for all the support she has received from her male teachers, but in her opinion women also need women role models; that is, they need to have women teachers and— even more importantly—to see that there are women who are highly realized. “My generation,” says Drolma, “found women role models in history, and sometimes in the flesh, but that was rare.” For women to really feel that it’s possible for them to attain deep realization in this life, they need to know that there are women who have awakened before them. The Buddha asserted that there is neither male nor female, and ultimately this is true. Yet on the ground—at the relative level—there are women and there are men. Beyond just having different bodies, we are socialized differently and accorded differ- ent roles and privileges. In myriad ways these factors determine how we experience the world and by extension how we experi- ence the spiritual path. So while both male and female teachers can speak on the universal human experience, women can also have a unique perspective that can be helpful to both male and female students. That’s not to say that women teachers are better than male teachers or vice versa. There are simply different ways of expressing the dharma. Recently, a man approached Drolma after hearing her teach. He was full of emotion. After years of studying Buddhism with male teachers, he was deeply touched by her unique expression of the dharma. She had helped him finally understand the very heart of the tradition. ♦ ANDREA MILLER is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun and the editor of the anthology Right Here with You: BringingMindful Awareness into Our Relationships. Green Tara, the female buddha known as the Buddha of Enlightened Activity. ERICHLESSING/ARTRESOURCE,NY