TS: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name is Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundstruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Dr. Rachael Wooten. Rachael is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst and psychologist who has been in private practice as a therapist for more than 40 years. An enthusiastic interfaith activist, she has studied and practiced in Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and indigenous traditions throughout her adult life. She’s been mentored by spiritual teachers such as her Tibetan root guru Lodro Tulku Rinpoche and also Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She has taught the practices of Tara under the authorization of Lodro Rinpoche for more than 20 years.
With Sounds True, Rachael Wooten has written a new book called Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha. In this conversation with Rachael, what I really drove towards and what she delivered is the invocation of the presence of Tara herself. Could we feel Tara? Could we learn her mantra? Could we get to know her in our own experience? Could we meet her and learn how to ask Tara for help in our time? Take a listen. Here’s my conversation with Rachael Wooten:
Rachael, you’ve written a beautiful new book called Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha. Now for our listeners who are new to Tara, can you bring Tara right into the room? Who is Tara? Give us a proper introduction.
RW: OK. There are so many things I could say about her, and I’m actually looking at a large painting of her right now. Tara appears in this beautiful, subtle body of green light, and she appears with her right foot forward. And that right foot forward symbolizes that she’s ready to come the minute that you think of her. Really, in the tradition, the idea is Tara is always already there, but if we’re not thinking of her, we don’t really know that. So when we really think of her, we might say her mantra, we might visualize her, but when we think of her, then she’s instantaneously ready to come to our assistance. That’s a really key thing about Tara.
One of my colleagues, Martin [inaudible] is from Switzerland, and has known His Holiness since Martin himself was, I don’t know, 14 years old, told me many, many years ago that the concept of asking for help did not arise in Buddhism until Tara sort of arose in the consciousness, which was probably about this sixth century. So I always like to bring that forward that she’s here to help, in the same sense that we might call on Mary—that idea that there is a presence available at all times, that is there to help.
The other thing that I really love about these practices, about Tara practice, is that image of Tara, that beautiful image of her subtle body appearing in front of us, is an outer representation of an inner reality that we are also Tara, we have that same awakened subtle energy inside of us. So if we visualize her, if we chant her mantra, that really awakens that energy inside of us. So it becomes very mysterious, I think, because I’ve had instances of saying Tara’s mantra, reaching out for help, et cetera, and sometimes something specific will happen. I mean, I’m very connected to the natural world, so that specific might be a hawk flies over, which is sort of startling.
On the other hand, it can also be in a Tara practice, you’re calling on her, and all of the sudden, you just have an insight into something that you never had before, and you would have never gotten it just by trying to think your way through. So it’s coming from that subtle realm that I think we access when we visualize her, when we say her mantra. Let me stop there and see if you want to—
TS: OK, yes. So I think when you talk about awakening a Tara-like energy that lives within us that’s always there, that’s very easy for me to understand and appreciate. I think what’s more mysterious to me is to understand what you mean when you’re talking about Tara instantaneously being present as a force, not as an energy in us—I mean, I’m stretching here, but like a goddess in the room kind of thing, that I just have to attune myself to at a subtle level. How do you understand that part of it?
RW: Well, the reason I use the word “mystery” is because to me it really is a mystery, and I don’t understand it intellectually. I really understand it through experience, and sometimes it’s my own experience. I’ll give you a couple of examples that were a great surprise to me when they happened.
TS: Wonderful, wonderful.
RW: 25 years ago, I barely knew anything about Tara, I mean just barely. I had been introduced to her through China Galland’s book Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna. I had looked at her a little bit, but I really didn’t know much about her at all. I was getting ready to leave home, I was moving to Switzerland. I had to pack up my entire house in three weeks, so that other people could move their stuff in it. I was actually leaving my son, who was 15 at the time, here in the United States behind. He had said initially he was going to go with me, decided the last minute he didn’t want to go.
This business of packing up my house, leaving my practice, leaving everything I knew, moving to this strange place called Switzerland was actually terrifying. And I was rolling up this rug, this rug that was in my living room, and I got the rug rolled up. All of a sudden, I just became terrified. I had done some meditation practice in that room, so I went and got a small rug, somehow I thought this rug was significant. Put the rug down, and I was just staring at this rug in just complete terror.
And then, all of a sudden, these lights appeared in the room, and it was sort of like they were expanding and contracting. When it expanded, the light was white, and when it contracted, the light was green, and honestly, Tami, I thought, “OK, my retinas are broken. I’m having a stroke.” It scared me, I didn’t know what in the world was going on. But it kept happening. And then I thought, “Green and white, green and white, green and white. What is green and white?” I started repeating to myself over and over. And then the word “Tara” just appeared in my head, there are green Taras and white Taras. And I’m telling you, at that time, I really knew next to nothing about Tara, never done a Tara practice. And when that word appeared in my head, I just started crying. Actually, I could cry thinking about it now really because I don’t really go back to that so very often. But I started crying, and then that whole energy of terror just dissipated. I got up, and I started moving more furniture and finishing what I was doing. And that’s not to say that the terror didn’t come back, because it did and it’s here today, but yes, so that’s one example.
And then, I think the other one, I write about this in the book, but I’m a devotee of Mother Meera and I’ve known her for, gosh, now 26 years. I was sitting in Darshan in Germany, with Mother, which is all in silence. I like to say I was minding my own business, meditating in Darshan with her. And all of a sudden, the word “Padmasambhava” started repeating itself in my [head] … I really didn’t even know it was a person.
After the whole thing, Darshan ended, and I was with a good friend of mine from America, Kelly Cross. I went up to Kelly after Darshan, and I said, “Have you ever heard of anything called ‘Padmasambhava?'” And he started laughing. He said, “Yes, well actually, it’s a person. It’s not a thing.” He said, “And I know for a fact that you bought Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. And if you want to go read that book you bought, which I know you haven’t read yet, you’ll find out more about Padmasambhava.” My understanding is that he is responsible in the earlier days for bringing Tibetan Buddhism or bringing Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet, and Tara was one of his big practices.
I’d love to talk about the Black Madonna since she’s really on their mind at this point in time, but it’s like when you get to the shrines of the Black Madonna all over the world, you’ll see crutches, you’ll see wheelchairs, you’ll see all kinds of things that got left behind because people went and prayed to this figure. And there’s stuff like that all over the world from all kinds of traditions. How that happens? I don’t know. And it certainly doesn’t happen every time either. So I don’t like to suggest that it does, and I certainly don’t like to suggest that people get into some sort of petitionary prayer, “If I call on Tara and ask for XYZ thing, it’s going to show up.” And yet, things happen to people. I mean, does that answer your question?
TS: Yes. Well, it sounds like you’ve had these mysterious experiences, and you put this in the category of mystery, and that it’s very meaningful for you. You write in the book, “When I think back over the arc of my relationship with Tara and her practices, the word that comes to mind is ‘Revelations.'” I thought it was very powerful, and I wanted to ask you what do you mean by that? What has been revealed to you when you think back over the arc of your relationship with Tara and her practices?
RW: Well, countless things, I will say this. And this is actually one of my hopes for the book, honestly. What has happened to me is that through studying Buddhism and through studying Tara—and actually I got to Buddhism through Tara, not the other way around—I understand things about other traditions that I never really fully understood before. I also feel like I understand, “Oh, yes, I think this is what Jesus was talking about,” because of Tara practice or reading some of the Buddhist texts. And I will say that in a number of times when I’ve practiced under a lot of stress, and going into the practice kind of all knotted up, maybe it was anger, despair, whatever—going into the practice, and for me, this is where the mantras really help because they help me stay with it. All of a sudden, things just break open, and I might really understand an emotion in a way that I certainly didn’t understand it before I started to practice.
I think I’d like to sort of veer off here a little bit because it has to do with your question, but it also has to do with mantras. In the book, particularly in relationship to seed syllables, I talk about how the sound vibrations really contain the essence of this awakened energy. I can’t remember the man’s name now that I quote in the book who talked about, in the ancient times, that sound was the first thing to appear, and then sound is what reveals everything in the universe. And then, it got wrestled into images, and it got wrestled into letters, and then the letters got formed into mantras, et cetera.
I also have been deeply connected to Judaism for quite a number of years, and I’ve heard a lot of rabbis talk about the Jewish letters are infinite sources—they are not just a letter, and that they also began with sound. So it’s like that going back and forth, it’s like studying what is a seed syllable, what is a mantra, what is it doing? All of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, this is what my rabbi friends are talking about when they’re talking about, ‘Oh, the Hebrew letters are alive and they’re vibrating knowledge and wisdom into the universe.'” So yes, that’s one very precious kind of revelation.
TS: Well, let’s go right for it and give our listeners, teach our listeners the main Tara mantra. Go ahead, Rachael, let’s do it right now.
RW: OK. I’ll say it, OK. The main mantra, and it’s short and simple, which is fabulous, it’s “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha.” “Ohm” is the syllable of enlightened consciousness. Actually, I’ve heard some scholars refer to it as the “Unsounded” sound, that it’s the sound of awakened consciousness that’s vibrating through the universe at all times, the human ear can’t actually hear it. Ohm is the closest approximation of that, that the human can have. So that’s at the beginning of all the mantras.
And then “Tare” is sort of the active form of her name, Tara. Her name, in Sanskrit— Sanskrit is also like Hebrew, the same word can have a lot of different meanings, but the deep essential meaning is “Star,” and it’s referring particularly to the North Star because that’s the star that everybody used to navigate by, that they could really count on, no matter how dark it was. So to think of her as that guide, that star, that light—there you have the star Bethlehem if you want, but it’s that light that we can follow to the wisdom that we need. So that’s one meaning of her name, and the other meaning is “the liberator,” which I really love.
“Tuttare” means supreme joy. And supreme joy in this context means the absolute, vast happiness that we have when we really have the experience of how interconnected everything is. The word “Sunyata” we translate as “Emptiness,” which is difficult for a lot of people, but it’s really referring to this profound interconnectedness of everything on the inside and outside. So “Tuttare” refers to the supreme joy that we experience when we realize that. And “Ture” means “Swift one,” and “Soha” means “So be it.”
So when we say this mantra “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha,” we’re just saying, “Come on, Tara, now! I need you now, just get here now, and wake me up to this truth, to this essential truth and to this knowledge and to this experience of joy, and really be my star that I can follow.” So there’s a lot packed into those simple words, and people are really interested in that mantra. You can do Dr. Google—I mean, that mantra probably has layers of meaning that I’m sure I’ve not gotten to yet.
TS: Rachael, when you first introduced us to Tara, you talked about how when we call on her, for example when we’re saying the mantra, we invoke her in some way, one of the things that can happen is we can experience this energy awakening in us. When you say that mantra and you feel that energy of Tara potentially awakening in you, what does that feel like? What qualities become energized in you?
RW: OK. Well, let me say this too because I think people shouldn’t really know this. Usually when you sit down to do a practice and you start chanting the mantra, it really takes a while to get there because we usually sit down with some baggage or often we sit with down some baggage, so that stuff is going to percolate around for a while. So some of the experiences that I have is that, after a while, I feel two different things: I feel very spacious, and also very grounded. So the mantra syllables, whether you say them out loud or you just are repeating it in your head, they have this vibration, the vibration can really calm the nervous system. So that’s one experience I have of actually really calming down, it can calm down all that chatter. And as that chatter calms down, a feeling of peace can arise, that sense of spaciousness that I just mentioned.
And then, for me, and this is after a lot of years of practice, but for me what it does is that if some of that chatter is still there, or some of those disturbing emotions that the nervous system presents us, or sensations is a better word, I have really learned to say to myself, “This energy is so vast, there’s room for everything.” So I can really allow whatever is here that’s upsetting or scary or challenging or things that I don’t like about myself or whatever I’m seeing, I can let those things be here now with me because I can feel this bigger presence or sense of this mystery of Tara that can hold all that.
So that’s an interesting experience, and it’s one thing I really want to encourage people who use this practice to really use it also in this way—not to be going into the practice hoping, “Gee, if I do this, it’s going to calm everything down, and I’m going to wake up and it’s all going to be wonderful.” That can happen, but it can also happen that it just gives you a sense of presence that allows you to be there with all your stuff, if that makes any sense.
TS: You mentioned, Rachael, that you have been thinking a lot these days about the Black Madonna, and I wanted to circle back to that and hear more and also understand what’s the relationship between Tara and the Black Madonna, Tara and other female goddess figures? What’s unique about Tara?
RW: You know, I was thinking about this because, well, here’s another way in which revelation has occurred for me. Before I really got deeply involved with Tara, it would have never occurred to me to look at the Black Madonna and go, “Oh, there is an image of the void.” Talk about a paradox. She’s black, that’s the void, and yet it’s an image, it’s a form. So the mind can’t quite really hold, “Oh, you know, well, emptiness is form, form is emptiness.” Well, there it is, the Black Madonna. I feel like the Black Madonna arose from the earth herself, arose from the need of the people to have an earthy version of Mary, not the Mary we often see on a cloud in the blue and white and blah blah blah. I think that there is that sense of, in the darkness, there’s somebody with me, and that I’m accepted with my own darkness. That, for me, is really one of the links to Tara.
One of the reasons I love the 21 Taras is because you get to explore 21—I mean, actually, they’re limitless. But we get the chance to explore 21 different aspects of what enlightened consciousness can be like, and the black Taras, for me, especially the 14th Tara and the 21, the black, wrathful Tara, they really bring to mind that essence of the Black Madonna. It’s like, here is a wrathful, black female deity, but her wrath is for my protection. It’s like I can go as deeply as I want to go into any—either my worst pain, my worst fear, or the things I really don’t like about myself, and I need to look at them. And there is this wrathful deity, this black Tara, that’s going to go with me as far down as I can go, and she’s there to protect me from the stuff that can come up, the self-criticism, the self-negation, she can protect me from all that.
I like to think—I can’t remember the first person I ever heard say this, I can’t credit that person, but that the wrathful deities are the expressions of the most extreme compassion. So there’s nothing, nothing about me that these wrathful deities won’t accept, nothing about me that I can’t bring to them for transformation and not be judged. I feel like that’s what—I mean, I’m not Catholic, I didn’t grow up in that tradition, but I sort of feel like that’s what Mary represents in the Christian tradition for people who have a relationship with her, that she’s an intercessor; I can go to her with anything, and I will not be judged. For me, there are probably many more connections between those two, but that’s definitely some of it.
The time we’re in right now is extraordinarily difficult. Actually, I’m so grateful for Tara practice I can’t even tell you, and I’m grateful for my experience with these other traditions. And I’m also really grateful for my sort of psychotherapy background, the trauma background, the Jungian background, because I feel like this time is going to bring up every single last thing in the human psyche, in the individual psyche, it’s going to bring up old traumas. Yes. And that we really need places of refuge. We really, really need them. Yes.
TS: I want to talk to you more about Tara as a place of refuge and Tara in our time. But before we do, I just want to make sure that I get my arms around all of our listeners and that they’re tracking with you. For people who are unfamiliar with this idea that Tara has 21 different emanations, which is what you cover in the book—you offer a visualization, a mantra meditation, a practice to go with each one of these 21 different emanations. Explain this idea that there are 21 of them, but I also heard you say it’s actually limitless, the number of forms that Tara might have as her emanations.
RW: Right. The 21 Taras is actually a prayer. In Tibetan Buddhism, it’s in all the lineages, and my understanding is that it really started in India. Well, all of this started in India. So it’s really, really old. The form that’s the 21 Taras text, that this book is based on, is from a teacher who was an Indian scholar who came to Tibet. Anyway, the idea of the 21 Taras really permeates Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s often said, all 21 verses, one after the other after the other, and that’s been said many times. So I think that whoever the brilliant individuals were to came up with this gave us the 21 practices. If you think about enlightened consciousness, it is infinite, so it can of course manifest in infinite forms. I feel like the 21 is almost like a distillation that gives us something we can get our hands on because we really can’t get our hands on the infinite.
One of the things that I really love about the 21 Taras is that there are the white ones that are peaceful, there are the yellow and golden ones that are life increasing, there are the red ones, just the—not the dark red ones, but just the kind of bright red ones that help us gather up and contain our emotions, so we don’t either repress them or express them, as the saying goes. And then, there are the black ones, the ones I’ve just been talking about, the wrathful ones. Some of the red ones are also wrathful. So I feel like the practice of the 21 different ones, it just gives us a chance to dive pretty deeply into one aspect of Tara. I don’t know if that really kind of covers it, but—
TS: Well, I want to ask you a little bit more about this wrathful energy. You commented that wrathful energy could be the highest expression of compassion. I wonder if you can speak a little bit more about that. I think sometimes people are like, “I don’t get it.” I mean, it’s obvious, I understand peaceful, life, energy-affirming, protective, but help me relate to that wrathful energy as a protective powerful force of compassion.
RW: Well, one thing I want to say is that people often really misunderstand certain religious traditions, and certain sects of all the traditions have liked to promote the idea of a wrathful God. In that context, it’s always like, “I’ve got to be good because that God is going to punish me if I’m not.” I could go on and on about how misunderstood all that is. I think most traditions aren’t really like that and aren’t teaching that, but that has been done in certain sort of fundamentalist parts of the world, which is very traumatic for children, I have to say.
So here we come with this idea of a wrathful deity, but the wrath is not towards you. In fact, she’s there for you in love. So the wrath is really more towards kind of energetic forces that are destructive. I think a really good way to understand this—two different ways. Jung talked a lot about complexes, and he saw them as archetypal energies that are actually autonomous and that we can just be possessed by a complex. And my favorite example of that, because I’m a mother, is yelling at your children, while you know that you’re really [inaudible] because you broke your favorite vase or something. And even while you’re yelling at your children, you know you shouldn’t be doing it, and you just keep on doing it. That’s a good example of being possessed by something.
So what it feels like to me is the wrathful deities can kind of protect us from that kind of autonomous energy. It can also, like if I, say, did something like that, I can take that to the wrathful deity who says, “OK, all right. That happened. Can you have compassion for yourself? I mean, if I have compassion for you and that behavior, could you not have compassion for yourself?”
So I think, in this current time—and I’ve heard some other people because I’m so grateful, so many teachers now are trying to help us all in this situation. And a lot of teachers are talking about how hard it is to contain their anger and hatred towards certain political figures who are not very helpful. So that’s not good for anybody—hating anybody, it’s not good for anybody. So to think, well, I can take that to this Tara, who can understand why I feel that way but help me to dissolve it—ultimately I’ve got to get to a place where I can have compassion for myself for having the feeling, but also have some kind of greater compassion for the whole situation. So I think the protection is really for us not to get caught up in negative, destructive emotions or impulses or whatever, but also not to condemn ourselves for having them.
I keep thinking about people like Fred Rogers, and I’m also thinking about Carl Rogers, who I didn’t find out until I studied in Zurich actually studied with Jung, but anyway, Rogers used to say you can hate the behavior, but don’t hate the person?
RW: Yes. And I’ve heard my teacher recently talked about that. It’s very hard to get there in what I call “ordinary consciousness.” If I’m just talking to a friend about the situation, I can get on my soapbox and just be gone. If I will stop and I will practice, even doing the preliminary prayers, taking refuge, saying the Bodhisattva prayer, saying the Four Immeasurables, even if I can do that, I can drop this into other level of consciousness where I can have compassion for the whole situation. I think the black wrathful deities are like embodiments of that, actually.
TS: Now, Rachael, I want to have you address that person who’s listening, who says, “I’m inspired to get to know Tara better, both as a figure in the subtle realm and as an energy inside myself. OK, I think I’ve got the mantra. What’s my next step to start to build an actual relationship here?”
RW: That’s a great question, Tami. Let me say this. I feel like Tara came and got me. [Laughs] I feel like a kitten whose mother came and picked her up by the scruff of the neck. I did not intend this, let me put it that way. I did not intend this. And yet, here I am. What I found, because I teach, have a regular meditation group here, and I might bring her into a conversation with a client every now and then, it’s almost like people who either hear the mantra, see her image—and thank you for this beautiful book cover with so many images of Tara, that is just really fantastic—they see her image, they hear about her. Something in them goes, “Oh, that’s interesting.” That little clip, that little impulse, that’s the beginning.
I would say, if you want to build a relationship with her, first of all acknowledge that you had the impulse, validate it for yourself, celebrate it and say, “Wow!” When I met my teacher, which was, I don’t know, 28 years ago, whatever—no, 26—and I told him these stories that I told you, he said to me, “OK, well, clearly you’ve got a connection from past lives with Tara.” And that is what I would expect a Tibetan to say. I might say that myself now, but again, it’s a mystery somewhat.
But I really think that if a person has that little, “Oh, oh,” that felt sensation of the body, “This is interesting to me,” I would say something to them, like my teacher said to me. “All right, let’s say that you’ve got a connection to her. Maybe you don’t understand it, but you’ve got it. So let’s follow it.” And this is what—and I want to say “we” tried to do with this book because I got so much help from Jennifer Brown on this, I just want a shout out to Jennifer—trying to make this book really user friendly. So there are short practices that people can use in the back of the book. People can make up their own practices, actually.
One of the folks that I quote a lot in the book, one of the lamas that I quote a lot in the book, says, “Tara really doesn’t care if you get any of this right. Just think of her,” and I really love that. So any little impulse that you have—you know, some of the original, one of Tara’s names is Tara of the Khadiravani forest, I think Khadiravani is actually a tree that grows in Tibet. She’s green, she’s the natural world. So one way to build a connection with her is to celebrate the natural world and to see her in that. I love to practice outside, I love to say her mantras outside. I think that’s a great way to build a connection. And really, I just want to say again and again, trust your inner feelings, trust what happens for you, when you see her or hear something about her.
I have this idea that just popped into my head about her story, her origin story, where she’s obviously wildly accomplished, and that gets the attention of these monks, who go to her and say, “Gee, [laughs] you’re pretty fabulous. Clearly, you know some things, but it’s too bad—” I’m really paraphrasing now, “—that you’re a woman, because we all know you can’t become enlightened as a woman,” which is how things have evolved after the Buddha’s death, I suppose.
So here is this story, what do you call it, a story, a legend, whether it’s really based in some event that actually did happen, you have a woman who trusts herself enough to say, “You don’t really understand the teachings, you really don’t. Gender is empty. It can’t be true that only a man can become enlightened.” This is when she makes her famous vow to become enlightened only as a woman. I write about in the book, that I have a feeling that the story might be really rooted in something that actually did happen, that that woman might have been a very, very, very powerful tantric practitioner herself already. She could have been a shaman. She just knew who she was, so she didn’t put on a show. She didn’t take the challenge, she didn’t transform herself into a man, she didn’t pray to become reborn as a man. She didn’t do any of that.
This is all in the introduction of the book. I think for people to build a relationship with her is to go read that story and see what it feels like. Honestly, whenever I tell the story about Tara to a group of women, and I have told it many, many times, I always pause right after that bit, where the monks say, “Just transform yourself into a man on the spot, or pray to become enlightened as a man.” I always pause there, and I want to tell you, always, most of the women in the room start laughing because they know what’s coming next. They know it’s not going to turn out that way. And I think the laughter is some kind of joy.
So I just think for everybody who’s ever wanted to trust themselves deeply and to really respond in the moment from the depths of their own authenticity, this is a fabulous story. So kind of reading the story and projecting things onto it, that’s what I did, and seeing what comes out of it, for every individual when they hear that story or read some of the things I wrote about, that I think gets them more familiar with Tara. But I think it also activates the part of themselves that somehow knows how to be authentic, but maybe it’s gotten buried. So to build a relationship with Tara means that you’re building a relationship with your authentic self.
TS: One of the emanations of Tara that I wanted to make sure we touched on, in terms of Tara in our time, is that in the book, you describe an orange Tara, who can protect us from illnesses. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about orange Tara and how we might, not begging for help, but how we could use her as a resource during this time.
RW: That also is a great question, and I think she’s a fantastic resource. Her mantra—I do want to say this, I want to be sure and say this, some of these mantras are fairly long, and for people they can feel daunting. Every teacher that I’ve ever heard talk about this, the Tibetans will say you can use the basic mantra of Tara for all of them. So if you’re new to Tara, but you really want to practice orange Tara right now, and the mantra seems a little much you can use the basic mantra. I want to say that.
The mantra of orange Tara is really asking her to dissolve both external and internal causes of illness. I think that’s super important, the external and the internal, I think it’s really important. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, obviously, and I have actually asked my group here to do the practice. What we know about stress, whether it’s anger or worry or fear or whatever, it’s really bad for the immune system. So, even if a person only did this practice, and what you have in mind is to help Tara dissolve the stress, then it’s both internal, because you’re dissolving these difficult emotions, et cetera, et cetera, it’s also physical, because it’s going to have a beneficial effect on your immune system, which can certainly help.
I also wanted to mention that for many, many, many people, fear, which is really up for everybody now, fear can be quickly associated with worthlessness because often, when as a child, when we were afraid, we felt alone, and often there wasn’t any help. Children in that situation will make up a story in their head that says, “This must be my fault. If I was better, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Why am I in this predicament? I must be bad,” et cetera, et cetera. So I really have been encouraging people—this is not true for everybody, but for some people—fear, obviously, it evokes a feeling of helplessness and also, for some people, a sense of worthlessness. Tara is really there to battle those kinds of misconceptions and old, old, old, old patterns. Mantra chanting really can help with that.
Also, looking at the visualization, and I just did this practice yesterday with a smaller group of people, can be kind of delightful. The visualization is that these orange rays of Tara are emanating from her heart, which is lovely, from her face, and also from her whole body. And as these orange rays are emanating, they’re creating infinite forms of Tara. They can be so tiny—if you can imagine a Tara on the subatomic level, the cellular level, whatever—and they can be huge. They can be as big as a mountain, but they’re infinite. All of these Taras, and some of them are peaceful, so their job is actually to stop the beings who are causing the illness. And I think that’s also a very ancient shamanic idea. I’m maybe getting into too much detail here, but that the nature beings don’t really like it when you treat the earth and animals and all sorts of things badly, and they’re not particularly enlightened.
So I think in the really depths of the ancient practice, the idea is: Tara is addressing some of these beings that cause illness. And the peaceful ones, who are willing to be pacified and feel happy and just, “OK, I’ll go back to where I came from now.” You have peaceful orange Taras, and the wrathful ones who are—I mean, the not-so nice-beings, the wrathful ones really bring some force to bear on them, so that they will return to wherever they came from. That’s the sort of deep original meaning of it, and I think for some people that’s actually really meaningful. I think for us, as Westerners, sometimes it makes more sense or it’s more resonant to think that actually this light and this visualization and calling up the subtle energies and the mantra can really dissolve some of the known causes of human illness, which are like stress and fear and anxiety and stuff.
I also think it goes back to what I was saying earlier. It really is helpful in letting go of some of our anger. That’s where some of the wrathful Taras can help. I really do encourage people when they do the practice and they do the visualization—I found this in my meditation group. We talk at the end of the group, like what happened for folks, and people have the most amazing experiences, and they’re all different. A friend of mine said yesterday, James Shanata Boland said, “Intention plus imagination increases your luck.” I thought that was an interesting statement, “Intention plus imagination increases your luck.” So with this practice, the intention is for the health and well-being and awakening of all beings, absolutely all beings, and the imagination is that we entered into the imaginal realm the minute we go into this subtle realm.
Yesterday, when I was doing this practice, you know this coronavirus apparently has an outer shell, and these Lysol wipes and the different things, scrubbing with soap, washing your hands actually breaks up the shell, so the virus degrades. And that’s why these things work. I mean, this just happened spontaneously, I saw all these little tiny Taras scrubbing the shells of these little viruses and the viruses just dissolving and going back to where they came from.
I’m not suggesting that people should do that. What I am suggesting is if folks will do the practice, and they’re calling on this deep intention for the health and well-being of all beings, including themselves—it’s really important to include ourselves for sure—then in the space, this vast space and this light and this energy, to think of everybody all over the world is suffering, because I think we all know now there’s so many populations all over the world, vulnerable people, and we can’t help them all. But we can actually hold all these beings in this light of Tara. We can do that, and I think it matters. I do think it matters. I can say why I think it matters, or I can stop and see what you want to—
TS: You can go ahead.
RW: Well, I’ll say two things here. One is from someone else who I write about a lot in the book, very precious to me, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Reb Zalman. He died several years ago, but before he died, he talked a lot about the God field. I would say that’s the subtle realm in mystical Judaism, and he was saying, “I feel like the God field is dimming, and the archetypes are not as alive, and they need us. They need us to bring the archetypes alive.” And that everything we do, these practices where you’re practicing in the subtle realm, everything we do can build the God field. So that fits really well for me. Is it Tenzin Jetsunma Palmo, the woman who lived in the cave for 12 years?
RW: Yes, anyway, somebody asked her in an article that I read, “Oh, come on, do you really think it matters if we do these practices? Do you really think it matters if we dedicate the merit of the practice?” And it was so moving, what she said—she said, “Look, there is an energy field. If you could see it now, you wouldn’t believe how polluted it is. We’re in the field, and it’s not doing very well.” And she said, “These practices that you do and the dedicating the merit is contributing directly to diminishing that pollution.” That was the word she used.
I mean, Tami, I have to say again, even talking to you about this, this is really, really where I feel this is in the realm of mystery. If I am in that subtle real— and I’m kind of there now, because we’re talking about it—this stuff has deep meaning to me. It’s like I wouldn’t be saying all this if I thought, “Oh, yes. This really doesn’t mean anything.”
TS: Sure. Sure.
RW: But it is very challenging, very challenging. When I’m not in that realm, and I’m walking around the house, I’m thinking, “Oh my god, my son has roommates, and my daughter has children, and I’m older.”
RW: So I also think people can have—that this can be an immense crisis of faith for people. Yes. But I do know that that’s why I think these practices are wonderful. And if people have other practices that help them get to this space where you don’t have to understand it with your brain, but your felt experience in the practice, while you’re in it at least, helps you feel for real, “My doing this practice is going to benefit me, and it’s going to benefit other beings,” then I would just say, “Glory Hallelujah, and please do it.”
TS: Now, Rachael, I want us to end by offering a dedication of merit together at the end of our conversation. But before we do, I have one important question for you, something that I realized I’m not clear on, and I want to help our listeners too, which is: Towards the beginning, you mentioned, “I don’t advocate a type of petitionary prayer,” and I said, when I said, “This orange Tara, we’re not going to beg her for help, but let’s bring her in as a resource.”
At the same time, I remember you talking about how Tara came on the scene in the sixth century, when the idea of asking for help was a part of the practice, that that’s OK. So I’m a little confused. I want help, I want to be able to ask for help. I want to share the heart inside me that needs help, but I feel a little bit like, “Oh, I’m a baby begging,” or something, that’s not good. But yet it’s in me, it’s natural to ask for help.
RW: Yes, I agree. Yes, I’m glad you asked that because I think the distinction I want to make is—I think, I mean, actually, Mother Meera says that you should ask for everything. I think we really should ask for help, and I think that feeling like a baby, just what you just said, from the depths of my being, from my whole being, from my whole life, I really, really want help. Actually, I read something just a couple of days ago, from one of Richard Gore’s comments that if we do that, if we say, “I don’t even know what to say, I just need to beg for help. I don’t even know what help I need,” if we will go that far and then rest a minute, then things start to arise. “I just need help with this and this.”
I think the reason I want to make the distinction about petitionary prayer is actually very personal. When I was 13, my brother died of leukemia; he was 16. And there were people praying like crazy that he wouldn’t die. And those people were really pretty crushed. So there is a danger, I think, in praying for a particular outcome. I mean, what I like to say, if I had a vote, certainly especially if I think about my children, if I had a vote, my vote would be, “You just protect my children, OK?”
But I’m also praying for help. “Should something happen, just give me all the strength I need to show up and to be there and to hold space and to stay connected and stay present.” We need every imaginable kind of help we can get right now. So I think that asking for help is really primary. The danger, which is what I think I’m trying to address, and maybe I didn’t quite do it as clearly as I could have, is if you ask for something utterly specific and you don’t get it, is that going to ruin your faith? So that’s what I mean. I do think if people—I think asking for help is a kind of surrender, it’s kind of saying, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t have a clue.” If we do that step and we call on Tara, we’re asking for this sense of a greater presence around us and inside of us. If we do that step often, what we want to ask for will show up, and it will actually be much bigger.
One of the prayers, and I think I put this in the book, that really evolved for me out of some sermons actually was, “Please help me, please help me, help me, help me. I don’t really know what to ask for. Please help me.” And then, the second prayer was, “Please help me know and recognize when I’ve been helped,” because often we get help, but it wasn’t what we thought we were going to get, so we don’t recognize it. And if we just keep our eyes open and ask, “Please help me recognize that I have been helped,” and then the third part of the prayer is, “And then, let me become the help.” So it’s like, “Help me, help me, help me. [Laughs] Help me know and see that I really am being helped. And then, please help me be the help.”
TS: That’s beautiful.
TS: Rachael, on that note, let’s dedicate the merit of this conversation on the liberating power of Tara. Lead us in it.
RW: OK. OK. As we bring this conversation, which is a practice, as we bring this to a close, let’s really visualize Tara in front of us, appearing in this beautiful body of green light, and let us imagine all of her 21 emanations around her, and think of all of our teachers from whatever tradition they’ve come from, whether they’re living on this plane or not. Let us think of all the people that we deeply want to pray for and all of our friends and loved ones and all beings everywhere. Let’s just see that beautiful, incredible mandala of Tara, all these subtle beings and the light pouring out of all of them, and take one last look at that mandala.
And then, we’re going to see that mandala dissolve into light. It’s almost like fireworks in the sky, just all these different colors of light, as the whole mandala dissolves into light, and that light goes out into the entire universe, the light comes into our hearts where our very own essence of Tara resides. In this very moment, then we dedicate this practice, we ask that whatever positive potential has come from doing this practice go towards the healing, the awakening, the enlightenment, the health, and the happiness of all beings everywhere with absolutely no exceptions. Really, we give thanks for this opportunity to be together, to practice together. We give thanks.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Rachael Wooten. She’s the author of the new book, Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha. The book includes 22 meditations with Tara to heal ourselves and repair our world. Rachael, thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks for your just super authenticity and good work and leadership. Thank you.
RW: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the “Subscribe” button in your podcast app. Also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe, we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.