Under a perfectly clear blue dome of big Montana sky, the afternoon sun bathing Yum Chenmo in golden light, Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche conferred the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows upon an assembly of more than 100. He also offered the empowerment of Green Tara, explaining as he did so that the three ceremonies afforded entry into the three levels of the Buddhist path: outer, inner, and secret. Prior to the empowerment, he also told the story of Tara, which felt compelling enough to recount here. Tara figures prominently in the creation of the Garden of 1000 Buddhas, as an image of the Savioress will be enshrined in each of the 1000 stupas that will form the Garden’s outer perimeter. Here is Tara’s story:
It seems that many eons ago, beyond counting, there was a Buddha named Many Jewels. At one gathering of his monks and lay followers, he was approached by a princess of the land, Yeshe Dawa—Wisdom Moon—who in his presence first aroused bodhicitta, the intention to seek enlightenment for the welfare and liberation of all sentient beings, and took the vow before him to enact this aspiration.
Afterward, some of the monks approached Yeshe Dawa. They praised her intention, but offered their opinion that she would be much better suited to benefit beings in a male form, and that she should also pray to be reborn as a man. Yeshe Dawa was taken aback by this; such ideas did not agree with her understanding of the Buddha’s teaching that all beings equally have the potential to attain enlightenment.
Yeshe Dawa was confident in her understanding and of strong character, so she formed the opposite aspiration: she vowed to be reborn only in female form in order to effect beings’ liberation that way and counteract such low, chauvinistic notions. And so she did, sincerely and diligently practicing the path to enlightenment in female incarnation after female incarnation. One of these lifetimes was in the presence of another Buddha named Ratnasambhava. It was he who declared that her name should be Tara, “She Who Liberates,” and that’s how she has come to be known in her enlightened appearance.
On the Buddhist path, one’s form is irrelevant. It is one’s determination to be free of the unenlightened cycle of suffering, as well as one’s compassionate concern for the welfare of others, that are of paramount importance.