Tara

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The last weekend of July, 2007, Joe called me and said he was driving out to Anseong to visit a Buddhist nun he found on-line who was following the Tibetan tradition and thought it would make an interesting day to go visit her. I eagerly joined, and we made our way to the peaceful countryside that fills me with a better sense of living than cities here do.

The day was a bit drizzly as most July days are in Korea, but the summer in the countryside is lush with cascades of foliage, giant vines of ivy, and an assortment of country flowers. Her temple, when we finally found it, was back on a small winding road, passed a lake with a row of brightly coloured armchairs waiting for a nice day to go fishing, then through some miniature rice paddies and old country hannok houses. The temple was nestled in with the rest of the sparse village, warmly and unpretentious.

Sora Bikkuni greeted us outside her temple and invited us in. It seemed pretty much like a normal house except for the large shrine, incense smoke, and other nuns doing their business. She had incense from India and Tibet. I grabbed a package from India that I’m still enjoying now. We went into a more private room in the back and she served us tea and chatted. She talked about her Tibetan teacher in India and the times she was able to listen to the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

When I mentioned that I would be going to India in the Fall and hoped to see the Dalai Lama myself, she gave me a special mantra to memorize that would protect me during my trip. She told me that wherever I recited it in India, people would recognize it. The mantra was Green Tara’s, and she told us that as we chant to visualize her above us, sitting on her lotus, her left leg hanging over the edge of the petals, and a green shaft of protective light shinning down like the stem of the lotus connecting to our head. She blessed my mala and then we headed out to visit the site where she is having a more typical temple constructed. It was the full moon that night, so there were already a few women there getting started on their bows. On the full or new moons, some people will do 3000 bows as a part of their devotion.

On the way home, I repeated the mantra over and over, aloud and in my head, “Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha.” It was only the second mantra I’d been taught, and I wasn’t able to remember it long after I stopped chanting it. By the time I was actually in India, what ever I remembered from the mantra I knew wasn’t correct, so I left it alone. In Nepal, however, I starting seeing Tara everywhere. A shop own reminded me of her mantra, and immediately it stuck. It had probably been swirling around on the edge of my subconscious for months embossing itself silently in my memory.

Although Tara most likely evolved from acute wisdom and a calligrapher’s brush, as her Mahayana roots may suggest, many people told me she was once a Nepalese princess. The story I heard several times is that in a political tactic, a Tibetan king requested brides from both Nepal and China, thinking that the two countries would be less likely to threaten his kingdom with one of their own princesses a part of it. In strategic response, they both chose their most beautiful princesses, White Tara from China and Green Tara from Nepal, trained well in the ways of the Kama Sutra. They were to use their sexual lure to coax the king into become Buddhist, influencing the entire country. For spreading Buddhism to Tibet, by whatever means, they have been immortalized as Bodhisatvas. I have no knowledge of the historical accuracy of the story, but perhaps there is a touch of truth mixed with a little of whatever it is Boddhisattvas are conceived of.

In Kathmandu I decided to purchase a bronze cast set of the two Taras. I also found a stunning wood carving of White Tara that I couldn’t leave behind. White Tara is notable for her seven eyes, one on each hand and foot, and along with the two on her face, her third eye is opened on her forehead. I was heading out that evening on an overnight bus to Lumpini. Many Nepalese had warned me of the risks of traveling through the country at night. It’s not uncommon for someone to block the road so that the bus must stop, then board the bus armed and rob each passenger.

white tara

The man at the shop where I bought the majority of the statues that I shipped back to Korea gave me a small amulet of Green Tara and told me not to worry too much about the bus ride. “They’re just as likely to do it in the daytime anyway,” he assured me. A little short of reassuring, it still made me realize there was no point in worrying.  On the bus, however, my nerves were shaky. I clenched the Green Tara amulet in my left hand and my mala in my right hand and repeated her mantra until I lost count of how many times I’d passed through the 108 beads. I tried to remember the image of the Green Tara back at the nun’s room in Anseong and pictured her above me, shinning her light down. I visualized the light hitting my forehead, spreading out to the others sitting around me, the whole bus, and everyone else traveling on the road that night. As it turned out, it’s just as well that I left Kathmandu when I did. The next day I heard that there was a strike in Kathmandu that morning. The entire city shuts down and the violence that erupts during strikes may have put me at greater risk than the bus ride.

I can’t say how much protection there was or was not manifested, but the mantra is indeed effective at removing worry. The only trouble sleeping I had was because of the cold, not from worry. At one point, I opened my eyes to see the entire bus bathed in green light. I noticed a green plastic cover over the light at the front of the bus. I had to giggle to myself as my mind toyed with the possibilities that mystery refuses to reveal.

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