Introduction to the Sadhana of the Venerable Tara 

by Atisa ("Great Lord") 972-1054 CE

Presented at the Winchester Unitarian Society, 1997.

When Arline asked me to share my spiritual practice for this service, I thought of a Sadhana, the Sanskrit word for one's personal spiritual practice. More specifically, according to Webster's Dictionary, Sadhana is a Hindu or Buddhist spiritual training through which an individual worships a formed image as a mediate step to the worship of a formless deity or principle.
The contribution of Tibetan Buddhism has been the development of the mind as a tool for creation of a public virtual reality, which we can use as a space for transformative experience. Just as an Olympic coach may assign a visualization to an athlete who will meditate over and over on every movement and nuance of her performance until perfection in the mind guarantees perfection on the beam, the Tibetans practice being a Buddha until they become a Buddha. In contrast to Vipassana meditation on the breath or Zen meditation on a koan, where images are illusions to be set aside, one generates a very powerful image as a guide, a teacher, a companion, a friend, a personal trainer known as a Tutelary Deity, one's transpersonal coach in the Olympics of the spirit.
So let us practice briefly a small portion of the Sadhana of the Venerable Tara by Atisa, the greatest sage of India at the turn of the last millenium.  When a Tibetan king was captured and held for ransom, he advised his people not to save him, but to use the ransom money to bring Atisa to Tibet. A great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism, Atisa became the founder of what in recent centuries has been known as the Galugpa sect, the dominant Buddhist practice in free Tibet before the Chinese invasion in the 1950's.
So settle down and let us mediate together.  We will do the first two of five stages of preparation for the main meditation, the first five minutes of what would normally take an hour or more. (Sound bowl by stirring)
We first expel all hinderances that are in the 10 directions, above, below, and all the points of the company. In your mind's eye image a diamond thunderbolt of white light descending on the congregation and expelling all negativity from the sanctuary.
Nama, sandra, vajra , amrita hum PHAT! (Hit bowl hard!)
Amongst all the Buddhist deities, the most dearly loved is the blissful, the beautiful, and often mischievous Goddess Tara. As bodhisattva, she defied tradition when she attained full Buddhahood in female form. As Mother Goddess, she embodies the feminine archtype in us all and shares a close relationship with ancient Goddesses, the Virgin Mary, and Mother Earth. Tibetans know her as the Mother of the Tibetan people. We prepare to invoke her presence.
Visualize at your heart white light rays radiating, their whiteness like the autumn moon. Work hard at this, it is our common meditation and we will get from it only what virtual reality we can self-generate. Let the light rays radiate strongly lighting up your body. Visualize them transforming into a dot of white light, like a pure piece of crystal, which gradually grows into a circular disk emitting a mass of light rays that illuminates the entire universe.
Whereupon the Goddess Tara and other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and teachers of all times past and present are exhorted and invoked to the region in space above the altar. There may not be room for them all in our sanctuary, so expand in your mind our sacred space until it becomes like a great cathedral, with great arches, and wonderful stained glass windows, with glorious rays of sunlight shining on the assembled hosts.
From the midst of the Buddhas, the Goddess in her Green Tara form emerges forward, enlarges, and is immediately present to us. She sits cross legged with her right leg forward, her right palm open at her knee in a giving gesture and her left hand raised at her breast in a blessing gesture. Her hair is jet black and golden earrings and a tiara beautifully set off the soft green hue of her skin. Behind her is a great golden halo.
She is not flat like a painting, but with as many dimensions as one can visualize, not static and opaque like a statue, but intensely alive and made entirely of light, brilliant and with every sharp detail yet all transparent. Even far off, one senses Her presence through waves of blessing radiated by her perfect inner peace making our wordly troubles seem insignificant. Closer, one sees She is not withdrawn into meditation but is looking at each of us intimately, and with total understanding. Manifesting one of the traits of a perfect Buddha, she is immediately and intimately present to you personally. You feel her attention is on you and you alone.
As you gaze upon her, your first impression is one of great beauty, a beauty that may overwhelm you. It draws you out of yourself into relationship.
Your next impression is of her great personal power. The Goddess is a powerful ally and not to be trifled with. You might feel a little uneasy with such a strong feminine power.
As you look more closely at her face you sense a mind with a powerful intellect, superior to your human mind, a mind that encompasses you completely at a glance. She sees right through you in an instant and understands and accepts all your faults, your shortcomings, your distractions, your sorrows, your triumphs and your joys. She knows you already more intimately than your own mother. Somehow this feels very familiar. You have known her before. You might not want to be so completely exposed but as you look for somewhere to hide, there is no place to hide. And you cannot run because there is no place to run to. The Goddess is everywhere, an archtypal manifestation of the feminine aspect of your own mind.
Use all your powers to visualize her clearly until you have a personal response to her kind acceptance of you.
Relax. Realize that she is gazing at something that you may have hidden from yourself. There is a core of goodness and perfection, a place of perfect clarity that is your essential essence, your birthright, your buddha-nature. You feel she wants to help you bring this light out from under the bushel basket where you are keeping it.
As you catch a glimpse of what she sees, you are amazed, having not seen it before, as least not so clearly. And in your astonishment, the Goddess manifests Her most glorious aspect, her great Heart of Compassion. Out of her heart comes an overwhelming wave of love that fills your entire being.
If fills the space left for the love you always wanted and may not have received, from your mother, your father, your spouse or your friends, from your siblings or your children. You experience deep and intimate satisfaction, as if you have struggled across a long desert of loss and finally, when all hope was lost, reached a precious oasis and haven of peace. If you cannot experience this, realize that this is a training in developing spiritual muscles that may be unexercised. With practice you will certainly attain a state of complete and utter satisfaction.
With T.S. Eliot we say:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all exploring

Will be to arrive at the place we started,

And know the place for the first time.

As you ponder this, with a deft movement of her spirit, the Goddess opens the door to your heart. She has the key to every heart and unlocks the padlock you keep on it before you realize what is happening. As you open up, the same love and light you have been given flows out of you back to the Goddess and to all around you.
Imagine this experience powerfully until it fills you with gratitude.
We close with the traditional gift of flowers for the Goddess. Envision a small bouquet of wild flowers in your hand that you have just gathered in the morning from a favorite meadow. You feel like a small child running home to your mother with this gift. The Goddess loves you for it.
As an adult, you feel that you want to give more, so envision the most beautiful arrangement of flowers you can imagine and place them at her feet.
As a member of this gathering you smell the gifts of all around you being arranged before her and throughout the sanctuary until we are surrounded by flowers of heavenly colors and hues with a subtle scent that lifts us into a state of joyous celebration. You feel the breathless anticipation of the rising hearts of all around you.
Thus ends the first two of five parts of preparation for the main meditation of the Sadhana of the Venerable Tara by the "Great Lord," Atisa. It is time to say goodbye. We say an interpretation of the traditional salutation:
Goddess you do all that is good for every person that calls on you and even some who don't!

Grant me the gift of doing likewise for all who call on me.

I request, when you've departed for your Buddha land,


Nama, sandra, vajra, , Phat! (Strike the bowl!)