Mad In Pursuit Notebook

Tara dietyTibet: Looking for Tara

3.20.2013. Today I'm starting with an entry I made back in July of 2006:

[3 Jul 2006] For all my blabbing yesterday morning about novel writing, I spent Sunday on a different journey (which was supposed to be about Ebay anyway, but I was procrastinating). I started out wanting to sketch a seated figure for my chakra project [for Joanne P's presentation]. Wanting meaningful hand gestures (or mudras) led me to our shelves of Asian figurines.

I always intend to make a meditation on one of these figurines (aside from the rare dusting, which they love). But the vastness of the traditions they represent overwhelm me and I wind up just flitting along the surface...

I originally thought the 4.5 inch figurine was Guanyin (or Avalokitesvara)[1] but Jim pulled out the right books for me and turns out she is Tara and the gilded sculpture is from Tibet. Tara sprang from the ocean of tears flowing from Tibet's chief deity, Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva [2] of compassion.

Art reviewer Kay Larson (New York Times, 8/7/05) writes:

Tara, whose name means "star" — as in the North Star, the guiding light of those who are lost — is enlightenment energy personified. She is passionate mother, wrathful protector, swift and fearless subduer. Eyes flashing like lightning, she stamps her feet and sends tremors through gods and demons alike, correcting great wrongs and fulfilling her promise to bring divine female energies into the world.

Her exalted sisterhood is anything but meek or submissive... Tara and her cohort drink the blood of enemies of the dharma [teachings], prance naked on the bodies of those they have defeated, and join with male consorts in passionate sexual union. They are transcendent liberators, defenders of enlightened mind, the birthright of each of us, when we turn to the wisdom within.

Fast forward to 2013. The chakra presentation has come and gone. I am pulling together records and research. Jim bought the little gilded bronze statuette locally, at the Red Rover Flea Market. Now I see a similar one in a Christie's auction catalogue [3]. The catalogue lists their version as 16th century and describes her as follows:

Seated in lalitasana [posture of relaxation] on a double-lotus base with her right hand in varadamudra [compassion, devotion to human salvation] and her left raised in vitarkamudra [circle representing perfection, which is eternal], both holding the stem of a lotus blossoming at the shoulders, dressed in an ankle-length dhoti incised with a foliate pattern and adorned with various jewelry inset with hardstones, the face with bow-shaped mouth and downcast eyes centered by a raised urna and surmounted by a foliate tiara, the hair in a conical chignon topped with a jewel.

It goes on to describe Tara:

The goddess Syamatara (also called Green Tara) is the female Buddha of enlightenment energy who offered herself to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara,* in the service of freeing all sentient being from cyclic existence (samsara). In art Syamatara can be represented as a central figure surrounded by one thousand and eight miniature replications of herself, which signify the innumerable ways the goddess manifests in the world for the purpose of leading beings along the path to liberation...

Tara TibetI see we have another, more elaborate one that Jim purchased in Singapore, when we passed through there in 1997 (see photo). Her hands are varadamudra, with thumbs touching, which indicates an appeasement of the senses. The foliate "aureole" behind her is like a halo or aura, indicating her divinity or saintliness. Her lotus seat is on a pedestal, which represents a throne.

I'm still not meditating on these gems of sacred art, am I? I am describing them. I am wondering how much they are worth, compared to those at auction. I am wondering who buys them. I wrote once before about Green Tara, back when I was all excited about her sacred banner having been brought out of Tibet by a British Everest Expedition in the 1920s.

My thoughts are far from the precepts that Tara embodies: compassion, generosity, protection of the weak against the powerful. So I guess I'll just leave it at that for today: the sacred art, the profane art-owner... struggling to understand, striving to deserve the privilege--the blessing-- that art bestows.


[1] Guanyin: Her Hindu or Sanskrit name is Avalokitesvara. Kannon in Japanese. Guanyin (or Kuan Yin) in Chinese. I've always been attracted to this figure in general because of her femininity, even though this bodhisattva is not always represented as a female. She is the bodhisattva of compassion.

[2] bodhisattva: a being who has achieved a high degree of her own enlightenment but postpones her entry into nirvana to assist all other sentient beings in achieving complete Buddhahood.

[3] "Gilt Bronze Figure of Tara," Christie's Sale 2687, Lot 413, New York City, 19 Mar 2013. Meanings of mudras [hand positions] and asana [body pose] are from "Buddhism (Flammarion Iconographic Guides) by Louis Frederic, 1995.