❀ GREEN TARA ❀
One of my main mantras for my morning practice is the one devoted to Green Tara, The Swift Liberator, The Lotus of Wisdom, the principal female manifestation of virtue and enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism. She is the ACTIVE principle of compassion and in paintings she is represented in the process of stepping from her lotus throne in order to help sentient beings. To westerners, having a female form representing compassion may seem natural but in traditional Tibetan Buddhist iconography the male form tends to represent compassion while the female form more often represents wisdom. Tara bucks that trend.[i]
Green Tara is capable of bringing all activities that benefit others to fruition. In Tibet she is the most important deity, the Bodhisattva who’s name means ‘she who ferries across’, ‘she who saves’, or ‘star’.[ii] Green Tara lengthens the lives of her followers, protects us during our earthly travels, and guards us on our spiritual journey to enlightenment. It is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother’s love for her children.[iii]
❀ I Bow Before You, Green Tara ❀
I do three full prostrations in front of Green Tara before praying to her as this helps me to observe and contemplate the nature of my heart/mind so it becomes still, one-pointed, and able to gain insight into the changing flow of my experiences. By bowing I am also raising up Green Tara higher than my own personal ego-self. Before I recite the Green Tara mantra I ask for certain wishes, one of them being that she take care of the feral cats I help to feed, that “they all find safe, dry, and warm places to sleep, and that they never know hunger and experience love.” I care about those three cats, the “59th Street Cats,” as we call them, as if they were my own children.
❀ Princess Is Missing ❀
One of these cats, “Princess,” the only female and the most tame, the one I can pet and is very affectionate back to me, went missing for nearly a week. (I would often sit and pet Princess while reciting the Green Tara mantra quietly under my breath. She liked it and always purred loudly.) I sent out an email to the four other feral feeders and none of the other women had seen Princess at feeding time either.
❀ Fooled By My Feelings ❀
I began to worry about Princess, “Who had her? Was she all right? Was she safe and dry inside someone’s home and being fed?” I didn’t want my mind to go to terrible places so I had to block out images of her being hit by a car or being taken in and then being treated cruelly. I couldn’t help but wonder why Princess had gone missing on me when I had been reciting the Green Tara mantra for her protection and dedicating the merit of saying it to her and the other two cats each day. How could Green Tara let me down? I started thinking about what it means to have faith and started to realize I had very little faith in Green Tara as far as Princess and the other feral cats were concerned. I began to question myself, “Why am I reciting the Green Tara mantra? I can read all I want to of Green Tara but is she me? Am I her? Is it an energy outside of me? Is it both? After all of my praying for the protection of Princess and her buddies something worse shouldn’t have happened to her, right?”
❀ Please Show Me A Sign ❀
I told Michele, one of the other women who feeds the 59th Street Cats, that I planned to drive around the neighborhood where Princess lived. I planned to walk around calling out her name to see if she would come running to me like she used to do. Michele said she’d meet me with “missing” fliers for Princess and we could go hang them in the area to see if someone might have spotted her. All during this time I thought very strongly, “What does it mean to have faith?” I started to realize I need to believe in Green Tara as something bigger than me, the deity she is and and not just an energy inside of me. Michele and I agreed to meet in an hour and I went to take a shower, still in deep contemplation about Green Tara and my missing Princess. After showering I went to my altar and did my prostrations before Green Tara, I asked, “Please Green Tara, give me a sign, something about Princess, let me know she is all right. If she is not happy where she is at now, please let her come back to me.”
❀ My Story Has A Happy Ending ❀
I met Michele at the building where we feed Princess and she had already posted one flier at a nearby grocery store. We walked to the back of the building together and I expected that Princess wouldn’t be there. We each called out for Princess a few times and then suddenly she came running to us from the corner of the large empty parking lot. That afternoon she had been hiding behind many stuffed, green garbage bags around the dumpster. The sun was shining but the air was chilly and we thought that the bags probably provided a good windbreak for her while she sunned herself. I was so happy to see her I cried a little inside as I reached down to pet her as if nothing had changed. She was healthy and she purred. I said out loud to her, “Princess where have you been? We’ve been worried. Next time you leave like that you need to tell us where you’re going.” Inside I questioned myself, “Is this an answer to my prayer Green Tara? Is this about having faith? You’ve definitely show me a sign, now I should believe?”
❀ What Does It Mean To Have Faith? ❀
In Buddhism, faith is built through years of perseverance and proper understanding of Dharma. Green Tara’s Buddha nature is indifferent from our own, which is within. Green Tara’s activities are vast, something we haven’t achieved, and are without. So, we pray to her and sometimes our wishes are not seemingly answered, at least not in the way we thought they might be. This is mainly due to the essential element of karma, or it could even be an inappropriate wish.
❀ Karma And Control ❀
What I had forgotten but need to always remember as a Buddhist is that all sentient beings have their own karma. Karma is not the same thing as ‘fate.’ Karma is the results of previous actions in this life and in the past. I had forgotten that Princess has her own karmic fruition to face. I know I can’t control any situation but I still want the best for Princess and I’ll do whatever I can to make her life easier. At the time I didn’t know how far to go, how much to believe, when one says have faith in Green Tara, the active principle of compassion, how will she answer my prayers?
❀ Mind Nature Of Buddhas And Sentient Beings Are Indifferent ❀
From a western point of view, being ‘indifferent’ usually means that someone doesn’t care, that they have no feelings one way or the other, and having no feelings is generally seen as a bad thing in the West. It doesn’t have the same meaning in Buddhism. At the same time, if we had no feelings, wouldn’t we be heartless? If our actions were based on doing what’s right without consideration of another’s feelings wouldn’t that seem cruel? In Buddhism the practice of praying to Green Tara or another deity isn’t teaching us to not have feelings, it is teaching us to not be fooled by our feelings.
If we study the nature of our mind further we’ll find it’s like a mirror. If we placed a flower before it the image of the flower will vividly appear on the mirror, but when we take away the flower, the mirror is still a mirror. The quality of the mirror is not tainted at all by witnessing the flower. Mind is simply fooled by our senses, fooled by our concepts.
We are often fooled by our feelings. We need to look at things the way they are, the way it is. It’s all right to feel the things we feel but we need the realization that if we are together with our loved ones one day we will be apart from them. When we are born into this world one day we will surely die. Having clarity of the reality of painful situations we then understand, and we have a choice in how we’ll respond and react in the world. In Buddhism the point of our praying is to gain MINDFULNESS, praying becomes a form of meditation for us rather than merely petitioning a higher external force for what we desire.
❀ Praying For Princess ❀
I missed Princess while she was gone yet I continued to pray for her well being. I thought if someone had taken her into their home and they loved her, well, then I am happy. I naturally share some qualities with Green Tara, but not seeing it is one thing that makes me a sentient being and not a God.
Reciting the Green Tara mantra helped me to calm my mind and in fact probably helped Princess return to me that day as I became mindful of our situation- Princess is a feral (homeless) cat, who fends for herself and finds shelter in the wild of the city. She also has her own karma from her past and present to live out. I no longer pray that Princess return to me each week but I still pray for her protection. No matter what happens next my faith is restored. The devotee of Green Tara may recite even the short mantra of ten syllables whenever needs are being denied and she will hear it and respond.
Being mindful will help one calm their mind…Mantras will only manifest their powers when one’s mind is calm. Remember this.
**NOTE- It’s been another week and Princess has disappeared again. She came back to me for a few minutes one day, two weeks ago, after I prayed to Green Tara for a sign. The most I can do now is to continue loving her while I pray, to take care of her when and if she does come back to her feeding area, and remain mindful of our situation together.
***Many thanks to my faithful friend Hermit who helps me to understand Dharma and myself better, and thank you to Michele Nelson, a volunteer at the fixourferals.org serving Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California, for providing me with the great pictures of Princess and for helping me get the images to show up in my blog again.