Book Review: Embodying Tara: Twenty-one Manifestations to Awaken Your Innate Wisdom

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

In December 2023, Shambhala Publications published Embodying Tara: twenty-one manifestations to awaken your innate wisdom By Chandra Easton.

They say fake it until you make it. But this book will suggest something even better, because these pages offer practices to help us achieve it that are not wrong.

Guided by the advice of the author's teacher, the revered Lama Tsultrim, Easton brings the 21 Taras to life, referencing what we know of the stories of certain mortal women to make them accessible to the modern reader. Written amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice movements* and now, as I write this review, so much geopolitical unrest, Easton's intention is to offer the lessons of Tara as a timely anchor, providing comfort as well as a mirror to our inner sovereignty. Easton shares with us his intentions for this book, and it is an invitation to engage creatively with the Taras, calling for transformation and the embodiment of enlightened activities in our own life story.

And if you're a reader who tends to skip book introductions, then don't; this is a fundamental chapter. And the endnotes of the book are of great help, even to those already familiar with the practice of Buddhism.

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What helps distinguish Easton's literary contribution, especially for people new to Buddhism, is his clear and easy-to-understand explanation of who the Taras are, the associated meditations, as well as all the nuggets of history and Buddhist wisdom thrown into the mix.

The book itself is presented in a clear and accessible format, in which the reader is systematically familiarized with the character, mantra, symbol and various facets of each Tara, supplemented by Buddhist teachings or associated historical contexts, as well as than through real examples. who embody the traits of this particular Tara, before we are invited to contemplate the people or traits of our own lives. Finally, at the end of each chapter of Tara, Easton guides us through a simple visualization and embodiment meditation. This is simple deity yoga, a form of spiritual practice known as meditation in Vajrayana Buddhism and which plays an essential role in the incarnation of Tara.

Already well established in eastern India by the 8th century, Tara began its journey to various parts of Asia as Buddhist traditions spread from India, reaching areas such as Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Java , Siam, Philippines, Tibet, Mongolia and China. .

Tara is commonly known as Arya Tara (Noble Tara) in Sanskrit and Jetsun Drölma in Tibetan. Tara means “she who helps to cross to the other shore” or “she who saves”, in reference to her power to help beings cross the ocean of suffering (samsara) to the other shore of liberation (nirvana). She is mainly known for saving beings from fear and misfortune. An uninspiring origin story depicts Tara as born from the heart of Avalokiteshvara in the "beginningless" aeon. In this version, she benefits sentient beings with blessings as the daughter of Avalokiteshvara.

Her influence extended to Tibet, where she is said to have arrived with the Nepalese princess Bhrikuti Devi, who later influenced the great Buddhist teacher Atisha Dipamkara (982-1054 CE) in 1042. Atisha benefited from Tara's guidance from childhood and she continued to appear. in his life, advising him to devote his life to Dharma due to his strong karmic potential to become a great spiritual teacher – advice that Atisha followed, changing the face of Buddhism across Tibet and laying the foundation for the integrated teachings of training of the mind. Buddhist revival in Tibet and influencing prominent female figures, including Machig Labdrön, founder of the Chöd tradition.

Tara, often associated with the epithet "sky dancer", reflects dakini principle coming from the first Indian tantric practices in which dakinis were initially perceived as wild and wrathful goddesses. (Written in such a patriarchal era, of course, they would have been considered wild, indomitable and unstoppable. Have you ever met a three-year-old girl? They are the most fearless and fearsome of creatures, simultaneously capable of extraordinarily gentle love. and tender affection when they wish. All this life until they are educated to become the most "acceptable", yielding and submissive Luna reflection of the radiant, masculine Sun).

That said, the introduction of Tantric Buddhist teachings to Tibet in the 8th century dakinis, including Tara, to the holders of sacred teachings while retaining their wild character. THE dakini This principle, although associated with femininity, transcends gender boundaries, being both inclusive and beyond gender in describing the various expressions of Tara within Tibetan Buddhism.

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Easton uses his three main iconographic lineages associated with Suryagupta, Atisha and Nagarjuna. Using symbolism and wisdom to become a gateway for practitioners to embark on a transformative journey, Easton helps the reader engage in the dakini principle, and ultimately forge a connection with the divine in their spiritual practice. It's as "simple" as moving our kleshas– the negative mental noise that obscures the radiant inner self we were born with – to release that fearless three-year-old and feel what it means to be that ideal version of yourself – a concept increasingly used in contemporary meditations to improve mental health or pursue and manifest goals. But rather than any potential ego inflation, we need to approach these somatic visualizations with healthy pride and ego. And just like breathing, practicing these meditations will be much more beneficial than just reading this book.

And it's a great book, especially for beginners, and obviously a book for those who want to work with the energy of Tara. But also for those who want a volume for concise reference purposes, including artists interested in painting them. Basically, though, it's a good read for those who want to use meditations for self-improvement or who are curious about deity yoga without the need for retreats or empowerments.

*As is often the case, citing specific examples can lead to polarizing opinions. For my part, I found some of the examples used shocking in light of deeper revelations of the person or situation, rather than the publicly accepted narrative. However, beyond that, I appreciate the point Easton makes.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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