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

In December 2023, Shambhala Publications released 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 make it that aren’t fake.

Guided by the advice of the author’s teacher, the revered Lama Tsultrim, Easton brings the 21 Taras to life, referencing them with what we know of the stories of certain mortal women to make them relatable 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 intent is to offer Tara’s teachings as a timely anchor, bringing solace as well as a mirror to our inner sovereignty. Easton tells us of her intentions regarding this book, and it is an invitation to creatively engage with the Taras, urging transformation and the embodiment of enlightened activities in our own life story.

And if you are a reader who tends to skip book introductions, in this case please don’t; it’s a fundamental chapter. And the final notes of the book are greatly helpful, even for those already well-versed in the practice of Buddhism.

Embodying Tara. From

What helps to distinguish Easton’s literary contribution, particularly for individuals who are new to Buddhism, is her clear and easy-to-understand explanation of who the Taras are, the associated meditations, and also 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 acquainted with the persona, mantra, symbol, and various facets of each Tara, complemented by related Buddhist teachings or historical contexts, as well as real-life examples who embody the traits of that particular Tara, before we are invited to contemplate the people or traits in our own life. Finally, at the close of each Tara chapter, Easton leads us through a straightforward visualization and embodying meditation. This is an uncomplicated deity yoga, a form of spiritual practice known as sadhana in Vajrayana Buddhism and one that is pivotal in embodying Tara.

Already well established in eastern India by the eighth century, Tara began her journey to various parts of Asia as Buddhist traditions spread from India, reaching regions such as Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Java, Siam, the 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,” referring to her power to help beings traverse the ocean of suffering (samsara) to the far shore of liberation (nirvana). She is primarily known for saving beings from fear and misfortune. A less-than-empowering origin story portrays Tara as arising from Avalokiteshvara’s heart in the aeon “without beginning.” In this version, she benefits beings through blessings as the daughter of Avalokiteshvara. 

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

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

That said, the introduction of tantric Buddhist teachings to Tibet in the eighth century elevated dakinis, including Tara, to holders of the sacred teachings while retaining their wild character. The dakini principle, although associated with femininity, transcends gender boundaries, being both gender-inclusive and beyond gender in depicting the diverse expressions of Tara within Tibetan Buddhism.

Chandra Easton. From

Easton uses her 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 aids the reader in engaging with the dakini principle, and ultimately forging a connection with the divine in their spiritual practice. This is also as “simple” as shifting our kleshas—the negative mental noise that obscures the inner radiant self that we are born with—to unleash that fearless three-year-old and feel what it is to be that ideal version of oneself—a concept used increasingly in contemporary meditations for improving mental health or pursuing and manifesting goals. But rather than any potential ego-inflation, we are to approach these somatic visualizations with a healthy pride and healthy ego. And much like breathing, practicing these meditations will be far more beneficial than merely reading about them in this book.

And this is a great book, especially for beginners, and evidently a book for those interested in working with the energy of Tara. But also for those wanting a volume for concise reference purposes, including artists interested in painting them. Fundamentally, however, this is a good read for those who wish to use the 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. I, for one, found a couple of the examples used jarring in light of deeper revelations of the person or situation, rather than the publicly accepted narrative. However, looking beyond this, I appreciate the point that Easton was making.

See more

Embodying Tara: Twenty-One Manifestations to Awaken Your Innate Wisdom (Shambhala Publications)

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Agbor jackson nforten
4 months ago

Im interested about Buddhism