In Tibetan Buddhism, om tare tuttare ture soha is an ancient mantra that is related to Tara, the “Mother of all Buddhas,” and especially to her manifestation as Green Tara.
Tara, who Tibetans also call Dolma, is commonly thought to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha of compassion and action, a protector who comes to our aid to relieve us of physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.
Tara has 21 major forms, each of which has a different color and spiritual attribute.
Of these 21 forms, two are especially popular among Tibetan people — White Tara, who is associated with compassion and long life, and Green Tara, who is associated with enlightened activity and abundance.
We usually think of om tare tuttare ture soha as Green Tara’s mantra, although sometimes it is used as the main mantra for all the Tara’s.
Tibetans love to pray and recite mantras, and the Green Tara mantra is one of the main three or four mantras that we say to help ourselves and others. (See our posts on om mani padme hum and om muni muni maha muniye soha, two other very popular mantras.)
Basically, any mantra is “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’” 1
To better understand the Green Tara mantra, let’s first talk a little about who Green Tara is, and then look at the deeper meaning of the mantra.
Green Tara: Compassion in Action
As we see in the image above, Green Tara is usually depicted as a compassionate being ready to step down from her lotus throne to offer comfort and protection from all of the sufferings we experience in the world.
She is shown “in a posture of ease and readiness for action. While her left leg is folded in the contemplative position, her right leg is outstretched, ready to spring into action. Green Tara’s left hand is in the refuge-granting mudra (gesture); her right hand makes the boon-granting [giving] gesture. In her hands she also holds closed blue lotuses (utpalas), which symbolize purity and power.” 2
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Reciting the Green Tara Mantra: (HH begins a few minutes after the beginning of the recording)
The First Dalai Lama’s Teachings on Tara
The first Dalai Lama wrote that we can call on her to instantly save us from eight particular dangers, each of which represents a corresponding human mental problem:
- lions — pride
- wild elephants — delusion and ignorance
- forest fires — hatred
- snakes — jealousy
- robbers — wrong views, including fanatical views
- prisons — greed and miserliness
- floods — desire and attachment
- demons — doubts caused by delusion
Ordinary Tibetans pray to her when we are sick, when leaving for a long journey, or when we hope for success or wealth. His Holiness’ teaching shows us that this is not actually the true purpose of praying to or reciting mantras to Tara.
When we chant the Green Tara mantra, we are not simply asking for Tara’s blessings and help with our lives and our “real world” problems.
Actually, we are also asking to be liberated from the misery of the mental delusions and negative emotions that blind us to true freedom, and to achieve the same enlightened body, speech and mind that Tara represents, not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Meaning of the Green Tara Mantra
A 1987 teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche really opens up to us the profound meaning and benefits of practicing Tara’s powerful mantra. 3
Lama Zopa walks us through the mantra in a long discussion on Tara, which we have excerpted and shortened below:
- In short, om tare tuttare ture soha means “I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all the Victorious Ones.”
- The Tara mantra is om tare tuttare ture soha. To explain the meaning of tare tuttare ture: tare means liberating from samsara.
- Tare shows that Mother Tara liberates living beings from samsara, from true suffering, or problems. You can relate this to the particular sufferings of human beings: birth, old age, sickness and death; meeting undesirable objects and experiencing aversion; not finding desirable objects or finding them but gaining no satisfaction… All these are the problems of true suffering. If you rely upon Tara by taking refuge in her and doing Tara practices—such as the recitation of mantra or praises — with tare, Tara liberates you from all these true sufferings.
- The second word, tuttare, liberates you from the eight fears. There are eight fears related to external dangers from fire, water, air, earth, and also from such things as thieves and dangerous animals. However, the main dangers come from ignorance, attachment, anger, pride, jealousy, miserliness, doubt and wrong views. These eight disturbing thoughts that you have in your mind are the main dangers… This second word, tuttare, which liberates you from the eight fears, frees you from the true cause of suffering: karma and the all-arising disturbing thoughts.
- The third word, ture, liberates you from disease. Now, of the Four Noble Truths, ture shows the cessation of suffering, which is the ultimate Dharma. In terms of liberating from disease, the actual disease we have is ignorance not knowing the absolute nature of the I, and all the disturbing thoughts that arise from this ignorance… By liberating us from disease, ture actually liberates us from the true cause, disturbing thoughts, and also the true sufferings.
- The rough meaning of these three words tare tuttare ture is: “To you, embodiment of all the Buddhas’ actions, I prostrate always — whether I am in happy or unhappy circumstances — with my body, speech and mind.”
- The final word soha means establishing the root of the path within your heart. In other words, by taking refuge in Tara and doing Tara practice, you receive the blessings of Tara in your own heart. This gives you space to establish the root of the path, signified by tare tuttare ture, in your heart. By establishing the path of the three capable beings within your heart, you purify all impurities of your body, speech and mind, and achieve Tara’s pure vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind, which are signified by om. Your body, speech and mind are transformed into Tara’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind. This is the rough meaning of om tare tuttare ture soha.
Like om mani padme hum, the Green Tara Mantra is much greater than the sum of its parts, with layers of meaning and benefit that resonate with us beyond what our minds perceive.
By calling on Tara’s protection from danger and from our fears with a sincere motivation to be relieved of our suffering for the benefit of all beings, we can gain the multiple benefits of selfish altruism, and compassionate action, becoming happier ourselves as we help others.
His Holiness the Karmapa reciting the Green Tara Mantra:
1. Feuerstein, G. The Deeper Dimension of Yoga. Shambala Publications, Boston, MA. 2003. (Via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantra)
2. Lama Zopa’s Teaching on Tara – from two teachings given at Kopan Monastery and Himalayan Yogic Institute, Nepal in May 1987. Originally published as a Wisdom Transcript by Wisdom Publications in 1993(Discussion of Tara starts halfway down the page, though full article is wonderful. Discussion of Tara includes a visualization you can practice while reciting the mantra.)
More Resources on Tara