Tara in the Palm of your Hand: A Guide to the practices of the twenty-one Taras – Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Wind Horse Press, 2013, 164pp., 9780992055400.
((Disclaimer: Zasep Rinpoche is one of my teachers.))
Tara is the primary female Buddha is Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. In fact some schools believe all female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are expressions of Tara. She is a forceful, compassionate female figure in a tradition that often lacks the representation of independent women. (By independent here I do not mean in a modern social sense, but literally independent, most female figures in Buddhism are linked to male figures as consorts or attendants, while Tara is a Buddha in her own right.) Her practice is one of the most popular in Tibet, specifically in her Green Tara form or as the twenty-one Taras, and with this book Zasep Rinpoche seeks to make her practices and the teachings around them more accessible to those of us in the west.
This book is not simply about Tara’s practice though, while it is expected that one has experience in Buddhism in order to do her practices (and some would argue initiations to even attempt them) this book does contain a primer on related Buddhist practices that can be applied beyond Tara. Beginning with the essentially obligatory explanation of Buddhism, Rinpoche then moves on to discuss the origin stories of Tara, the basis of the practice and the history and the traditions involved. Zasep Rinpoche manages to find a balance between giving relevant and interesting history (specifically of the Surya Gupta tradition of Tara practices) but not overwhelming the reader with information. He explains the forms and meaning of the twenty-one Tara practices, as well as giving simplified sadhana (ritual) instructions for each one. Zasep Rinpoche also includes the transliterated Tibetan for the prayers, and in his explanations of them translates it as he goes, which for anyone learning the Tibetan language (as I am) it’s a great help for testing and building on my lexicon and skills.
As mentioned there is some discussion of general practices that are occasionally overlooked in Western Buddhist texts, which can be helpful for those with less exposure to the tradition or teachers. Zasep Rinpoche covers how to make a Buddhist altar, how to make tormas (a type of dough offering), as well as how-tos and explanations of many primary practices: going for refuge, bodhichitta, the four immeasurables, empowering tormas and ritual items. More or less this book covers everything required to begin practicing with Tara, and while some books may offer more information (such as The Cult of Tara, which I will review in the futre) this book is written in a way that is very concise, clear, and personal, making it very accessible. While I’ve had Tara trainings in the past, and have various sadhana scripts of hers, this book has become my go-to text when performing her rituals as it has everything I need in one place, easy to read and use.
So if you have your Tara initiations, or plan on getting them, or are curious about whether she would be the right fit for you, I’d recommend Tara in the Palm of your Hand, it’s a good read, detailed enough to be useful, not overwhelming in data, and a fun read.