Why should you expend energy on becoming more kind and compassionate? First, when we extend kindness to others it actually makes us happier and healthier. Second, kind people are sexy. Most importantly, look around — the world needs you at your best right now. When we are kind and helpful, we set off a chain reaction that impacts the well-being of everyone.
We are saturated with information about the importance of meditation and mindfulness. Meditation alleviates stress and anxiety, helps us manage pain, and makes us happier. (Hooray for us!) I truly believe all of these claims are true. However, a mindfulness practice is only half the picture. If you are on a spiritual or self-improvement path, it’s equally important to cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Once cultivated, you must act on that energy. Like, get up and do something. While I see a lot of information on the benefits of self-love and self-care, I don’t see as much content describing the benefits of helping others. We can connect with Green Tara to cultivate compassion and extend kindness to others as well as ourselves.
The story of Tara
Tara is a goddess that comes up often in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, but I’m referring specifically to Green Tara, the Tibetan Buddhist goddess of compassion and action. Some traditions consider her a bodhisattva while others consider her so advanced as to be a female buddha. I’m happy with either interpretation, but let’s go with bodhisattva here. A bodhisattva is a person who has achieved enlightenment and could continue on to nirvana, but has committed themselves to staying on earth until all other beings have overcome suffering and attained enlightenment themselves.
Green Tara energy manifests as the impetus we feel to donate, volunteer, or perform random acts of kindness.
There are many versions of Green Tara’s origin story. Often, stories describe her as being created from the tears of another bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara. Despite his best efforts to alleviate the sorrows of humankind, Avalokitesvara was saddened by how much suffering still existed in the world. His tears created a lake from which Green Tara emerged. She emerged from the lake as a topless, beautiful 16-year-old, sitting on a lotus flower and wrapped in silks and jewelry. While beautiful, she was also very green. Theories as to why she was so green include:
- She is Amoghasiddhi Buddha’s (one of the five wisdom Buddhas) spiritual consort, and he is green.
- Both she and Amoghasiddhi are connected to the Buddhist air element, which is represented by the color green.
- Green Tara is a forest goddess. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, forests are associated with spirituality.
We call upon Green Tara to offer protection from worldly and spiritual dangers, as well as to provide active compassion to those in need.
Green Tara in modern society
According to famed Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “compassion” is a verb. We must act to minimize the suffering of others. Green Tara represents that active compassion. She doesn’t sit around feeling bad for people, animals, or the earth. She actually tries to help. Mother Teresa, a modern-day bodhisattva, is a great example of Green Tara energy. She made it her life’s work to care for the poor and forgotten people of Calcutta, and her efforts aided people across the world.
Green Tara energy also manifests as the impetus we feel to donate, volunteer, or perform random acts of kindness. Though it’s important to volunteer or donate money when we can, we can integrate kindness and compassion into our lives in other ways, too, at little to no material cost to ourselves. We can start right now. We can put down our smartphones and engage with our fellow humans by making eye contact, saying hello, or helping someone with their bags. Though these acts may seem small, they truly have the power to make someone’s day. As Maya Angelou said, “try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Not only will they feel better, but you will, too.
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, photographer, and author. He is also known as “The Happiest Man in the World.” In his TED Talk on “The Habits of Happiness,” he speaks about how we try to find happiness through external factors we can’t always control, like money, jobs, and partners. Ricard argues that true happiness is found internally, through selfless generosity. This generosity, this willingness to make others happy, acts as the antidote to destructive emotions such as anger, hatred, and jealousy. We can spend hours lamenting what’s not going well in our own lives. When we take initiative to help others, we not only take our minds off of our own worries but we give ourselves a deeper sense of value and accomplishment.
And as I mentioned earlier, kindness is sexy. I couldn’t find research that puts it in those terms, exactly, but Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., lists kindness as the number-one trait to look for in a romantic partner. In Psychology Today, she writes, “having a partner who fell short on attractiveness, status, and excitement did not affect satisfaction if that partner was also highly warm, kind, and loyal.” Maybe that’s part of the reason why we’re so attracted to guy helping someone across the street or the woman volunteering to clean up a trail.
Green Tara in my life
I have a laser-like focus on the well-being of my children and partner. I’m always thinking of what I can do to make their lives better. Outside of that very small inner circle, however, I can be inattentive. Caught up in my own life, I tend to hoard my attention and time. I know when I’ve missed the mark in extending kindness or compassion to others because I feel like crap. It’s immediately obvious that I could have done more to be helpful, thoughtful, or to make someone’s day a bit better.
I would like to embody more of Green Tara’s benevolence in my relationship my mother. My mother and I have always been very close, sharing intimate details about our lives. Over the years, our on relationships, politics, and how we choose to spend our time have diverged, sometimes frustrating us both. We can be quick to judge the other. As she gets older, she seeks more validation and reassurance, which I’m not always quick to give.
Unless we’re actually practicing in the world with the people who need us, we’re missing our mark.
Rather than trying to prove my point or becoming annoyed, my intent should be to communicate constructively and to make sure she feels heard and valued. I can be more careful with my words, and take her words with more goodwill. We can read, study, and meditate until we’re blue in the face (or in this case, green), but unless we’re actually practicing in the world with the people who need us, we’re missing our mark.
Being more patient with my mother may seem small compared to all the crises in the world, but it’s important to practice kindness and compassion daily with those around us. Small things like asking someone about their day, picking up litter strewn at a park, or providing hospitality for someone in need can make a world of difference. When people are happy and doing well, they’re more likely to extend that feeling to others. Kindness is contagious. Green Tara reminds us that we seek freedom from suffering not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
How to connect with Green Tara
Loving Kindness meditation
Many of us are familiar with mindfulness meditation, where we focus our attention on our breath or an object to calm the mind. Alternatively, the intent of a Loving Kindness, or metta, meditation is to generate compassion for ourselves, others, and the entire world. This is as important as establishing a calm mind. If you practice daily mindfulness meditation, try alternating it with a Loving Kindness meditation. You can follow along with a guided Loving Kindness meditation, such as this short one by Tara Brach, a Buddhist meditation teacher and author.
Green Tara mantra
Mantra meditation is an important part of working with the goddess. Mantra is the sound that corresponds and connects to a deity. Chanting these sounds can be part of a devotional practice. A mantra also helps quiet your mind as you repeat the same words over and over again. You don’t need to overthink the meaning of the words when working with mantras. Instead, focus on the sound and their connection to the goddess. The Green Tara mantra is: Om Tāre Tuttāre Ture Syāhā.
From what I understand, the mantra does not have a direct translation, but it represents the different areas where we can ask Tara for help: the physical realm, the spiritual realm, and invoking compassion.
- Om does not have any meaning, but represents the entire universe and the basis for all other sounds.
- Tāre represents protection from physical dangers and suffering.
- Tuttāre represents protection from the spiritual dangers of greed, hatred, and delusion.
- Ture reminds us to be of service to others on our spiritual path.
- Syāhā means “Hail!”
Here is a Green Tara mantra on YouTube. It is chanted 108 times. Take a seat on your meditation cushion and chant along with it.
Tara is a goddess of action. Think about what you can do today to make someone else’s day a little bit better. Remember, it doesn’t have to big — sometimes all you need to do is pick up the phone. Let those around you know why you appreciate them. If you’ve been thinking about volunteering but haven’t gotten around to it, stop waiting and sign up.
I wish you kindness, compassion, and goodwill on your journey.