Of all the graduate institutions in the world, I chose the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco because of its unique program in Women’s Spirituality. Only here could I integrate my love of the Goddess Tara, my spiritual practice of Tibetan Buddhism, and my passion to chant into a scholarly study titled “Invoking the Blessings of the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara Through Chanting Her Mantra to Overcome Fear.”
I conducted my research in the summer of 2008. Fortunately, I was able to draw from the many academic, contemplative, and spiritual groups of my acquaintance in the San Francisco Bay Area to solicit study co-participants. Over the course of three months, we convened on six occasions to meditate, pray, and chant to Tara with the intention of overcoming a particular fear. Between our meetings, we chanted on our own and kept a journal about what we were experiencing.
The Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara’s mantra is OM TARE TUTARE TURE SOHA!
Om is “the goal of the path”
Tare is Tara, “she who liberates us from suffering”
Tutare means “she who eliminates all fears”
Ture is “she who grants all successes”
Soha reminds us to rejoice as the mantra takes “root in our hearts.”
Tara is reputed to save beings from fear, particularly the eight great fears. These eight great fears are symbolically represented and may more accurately reflect the obstacles (or negative emotions) that prevent us from reaching our highest potential:
|Fear of lions||Pride|
|Fear of elephants||Ignorance|
|Fear of fire||Anger|
|Fear of snakes||Jealousy|
|Fear of robbers||Distorted views|
|Fear of imprisonment||Miserliness|
|Fear of floods||Attachment|
|Fear of demons||Doubt|
Since fear is often a source of suffering, it was my hope that we study co-participants would experience a lessening or diminishment of fear, at best, and, at the least, would be subjected to the positive encounter of meditation and chanting. In other words, I sought to alleviate the suffering of other sentient beings through chant.
To accomplish my study’s aim, I used the participatory research methodological approach outlined by the eco-philosopher Henryk Skolimowski. He defines his approach as both Buddhist and feminist because it is concerned with the true nature of our minds and recognizes all knowledge as value-laden.
Buddhism devotes itself to understanding the mind, which is infinite, clear, and a limitless resource. While feminism reminds us that all thought is subjective and, therefore, value-laden, even while pretending to be objective whether this be the notion that some ways of knowing are more valid than others or that some types of people and lifestyles are of more importance than others. In Skolimowski’s Participatory Research, he counsels an approach to the divine that validates our co-creation with our universe and acknowledges our many ways of communing with deity.
Through this communion produced by mediation, chant, altar building, visualization, and desire, the study co-participants kept journals I later analyzed by use of Grounded Theory as defined by Kathy Charmaz. This produced themes and sub-themes that formed a picture of what the co-participants experienced during the study. These themes were: fear, the experience of chanting, control issues, feelings and emotions, Tara, relationships, energy, sleep and dreams, empowering, and writing. Our experiences as co-participants led me to believe that much of what we fear involves love. This was often expressed as a fear of making ourselves vulnerable to love through wanting it and not having it or, conversely, having it and fearing being hurt by it.
All the study co-participants expressed a lessening of their fear through the experience of participating in the study. However, this lessening may not be completely attributable to the chanting of Tara’s mantra. Other ameliorating factors may have been attending to the fear rather than ignoring it and hoping it would go away, and time and distance from the immediate source of fear. An important result of the study was that no one was harmed and the co-participants now have a tool to help them overcome fear, and hopefully lessen their suffering.
Karen Nelson Villanueva has recently successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, “Invoking the Blessings of the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara through Chanting Her Mantra to Overcome Fear,” at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She leads Tara Pujas, meditation, and teaches introductory-level Buddhism at the Tse Chen Ling Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies in San Francisco, California.