Praise to Tārā with Twenty-One Verses of Homage
Degé Kangyur, vol. 81 (rgyud ’bum, ca), folios 42.b–43.b
Translated by Samye Translations
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Praise to Tārā with Twenty-One Verses of Homage is a liturgy that consists of twenty-seven verses of praise and reverence dedicated to the deity Tārā. The first twenty-one verses are at once a series of homages to the twenty-one forms of Tārā and a poetic description of her physical features, postures, and qualities. The remaining six verses describe how and when the praise should be recited and the benefits of its recitation.
Translated by Samye Translations. The translation was produced by Stefan Mang and Peter Woods, and the introduction was written by Stefan Mang. Wiesiek Mical compared the translation with the available Sanskrit editions.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
For Tibetan Buddhists, the Praise to Tārā with Twenty-One Verses of Homage is undoubtedly the most popular prayer to the deity Tārā. It is recited on a daily basis by many monks, nuns, and lay practitioners alike. The first twenty-one verses praise Tārā by drawing upon the three epithets that also form the core of her root mantra—Tārā (Deliverer), Tuttārā (Savior), and Turā (Swift One).1 In doing so, they invoke Tārā’s twenty-one forms that vary in aspect from peaceful to wrathful. These twenty-one verses both pay homage to Tārā and provide a poetic description of her physical features, postures, qualities, abilities, mantras, and hand gestures. The concluding six verses of the liturgy describe how and when the praise should be recited and the benefits of its recitation.
The praise has been preserved in the Kangyur in two forms. First, the praise was translated into Tibetan and preserved as an independent text in the Kangyur (Toh 438). It is this text that we present in English translation here. Second, it is also found in transliterated Sanskrit as part of the larger tantra The Tantra on the Origin of All Rites of Tārā, Mother of All the Tathāgatas (Toh 726).2 In this tantra, the Buddha reveals the praise in the form of an incantation (dhāraṇī), a circumstance that prompted the Tibetan translators to transliterate the Sanskrit text of the praise rather than translate it into Tibetan. The relationship between these two versions in the Kangyur is not clear. The colophons to some Kangyur editions suggest that the Tibetan translation (Toh 438) was prepared based on the transliterated Sanskrit,3 but this is disputed by the Tibetan commentator Jetsün Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147–1216), who mentions that the praise was transmitted from India and translated as an independent text.4
Regarding the Indian commentarial literature on the praise, there are seven related texts preserved in the Degé Tengyur. These comprise two sādhanas attributed to Nāgārjuna (Toh 1683–84) as well as two sādhanas (Toh 1685–86) and three commentaries attributed to Sūryagupta (Toh 1687–89).5 Sūryagupta’s commentaries, rather than explaining the meaning of the words in the praise, focus on the iconography of each of Tārā’s twenty-one forms, describing her color, seat, posture, number of faces and arms, implements, and hand gestures.6 In Tibet, many scholars composed a variety of commentaries and sādhanas related to this praise.7
This translation has been prepared based on the Degé Kangyur with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur.8 We also consulted the Sanskrit editions prepared by de Blonay (1895), Pandey (1984), Willson (1996), and Wayman (2002).9 The interested reader may also wish to compare our translation to some of the other published translations of the praise in English.10
and Their Benefits
de Blonay, Godefroy, ed. Namaskaraikaviṃśatistotra. GRETIL. Input by Klaus Wille based on the edition by Godefroy de Blonay: Matériaux pour servir à l’histoire de la déesse Tāra, Paris 1895 (Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études, 107), 58–60.
Pandey, Janardan Shastri, ed. Namaskaraikaviṃśatistotra. GRETIL. Text number 5 in the Collection of 108 Buddhist Stotras. Input by members of the Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Input Project based on the edition by Janardan Shastri Pandey: Bauddha Stotra Samgrahah. Varanasi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.
Wayman, Alex. “The Twenty-One Praises of Tārā, A Syncretism of Śaivism and Buddhism.” In Buddhist Insight, edited by George Elder, 441–51. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.
sgrol ma la phyag ’tshal nyi shu rtsa gcig gis bstod pa phan yon dang bcas pa (*Tārānamaskāraikaviṃśatistotraguṇahitasahita). Toh 438, Degé Kangyur vol. 81 (rgyud, ca), folios 42.b–43.b.
sgrol ma la phyag ’tshal nyi shu rtsa gcig gis bstod pa phan yon dang bcas pa (*Tārānamaskāraikaviṃśatistotraguṇahitasahita). bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 81, pp. 139–44.
sgrol ma la phyag ’tshal nyi shu rtsa gcig gis bstod pa phan yon dang bcas pa (*Tārānamaskāraikaviṃśatistotraguṇahitasahita). Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 95 (rgyud, nga), folios 435.a–437.a.
sgrol ma las sna tshogs ’byung ba’i rgyud (*Tārāviśvakarmabhavatantra). Toh 726, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 202.a–217.a.
Nāgārjuna. sgrol ma’i sgrub thabs (Tārāsādhana). Toh 1683, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 1.b–5.b.
———. thugs rje chen po ’phags ma sgrol ma’i sgrub thabs spyi’i mngon par rtogs pa (*Mahākāruṇikāryatārāsādhanasāmānyābhisamaya). Toh 1684, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 6.a–6.b.
Sūryagupta. lha mo sgrol ma’i bstod pa nyi shu rtsa gcig pa’i sgrub thabs (*Tārādevīstotraikaviṃśatikasādhana). Toh 1685, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 6.b–10.a.
———. rje btsun ma ’phags ma sgrol ma’i sgrub thabs nyi shu rtsa gcig pa’i las kyi yan lag dang bcas pa mdor bsdus pa. Toh 1686, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 10.a–24.b.
———. sgrol ma’i sgrub thabs man ngag gi rim pa. Toh 1687, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 24.b–25.b.
———. bcom ldan ’das ma sgrol ma la bstod pa nyi shu rtsa gcig pa’i sgrub thabs. Toh 1688, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 25.b–35.a.
———. lha mo sgrol ma nyi shu rtsa gcig la bstod pa rnam dag gtsug gi nor bu. Toh 1689, Degé Tengyur vol. 28 (rgyud, sha), folios 35.a–38.b.
Drakpa Gyaltsen (grags pa rgyal mtshan). (2007a). nyi ma sbas pas mdzad pa’i rgya gzhung gi las tshogs kyi bsdus don. In gsung ’bum grags pa rgyal mtshan, vol. 3, 601–11. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2007.
———. (2007b). phyag ’tshal nyer gcig gi bstod pa sa bcad. In gsung ’bum grags pa rgyal mtshan, vol. 3, 637–38. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2007.
———. (2007c). bstod pa’i rnam bshad gsal ba’i ’od zer. In gsung ’bum grags pa rgyal mtshan, vol. 3, 638–46. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2007.
Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal. Tara’s Enlightened Activity: An Oral Commentary on the Twenty-One Praises to Tara. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007.
Samye Translations, trans. The Tantra on the Origin of All Rites of Tārā, Mother of All the Tathāgatas. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Lopez, Donald S. “A Prayer Flag for Tara.” In Religions of Tibet in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez, 548–52. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Mabbett, Ian. “The Problem of the Historical Nāgārjuna Revisited.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 118, no. 3, 1998: 332–46.
Obermiller, Eugéne, trans. and ed. History of Buddhism (Chos ḥbyung) by Bu-ston. Vol 2, The History of Buddhism in India and Tibet. Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 19. Heidelberg: O. Harrassowitz, 1932.
Roerich, George N., ed. The Blue Annals. Calcutta: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1949.
Tāranātha. The Origin of the Tārā Tantra. Translated and edited by David Templeman. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1995.
Willson, Martin. In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1996.
- me lha
The Vedic deity of fire. The name can also mean fire, particularly the sacrificial fire.
- ’od dpag med
The buddha of the western realm of Sukhāvatī.
- ’byung po
A general term for spirit, ghost, or demon (either positive or negative).
- tshangs pa
A high ranking deity, presiding over a divine world where other beings consider him the creator; he is also considered to be the Lord of the Sahā-world (our universe).
- dri za
A class of semidivine beings sometimes referred to as heavenly musicians.
An evil spirit that causes seizures and insanity.
Jetsün Drakpa Gyaltsen
- rje btsun grags pa rgyal mtshan
One of the five Sakya patriarchs. He was the son of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (sa chen kun dga’ snying po, 1092–1158) and the younger brother of Sönam Tsemo (bsod nams rtse mo, 1142–82).
- mi’am ci
A class of semidivine beings that resemble humans to the degree that their very name—which means “Is that a human?”—suggests some confusion as to their divine status.
- khrul ’khor
A sacred diagram that is drawn or constructed for ritual use. The Sanskrit word is derived from the Sanskrit root √yam, “to control.”
- mada ra
Mandara is a mountain that appears in various purāṇas describing the origin of amṛta, the drink of immortality. In these, Mount Mandara is used by the gods as a churning rod to churn the ocean of milk, whereby amṛta is produced.
- rlung lha
The Vedic gods of wind.
- lhun po
According to the ancient Indian cosmological system, Mount Meru is a mountain which forms the center of the universe.
- klu sgrub
A Indian author who presumably lived in the ninth century or later. He composed two practices of Tārā preserved in the Degé Tengyur.
Nyen Lotsawa Darma Drak
- gnyan lo tsā ba dar ma grags
The translator of Nyen, Darma Drak. He accompanied Ra Lotsawa (rwa lo tsā ba, 1016–1128?) to India where he stayed twelve years. Darma Drak is credited with translating Prajñākaramati’s commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra, as well as texts on Kālacakra and Tārā, and other works.
- brgya byin
One of the principal gods. He rules over the Heaven of the Thirty-Three.
- rim pa bdun po
The seven netherworlds are the seven subterranean realms inhabited by nāgas and asuras.
- ’jig rten bdun po
According to various purāṇas and the Atharvaveda, our world system is divided into fourteen worlds: the seven (higher) worlds consist of the earth and the heavenly realms above, and the seven netherworlds are subterranean realms.
- dbang phyug
Major deity in the pantheon of the classical Indian religious traditions. He is sometimes portrayed as one part of the divine triad, which also includes Brahmā and Viṣṇu.
- nyi ma sbas pa
A Kashmiri scholar (paṇḍita) who is well known for his commentaries on Tārā.
- sgrol ma
A deity (lit. “Deliverer”) known for giving protection. She is variously presented in Buddhist literature as a great bodhisattva or a fully awakened buddha.
- ro langs
A harmful spirit that haunts charnel grounds and can take possession of corpses and reanimate them.
- ’bigs byed
The Vindhya Mountains are a complex, broken chain of mountain ridges, hill ranges, highlands, and plateau escarpments in west-central India.
- gnod sbyin
A class of spirits.