Tara, whose name means “star” or “she who ferries across,” is a Bodhisattva of compassion who manifests in female form. In Tibetan, Tara is known as “Dölma” (Sgrol-ma), or “She Who Saves.” In particular she represents compassion in action, since she’s in the process of stepping from her lotus throne in order to help sentient beings.
The central part of Tara’s mantra is a loving play on her name. According to Sangharakshita, a traditional explanation of the mantra is that the variations of her name represent three progressive stages of salvation.
1. Tāre represents salvation from mundane dangers and suffering. Tara is seem as a savioress who can give aid from material threats such as floods, crime, wild animals, and traffic accidents. Tara is therefore said to protect against ordinary worldly dangers.
2. Tuttāre represents deliverance into the spiritual path conceived in terms of individual salvation. In traditional terms, this is the path of the Arhant, which leads to individual liberation from suffering. This is seen in Mahayana Buddhism as a kind of enlightenment in which compassion does not figure strongly. Tara therefore offers individual protection from the spiritual dangers of greed, hatred, and delusion: the three factors that cause us individual suffering.
3. Lastly, ture represents the culmination of the spiritual path in terms of deliverance into the altruistic path of universal salvation – the Bodhisattva path. In the Bodhisattva path we aspire for personal enlightenment, but we also connect compassionately with the sufferings of others, and strive to liberate them at the same time as we seek enlightenment ourselves. Tara therefore delivers us from a narrow conception of the spiritual life. She saves us from the notion that spiritual progress is about narrowly liberating ourselves from our own suffering, and instead leads us to see that true spiritual progress involves having compassion for others.
By the time we have been liberated from mundane dangers, liberated from a narrow conception of the spiritual path, and led to a realization of compassion, we have effectively become Tara. In Buddhist practice the “deities” represent our own inner potential. We are all potentially Tara. We can all become Tara.
Svaha, according to Monier Monier-William’s Sanskrit Dictionary, means: “Hail!”, “Hail to!” or “May a blessing rest on!” We could see this final blessing as symbolizing the recognition that we are, ultimately, Tara.