Tara Dhatu - Realm of the Enlightened Feminine
Tara Dhatu is a non-profit organization, an international community, and a sacred vehicle for the liberation of all beings. We are dedicated to the inspiration and uplifting of humanity through the sacred arts, especially dance, music, meditation, prayer, and service.
The organization was formed at the request of His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche, an accomplished and revered Tibetan Buddhist master. He had witnessed the Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara, choreographed by one of his students, Prema Dasara. He asked that an organization be established to protect the dance’s integrity as a Vehicle of Liberation. He rejoiced in witnessing the devotion and peace transmitted by the dance and encouraged it to be broadcast, in video and in communal celebrations.
Since 1985 the dance has traveled throughout the world. A series of documentaries have been made and the organization has grown to sponsor workshops and training in the Tara Dance and other Dharma Dances, offering celebrations, pilgrimages of citizen diplomacy, and an array of Humanitarian Projects seeking to benefit the Tibetans-in-exile and other groups in need. The Tara Dance has been offered to many great Tibetan Teachers including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They have had some wonderful things to say about it. The Tara Dance has been performed by thousands of women of all ages, nationalities, and walks of life. You may read of its transformative power in the 'Dancer Testimonials' & 'Blessings from the Lamas' tabs below.
An array of materials have been developed to embellish the experience of the Dance: texts and commentaries, teachings, music, dvds and digital downloads. You can find these in the Tara Dhatu Online Emporium.
Prema Dasara, the Spiritual and Creative Director of Tara Dhatu, and an array of international Student Teachers maintain an ongoing schedule of international classes and offerings.
May The Blessings Of The Dance Of The Great Goddess Tara,
And The Profound Mind Training Practices Of Tibetan Buddhism
That Infuse It With Meaning, Travel Far,
Awakening All To The Glory Of Their Own Enlightened Potential.
Who is Tara?
Shrouded in mystery, revealed in wonder, the Great Goddess has been adored for millennia. Sculptural evidence discovered in prehistoric caves of 30,000 years ago finds Her worship to be more ancient than humankind has memory.
Legends and myths of every culture praise She Who Brings Forth Life, She Who Is The Embodiment Of Wisdom, The Great Compassionate Mother, The Star Of Heaven. She has been called by many names. She has been revealed in many forms. Her worship continues to this day in ancient cultures of Asia, and in the 21st century’s search for the lost feminine.
To the Tibetans, She is their Mother, closer than their heartbeat. She is known as Tara, a Sanskrit word meaning Star. We hear the echoes of Her name in the Latin Terra, Mother Earth.
The Druids called their Mother Goddess Tara. An ancient saga of Finland said to be 5 million years old speaks of Tar, women of wisdom. A tribe of indigenous peoples in the South American jungles, the Tarahumara, worship the Goddess.
The Cheyenne people tell of Star Woman who fell from the heavens to the Earth, and that out of Her body all essential food grew. She sent Her people to mate with the more primitive inhabitants of Earth, thereby giving them the capacity for wisdom. This legend is echoed in the more modern research of Z. Sitchin who tells of IshTar who came to earth from another planetary system and instructed Her people to intermarry with earthlings, making them capable of many things.To the Tibetans, even higher than a god or goddess is a Buddha, a being who has gone beyond the rounds of birth and death. Such an enlightened one has attained the highest wisdom, compassion and capability. Tara is so highly thought of that she is said to be the Mother of all the Buddhas.
Buddhas integrate all aspects and possibilities. They are one with all that exists. They can manifest bodies of light and radiance and they can emanate bodies of form into the world in order to bring benefit to this world of challenges and confusion. Tara, Herself, is a Buddha.
Who’s Who in Tara Dhatu?
Tara Dhatu Council Member & Mandala Leader
Tai Situ Rinpoche
Dagmola Kushog Andrea Smith
What is the Tara Dance?
The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara is a ritual dance offered worldwide as a prayer of peace, protection, wisdom and capability.
The words of the Dance are based on a Tibetan Buddhist sadhana of the Mother Goddess Tara, compiled by Orgyen Dechen Chokjur Lingpa, a great Tibetan treasure finder. It is said that he received the sadhana from Tara Herself.
Created by Prema Dasara, the Dance has been turning since 1985 and a number of student teachers have stepped forward in their communities to hold circles of practice and annual public offerings. It has been taught to thousands of women and men throughout the world, including several groups of Tibetan nuns and laywomen.
The following article about the Dance was adapted from a paper written by Rhye Gray, describing the Dance and the process.
The Tara Mandala Dance is a unique form of meditative practice. Participants become Tara by dancing Her 21 Praises.
These Praises are well-known among the Tibetans. It is one of their most common prayers which they chant from childhood.
There are many folk and contemporary stories of people calling out to Tara, the Great Mother Goddess, to save them from danger. Her response is said to be swift and effective.
The practice begins with Refuge, an honoring of the lineage of teachers, the enlightened ones, their teachings, and the community of practitioners, those who are engaged in the practices that will bring about enlightened mind.
It is followed by a vow, Bodhicitta, affirming that the goal of the practice, enlightened mind, will bring benefit to all beings. Practitioners are not trying to escape the world: that is self-centered, and the result is separation, isolation, disconnection.
Engaging in ritual hand gestures called mudras, the dancers invoke Tara within a crescent moon mandala. Establishing the environment to be the Pure Realm of Tara, they spiral into to a set of concentric circles while engaging in a purification process to release negativities.
When this is complete, they visualize themselves as Tara. In “Dancing as Tara, Jessica Gray explains: “When the dancers draw their hands over their heads and down their bodies this is a particularly poignant moment in the dance, when the purification and unveiling is complete”.
These four line Praises contain a world of meaning, and there are many commentaries describing the qualities, the powers that they represent.
Throughout the Dance, the dancers invoke three levels of relationship to Tara. There is the transcendent Buddha/Bodhisattva Tara appearing as an external being. There is the recognition that all sentient beings are aspects of Tara. And there is the conviction that the dancer, herself, is Tara.
This extraordinary experience is then translated into the way a practitioner interacts with the world. The qualities and Praises are tools that the practitioner can use in daily life.
In this moment of simply being, of stillness, the power of this practice shines. Anxiety and suffering do not exist. When the mind is empty of grasping, spaciousness relieves all anxiety and reveals it’s wonder.
Out of this pregnant emptiness, the dancers unwind the mandala as they sing the prayer of benefit. The practice promises temporal advantages as well as transcendent blessings. The movements are simple, the dancers congratulating each other as they pass, rejoicing in the successful turning of the wheel of Tara’s Mandala. Each word affirms the blessing of Tara.
The music shifts to something more active and the dancers enter the dance of the mantra. The heart of the Tara practice is Tara’s mantra:
OM indicates all that exists, TARE, Great Respected Mother. TUTARE describes Her as the remover of all obstacles, while TURE describes Her as the giver of all needs, the bestower of great fortune. SOHA is a seal for the mantra, stating that this is, as it ever has been, and ever shall be.
So Be it!!!
These sacred syllables, having been used by countless generations of Tara practitioners, have impact on the minds of the dancers and the world around them. The movements reinforce the meaning of the words.
After the mantra section, the dancers enact a ritual of “passing the light”, acknowledging that whatever inspiration they receive they will pass on.
The Tara Mandala Dance practice creates a community of practitioners. Sometimes this community is literal, dancers who come together in the same physical time and space. There is also an encouragement toward a virtual community of Tara dancers from around the world who connect through regular meetings, retreats and through the internet. There is a sense of being part of something larger.
"May All Quarrels and Wars Be Forever Ended
May Poverty and Sickness Be Removed From This Earth
May the Truth and All That’s Auspicious Increase
May All Beings Be Happy
Blessed By The One Who Blazes With Glory"
When the dance is performed for an audience, there is another level of psychological impact on the community. The public performance is an expanded version of what happens personally. The audience has the opportunity to connect to the images of compassion presented in the Dance for this brief moment, and this can inspire and galvanize a community.
The Tara Mandala Dance is designed specifically for women, and in performance, only women are allowed to dance the Praises. Men are invited to dance as protectors, supporting each individual Tara as She is born.
The vast majority of Tara dancers are women, as they strongly connect with the feminine imagery, but in my experience the practice has psychological benefit for men as well. It opens the man up to his “feminine side,” allowing an integration of male and female within the psyche.
This feminine voice calls for liberation within the world, rather than liberation from the world, a re-conceptualization of the sacredness of everyday activity, a call for the re-enchantment of body and speech. The Tara Mandala Dance allows both men and women to recognize the sacred in the world and to find release and benefit through the embodiment of the divine feminine.
Regardless of Buddhist experience, the rhythmic movements themselves allow the mind to relax into the meditation. It takes tremendous effort of focus and concentration.
During the time of the Dance, I cannot get caught up in my own wants, needs, desires, or thoughts. Without trying to solve problems in my life, puzzle things out, or figure out answers, I relax. I am energized and reinvigorated. I find a sense of peace. I feel better after the Dance. It gets me outside of myself.
Iris Stewart, author of Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance, describes the Tara Mandala Dance based on her own experiences. She says, “The essence of this work that makes it so powerful is the mirroring of these enlightened qualities in yourself, to yourself. I have studied with Prema and can say it is one of the most powerful and transforming experiences I have had. Through the combination of mind, body and spirit, the dancer is psychologically transformed. This dance gives practitioners the opportunity to not only transform their self-perception but also to transform their perspective of the world. By transforming their perspective, the world itself is transformed.
Lineage of the Tara Dance
By Prema Dasara, Spiritual and Creative Director, Tara Dhatu
The Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara has arisen out of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Because the dance came through me I shall explain exactly how it has arisen and by what authority it is taught.
I received Refuge in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition from Lama Sonam Tenzin, the resident Lama of the Karma Kagyu Dharma Center on Maui, Hawaii.
I received the Green Tara empowerment from His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche and from Lamas of every tradition within Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Tenzin instructed me in the practice of the 21 Praises of Tara, the text which is the basis of the dance. This text comes from a cycle of teachings called “A Mind Treasure Of The Profound Depths Of Tara, A Ritual Mandala Offering Adorned With The Essence Of The Two Accumulations” from the great Terton (Treasure Finder) Orgyen Dechen Chokjur Lingpa.
In 1984 Lama Tenzin had asked me to work on some of the traditional texts, to reshape them so that they could be sung in English. My neighbor, Jeff Munoz, used to sing the mantra of Tara. So I took the text, re-wrote it using Jeff’s melody for parts of it and my own for the rest and began doing this practice in English. Having a very restless mind and finding it difficult to sit for any length of time I would walk the hills around my home chanting, and in this way quickly memorized the text. As part of the training in the Tara practice we visualize Tara in front of us. The Tara that I visualized started to dance. And I danced with her.
I thought this had to do with my personal training as a classical Indian Temple dancer. The text of the 21 Taras is very similar to some of the traditional texts I had studied as a dancer in India. It was easy for me to imagine Tara dancing. In later explorations I discovered that Odissi, the style of dance I had studied had, 1400 years ago, been a Tantric Buddhist Dance. It is not unrealistic to put those two together. It is very possible that the 21 Praises had been danced within the tradition I had studied.
Because Lama Tenzin had often asked me to perform in his temple I asked him if I could choreograph the dance. He gave his permission. I thought it would be done by just a few trained dancers who had some background in Tibetan practice.
I approached my friend Lauryn Galindo, who is a professional dancer and asked if she would like to collaborate with me. She immediately told me that she had been dreaming of Tara dancing as well and said that she thought it should be a group of women, all of our friends. I was mystified. I asked her for more inspiration and she said she would dream on it. The next morning she told me she dreamt all night of a golden spiral and asked me if it meant anything to me. As soon as she said those words I could see the dance unfold.
We gathered a group of friends and put the dance together to dance for Lama Tenzin. This was in 1985. None of us were prepared for the power of the event. The dancers were crying with the power of the experience. Many in the audience were crying. And Lama Tenzin was beaming, like the sun. We immediately made plans to do it again.
The next year I returned to India to complete a level of dance training, to explore the Tantric connection of the dance and to seek out the blessings of whatever great Lamas I could get to listen to me. The respected meditation master, Kalu Rinpoche, gave the dance his blessing and told me “Only good could come from this”. An esteemed Lama in Kathmandu, Chokyi Nima, gave his blessing by putting a big statue of Shakyamuni Buddha on my head and declaring I would have no obstacles in sharing the dance.
When I returned from India I heard that His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche was coming to Maui. Lama Tenzin invited us to offer the dance to him.
I taught two of my men students a Protector Dance. I taught a group of children the dance of the 16 Offering Goddesses and I had exactly 21 dancers for the Mandala of Tara’s Praises. We danced on a bluff overlooking the ocean and it was an ecstatic experience.
After the dance Situ Rinpoche spoke with me at length. He told me that I would travel the world teaching this dance. I protested. I knew nothing about the dharma and I was very uneasy about performing. He ignored my protests and went on to recommend costumes, to encourage a festival to be done every year in Tara’s honor. He told me to change the text if I needed to and in every way gave me his blessing. He said he had never had such an experience of devotion through dance.
The next four or five years we offered the dance to every famous Lama that visited Maui to give teachings. Sogyal Rinpoche and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa tradition, Tara Rinpoche of the Gelugpa tradition and His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul of the Kagyu tradition, Dagmola Kushog and Lama Kunga of the Sakyas, all gave their blessings and encouragement.
Under the direction of Lama Tenzin I went into retreat. I studied everything I could get my hands on. How could I teach this dance if I didn’t know anything about the dharma.
In 1989 I went to Toronto to attend the Kalachakra given by HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. While there a local woman had asked if I would teach the Tara Dance to her students. I brought the costumes and taught the Tara Dance for the first time outside of Maui.
His Eminence asked me if I would go to Sikkim and teach the Tibetan women the dance. I was able to fulfill that request in 1992, offering the dance in the courtyard of HH the Karmapa’s Rumtek monastery with 14 Tibetan women and 20 children..
Every year I was asked to teach more and more, all over the United States and in Canada.
In 1995 H.E. Situ Rinpoche returned to Maui and we danced for him again. Ten years had passed since he had first seen the Tara Dance. He told us that the dance had become not only a practice that was an accumulation of merit, but also an accumulation of wisdom. He felt that in the dance the women had achieved a level of meditative absorption.
After the dance we met and he told me that it was a lineage practice and that I was the Dance Master. He asked me to be very careful about letting the dance out of my hand, very careful about who I allowed to teach. He said that as a lineage practice it was precious, a vehicle of enlightened mind. He asked me not to allow it to degenerate into some form of external worship.
He told me to form an organization to help me pass on the dance with integrity. He told me it was a lineage practice.
Kenyavani Gilman gathered a council together and created a non profit organization for that purpose. I had become the student of the meditation master Bokar Rinpoche and he named the organization Tara Dhatu, which means the pure realm of the Goddess Tara.
We have established a student/teacher program that has allowed the dance to be taught throughout the world. It is a tremendous fulfillment for me to work with these sincere friends.
Ten years passed and again I had the good fortune to dance for Situ Rinpoche in his monastery in India. I asked him what he meant by this being a lineage practice. He told me, “It is Tara’s Lineage”.
This was a great relief to me. Lama Kunga had told me during a private interview that I needed to stop asking the Lamas for their endorsement. He told me that my connection was direct to Tara and I should trust that.
I do. I have seen the tremendous blessing of the dance for the dancers and the audience. I know that the Great Goddess is guiding this work. I am so grateful.
May All Beings Be Blessed By Tara, the One Who Blazes With Glory
The following testimonials are from workshops offered by Prema Dasara and Anahata Iradah from 1992 to present
- “I find the Green Tara practice (inspired by Tara and transmitted by Prema Dasara) to be a powerful, potent, ecumenical spiritual practice that is simple and profound.What I appreciate most about this Green Tara practice is its accessibility and potency. One need not be a Buddhist nor a dancer, merely a spiritual seeker who desires to develop a deeper authentic relationship with themselves and with others by developing a deep and authentic relationship with Tara who is our true essence.Om Tare!”
Nicolette OConnor, Portland Oregon Oct 2011
- “I have grown in many ways as a result of my Tara dance experience. Thank you for your generosity and awakening me to people as companions on my path.”
Shash Broxson – Photographer, New Paltz, N.Y.
- “Thank you for a magical weekend, and for your kind compassionate presence. Having you as a model of an american woman, having made the path work and seeing it’s results in your actions is a great inspiration for me & my husband both.”
- Thank you again for the workshop. It was definitely a life changing event”
- “Thank you for allowing me to watch your beautiful dancing. The movement is like a river, the emergence of each woman like a flower blooming, the rhythm like a heartbeat. But it isn’t all soft and mushy, the women expressed much verve and mystery and mischieviousness. It was wonderful to see the Dalai Lama drawn to it and bring his energy to the whole celebration.”
Johanna Demetrakas – Videographer, L.A. Calif.
- “I’m ever grateful for the gifts you left with all of us here. We’re all inspired when we see each other. I am continually empowered when I play the Tara tape buzzing around the roads of Kauai.”
Lea Corr, Kauai, Hawaii.
- “Thank you for your presentation. As the organizer of the Tara event in our community, I am still hearing how you touched many hearts. Thank you also for sharing your wisdom and the profound teachings on the path of Tara. Dancing twice with you and participating in the meditation has opened many levels of Spirituality I never imagined. I admire the courage and faith it takes to hear and present a ” different drummer.” Knowing you has helped me acknowledge and accept my power.”
Lisa Henry, Prescott, Arizona
- “You are truly a bringer of insight and compassion. You never cease to amaze me in your adaptability and gentle discipline.”
Donna Conrad – Writer, Crestone, Colo.
- “I so much appreciate how you lead and empower women, without the guru syndrome I see in some other situations.”
Iris J. Stewart – Author, & Dancer, Petaluma, Calif.
- “I want to tell you that after spending the weekend with you and the Tara dancers, I was profoundly changed. I was really blissed out for about 3 days! Everything I normally do in my life felt extremely easy and I felt really connected to everyone and everything. I try to cultivate that feeling now in my practice.”
Heather Burkhardt, Pt. Arena, Calif.
- “Often I call on the gifts you shared with us that weekend – I am forever grateful for what you have awakened in my spirit.”
Heleen Ellmore, Annapolis, MD
The following testimonials are from a 1996 workshop offered by Prema Dasara and Anahata Iradah at the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, Calif.
- “This is the 6th time I have done this dance prayer with Prema & each time it is a blessing. Her teachings deepen & become richer; community and spirit are alive & healing. The presence of “Tara” is definitely felt. I highly recommend it.”
Bonney Meyer – Sacred Dance Teacher, Berkeley, Calif.
- “It was an energetic wonderful exercise for body & mind.”
- “It was a life transforming, uplifting and profoundly enriching experience. The teacher was authentic, sincere, engaging & inspiring. I hope to have the opportunity to learn more from her.”
- “Too cool for school. I had a terrific time. Movement as a means of meditation and the study of qualities was very effective.”
- “Prema’s love, compassion, and enthusiasm touched my heart more than I can express. The sacredness of the dance and the communion with goddess sisters will be with me for a long time.”
- “Wonderful to meet with a group of women. The spiritual work was so good. Prema really knows her stuff. She is so knowledgeable and fun too! Prema comes prepared with all the jewelry and costumes for the whole group. We turned into Goddesses!”
- “This was fantastic, healing, nourishing, enlightening, & joyful.”
- “Excellent!!! Effortless, joyous, nurturing practice, prayer and a great service to the world.”
- “This weekend has been very healing and powerful for me. Through the acceptance of Tara in my life, I have finally found the unconditional love of the Mother. I can now let go of the past and accept myself and those around me with compassion and love. I have started letting go of being so hard on myself, and I am finding my center of peace.” Marianne, Berkeley, Calif.
- “I feel that the heavy weight of fears & anxiety have gone. I am in my body, but without the weight of those fears. I am lightly energized. It’s as if a higher, spiritual energy has come to clear and heal me.”
Ana Extasie, Berkeley, Calif.
- “I love to be with all these beautiful women. I always thought I had a problem with women (some women), but not with Tara women. I love every on of them! I love this experience, wearing a sari and everything that comes with it. But most of all I love the praise of Tara in every aspect of this workshop. Tara helped me to finally end a struggle of a part within myself, to let go and make peace!”
Christel LaSando, Berkeley, Calif.
- “The Tara Dance has awakened the sacred feminine within me. It amazes me how a group of such diverse women can come together with intention and create an exquisite design.”
Patricia, Berkeley, Calif.
- “My first participation in the Tara dance was a turning point. My life has taken on an incredible quality of compassion, peace, and abundance. The Tara dance fills my heart at times beyond breathing, and the connection that it establishes with myself, fellow Tara dancers and the rest of the world, is Blessed, Blessed, Blessed!”
Stephanie, Berkeley, Calif.
The following testimonials are from students of Mekare Fiske of North Carolina, 2010. Mekare is a 3rd Level Tara Dhatu Mandala Teacher
“Many years ago I invited Mekare to teach the Tara Dance at one of my workshops. I sat stunned as before my eyes this lovely, bright woman transformed into an emissary of Tara in all Her many aspects. I have since invited Mekare to many of the groups I have taught, including in Europe, for both men and women~ and the reaction is always the same. People respond to her clear, articulate teachings and to the passion and authenticity she embodies when she invokes Tara . Even shyness disappears as Mekare invites the Tara in everyone to come forth and join the dance. I recommend her program without qualification. ” ~ Gloria Karpinski, International Teacher, Author and Holistic Counselor
In this time of great transformation and turmoil, the world needs spiritual messengers — carriers of inclusive, joyous, relevant Wisdom of our Ancestors. In this realm Mekare is exemplary. Not only is she a spiritual messenger, she is a profoundly insightful and gifted healer. All these gifts are woven into her sacred expression of the Tara Dance. Anyone who understands movement as an important aspect of human experience, anyone who understands that the divine works through the gift of our bodies, will be deeply inspired and illuminated by Mekare’s offering of the Tara Dance. No matter what tradition you might use to connect to self or to the divine aspect of human experience, I strongly recommend you attend one of Mekare’s immersions into the Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara! ~ Jeffrey D. Schmitt, Biochemist And Musician, Translational Science Institute and the Center for Integrative Medicine
Several years ago I was initiated in the Yungdrung Bon tradition of Buddhism, and for over a year I practiced very deeply and with great dedication. Somewhere along the way the energy shifted and I moved away from the practice. It was an unsettling move away, as I felt like something was missing. Today, I experienced a reconnection with a more living/dancing/moving/breathing version…an amazing amplification and homecoming. Thank you Mekare. This is such beautiful, important work.~ D. Ciesco, Sound Healer, Teacher, Performer
“. . . transmits a great depth of devotion . . . share it with the world.”
H.E.Tai Situ Rinpoche
“. . . only good can come of this . . . ”Venerable Kalu Rinpoche
“. . . In this dance obstacles are clarified, the dancers become endowed with the unconditioned wisdom of Tara . . . it gives rise to longevity . . . “
Venerable Bokar Rinpoche
” . . . a new tradition is born . . . powerful . . . inspiring ”
Lama Tharchin Rinpoche
“…this is not an ordinary dance – it is a true dharma practice capable of generating blessings, merit and wisdom”
Lama Sonam Tenzin
“. . . a superb method of communal dharma . . . ”
” . . . the music is wonderful, inspiring . . . it will bring many people the blessing of Tara.”
” . . . a beautiful and deep expression of the dharma”
-Lama Kunga Rinpoche
Shepin Dawa Rinpoche – ” . . . an important method for our times.”
Tsenjur Rinpoche – ” . . . marvelous, joyful . . . very well done.”
Lama Wangchen – ” . . . an accurate dharma presentation…from refuge to the dedication prayer . . . very authentic.”
Lama Dudjum Dorje – ” . . . a wonderful expression of Tara’s grace and power.”
Lama Karma Dorje – ” . . . please continue”
There are circles of dancers in different parts of the globe focusing the dance as a personal practice and communal offering. Anyone can join in this dance. Although it is primarily an expression for women, there are sections that have been choreographed for men. There are children’s Dharma dances as well.
*DIRECTORY CURRENTLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION*