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.

Prema & Lama Tenzin in her shrine room, 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 fabulous 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. We immediately made plans to do it again.

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 great meditation master, Kalu Rinpoche, gave the dance his blessing and told me “Only good could come from this”.

His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche

When I returned from India in 1986 His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche returned to Maui and we offered the dance to him.

After the dance he 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 great 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 Jamgon Kontrol Rinpoche blesses Prema at the Kalachakra

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. Kenyavani Gilman gathered a council together and created a non profit organization for that purpose. I had become the student of the great 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.

May All Beings Be Blessed By Tara, the One Who Blazes With Glory