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The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet Paperback – June 12, 1978
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With all the apparent variety of shamanic religious tradition in circa-Tibet it is quite interesting that the very vast majority of circa-Tibetan Vajrayana, Bon and Shamanic folks have an inmost personal shrine to Tara -- the "Goddess" of Tibet. With the various levels of interpetation of the reality and meaning of an Entity such as Tara -- "Goddess" is only an approximate marker for Tara. A few like equivalents to Tara may be Isis of old Egypt, Sungoddess of Japan and Mary, Queen of Heaven. These three Ladies also having wide and deep meanings -- or maybe they are all of one She +++
Set aside a month in seclusion in the mountains to read this if you can.
There is an enormous amount of detail about elementary and advanced ritual activities, from those practices known to most lay-people to relatively less-known and complex meditation techniques, very much including the use of permanent objects and material and symbolic offerings. Of course, in a world-view in which the material world is itself an illusion, the differences between the tangible and the symbolic tend to fade away.
Beyer's exposition makes clear that the reported association with magic of Vajrayana Buddhism in particular, and the larger categories of Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism in general, is not a complete misrepresentation, but the natural result of a world-view in which magic is a real possibility. In Tibet, at least, the preferred solution has been to try to make sure that those who develop supernatural powers are also indoctrinated with strong ethical teachings; in other words, the specialists in religion.
This book is not, as a whole, easy reading, although the introductory chapters should present few obstacles. Beyer is enormously respectful of the religion and those who practice it, but his approach is analytical and, to some extent, critical / historical. Those interested mainly in devotional readings, including many of the texts Beyer cites or excerpts, might try Martin Willson's "In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress: Source Texts from India and Tibet on Buddhism's Great Goddess," which will also be of great interest to those who appreciate Beyer's handling of the material.