Breath Of The Greater Life –


Amogasiddhi mandala (female aspect) Upper storey, Sumtsek, Alchi
“Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that… leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight.”  -Lama Govinda

What does compassion mean? it means to be compassionate to all including self.For those of us striving to be more conscious in our actions, and perhaps, more spiritual, the task requires compassion as well. But compassion does not mean becoming a “door mat” for someone to walk all over you. Yet this is often the case.  Rather, compassion means creating a mental and emotional space in yourself to allow other people to be themselves, even if you don’t understand or agree with them. It’s not an easy task when faced with an ordeal in a relationship, or faced with fair-weather friends. Compassion does not, however, mean that we let others intrude into our emotional space. Nor does compassion mean that the others count  more than you. As we grow in spiritual strength, we may find that we are no longer comfortable with certain persons or lifestyles. They do not seem to fit in with our new lives . What seemed, at one time,  to be nourishing or at least neutral, is now perceived as toxic. We are no longer comfortable with our old ideals. We have moved on.

This sometimes happens with family members, spouses and friends. I am noticing that, for many of us, this phenomenon looks like it is increasing. One reason might be that people are less stable than before. They do not hold to old values as in years gone by. Perhaps it is because things are speeding up and more seems to be happening in less time. Perhaps it is simply the price of self-evolution. As we pass over a line in ourselves from unconscious to conscious (I should probably say semi-conscious, to be more exact), we may find ourselves having to set boundaries with past relationships. This can be very challenging to say the least. For those of us caught in this dilemma, I suggest,  the book  ‘The Way of the White Cloud.’  (see below) where we see all things and all situations as essentially devoid of substance. What appears to be very real at the moment becomes only a memory. The apparent solidity of things and the gravity of a situation is actually a mirage, an illusion. Buddhists call this samsara. And we are caught up in it by virtue of having an embodiment. The art of living, from this viewpoint, is to live and take action without getting caught up in the snares of the illusion.

-The Way of The White Cloud by Lama Anagarika Govinda





Fresco painting of Tara (upper floors Tumtsek, Alchi)




mandalanSumtsek 2nd storey. Centre of mandala.
Vairocana “The omniscient Lord’ (female aspect) (Alchi, 12th cent)

Charity Begins at Home – The Story of Mrs.Tara Shah – Value Of Kindness

Mrs Tara Shah

A wise man discovers his duty and does it at all costs. It is the duty of all to be impartial and to abstain from causing injury to all living things.

– From Excellence in Jainism

Suffering Is Changeable

This touching story of Tara, known in the Jain community as ‘Taraben’ (sister Tara), brings again to light, the importance of service and sacrifice in our lives. Tara told me some time ago, “that to her Service is a joy, there is nothing as wonderful as giving.” Now some years on from this original story, Tara is still engaged in her charity work, and is once more set to visit India.

But many of us do not appreciate that service can be a joy in the way Tara experiences it. Often, we react by feeling quite helpless whenever faced with dire poverty and disease. We may point to the philosophy of ‘karma’- and say, “It’s the will of God.” Of course, this is one way to evade the issue of the down-trodden and suffering of others. ( Although, the question of Karma should not make people’s afflictions more acceptable). Another stand-point is to offer absent healing or engage in prayer which has it’s merits, for all good thought is positive and worthwhile. But there is no prayer, or healing like helping  hands that seek no name or reward.

Tara’s way is the path of action,known as Karma Yoga and, by so doing, she is not denying the philosophy of karma which is very much part of her Jain tradition. Instead, she does her best to eliminate the idea of ‘unchangeable’ karmic destiny by her positive and generous actions.

To my mind, the easiest way to accept karmic teachings is from a view that it is ‘collective’, and common to all. By helping each other, in whatever way we can, we are gradually eliminating the darkness of ignorance that engulfs our world.

Tara’s energy and goodwill also embraced our early production of InnerViews Magazine. She has supported us generously over the years with donations, encouraging words and letters. Tara is a Sai Baba devotee, although her visits to Swami’s ashrams are now rare because of her charitable duties. Nonetheless, she is spiritually in tune with all of his declarations; one which I believe suits this story and we present it here:

Make your heart soft, then success is quick in Sadhana (spiritual practice). Talk softly, talk sweetly, talk only of God – that is the process of softening the subsoil.  Develop  compassion, sympathy; engage in service, understand the agony of poverty and disease, distress and despair; share both tears and cheers with others. That is the way to soften the heart and help Sadhana to succeed.

– Sathya Sai Baba



And So To India!

It was a warm day in May 1992 when many ordinary and distinguished Jains gathered together in a house in Hounslow, West London. The event was the loading of a huge container filled with clothes and foodstuffs destined for Gujarat, India.

The house belonged to Mr. Rajni and Mrs. Tara Shah, an Oshwal Jain couple who were born in Kenya and migrated to the U.K. some forty-seven years ago. For them, the event was a cherished dream come true – a dream to help the poor and the needy in their homeland. There was no expectation of reward, no desire for fame or status. Simply a wish to help others who are less fortunate than themselves in the best way possible.

This was to be the fourth such mission in as many years. By now, Tara had  developed some experience of handling the collection of clothes, the clearance through customs, and the final distribution of goods in remote Indian villages. The most distinguishing feature about the project was that the items were to be distributed by Tara herself. In this way, she could personally ensure that the charity reached its final destination.

Although, Tara’s project was not problem-free, she remained undeterred. For her, she had to look after her ‘extended family’ at whatever cost. Each year, she spent her money on fares, custom duties, wheelchairs, etc. in addition to spending six months of her time in organising the programme, and delivering the collection of goods to India.

In the four summer months of 1992, Tara went to three hundred and fifty villages in Gujarat state, often going to very remote and inaccessible areas. Using the Kuvarbaai Dharamsala in Jamnagar as her base, she would, every morning at 6. a.m set out with the lorry driver and the video cameraman. The journey to the first destitute village would normally take five hours of travelling in exhausting conditions of immense heat, dust and on bumpy dirt roads. There was no break in this journey, and the same distance was covered whilst returning in the evening – an average of ten hours travelling a day.

The  film captures the people vividly, and it is very difficult to express in words, the  conditions  these villagers endure. Usually, they lacked any education, health care or  sanitation. Often they had to walk several miles to collect water. Orphan children living  alone  were nothing unusual in the villages. Poor housing, with only the minimum of household  goods, was standard. Often villagers could be found living in tents; their dismal life-style frequently  left  them  with little to say. So much hardship had been experienced in  their  lives  that the  situation  could  not  get any worse. The clothes and foodstuffs  were a boon to their suffering, and the smiles on their faces needed to be seen to be believed.

A Timely Wheelchair

In  one  village,  there was a forty-two year old orphan called Babu. He  was  so  physically disabled  that the only thing he could do was to lie in bed all day and night. The  only  time he left his small hut was when the village children helped him to go to the toilet. This was a difficult  exercise,  for Babu had to be lifted and carried out of doors.  Babu’s  parents  died caring  for  him, and he never saw anything beyond his village.

When Tara  saw  his  plight, she  decided  to order a special wheelchair for his size and disabilities, and made  a  special trip back to the village to deliver it. This trip was captured on film. When Babu heard that a  wheelchair had arrived for him, he could not contain his joy. He wiggled out of bed  and rolled  his body out of the house, scraping his skin against the dry and stony ground. It  was like  a  young baby crawling without limbs and feet, and getting hurt in the  process.  When Babu  finally was lifted into his wheelchair, he felt like a king being enthroned, and for  the first time in his life, he was able to visit his village and the surrounding area.

When  we  see these pictures, we can understand why Tara calls the villagers her extended family. Another factor that greatly concerns Tara is that when there is work in the summer months, villagers are only paid fifteen rupees a day to dig holes, and earthbanks. And out of that meagre amount, the government officials retain five rupees from each wage earned, leaving very little for the villagers to keep for themselves.


Original story printed in ‘Young Jains’ Jan.-Mar. 1993

Green Tara – The Goddess of Activity – Mantra and Meanings

Green Tara

Green Tara (Sanskrit: Syamatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-ljang), filled with youthful vigor, is a goddess of activity. She is the fiercer form of Tara, but is still a savior-goddess of compassion. She is the consort of Avalokiteshvara and considered by some to be the original Tara. Like Avalokiteshvara, the Green Tara is believed to be an emanation of the “self-born” Buddha Amitabha, and an image of Amitabha is sometimes depicted in Tara’s headdress.

Green Tara is believed to have been incarnated as the Nepali wife of the Tibetan king Srong-brtsan-sgam-po. In Buddhism, the color green signifies activity and accomplishment. Thus Amoghasiddhi, the Lord of Action, is also associted with the color green.

Green Tara is iconographically depicted in a posture of ease and readiness for action. While her left leg is folded in the contemplative position, her right leg is outstretched, ready to spring into action. Green Tara’s left hand is in the refuge-granting mudra (gesture); her right hand makes the boon-granting gesture. In her hands she also holds closed blue lotuses (utpalas), which symbolize purity and power. She is adorned with the rich jewels of a bodhisattva.

In Buddhist religious practice, Green Tara’s primary role is savioress. She is believed to help her followers overcome dangers, fears and anxieties, and she is especially worshipped for her ability to overcome the most difficult of situations. Green Tara is intensely compassionate and acts quickly to help those who call upon her.

The iconography and role of Green Tara is illustrated in this medieval devotional hymn:

On a lotus seat, standing for realization of voidness,
(You are) the emerald-colored, one-faced, two-armed Lady
In youth’s full bloom, right leg out, left drawn in,
Showing the union of wisdom and art – homage to you!
Like the outstretched branch of the heavenly turquoise tree,
Your supple right hand makes the boon- granting gesture,
Inviting the wise to a feast of supreme accomplishments,
As if to an entertainment-homage to you!
Your left hand gives us refuge, showing the Three Jewels;
It says, “You people who see a hundred dangers,
Don’t be frightened-I shall swiftly save you!”
Homage to you!
Both hands signal with blue utpala flowers,
“Samsaric beings! Cling not to worldly pleasures.
Enter the great city of liberation!”
Flower-goads prodding us to effort-homage to you!

—First Dalai Lama (1391-1474)