Golden Blue Lotus Tara

Meditation Group, Moscow


Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Tara?

Tara is a Buddha of compassion and protection. A female meditational deity embodying fully enlightened, active compassion, she was born from the tears of Avalokitesvara, the male Buddha of compassion, and she manifests in many forms of many colors. "Golden Blue Tara" is beautiful and shining, with one face and ten arms; she embodies the perfection of wisdom as well as the other five perfections of generosity, patience, moral discipline, enthusiastic effort and concentration, and she calms our afflictions.

Who is Rinpoche?

Rinpoche means literally "Precious One." It is a title that is given mainly in two situations:

  1. when someone is recognize as the reincarnation of a known Lama, from the previous life, or
  2. to someone who is Abbot of a big monastery.

Often a Rinpoche is also a "Tulku". This last title is given to someone who was already a Dharma practitioner in his past life. Literally, it means "Truth Body", and means that the Being has obtained some high Realization (like "Emptiness" or Nirvana) and has conquered the death process; therefore, he has escaped the cycle of existence (Samsara) and is no longer influenced by the law of cause-and-effect (Karma), and chose to come back out of great compassion, in order to help other living beings.

Zasep Tulku Rinpoche was born in the Kham Province of Tibet on July 1, 1948. Soon afterward, he was recognized as the 13th incarnation of the Zasep lineage. He was installed as Abbot of the Zuru Gompa at the age of five.

Rinpoche left the Zuru Gompa in the spring of 1957 due to the bad conditions existing in the Kham province following the communist invasion of that year.

He then went to Lhasa, where he met his two senior tutors, H.H. Yongzin Ling Rinpoche and H.H. Yongzin Trijang Rinpoche. At the age of 10, he entered the Sera Monastery, the largest monastery in Tibet, where his studies included Buddhist philosophy and meditation.

When the Chinese invaded Lhasa, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche escaped from Tibet and in 1961 went to Dharamsala India where he rejoined H.H. Trijang Rinpoche, H.H. the Dalai Lama, and H.H. Ling Rinpoche. He studied and did retreats in India for many years. It was during this time that he received a Masters degree in Buddhist philosophy and psychology. He also spent two years in Thailand where he studied Vipassana meditation.

Rinpoche began teaching westerners in Australia over 20 years ago. He is fluent in English and has a complete understanding of the western lifestyle. Currently, he is the spiritual director of more than 12 centers in Canada, Australia and the United States. He now lives part time in both Toronto, Ontario and Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.

Rinpoche's students love him, not only for his extensive knowledge and embodiment of the Dharma, but also for his kindness and highly evolved sense of humor.  For a more thorough biography of Rinpoche, click here.

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is founded on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. (Buddha means literally "Awakened One" or "Enlightened One.")

At the core of the Buddha's enlightenment was his realization of the Four Noble Truths: 1.) Life is suffering; 2.) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality, and the craving and attachment that result from such ignorance; 3.) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment; 4.) The path to the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness and right contemplation.

Buddhists believe that human existence is subject to continual change, and there is no permanent, independently existing self or soul. Belief in a self results in egoism, craving and attachment, and hence in the suffering of the continual cycle of birth and death. Only attaining enlightenment, the realization of the true nature of self and reality, allows one to escape suffering.

A Buddhist takes refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the truth of his teachings (the Dharma) and the community of those following the path to enlightenment (the Sangha). Renouncing the sufferings of cyclic existence, a Buddhist believes that the Three Jewels have the power to lead him or her out of suffering, to happiness, liberation, and enlightenment.

What is Tibetan Buddhism?

The predominant religion of Tibet and Mongolia, Tibetan Buddhism is of the Mahayana school whose teachings are directed toward the achievement of enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings.

In 747 CE the Buddhist monk and scholar Padmasambhava journeyed from India to Tibet where he established the first order of lamas or teachers, and monks. Thereafter the religion spread rapidly and has been essentially preserved in isolated Tibet. Since the communist takeover of Tibet in 1950, Tibetan Buddhism is now spreading throughout the west.

Tibetan Buddhist worship involves chanting and reciting prayers and mantras and sacred texts, prostration and other physical signs of respect for the Buddhas, Dharma and spiritual leaders, and beautiful religious ceremonies with the pageantry of horns, drums and religious dance.

Tibetan Buddhism has four main branches:

  • Gelug: the "Virtuous Order". The order of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Lama Tsong Khapa (1357-1419 CE) and his disciples in the early fifteenth century.
  • Nyingma: the "ancient" order of Tibetan Buddhism, which traces its teachings back to the time of Padmasambhava, the eighth century CE Indian scholar invited to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen to clear away the influences obstructing the establishment of Buddhism. This school includes in its canon works and translations dating from the early period of the dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet.
  • Kagyu: the order of Tibetan Buddhism founded in the eleventh century by Marpa, Milarepa, and their followers.
  • Sakya: one of the four main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Khon Konchok Gyalpo.
  • Kadam: The influence of the Kadam tradition is pervasive in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and is especially associated with the Gelug lineage, which is sometimes referred to as New Kadam. The Kadam tradition derived from the teachings of the Indian scholar Atisha (982-1054 CE) and it emphasizes monastic discipline, study, and the practice of compassion.

Some terms:

  • Triple Gem (or Three Jewels): The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  • Buddha: A fully enlightened being. One who has removed all obscurations veiling the mind and has developed all good qualities to perfection. The first of the Three Jewels of refuge.
  • Dharma: Spiritual teachings, particularly those of the Buddha. Literally, that which holds one back from suffering. The Dharma of transmission are the teachings actually given by the Buddha, and the Dharma of realization are the states of mind attained through application of the teachings. The second of the Three Jewels of refuge.
  • Sangha: Spiritual community; the third of the Three Jewels of refuge. Absolute Sangha are those who have directly realized emptiness; relative Sangha are ordained monks and nuns.
  • Guru: A spiritual guide or teacher. One who shows a disciple the path to liberation and enlightenment. In tantra, one's teacher is seen as inseparable from the meditational deity and the Three Jewels of refuge. Root guru: The teacher who has had the greatest influence upon a particular disciple's entering or following the spiritual path.
  • Sutra: A discourse of Shakyamuni Buddha; the pre-tantric division of Buddhist teachings stressing the cultivation of bodhicitta and the practice of the six perfections.
  • Tantra: Literally, "thread" or "continuity". The secret mantra teachings of Buddhism. To practice tantra one must receive the initiation from a qualified tantric master.
  • Lam Rim: A presentation of Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings in a form suitable for the step-by-step training of a disciple. The lam-rim was first formulated by the great Indian teacher Atisha (982-1054) when he came to Tibet in 1042.
  • Arhat: Literally, "foe destroyer." A person who has destroyed his or her delusions and attained liberation from cyclic existence.
  • Bodhisattva: Someone whose spiritual practice is directed toward the achievement of enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. One who possesses the compassionate motivation of Bodhicitta.
  • Bodhicitta: the mind of enlightenment. The altruistic determination to reach enlightenment for the sole purpose of enlightening all living beings. The direct insight into the ultimate nature of self and phenomena.
  • Offerings: It is a tradition to make offerings to the Gurus and Buddhas out of gratitude and to purify oneself and increase one's merit.
    • To the teacher: after an initiation or teaching it is customary to make an offering to the teacher. One may present the offering with a kata (offering scarf.)
    • Mandala: A circular diagram symbolic of the entire universe. The residence and perfected attributes of a meditational deity.
    • On the altar: The eight traditional outer offerings on the altar are: ambrosia for drinking, water for bathing, flowers, incense, light, perfumed water for sprinkling on the body, fine food, and music.  Other outer offerings are: various types of wealth and good fortune, things owned by oneself and others, and ownerless things (forests, oceans, beautiful views, etc.)  Inner offerings include all of one's virtues, and so on.  Actually present whatever offerings you can and visualize the rest—through visualization increase them in quality and number to pervade all of space.
    • Samantabhadra: a great Bodhisattva within the Nyingma tradition, renowned for his spiritual practice of making vast and beautiful offerings to the Buddhas.
  • Mantras: Literally, "protection of the mind." Mantras are Sanskrit syllables recited in conjunction with the practice of a particular meditational deity that embody the qualities of that deity.
  • Meditation: The method whereby Buddhists follow the third of the Buddha's charges: "Do good to others, refrain from doing wrong as much as possible, and tame the mind."
    • Samatha breathing—a form of Vipassana (also insight) meditation: The principal meditation taught in the Theravada tradition and is based on the Buddha's teachings on the four foundations of mindfulness. It is sometimes called mindfulness meditation. In the Mahayana, Vipassana has a different connotation, where it means investigation of and familiarization with the actual way in which things exist and is used to develop the wisdom of emptiness.
    • Samadhi or single-pointed concentration meditation: A state of deep meditative absorption; single-pointed concentration focuses on the actual nature of things, free from discursive thought and dualistic conceptions.
    • Mahamudra: literally "great seal." A profound system of meditation upon the mind and the ultimate nature of reality: the luminous and empty nature of mind and phenomena.
  • Karma: Action; the working of cause and effect. According to the Buddha's teachings, all actions, whether of thought, word, or deed, are like seeds that will eventually bear fruit in experience, whether in this or future lives. Positive actions will produce happiness and negative actions will produce suffering.
  • Samsara (or cyclic existence): The state of being unenlightened, in which the mind, enslaved by the three poisons of attachment, aversion and ignorance, passes through the recurring cycle of death and rebirth and suffering.
  • Three vehicles: spiritual paths within all of Buddhism that take you from where you are to where you want to be.
    • Hinayana: Literally, the "Small Vehicle." It is one of the two general divisions of Buddhism. Hinayana practitioners' motivation for following the Dharma path is principally their intense wish for personal liberation from conditioned existence, or samsara.
    • Theravada: The Doctrine of the Elders; one of the eighteen schools into which the Hinayana split not long after Shakyamuni Buddha's death; the dominant school today, prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma, and well represented in the West.
    • Mahayana: Literally, the "Great Vehicle." It is one of the two general divisions of Buddhism. Mahayana practitioners' motivation for following the Dharma path is principally their intense wish for all mother sentient beings to be liberated from conditioned existence, or samsara, and to attain the full enlightenment of Buddhahood. The Mahayana has two divisions: Paramitayana or Sutrayana, and Vajrayana.
    • Paramitayana: The "Perfection Vehicle"; one of the two divisions of the Mahayana. This is the gradual path to enlightenment traversed by Bodhisattvas practicing the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom, through the ten bodhisattva levels over countless eons of rebirths in samsara for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is also called Sutrayana.
    • Vajrayana: the "Diamond Vehicle"; the second of the two Mahayana paths. It is also called Tantrayana or Mantrayana. This is the quickest vehicle of Buddhism, as it allows practitioners to attain enlightenment within one lifetime.
  • Precepts: vows taken on the basis of refuge at all levels of Buddhist practice—pratimoksha precepts (vows of individual liberation) are the main vows in the Hinayana tradition and are taken by monks, nuns, and lay people; they are the basis of all other vows. Bodhisattva and tantric precepts are the main vows in the Mahayana tradition.

Gurus and Deities

  • Shakyamuni Buddha (563-483 BCE): Born a prince of the Shakya clan in North India, he taught the sutra and tantra paths to liberation and full enlightenment; founder of what came to be known as Buddhism.
  • Lama Tsongkhapa (also Losang Dragpa): Founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and revitalizer of many sutra and tantra lineages and the monastic tradition in Tibet. Golden Blue Lotus Tara Center is in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Avalokitesvara (Tib. Chenrezig): The Buddha of compassion. A male meditational deity embodying fully enlightened compassion.
  • Manjushri: The Buddha of wisdom. A male meditational deity embodying fully enlightened wisdom.
  • Prajnaparamita: The Mother of the Buddhas. A female meditational deity embodying the Buddhas' wisdom of emptiness. Literally the "perfection of wisdom"; the Prajnaparamita sutras are the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha in which the wisdom of emptiness and the path of the Bodhisattva are set forth.
  • Tara: A Buddha of protection and compassion. A female meditational deity embodying fully enlightened, active compassion, she was born from the tears of Avalokitesvara and manifests in many forms.
  • Vajrapani: the Buddha of power. A male meditational deity embodying the power of all enlightened beings to accomplish their goals.
  • Vajrasattva: Male meditational deity symbolizing the inherent purity of all Buddhas. A major tantric purification practice for removing obstacles created by negative karma and the breaking of vows.
  • Vajradhara: male meditational deity; the form through which Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the tantric teachings.

Dharma Etiquette

Here are some elements of respect and etiquette to use when receiving teachings from a Lama (Teacher) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

  • Teacher's entrance:  Stand and bow slightly when the Lama enters the room.  Remain standing while s/he prostrates to the Buddhas and his/her own Teachers (visualized on the throne) and takes his/her seat.
  • Prostration:  After the Lama is seated, practicing Buddhists will perform three formal prostrations as a sign of respect to the Lama and teachings.  Others may join in or stand quietly.  For those wishing to participate, the form is: with palms together touch crown of head, forehead, throat, and heart; kneel on hands and knees, touching forehead to ground very briefly and rising quickly.  Perform the entire act three times altogether.  At the conclusion, once more touch hands to crown, forehead, throat, and heart, pausing briefly at the end for contemplation.  Then take your seat.
  • Opening prayers and chants:  These are good to mark a break from ordinary activities and engender in ourselves good motivation to receive the teaching.  Prayers will be recited from the booklets available in the room.  Please share if there aren't enough.  Students and visitors may join aloud, or contemplate silently.
  • General etiquette:  Other than the usual respectful behavior, such as sitting quietly and alertly during the teaching, there are some points of etiquette specific to Eastern traditions and Buddhism.  Avoid stretching your legs toward the Lama or altar, as pointing the soles of one's feet is considered disrespectful.  Do not place spiritual texts on the floor or rug (they are ok on a folder, pack, pillow, handbag, etc. which is on the floor.)  When moving about, try not to step directly over such texts or over other people's cushions.  Do not interrupt the formal teaching, but reserve your questions for later, when the Teacher indicates it is appropriate.
  • Dedication:  The teaching ends with prayers that dedicate, to the benefit of others, any improvements and insights we may have gained during the teaching.  Again, one may join in or contemplate silently.
  • Teacher's exit:  As the Teacher stands to leave, stand and bow slightly, until s/he is out of the room.  Students will again perform three prostrations, except at the last teaching session, where the omission conveys our wish for the Teacher to return.
  • Addressing the Teacher:  Our center's Spiritual Head is Ven. Zasep Tulku Rinpoche (pronounce ZA-sep  TUL-ku  RIN-po-shay).  In face-to-face discourse, as when asking questions during a teaching, address him as "Rinpoche", a term of respect for teachers who are incarnate lamas.  In the third person, it is customary to always include the honorific, referring to him as "Zasep Rinpoche", "Zasep Tulku Rinpoche", or "Rinpoche".  The term "Tulku" refers also to an incarnate lama, but is not used in addressing the lama.
Dharma Etiquette from Gaden Choling Centre
September 1990

Compiled mostly from a glossary at the web site of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.  From The Tantric Path of Purification by Lama Yeshe, edited by Nicholas Ribush, Wisdom Publications, Boston.

Also, A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Shambala Publications, Boston.

The Essence of Nectar by Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.

And Microsoft Encarta 97, 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation.

Website admin: Nathan Foster.