The shrines of Taraloka

In our first blog series, community member Natalia gets to know some of the shrines and rupas (figures) around Taraloka. Where did they come from? What are the stories of the women who gifted them, and what can they teach us about how to practice?

 

I pay homage to all the shrines and places in which the Bodhisattvas have been.
     - Sevenfold Puja

 

My name is Natalia, and I moved to Taraloka in January of 2021. When I arrived, I had been practising Buddhism seriously for about six years, and had been to Taraloka on retreat a handful of times. I knew it as a beautiful place, but was initially more drawn to the job and the community life than the land. I liked the idea of working together to create the conditions for women to practise intensively, and I wanted to live intensively with other practitioners.

 

However, one of the greatest surprises over the past few months has been my deepening relationship with the landscape. The view from my bedroom window, changing subtly from one season to the next; bird migrations arriving and disappearing; and over and over again, walking through the land, I stumble upon on a shrine, and I realise I’ve never seen it before – or never looked properly. There at my feet, an image of awakening; a reminder of compassion. A phrase from the Sevenfold Puja comes to mind: I pay homage to all the shrines...

 

I’ve been wondering about these shrines. Where have they all come from? When did they arrive? I asked a few community members. “Where did that Tara in the woods come from? The little one sitting on a bench...” Inevitably, the answer stretched far beyond the confines of the question. “I think I must have put her there around the time when we planted the birch wood...” “You mean those birches haven’t been there since Taraloka opened?” “Not at all, we planted a thousand trees on a work retreat, back in 2011... here are some photos.” Staring at me out of those images are women I’ve been on retreat with, women I know well, and women I’ve never met. Women who have created the landscape that is slowly extending its roots into my heart.

 

What becomes clear in these discussions is that the land around Taraloka holds the stories of the many women who have created it – of their lives, their practice and their vision. Women have come to Taraloka and have left something behind, creating a beautiful and meaningful place for the rest of us to practise.

 

Reflecting upon the lives and contributions of women who have come through Taraloka, I am reminded of the second half of that line from the Sevenfold Puja: ... and places in which the Bodhisattvas have been. A Bodhisattva is an awakened being whose life is dedicated to the benefit of all. A being for whom the work of liberating others is spontaneous creativity. Taraloka is without a doubt a place in which many Bodhisattvas have been – with their endless sense of play and beauty, working through the many women who have created the beautiful place where we practise today.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring some of the stories hidden in the landscape, and celebrating the women who have created Tara’s realm.