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Chod –The Five Slogans of Machig Labdron The Introduction & A Few Practices

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The Buddha prophesied: “When my teaching is thin

like a tea leaf, the embodiment of the Great Mother, whose name is Labdrön will come and her

activity will be far reaching. Anyone who is involved with her activity will be liberated.”

Machig Labdron was a Tibetan Tantric yogini who lived from 1055-1145 CE. She was both a wandering yogini and a mother, having given up a life of privilege to seek the Truth.

One of her major contributions to Tibetan Buddhism was the systemisation of the practice of Chöd which means to cut or sever. She is known as the Mother of Chöd It is a profound practice of detachment from the physical form, wherein the practitioner ultimately visualises their own body going through the death process (in a tantric feast offering). Practitioners often spend time in graveyards to become comfortable with the transience of all things.Also the practitioner of Chod conjures up painful and difficult situations, pitting themselves internally against their own fears, in order to eliminate the grasping nature of the Ego...Machig Labdron said of Chod..."To consider adversity as a friend is the instruction of Chöd

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious."

CG Jung

Chod is based on the scriptures called Prajna Paramita Sutras which view wisdom as a feminine form, similar to Sophia in Gnostic traditions. A famous sutra connected to Prajna Paramita is the Heart Sutra. Prajna Paramita essentially teaches that all we see is merely a construct of the mind, and that emptiness (shoonyata) is the highest form of wisdom. This emptiness is not viewed as dead state, but as a vibrant awareness. This realisation that we are not individual egos leads to compassion for all beings as they are our very selves.

It is said that when Machig Labdron approached her teacher Dampa Sangye she asked to learn the method to quickest awakening so that she could become awakened for the benefit of all sentient beings.

These are The FIVE SLOGANS that her teacher gave her..

1) Confess your hidden faults. 2) Approach what you find repulsive. 3) Help those you think you cannot help (sometimes translated as those you do not want to help). 4) Anything you are attached to, give that (up. As in, let it go). 5) Go to the places that scare you.

He also added the following...

Sentient beings are limitless as the sky. Be aware. Find the Buddha inside yourself

The purpose behind these slogans was told later to Machig Labdron by Lama Sonam Drapa (a wandering yogi) and this was to realise the fundamental teaching that..

If you do not grasp with your mind, you will find a fresh state of being.

. If you let go of clinging, a state beyond all conceptions will be born. Then the fire of great prajña will grow. Dark self-clinging ignorance will be conquered. The root of the teachings is to examine the movement of your own mind very carefully. Do this!

Hers is an interesting story.

Machig had been an Indian yogi in her previous life. As a result of a series of visions, this yogi left his body in a cave in India and his consciousness traveled to Tibet. His consciousness entered the womb of a kind noblewoman, Bumcham. The night she conceived, Bumcham, her first daughter and a neighbor all had extraordinary dreams.

When the baby was born, she had many special signs and was surrounded by luminosity, including a third eye shape in her forehead. Considering this a deformity her mother hid the baby behind a door, afraid of what her husband would say. The father had heard the baby had been born and insisted on seeing her. He saw a sacred letter AH written very finely in her third eye and saw that she had all the signs of a wisdom Dakini (feminine wisdom being).

Machig grew rapidly and was extremely precocious, before she was three years old, she knew many mantras and she liked to do prostrations and make offerings. She learned to read easily by the time she was five by just being shown the letters. By the time she was eight, she could recite the Eight Thousand Line Prajña Paramita Sutra twice in one day.

The governor of the district heard of her and tested her publicly. She was able to recite and explain the meaning of the sutra. While her mother was so shy that she could not speak, the young Machig spoke right up. The governor was impressed and gave her the name Labdrön, Shining Light from Lab (the area she came from) declaring she was a wisdom dakini, and recommended that she be protected from the influences of negative people.

Then returning home, Machig Lapdrön with her mother and sister and spent five years studying and reciting the extensive, medium and abbreviated form of the Prajña Paramita Sutra. This Sutra was considered the most sacred of the Buddha's teaching, such that touching it or viewing it could bring great blessings and healing. Having it recited was considered to be a great blessing, and it was the number of times it was recited, not so much understanding the words that was considered of value so a fast reader was very valuable in this occupation.

When Machig was thirteen, her mother passed away, and she and her sister began to study with various teachers. When she was sixteen, Machig began to study with Lama Drapa, who taught her in great depth about the Prajña Paramita Sutra. He then asked her to stay with him for four years as his official reader.

The Prajña Paramita, is a profound philosophical doctrine focusing on the awakened state. In later times, Prajña Paramita was personified as female Buddha. The underlying philosophical principle had its’ origins in Indic South Asia and began to emerge around the time of Christ. In this emerging Mahayana Buddhism, Prajña Paramita was called the Great Mother, the matrix from which all awakening occurs. Therefore, she was the mother of all the Buddhas as the source of all enlightenment; this became one of her most common epithets. This is the first time we see a primal feminine principle in Buddhist thought.

Prajña Paramita has several meanings: first it refers to the non-dual gnosis of the awakened ones. Secondly, it is the path leading to the non-dual, or the knowledge or particular intelligence leading to awakening. Third, it refers to the texts themselves which reveal this knowledge. And finally, it refers to the embodiment of this wisdom as the first Buddhist goddess. In all cases Prajña Paramita was referred to as feminine but at first as a feminine principle and then later as an actual goddess.

The term prajña is usually translated as transcendental wisdom, meaning the wisdom that transcends ordinary reality and perceives actuality. There are many kinds of prajña, or wisdom, but only Prajña Paramita is perfect wisdom, or wisdom that goes beyond ordinary perceptions and knowledge, and sees right into the heart of everything. The word paramita means perfection or that which goes beyond. There are six paramitas typically taught as the activities to be cultivated to reaches the perfection of awakened mind (also called bodhicitta), the paramitas are: generosity, patience, discipline (or ethical conduct), joyful diligence, meditation and finally prajña.

The roots of Prajña Paramita can be traced to a visionary scholar, Nagarjuna, who lived in approximately 100 C.E. in the area of Andra Pradesh in southwestern India whose people were descendants of the ancient matrifocal Dravidian people. This might have influenced the understanding of Prajña Paramita as a female embodiment of wisdom.

Nagarjuna received numerous Mahayana texts including the Prajña Paramita Sutra from snake-like water spirits, nagas, who had hidden them under the water in the lake near where he meditated. The nagas invited him under the water where he received this treasure of wisdom that launched the new wave of Buddhism called Mahayana (aka the Great Vehicle).

Edward Conze a scholar who spent his scholarly life focusing on the Prajña Paramita literature drew some remarkable parallels and possible connections between Prajña Paramita and the western embodiment of transcendental wisdom, Sophia. He saw that both Sophia and Prajña Paramita are feminine embodiments of wisdom that emerged and were popularized at the same time. According to Conze, therefore there is a feminine wisdom principle at the root of western culture as well as forming the base of Mahayana Buddhism. This is a significant connection because it is through this feminine wisdom goddess that Machig's life and teachings are linked to our own western cultural roots.

The text of the Prajña Paramita Sutra, its doctrine, and virtues were later represented by a goddess known as Yum Chenmo, the Mother of All the Buddhas. So Machig would have known her in this form as well as the more abstract earlier teachings on wisdom. Prajña Paramita was a highly developed form of the mother goddess who had been with humanity from its inception, and later, in the Indic context, she became representative of direct insight into the ground of being.

This insight, accomplished through meditation and which is beyond words, comes from turning the mind to look at itself. The process turning and perceiving an ineffable luminous awareness is Prajña Paramita. The stabilization of this indescribable awareness is what gives birth to enlightenment, and thus she was described as the “mother or womb of all the Buddhas”.

The Prajña Paramita teaches that, once we let go of conceptual thought, emptiness is revealed as fullness, not a dead nothingness, but a vibrant womb of awareness. The teaching on offering one's own body as nectar (as in the Chöd) shows us this is not mere self-sacrifice leading to depletion (as many women experience), but an open-hearted generosity based on an understanding of the essential impermanence and lack of a discrete self in oneself or any other form. It was from this state that Machig was able to offer her body as food to the army of demons during one of her early empowerments and which then formed the basis for her Chöd practice.

A great yogi named Lama Sonam Drapa learned of Machig. He had been a famous teacher, but had become disillusioned by the lack of genuine students. As a result, he had become a wandering yogi, walking through the mountains and to the sacred places of Tibet. He decided to come to test her.

When he arrived he said to her: “You are very learned in Prajña Paramita, the perfection of profound knowing, but do you understand the real meaning of it?”

She replied, “Yes, I do.”

He said: “Then explain it to me.”

So she explained everything she had studied and understood through meditation in great detail.

Then he said: “You are obviously very intelligent, but you don't seem to have made the teachings part of you. Everything you said was correct, but the most important thing to realize is this: If you do not grasp with your mind, you will find a fresh state of being. If you let go of clinging, a state beyond all conceptions will be born. Then the fire of great prajña will grow. Dark self-clinging ignorance will be conquered. The root of the teachings is to examine the movement of your own mind very carefully. Do this!”

Machig went back to the Prajña Paramita Sutra, and reread it in light of what Lama Sonam had said. She came across a section about the nature of demons and was so profoundly affected by it that she reached a profound understanding of the nature of reality. This was a turning point in her life, and it was also the moment when she understood the nature of demons.

Most simply she defined demons this way: Attachment to any phenomenon whatsoever, From coarse form to omniscience, Should be understood as the play of a demon.

Maras and Demons: Obstacles to Enlightenment In Buddhism, the idea of a negative presence accompanying those seeking enlightenment goes back to the Buddha, who was followed throughout his whole life by a shadowy figure called Mara.

Mara is the energy of resistance, laziness, sensual desire, craving, anger, hope, fear, and the longing for praise and honor that arises and sidetracks us from the goal of awakening.

The Buddha had a relationship with Mara as a personified being and he actually addressed Mara as a person and Mara responded.

(The) statement “Mara I know you,” is key in understanding how Mara works and how to deal with him. He works on us even though we may not recognize distractions and obstacles as Mara. Then first most important moment is when we recognize what is happening and we can say, “Ah, Mara I know you.”

By Machig's lifetime, about 1500 years after the Buddha, the notion of Mara as a personified generalized demon had been broken down into four types of maras, or categories of obstacles to enlightenment. These begin with the mara of our psychophysical constituents. The second is the mara of destructive, poisonous emotions, which can affect us not only mentally but also physically (think

depression, anger, jealousy, etc.). The third mara is being so caught up in trying to have a luxurious life (just one more margarita by the pool and then I'll meditate) that we miss the opportunity to wake up. This is called the mara of the son of the gods. The fourth mara is death, which is an obstacle that clearly limits us all; even the Buddha was subject to death. As we age we can feel the grip of this mara tightening. We are all pregnant with death, and at some point the due date will arrive. We may have long pregnancy or a premature delivery, but one way or another it's going to happen.

It was in her reading about these four maras that Machig had her enlightenment experience.

Afterwards, she radically changed her way of life, and set out on the path that eventually lead to the formulation of the Chöd practice based on overcoming the four maras, which Machig categorized in her own unique way. Until this time, she had been living in the rarified atmosphere of the monastery close to her teachers, wearing elegant silk robes and eating only pure foods. But after her epiphany she became a wandering yogini, wearing rags, living with beggars and lepers, and staying anywhere.

(She had a dream to unite with a yogi....)

So, when she was twenty-three Machig went to live with Topabhadra, and the following year her first son, Drubpa (meaning fulfilled) was born. Because the people of central Tibet where they had been living criticized and shunned the couple, they moved to another area and after moving again she gave birth to a second son named Drupse. This was probably the most difficult time in her life.

Tibetans generally like their spiritual leaders to act differently than ordinary people, and up to this point Machig had been living as a nun and although there is discussion about whether or not she was ever fully ordained, the monastic establishment and lay people had great respect for her and high hopes for her development as a great teacher. Then suddenly, she had an Indian yogi lover and their precious pure nun was having children. They were disappointed and unable to see this as an important part of her development. When Machig was thirty, she gave birth to a daughter on a mountain pass “where the dakinis gather” right after performing an offering ceremony. They called her 'Ladüma (Pass Gathering Girl).

Perhaps she needed a consort to work with previously unknown pathways to bliss that allowed her to then bring her teachings forth from the untying of knots in her subtle body. Certainly she developed a whole body of sexual yoga practices that could not have come into being without this experience.

This was not the only legacy of motherhood. After all the fame and prestige she had enjoyed since childhood, now Machig had to endure public humiliation. Having three children and being a homeless yogini wandering with her husband and babies on the 12,000-foot plateau of Tibet with its sub-zero winters, also would have challenged her and developed in her qualities that most likely would not have developed had she remained in the refined atmosphere of her teacher's establishments as the darling of the monastic and lay community.

She would have learned through these trials the fickleness of praise and blame and she have tested her philosophical learning against the hard facts of life as a poor scorned mother.

(Eventually she left her children with their father for several years and returned to solitary life.....there she encountered Tara and was established in her wisdom..)

Machig was reunited with her children, who were brought to her by Topabhadra. Her younger son, who was fifteen, and her daughter, who was ten, had already begun training, and already knew several versions of the Prajña Paramita Sutra and several other practices. Her eldest son had gone off and was married. And her younger son was sometimes overcome by madness and blacked out. To resolve this Machig sent him to sleep for seven days in a charnel ground, where bodies were cremated. Odd as this may seem as a cure for madness, he returned cured, so she decided to confer many teachings on him and had him ordained as a monk. He became her foremost disciple and spent fourteen years in a cave under her guidance. Later her eldest son returned to her and also became a lineage holder.

Machig's fame spread all the way from Tibet to India. Her Mahamudra Chöd proved revolutionary, and drew an instant following. This was especially surprising because at the time, Buddhist theology flowed almost exclusively from India to Tibet, and not the other way around.

As a result she caused quite a stir among the higher-ups in Indian Buddhism. According to her biography the pandits in Bodhgaya held a meeting to discuss her. They said: All true Dharma comes from India but this teaching called Mahamudra Chöd did not, even though Mahamudra does. This teaching has spread from Tibet to Nepal. Even the Nepalese are receiving teachings from this woman with three eyes; she teaches the Chöd, which they claim can overcome the forty sicknesses and the 80,000 obstructions. This three-eyed woman claims to be an incarnation of the Prajna Paramita Dakini, but more than likely she's an emanation of bad demons. It will probably be difficult to conquer her. But if we do not, she will destroy all of Tibet and then invade India. We must send a party to check up on her.

(They did and she debated so well that they all adopted her teachings and her fame spread...)

When we look at Machig's life we see her self-doubt balanced by an underlying sense of destiny. She was at once very human, struggling with questions about whether to give up her spiritual life and enter a relationship, whether to leave her children or not, and at the same time she was clearly an extraordinary being, recognized from childhood as a divine incarnation of the Great Mother Prajña Paramita. When Tara appeared before her, predicting her children would be lineage holders and that Machig herself would be a great dakini, Machig still referred to herself as a “weak stupid woman".

Yet later she was able to confidently confront the patriarchal Buddhist establishment in the form of the three pandits who arrived from India to test her, debating against them publicly with her entire reputation at stake.