Machig Labdrön (Tibetan: མ་གཅིག་ལབ་སྒྲོན་, Wylie: Ma-gcig Lab-sgron, English translation: Unique Mother Torch of Lab) (1055 - 1149) aka Dorje Dudul Chenmo was a renowned 11th century Tibetan Tantric Buddhist practitioner and teacher.
Machig Labdrön was a great Tibetan yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Indian tantric practice of Chöd. Machig may have come from a Bon family and, according to Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, developed Chöd by combining native Tibetan Bönpo shamanism with the Dzogchen teachings, although this is historically incorrect.
Iconographically, Machig Labdrön is often depicted with the attributes of a dakini, a representation of enlightened female energy. She holds a drum (Skt.damaru; Tib. ཌཱ་མ་རུ) in her right hand and a bell (Skt. ghaṇṭa; Tib. དྲིལ་བུ་, Wyl. drilbu) in her left. Her right leg is often lifted and the standing left leg is bent in motion. Machig is white in color with three eyes and wears the Six Bone Ornaments of the charnel grounds, which is traditional for a practicing yogini. Dakinis wear 5 bone ornaments; they are themselves the wisdom pāramitā.
Predictions of her birth
In the Life of Yeshe Tsogyel, Padmasambhava predicted that Yeshe Tsogyel would be reborn as Machig Lapdron; her consort, Atsara Sale, would become Topabhadra, Machig’s husband; her assistant and Padmasambhava's secondary consort, Tashi Khyidren, would be reborn as Machig’s only daughter, and so on. All of the important figures in Tsogyel's life were to be reborn in the life of Machig Lapdron, including Padmasambhava himself, who would become Phadampa Sangye.
Machig was the mindstream emanation (tulku) of another great yogini, Yeshe Tsogyal, as well as "an emanation of the 'Great Mother of Wisdom,' Yum Chenmo, and of Arya Tara, who transmitted to her Machig teachings and initiations." This pattern of reincarnations and emanations continued into the life just before her birth as Machig Labdrön. In the lifetime before, she was the Indian yogi, Mönlam Drub. After his death, the body of the twenty-year-old Mönlam Drub is said to have remained "alive" in the cave of Potari in Southern India.
According to tradition, it was Mönlam Drub's mindstream which entered the womb of Bum Cham ("Great Noble Woman"), who lived in the area of Labchi Eli Gangwar in Tibet, which caused the birth of Machig. According to the biography of Machig that appears in Tsultrim Allione's work Women of Wisdom mother experienced auspicious dreams of dakinis shortly after conception, dreams which contained the vase and the conch of the Ashtamangala:
- When consciousness entered the womb of the mother on the fifteenth day, she dreamt that four white dakinis carrying four white vases poured water on her head and afterwards she felt purified. Then seven dakinis, red, yellow, green, etc., were around her making offerings, saying “Honor the mother, stay well our mother to be.”
- After that, a wrathful dark-blue dakini wearing bone ornaments and carrying a hooked knife and a retinue of four blue dakinis carrying hooked knives and skull cups, surrounded her, in front of her, behind her, and to the left and right. All five were in the sky in front of Bum Cham. The central dakini was a forearm’s length higher than the rest.
- She took her knife and plunged it into the mother’s heart, took out the heart and put it in the skull cup of the dakini in front of her, and they all ate it. Then the central dakini took a conch which spiraled to the right and blew it. The sound resounded all over the world. In the middle of the conch was a luminous white “A”.
- Even after she woke up she felt great bliss.
As a child and young woman, Machig made a living as a liturgy reader. She was fortunate to be literate and patrons would hire her to read the Prajnaparamita Sutra or 'The Perfection of Wisdom', a Mahayana Sutra, in their homes as a form of blessing and to gain merit. Machig was known to be a fast reader and so was in much demand as this meant that she could complete the entire text quickly and her patrons would have to pay for fewer meals for her while she read.
The namtar entitled Secret Biography of Machig Labdron relates the struggles that she underwent in order to avoid traditional marriage and eventually left home to practice the Dharma as her life's calling.
After leaving the monastic order in Yuchong, she married Indian Pandita Topa Draya. (thod-pa gra-ya), also a Buddhist practitioner, who supported Machig in her practices. Together, they had two sons and one daughter (or three sons and two daughters by some accounts).
Her second son, Tonyon Samdru (thod-smyon bsam-grub), became one of her main successors and a propagator of Machig Labdron's teachings. He became a monk at the age of 15 under the tutorship of Pha Dampa Sangye.
Pha Dampa Sangye's original name was Dampa Sangye. Tonyon Samdru treated him as stepfather and called him Pha Dampa Sangye, with "Pha" meaning "father" and many Tibetans call him Phadampa Sangye to this day.
Some say that Machig received instructions from Pha Dampa Sangye, as her guru and the reincarnation of Padmasambhava which led to profound realizations. However, for several years Machig's main practice was one of tantric union with her spiritual consort and husband, Topabhadra, an emanation of Buddha Shakyamuni (according to a prediction given to Machig by Arya Tara), with whom she raised a family, living the "Red & White essence."
Even though Machig spent some time living with monastics, she was not a celibate nun; she partnered and had both daughters and sons who became lineage holders. One of her sons even started out as a thief.
"You may think that Gods are the one's who give you benefits, and Demons cause damage; but it may be the other way round. Those who cause pain teach you to be patient, and those who give you presents may keep you from practising the Dharma.
- All the Dharmas originated in India
- And later spread to Tibet
- Only Machig's teaching, born in Tibet,
- Was later introduced in India and practiced there.
A delegation of ācāryas was sent from Bodh Gayā to Tibet to test Machig Labrön and her teaching resulted in the acceptance of Mahāmudrā Chö as a valid and authentic Mahāyāna tradition. Thereafter its practice spread even to India."
Third Karmapa: systematizer of Chod
Chod (also written Chöd), the historical nature of the practice, was a marginal and peripheral sadhana, practiced outside traditional Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Tantric institutions with a contraindication as caveat of praxis upon all but the most advanced practitioners.
The Third Karmapa (1284–1339) was a very important systematizer of Chod teachings and significantly assisted in their promulgation within the literary and practice lineages of Kagyupa, Nyingmapa and particularly Dzogchen.
It is in this transition from the outer charnel ground to the institutions of Tibetan Buddhism that the rite of the Chod becomes more imaginal, an inner practice. That is, the charnel ground becomes an internal imaginal environment.
Schaeffer (1995: p. 15) conveys that the Third Karmapa was a systematizer of the Chöd developed by Machig Labdrön and lists a number of his works on Chod consisting of redactions, outlines and commentaries amongst others:
- "Rang byung was renowned as a systematizer of the Gcod teachings developed by Ma gcig lab sgron. His texts on Gcod include the Gcod kyi khrid yig; the Gcod bka' tshoms chen mo'i sa bcad which consists of a topical outline of and commentary on Ma gcig lab sgron's Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa zab mo gcod kyi man ngag gi gzhung bka' tshoms chen mo ; the Tshogs las yon tan kun 'byung ; the lengthy Gcod kyi tshogs las rin po che'i phrenb ba 'don bsgrigs bltas chog tu bdod pa gcod kyi lugs sor bzhag; the Ma lab sgron la gsol ba 'deb pa'i mgur ma; the Zab mo bdud kyi gcod yil kyi khrid yig, and finally the Gcod kyi nyams len."
The practices of Tröma Nagmo (The Extremely Wrathful Black Mother) associated with the Dakini Troma Nagmo (the black form of Vajrayogini), were also propagated by the great Machig Labdron, who became the most famous female practitioner in Tibet and attained complete enlightenment by this method.
"The particular transmission which His Holiness will give descends from Dudjom Lingpa, who received it in a direct vision of the Indian Mahasiddha, Saraha. This practice emphasizes cutting through grasping at the dualistic mind to realize complete selfless compassion.
- Machik Lapkyi Drönma (ma gcig lab kyi sgron ma), [[Machig Lapdrön] me]] (ma gcig lab sgron ma), Machik Labdron (ma gcig lab sgron), Maji Lab Dran (ma gcig lab sgron).
Shugsheb Jetsun Rinpoche—also called the great female master, Lochen Chönyi Zangmo—founded the Shuksep or Shugsep (shug gseb) nunnery located thirty miles from Lhasa on the slopes of Mount Gangri Thökar.
In the west, Lama Tsultrim Allione (1947- ) was recently recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön at Zangri Khangmar, Tibet, the place where Machig Labdrön lived from ages 37 to 99, and where she died, by the resident Lama, Karma Nyitön Kunkhyab Chökyi Dorje.
Lama Karma Nyitön Kunkhyab Chökyi Dorje offered Lama Tsultrim a self-arisen golden crystal phurba (ceremonial dagger), the only remaining tsa tsa made from the ashes of Machig's body (a mixture of clay and ash imprinted with an image of Machig dancing), texts of Machig's teachings, a hat with symbolic meaning designed by Machig, and various other treasures.
It is also called "The Beggars' Offering" or "The Cutting-Off-Ritual". Chöd is a visionary Buddhist practice of cutting attachment to one’s corporeal form (in terms of the dualistic proclivity to relate to one's corporeal form as a reference-point that proves one's existence).
In some lineages of the Chöd practice, chodpas and chodmas (practitioners of Chöd) use a bell drum (a Chöd damaru), and a thigh-bone trumpet (kangling) made of human bone (often obtained from the charnel ground of sky burials).
Although they are referred to as demons, it is clear from Machig Labdron's writings that the entities being dealt with in Chöd practices are formulations of the human mind, rather than supernatural beings.