“In her outer aspect, she is noble lady Tārā, in her inner aspect she is the Great Mother, in her secret aspect she is Vajravārāhi, and in her innermost secret aspect, she is the black wrathful Dakini.”
“Not knowing that to give away my body without attachment
Was to accumulate merit and wisdom,
I have clung to this dear body of mine.
This I confess to the nirrnanakaya Mother!”
“This Kusāli gathering the accumulations is unrivaled by a hundred efforts at gathering accumulations. This practice of the red and white feasts is unrivaled even by a hundred banquets. Carrying away heaps of flesh and blood is unrivaled even by a hundred healing ceremonies. The charnel ground dwelling place cannot be rivaled even by a hundred monasteries. The benefactors of the gods and demons of appearance and existence cannot be rivaled even by a hundred actors. A primordially pure view free from extremes cannot be rivaled even by a hundred dharmas. This profound dharma that cuts through maras (demons) cannot be rivaled even by a hundred pith instructions.”
–Machig Labdron from Precious Garland empowerment text
“To isolate yourself to a secluded, dangerous place is the outer Chod.
To make your aggregates an offering is the inner Chod,
To realize the actual nature of mind is the ultimate Chod.”
Today, for Noble Tārā day, I offer new research and translation on the Beggar’s Body Banquet (often referred to as Chod) as practiced in the Drikung Kagyu and (for first time published in English language), the Oral Instructions on the Beggar’s Body Banquet written by Lord Jigten Sumgon. For those with the required Drikung Kagyu Chod empowerment, here is the free pdf of Jigten Sumgon’s Instructions for download here.
I have also created a free .pdf transcript of Drupon Rinchen Dorje teachings on the practice given in 2016 here. I received empowerment and oral transmission for the practice from Drupon Rinchen Dorje Rinpoche[ii]. The booklet can be freely downloaded on request here, only by those with the Drikung Kagyu empowerment.
There is a transcript of HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche’s 2013 Chod teaching and a recording of the melody recitation of the sadhana, on the Garchen Institute website here.
Below is a short piece of introductory research on the meaning of ‘Kusali’, lineage and textual sources, other lineages of Kusali Tshog Sog, and Jigten Sumgon’s instructions on it.
There is also a new section on the website dedicated to Machig Labdron and Chod, see here.
Beggar’s Feast (Kusāli Tshog Sog) – meaning of Kusāli
The word “kusali” means a beggar. To accumulate merit and wisdom, yogis who have renounced ordinary life-hermits who live in the mountains, for instance-use visualization to make offerings of their own bodies, having no other possessions to offer.
According to a Sanskrit scholar I asked:
“It seems to be the equivalent of kuśalin (dge daṅ ldan pa) = “endowed with virtue”.The word is pronounced in different ways, suggesting different spellings (kusali, kusuli, for example). The word as it stands is simply not a possible Sanskrit word, as far as I can tell – the stem needs to be in -in, and then the masculine singular 1 vibhakti will be in -ī, and that is how (I suspect) one gets the Tibetan word “kusali/kusāli”….None of the Sanskrit words I am aware of, that could actually mean “beggar” etymologically, are even vaguely similar to kusali/kusāli.”
Thus, it is probable that the Tibetan Buddhist teachers are not really intending to explain its etymological meaning in Sanskrit, but more the conventional referent of the word as used within that tradition.
I asked scholar, Jan-Ulrich Sobisch the same question who told me that Jigten Sumgon seems to say that the ideal Kusāli is a monastic who follows the twelve special ascetic practices.[v].
In summary, it is someone who is mainly characterized by not being attached to anything at all. It is often interpreted to mean that as a beggar does not have much to offer, they offer their body, which is actually considered to be more valuable than any material offering in any case.
As for the other Tibetan words, tshog means pile/mass/feast and sag/sog means to gather/accumulate. As this practice is about offering the ‘feast’ of one’s body, I have translated it, less literally, as Beggar’s Body Banquet (body banquet having repetition of similar sounds, like tshog sog). It could also be translated as the Beggar’s Pile (or Feast) of Merit! The text does not explicitly use the word ‘Chod’ )which means ‘severance’) but as it is an offering of the body to all beings of the six realms, it is cited as a Chod practice[vi].
There are other Kusāli Tsog Sog practices within the Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya lineages, by Mipham Gyatso[vii] and Ogyen Jigme Chokyi Wangpo (Patrul Rinpoche)[viii] and Karma Chagme[ix] and the more recent female practitioner, Sera Khandro[x]. In some of these, the form of Vajrayogini is the wrathful black, Khroda Kali (Troma Nagmo), such as in the Namkhai Norbu Chod.
This leads onto the next point, is the Kusali Tsgog Sog actually a Chod practice? Sorensen briefly alludes to this issue in her PhD (2013: 35-36)[xi]:
It is often claimed that Chöd is found in all four of the dominant schools– Kadam (both alone and in relation to Geluk), Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyü. However, there is scant evidence for a “Sakya Chöd,” unless one wants to draw parallels between Sakya Kusali Tsog Sag (Ku sā li’I tshogs bsags) practice and the Chöd offering of the aggregates. Even if one were to do this, it appears that this practice of the Kusali offering probably began with Chetan Tenzin Trinley (Lce Bstan ‘dzin phrin las), who was born in the 18th century and composed the text, Severing Dualistic Confusion: Naro Khachodmai Kusali Tsog Sag (Nā ro mkha’ spyod ma’i ku sā li’I tshogs bsags dang ‘brel bar gnyis ‘dzin ‘khrul ba gcod pa’i man ngag). The Sa skya Ngor chos ‘byung does mention Chöd, but its dates are difficult to determine since it was composed between the 16th and early 18th centuries (it was published in 1705).
Sorensen (2013) then cites the Kusali Tshog Sog versions in Phagmo Drupa Kagyu, in the Sakya, Nyingma of Mipham Gyatso and Ogyen Chokyi Wangpo[xii]. It is likely that the Drikung Kagyu version came from Phagmo Drupa.
Lineage and Textual Sources
In terms of lineage, the Drikung Kagyu text is said to have descended from Machig Labdron, as the 8th Garchen Rinpoche explains reading from the empowerment text:
” In the palace of the dharmadhatu’s vast expanse in the pure sphere of Akaniṣṭha dwells the great mother Samanthabadri also known as Vajravarahi, Vajra Nairatmyaya, the selfless vajra goddess or the noble lady Tara. From the tip of a light ray emanating from her heart, the boundless palace of the Akanishta pure land appeared together with a throne.
At the center of this palace appeared the Dharmakaya great mother surrounded by limitless buddhas, bodhisattvas and Bodhisattvis of the ten directions. From the heart of the Great Mother manifested that a black wrathful, mara-subduing goddess, together with a four-fold retinue who came to abide in the palace at the heart of the Dakini land of Oddiyana. From the heart of the mara-subduing wrathful goddess emanated the Dakini, Serlingma, together with a fourfold retinue who proceeded to the palace of Gandola in Oddiyana. In order to benefit sentient beings, that dakini, Serlingma took 170 different lives in the god and human realms. In the last of these lives, she took birth as Machig Labdron. In Tibet, Machig Labdron, took two lives simultaneously as the Chinese and the Nepalese queens ofKing Songsten Gampo. These two later took birth as Yeshe Tsogyel. Four dakinis emanated from yeshe tsogyal: Machig Sharma, Shelse Donemam, Shangchang Drochungma, and Labkyi Drolma.
In her outer aspect, she is noble lady Tārā, in her inner aspect she is the Great Mother, in her secret aspect she is Vajravārāhi, and in her innermost secret aspect, she is the black wrathful Dakini.”
There are two texts said to be composed by Drikung Kagyu founder, Lord Jigten Sumgon (‘jig rten mgon po rin chen dpal, (1143-1217)) on the Beggar’s Body Banquet Offering, the white offering sadhana text, and his Oral Instructions on that.
The colophons do not say where, when or why Jigten Sumgon composed it[xiii]. As for the sadhana itself, an English translation was done of this text in 1985, later published in 1995 by Khenpo Gyelsten Nyima Rinpoche. The Tibetan edition of the Oral Instructions on the Beggar’s Body Banquet are published in the Collected Works of Jigten Sumgon, I have used a 2001 edition of the works.[xiv]
Instructions on Jigten Sumgon’s Beggar’s Body Banquet (Kusāli Tshog Sog)
There are several oral recorded instructions on this practice from HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche, HE Drupon Rinchen Dorje Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim and others. However, these have not been published in English and nor have the Instructions by Jigten Sumgon.
In the Drikung Kagyu practice, it places more emphasis on the Mother Prajnaparamita, visualizing her right at the start of the practice and then one transforms into the form of red Vajravārāhi (Dorje Phagmo). Usually, in other Chod practices, there is a visualisation of the black, wrathful Varahi, Troma Nagmo (see image below).
There is a short version of the sadhana, which is the white offering only, and there is an extended version of the sadhana, which includes the red offering and the protection visualization Three Layers of Inner Heat (Tummo Sum Tseg) which is also found in the Chakrasamvara Drikung Kagyu sadhana text, see commentary about that practice here.
Also, unlike other ‘Chod’ practices, there is no specific visualization, or mention of Machig Labdron.
The importance of love and compassion and severing self-clinging
In both teachings on the Beggar’s Banquet, love and compassion, as well as severing ego-clinging are emphasised as the main purpose of the practice. As Drupon Rinchen Dorje Rinpoche says, trying to eliminate and tame ‘demons’ with anger and lack of compassion is bound to fail:
If we practice Chod displaying a really wrathful of expression, we appear really fierce, wrathful like angry and really arrogant and try to cut down those haughty ones and kill them and slay those evil demons and spirits. Basically you appear just like a henchman of hell that slaughters all those mischievous ones but what actually happens is you’re trying to cure sick beings, and you’re trying to do that by hitting them. So if you’re hitting someone who is already hurt, you probably will hurt them even more. So you’re causing injuries upon somebody who was already injured.
Drupon Rinchen Dorje also gives an interesting example of how Jetsun Milarepa is said to have met Padampa Sangye, teacher of Machig Labdron, and asked him for the Chod transmission, then conducted a Ganachakra Feast Offering with his own body as the feast:
Padampa Sangye was sitting on the tip of the grass stalks, whereas the grass stalks that Milarepa was sitting on were a little bit bent. When Milarepa said ‘why are your grass stalks completely straight and my grass stalks are a little bit bent? Is it because your realizations are greater than mine?’ Padampa Sangye said ‘it has nothing to do with the qualities of our realization, they are the same. The reason why your grass is bent and mine is straight has to do with the place where you were born. It is because you were born in Tibet and I was born in India. In India, people don’t eat meat and that is why my grass is straight and yours is bent.
He also explained that:
The point of Chod practice is to tame the four māras [bdud], demons: there is the demon of the lord of death [‘chi bdag gi bdud] by which perfecting practice we attain a state of immortality. Then there is the demon of the aggregates [phung po’i bdud], mainly referring to our attachment to the body. Then there is the demon of the afflictive emotions, [nyon mongs pa’i bdud], so we must also cut through our thoughts, our afflictive emotions. Then there is the demon of the son of the gods [lha’i bu’i bdud]. Nowadays, this is the most difficult one to tame. The demon of the son of the gods is basically our distractions by all sorts of entertainment in this life. That is the most difficult one to cut nowadays.
In the 2019 teaching, 8th Garchen Rinpoche also explains the main purpose of Chod practice:
“Here, in the Vajrayana, we transform and cut through the self-grasping through a forceful means and that is the essence of Chod. it means to cut through or sever. So you realize that I am not this body, there is no I. If you train in it now, then later when you die, the mind transforms. That is really the whole purpose of the meaning of Chod, in essence it is to cut through this false concept, this false belief of there being a self. The result of that is Buddhahood. What is Buddhahood? It is when you look at the nature of your mind and realize the nature of mind and realize that there is no duality between self and other. Self and other are inseparable. When one realizes that, then the mind is experienced as vast like space. You might be familiar with the teachings on Mahamudra doctrine and so forth, the mind becomes vast like space when there is no more grasping at self. In that moment, when the mind abides like space, one then naturally understands the true nature of one’s mind.”
The 2019 Chod teachings by 8th Garchen Rinpoche are extensive and I have only typed up the teachings he gave before the empowerment. I hope to transcribe the whole teaching soon.
Adele Tomlin, 11th November 2021.
‘jig rten mgon po. “gdams ngag ku sA li’i tshogs gsog.” In gsung ‘bum/_’jig rten mgon po. TBRC W23743. 8: 502 – 508. Delhi: Drikung Kagyu Ratna Shri Sungrab Nyamso Khang, 2001.
Sorensen, Michelle (2013) Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Tradition. PhD Columbia University. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/161444331.pdf
[i] The term used here for the body is phung po, referring also to the “aggregates”, i.e. the psychophysical constituents which interdependently make up what one thinks of as oneself.
[ii] I also have the 2012 Chod empowerment and instruction on an 8th Karmapa Chod text, from 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje and a transmission and instruction from Lama Tsultrim Allione on the Namkhai Norbu Chod. A couple of days after I started to do this work, I saw the Drikung Kagyu centre in Munich, Germany announce a weekend retreat with Drupon Palkyi with instruction on the Drikung Kusali chod and how to also use the Damaru and Bells (see here). I considered this to be an auspicious sign and coincidence and thus offer this new research and translation here.
[iii] In Tibetan Kunzang Lamey Zhel Long (ཀུན་བཟང་བླ་མའི་ཞལ་ལུང །).
[iv] Here is the Tibetan text of that quote: དེ་ལ་ཀུ་སཱ་ལི་ཞེས་པ་ནི། སྤྲང་པོའི་དོན་ཡིན་པས་ཚེ་བློས་བཏང་གི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་རི་ཁྲོད་པ་ལྟ་བུ་ཚོགས་གསོག་པའི་ལོངས་སྤྱོད་གཞན་མི་རྙེད་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་དམིགས་པ་ལ་བརྟེན་ནས་རང་གི་ལུས་ཀྱི་མཆོད་སྦྱིན་བྱེད་པ་ཡིན།
[v] Twelve ascetic practices (sbyangs pa’i yon tan bcu gnyis; pāṃśadhūtaguṇa, Pal. dhutanga) — twelve practices of conduct pertaining to the shravaka yana that avoid the two extreme forms of lifestyle, over-indulgence in sense pleasures and excessive self-punishment. They are:
- wearing clothes found in a dust heap,
- owning only three robes,
- wearing felt or woolen clothes,
- begging for food,
- eating one’s meal at a single sitting,
- restricting the quantity of food,
- staying in isolation,
- sitting under trees,
- sitting in exposed places,
- sitting in charnel grounds,
- sitting even during sleep, and
- staying wherever one happens to be.
[vi] Sorensen (2013) mentions that: Tshogs bsog mchod sbyin gyi zhal gdams (Oral Instructions on Completing the Accumulations [of Merit and Wisdom] Through Giving Homage and Offerings), in Gsung ‘bum, Vol. 2, 375-382. This practice is not explicitlyreferred to as “Chöd”; however, as Edou notes, this text “does mention an offering of the aggregates to the lamas,yidams, and to the demons, for the benefit of beings, after separating one’s body and mind, thereby completing theaccumulations of meritorious activity. This technique seems quite close indeed to Machig’s Chöd tradition” (1996, 88 n. 2). Rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje is mentioned in Dharma senggé’s Transmission History, 550.”
[vii] mi pham rgya mtsho . “ku sa li’i tshogs bsags/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mi pham rgya mtsho. TBRC W2DB16631. 29: 80 – 82. khreng tu’u: [gangs can rig gzhung dpe rnying myur skyobs lhan tshogs], 2007. http://tbrc.org/link?RID=O1PD45159|O1PD451592DB68475$W2DB16631
[viii] The Kusali Tshog is included here in the Preliminary Practices written by Patrul Rinpoche and translated into English https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/patrul-rinpoche/brief-guide-ngondro. For Tibetan text, also see: o rgyan ‘jigs med chos kyi dbang po. “lnga pa/ ku sA li’i tshogs bsags/.” In gsung ‘bum/_o rgyan ‘jigs med chos kyi dbang po. TBRC W5832. 7: 459 – 477.
[ix] bstan ‘dzin phrin las, byams pa rin chen mkhyen brtse dbang po. “nA ro mkha’ spyod ma’i ku sA li’i tshogs bsags dang ‘brel bar gnyis ‘dzin ‘khrul ba gcod pa’i man ngag .” In gsung ‘bum/_byams pa bstan ‘dzin ‘phrin las. TBRC W30152. 1: 376 – 383. kathmandu: sachen international community, 2005.
[x] kun bzang bde skyong dbang mo . “rnal ‘byor lam ‘khyer ku sA li’i tshogs bsags:.” In gsung ‘bum/_kun bzang bde skyong dbang mo/. TBRC W1PD108254. 3: 310 – 315. khreng tu’u: si khron dpe skrun tshogs pa/ si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009. And kun bzang bde skyong dbang mo. “rnal ‘byor lam ‘khyer ku sA li’i tshogs bsags:.” In gter chos/_kun bzang bde skyong dbang mo/. TBRC W21888. 2: 375 – 382. kalimpong: dupjung lama, 1978.
[xi] “The Buddhist Chöd tradition transmitted by Machik Labdrön is consonant with conservative movements in the period, in that it is grounded in orthodox Buddhist teachings, particularly an explicit dependence on the Prajñāpāramitā corpus. Chöd was also heterodox in its organization, with a non-partisan orientation toward the significance of the lived experience of the practitioner. Chöd is often connected with the Zhijé teachings of the South Asian teacher, Padampa Sangyé, probably due to the fact that some historical materials suggest that Machik Labdrön received teachings—although not necessarily Chöd—from Padampa Sangyé. By the time it became popular to refer to the Eight Great Chariots of the Practice Lineages (sgrub brgyud shing rta chen po brgyad), Zhijé and Chöd were considered linked. These “chariots” are the following lineages: 1) Snga ‘gyur Nyingma; 2) Kadam; 3) Kagyü; 4) Zhangs pa Kagyü; 5) Sakya; 6) Zhijé and Chöd; 7) Dus ‘khor or Sbyor drug (Kālacakra); and 8) Orgyan bsnyen sgrub. Unfortunately, the origins of this classificatory schema are somewhat obscure. The taxonomy is popularly considered to be a means for identifying the various lineages of teachings that were transmitted from India to Tibet; however, this transmission aspect seems to be a somewhat later development. The arrangement is often identified with Jamgön Kongtrül’s editing schema as featured first in the Treasury of Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab)33 and also used as an organizing principle for the Treasury of Instructions. In the Treasury of Knowledge, Jamgön Kongtrül credits the Nyingma treasure revealer, Phreng bo gter ston Shes rab ‘od zer (aka. Prajñāraśmi, 1517-1584), for the initial classification of schools. Unlike several of these lineages, most notably the schools of Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Kadam, Chöd did not retain its independent status.” (2013: 35-36).
[xii] Sorensen says: “The Ku sa li’i tshogs bsags versions I have located are as follows: ku sA li’i tshogs gsog by Phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po (1110-1170, Phag mo Bka’ rgyud); nA ro mkha’ spyod ma’i ku sA li’i tshogs bsags dang ‘brel bar gnyis ‘dzin ‘khrul ba gcod pa’i man ngag by Lce Bstan ‘dzin phrin las (b.18th c., Sakya); Ku sa li’i tshogs bsags by Dpa’ sprul O rgyan ‘jigs med chos kyi dbang po (1808-1887, Nyingma); and Ku sa li’i tshogs bsags by Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846-1912, Nyingma).” (2013: 36: fn.36)
[xiii] According to Sobisch, the absence of such contextual information is actually normal for many Jigten Sumgon works.
[xiv] ‘jig rten mgon po. “gdams ngag ku sA li’i tshogs gsog.” In gsung ‘bum/_’jig rten mgon po. TBRC W23743. 8: 502 – 508. Delhi: Drikung Kagyu Ratna Shri Sungrab Nyamso Khang, 2001.