“What should one do when sick?—Chop up your body and offer it as feast. Hide concepts as treasure in the nature of phenomena. And moreover do it many times. Don’t give rise to joy if you get better. No matter what sickness occurs in the manifesting circumstances, know that each one is a training exercise. If you don’t know occurring circumstances as supports, even with a lofty view, you will lose your way. That conceit of merely mental emptiness is the clutch of the secret demon.”
—Machig Labdron from Answers to Questions on the Esoteric Instructions of the Perfection of Wisdom (tr. Sarah Harding (2016).
“Some people when they practice Chod, they worry that if you practice Chod too much, then you’re going to encounter adverse conditions such as illnesses. Actually, that fear is a sign that your Chod practice hasn’t gone deep enough. Why? Because actually, it’s a good sign if you get sick, or have obstacles due to having practiced Chod because that means that some karmic debt collectors have come to enjoy the body that you have offered them. So getting sick should be a cause for your feeling happy rather than becoming worried. At the same time, you don’t need to worry about getting sick.”
“These teachings of Chod we have been receiving here come to us from the female lineage of Chod, from the Great Master Machig Labdron, it is through her kindness that we were able to receive these teachings, she was a person who appeared in the form of a woman’s body. And from that perspective, she can stand as a very inspiring example, to women who wish to practice the Dharma. Using the body of a woman, she attained the state of full accomplishment. Sometimes, in general society, women are regarded as lower and because of this collective attitude on the part of society, sometimes women can feel discouraged. However, when it comes to practicing the Dharma, we should not feel discouraged at all. In fact, we should feel more encouraged and inspired. When we practice the Dharma, and particularly when women are practicing the Dharma, they should actually not be humble about their capabilities, they should be proud of their capabilities, they should call upon their pride and strength of heart.”
–17th Karmapa (October 2012)
Today, is the 30th June, which is being celebrated as HH 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s birthday[i]. As a second offering for the Karmapa’s birthday and teachings, (for the first one, see here) am happy to present an introduction and full (edited) transcript with images and footnotes of the three-day Chod empowerment and teaching the 17th Karmapa gave in October 2012 at a Drugpa Kagyu monastery in Himachal Pradesh, India[ii]. In this unprecedented event, the 17th Karmapa granted (for the first time in his lifetime) initiation and teachings on Chod. I was fortunate to be able to attend this whole event in person. Approximately 1,000 people from across the Himalayan region and around the world attended this historic Dharma transmission in person, which had been given in response to a request by western Buddhist teacher, Lama Tsultrim Allione (said by some to be an emanation of Machig Labdron) who attended the event together with many members of her Tara Mandala community. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo also attended the whole event. The Karmapa explained how Lama Allione had requested the teaching event:
Ever since attending this 2012 event, I have wanted to type up these teachings for the benefit of myself, others and the teachings. Sadly, various obstacles have prevented that. However, this year it seems the time is ripe to do it. As the Youtube videos of these teachings have been publicly available since that time (Empowerment Day, Day One and Day Two) and there are no secret pith teachings or instructions in it and so no secrets revealed and breaking samaya.
I am offering the following thus:
- An overview and introduction to the 8th Karmapa on Chod in terms of text and lineage.
- An overview of the 17th Karmapa’s teachings on the 8th Karmapa’s Chod Instruction text.
- A new translation of ‘The Profound Chod Instruction’. (with Tibetan and phonetics) of the 8th Karmapa’s short practice text/recitation.
- Full (edited) 70 page transcript of the 17th Karmapa’s Chod teaching in 2012. Based on the original English translation by Tyler Dewar and the original Tibetan.
The practice should only be done by those with a Kagyu Chod empowerment. Download here: Chod Teachings.
Below is a brief introduction and overview of the 8th Karmapa on Chod, texts, lineage and the 17th Karmapa’s teaching.
Music? Chod chanting by Tibetan Buddhist nuns at the 4th Arya Kshema with the 17th Karmapa in attendance, a full Chod practice (with Tibetan text and phonetics on screen to chant along with) performed by Thrangu Monastery monks at Namo Buddha, Give it Away by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Written and edited by Adele Tomlin, for the new moon of the Saga Dawa month and the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje’s birthday on the first day of the fifth Tibetan lunar month.
8th Karmapa on Chod – texts and sadhana
After bestowing the empowerment, the 17th Karmapa gave a teaching based on the Chod Guiding Instruction text (gCod kyi khrid yig)[iii] by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, which outlines a week-long Chod retreat. This text by 8th Karmapa has not been translated or published by Sarah Harding (in her book on Chod (2016))[iv]. The 17th Karmapa’s teaching in 2012 does not really follow the 8th Karmapa’s text word by word, there is no oral transmission of the text nor citations from it. Thus, it is more a general teaching on the principles and foundations of Chod and Dharma practice contained within it.
There is another 8th Karmapa Chod text (available online at BDRC): Profound Chod Instructions[v] (gCod khrid zab mo). It is a lovely short ritual of purification, offerings and dissolution, visualising oneself as Vajrayogini and making supplications and offerings to both Machig Labdron and the Buddha Shakyamuni.
Sarah Harding has translated this second text (Chapter 20: 2016) with a different heading as it is the first part of a compiled commentary by Karma Chagme (Karma chags med; alias Rā-ga a-sya; 1613-1678) [vi] called THE BODY DONATION AND FEEDING RITUAL ARRANGED AS CONVENIENT LITURGY: Combining Lord Rangjung Dorje’s Ninefold Spirit Feast and Six Earth Lord Application with Mikyö Dorje’s Single-Seat Severance Poem. Harding interestingly notes that the text Karma Chagme uses by 8th Karmapa is the same, but he replaces the name of the 8th Karmapa’s main teacher, 1st Sangye Nyenpa, with the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi:
‘In this text, Mikyö Dorje’s “poem” comes first. This is available in several other editions—for example, in a collection of recitation texts from Palpung Monastery (seat of the Karma Kagyu Tai Situ incarnations in Kham), where it is called simply Profound Severance Guide (gCod khrid zab mo).* The poem is reproduced accurately, with one notable exception: wherever Mikyö Dorje has the name of his own guru, Sangye Nyenpa (Sangs rgyas mnyan pa, 1445/57–1510/25), Karma Chakme has substituted the name of the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204–1283). Perhaps Karma Chakme preferred to identify the source of the lineage as the great master of the early days of the Karma Kagyu so that it would be more widely relevant and familiar to future practitioners. Karma Pakshi is legendary, though not known as a teacher of Severance. Karma Chakme then adds a white and a black distribution that he attributes to Könchok Bang, but he renders them into verse to facilitate recitation. In the colophon he further states that these are the only parts of the liturgy that he has tampered with; all other sections remain true to the originals.”
It is not clear why Karma Chagme did that though and would require further investigation. For more on the Chod lineage of the Karma Kagyu and 8th Karmapa, see below.
However, as Harding does not include the Tibetan script or phonetics for her translation, and it is contained in a big book, (which many people may not have the time to read or buy) I have done a new translation of the 8th Karmapa text only, with the Tibetan and phonetics as a pdf booklet for those who want to chant it as a daily practice. For those with the 8th Karmapa’s Chod empowerment, please contact me here for the text. If I am able to find someone who has the time (and willing) to explain the 8th Karmapa’s Instruction text then I will try and translate that in the future too.
The 8th Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu Chod Lineage
The 17th Karmapa explained the close connection of the Karmapas to Chod:
“Since the time of the 3rd Karmapa who wrote the first commentary on Chöd, the Karmapas have maintained a close connection to this practice. I myself feel a deep bond with these teachings coming from Machig Labdrön. She is the perfect embodiment of wisdom and compassion and has inspired Buddhist practitioners for many centuries. I am especially pleased that I can offer this encouragement and support to female practitioners from around the Himalayan region and the world, and pray that the good merit from this event generates peace.”
“The Gyalwang Karmapas are the historical holders of the direct lineage of Chöd, which is based on the Indian Buddhist deity Prajnaparamita, the Mother of all the Buddhas, embodiment of wisdom. Of the eight practice lineages of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Chöd is the only lineage established by a woman.”
The Karmapas and several Karma Kagyu masters are important holders of the Chod lineages. Most of the lineages mention the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. Dharma Sengge’s Dharma History situates Rangjung Dorje as an important inheritor of Chod, explaining that he is responsible for having clarified previous erroneous ideas about Chod. Sorensen (2013: 100-1) also explains why Rangjung Dorje is a pivotal figure in the development of the Chod tradition.
The 8th Karmapa’s lineage comes from that of Bengar Zangpo, as I wrote about here before. Sorensen (2013: Chapter 2) explains that in Namkha Gyaltsen’s appendix to the life-story (rnam thar) in The Great Explanation collection, the transmission lineages of Chod are described along three different paths:
- One lineage of the Sūtra tradition of Prajñāpāramitā, or Yum Chen mo.
- A second lineage from Śākyamuni, runs through Mañjuśrī, Nāgārjuna, and the Brahmin Āryadeva to Padampa Sangyé and finally to Machig.
- A third lineage of Tantra runs from Vajradhara through Tārā to Machig.
For more on Tārā and Machig, see here.
The Bengar Zangpo/Karma Kamtsang lineage[vii] seems to belong to the second type. Bengar Jampel Zangpo (15th Century) was a student of the 6th Karmapa and a teacher to the 7th Karmapa and 1st Gyaltsab Rinpoche. The lineage supplication by Bengar Jampel Zangpo could be called the Chod lineage of the Karmapas and Karma Kamtsang[viii].
Unlike texts in the Life-Liberation stories and The Blue Annals, the supplication does not classify its lineage according to a particular category such as “Male lineage,” “Union lineage,” or one of the other popular categories of Chod lineages. In addition, it identifies the locations for many of the transmissions and contains several Karmapas [3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 13th 15th], the 2nd and 8th Zharmarpa and Tai Situpas (8th, 9th and 11th)  and Jamgon Kongtrul 1st and 2nd.’ There is another lineage, called the Lineage of Chod Explanation, which also contains several Karmapas who pass it on to Bengar Zangpo who passes it down to the 1st Sangye Nyenpa and then 8th Karmapa.
The 17th Karmapa’s teaching on Chod and the 8th Karmapa’s seven-day retreat topics
As an entry point into understanding the practice of Chod, the 17th Karmapa first explained the meaning of Chod—a Tibetan verb that means to cut or sever—in terms of what is to be cut and what does the cutting. Otherwise, there is the danger that we leave Chod practice at the level of mere ritual. What we aim to cut with Chod practice, he explained, are the ‘demons’ (maras) pf negative emotions and mind states and in particular the ‘demon’ of self-grasping or fixation. What we sever these with is the prajñā or wisdom that realizes essencelessness, or lack of self.
The instruction text itself by the 8th Karmapa, describing contemplations for a seven-day retreat, does not go into great detail about the ritualistic aspects most people associate with Chod, such as the bone horn, the damaru drum and bell. In fact, one might say that the 8th Karmapa focuses on the essence of Chod and its foundations. The seven contemplations are:
- Understanding that all pleasures are inherently a cause of suffering and developing the ‘wish to emerge’ from samsara,
- Generating great and limitless compassion and love for all beings,
- Going for refuge and understanding why the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are stable and genuine refuges
- Developing bodhicitta, the mind that wishes to attain full awakening for the benefit of all beings
- The practice of generosity and letting go of attachment to oneself and phenomena
- The main practice of giving away one’s body, speech and mind
- Dedicating the Merit
The 17th Karmapa also gives some background on the history and origin of Chod and Machig’s life story. The transcript of the teaching is available on request here.
Bengar Jampel Zangpo. The Long Lineage Supplication to Machig by Bengar Zangpo (Ring brgyud kyi gsol ‘debs ma gcig gis mdzad par ban sgar ‘jam dpal bzang pos kha bskang ba ldeb. Damngak Dzö Volume 14 (ཕ་) / Pages 335-336 / Folios 1a1 to 1b7.
Harding, Sarah. Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chod? A Survey of the Early Sources by Sarah Harding. https://www.tsadra.org/2014/04/28/did-machik-really-teach-chod/
Karmapa, 8th, Mikyo Dorje:
—–gGod khrid yig, Karmapa’s Collected Works (page 595 – 616 in Volume 19 of BDRC Work W8039, 11 ff. (pp. 587-607)
—–gCod khrid zab mo. Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 71, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 73–79. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_1B6DBB.
Sorensen, Michelle. 2013. ‘Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chod Tradition‘. PhD diss., Columbia University.
—–2010. The Body Extraordinary: Embodied Praxis, Vajrayoginī, and Buddhist Gcod.” In Tibetan Studies: an Anthology. Eds. Saadet Arslan and Peter Schwieger. Halle: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2010. 439-456.
GOLDEN OFFERING FROM A WEALTHY NUN: THE 8TH KARMAPA’S COLLECTED WORKS: EDITIONS AND CONTENTS. Handwritten edition by 8th Karmapa, Outline edition by 5th Zhamarpa, golden manuscript edition sponsored by wealthy nun and contemporary editions
[i] An official announcement was made recently, that as the Karmapa’s birthday falls on the first day of the fifth Tibetan lunar month, it should be celebrated on that day and not as has been done on the 26th June by the western calendar. For a full transcript of the speech HH gave for his birthday today, see here.
[ii] The Kagyu Office summaries are just that very brief, edited summaries. Hence why I have done a full transcript.
[iii] This 8th Karmapa text is available online in an edition of the Karmapa’s Collected Works (page 595 – 616 in Volume 19 of Work W8039, 11 ff. (pp. 587-607). Also in Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 71, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 489–501. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_86DC39. [BDRC bdr:MW3PD1288_86DC39]. Also in the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje (gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje, vol. 19, 2004, pp. 1015–44. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW8039_4FE2BD. [BDRC bdr:MW8039_4FE2BD]
[iv] The only 8th Karmapa text Harding (2016) translates is The Body Donation and Feeding Ritual Arranged as Convenient Liturgy Combining Lord Rangjung Dorje’s Ninefold Spirit Feast and Six Earth Lord Application with Mikyö Dorje’s Single-Seat Severance Poem, Compiled by Karma Chakme
[v] “gCod khrid zab mo.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 71, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 73–79. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_1B6DBB. [BDRC bdr:MW3PD1288_1B6DBB]. Another edition is in dPal spungs dpe rnying gsar bskrun las khrid yig phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 2, dPal spungs gsung rab nyams gso khang, 2006, pp. 587–613.
[vi] Harding says:
“In this text, Mikyö Dorje’s “poem” comes first. This is available in several other editions—for example, in a collection of recitation texts from Palpung Monastery (seat of the Karma Kagyu Tai Situ incarnations in Kham), where it is called simply Profound Severance Guide (gCod khrid zab mo).* All the liturgical sections in the first five pages in our text are from Mikyö Dorje, with Karma Chakme dividing it into parts and adding useful descriptions and instructions. The poem is reproduced accurately, with one notable exception: wherever Mikyö Dorje has the name of his own guru, Sangye Nyenpa (Sangs rgyas mnyan pa, 1445/57–1510/25), Karma Chakme has substituted the name of the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204–1283). Perhaps Karma Chakme preferred to identify the source of the lineage as the great master of the early days of the Karma Kagyu so that it would be more widely relevant and familiar to future practitioners. Karma Pakshi is legendary, though not known as a teacher of Severance.”
[vii] The Long Lineage Supplication to Machig by Bengar Zangpo (Ring brgyud kyi gsol ‘debs ma gcig gis mdzad par ban sgar ‘jam dpal bzang pos kha bskang ba ldeb- in Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions) is a practice text invoking the recipients of a transmission of Chod teachings. tracing a Chod lineage that is transmitted through several Karmapas and Karma Kagyu masters and establishes a Chod connection between Machig and 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorjé. Please see full article about it here: CHOD LINEAGES AND MACHIG LABDRON: Indic-Tibetan Sources, Contemporary Works, The Karmapas and ‘The Long Lineage Supplication to Machig” by Bengar Jampel Zangpo. Sarah Harding (2016) has done a translation of the lineage prayer but without much explanation with it.
[viii] Sorensen (2013: 82-86) is the only contemporary source to consider this Bengar supplication (although she does not provide a word-for-word translation of the text as written), she says:
“This is one of the earliest instances of a text making a direct connection between Padampa Sangyé and Machig Labdrön in the context of Chod transmissions; as we have seen, texts such as The Blue Annals are more ambiguous about the direct receipt of Chod teachings by Machik from Padampa Sangyé.”