THE KARMAPAS AND CHOD: An overview of the Karmapas’ important role and influence in the Chod lineages, preservation and practice

“Namo prajñāpāramitā
Completely quieting all conceptual elaborations,
not entering into the duality of existence and peace,
showing the middle way free of extremes,
Mother of the victors, having bowed to you,
I write the instructions for cutting off discursive thought
in order to sever by the meaning of noninflation
the ‘demon’ of dualistic clinging totally entangled
by habitual patterns since beginningless time.”
–3rd Karmapa in Profound Instructions on Chod

“The Gyalwang Karmapas are the historical holders of the direct lineage of Chod, which is based on the Indian Buddhist deity Prajñāpāramitā, the Mother of all the Buddhas, embodiment of wisdom.”

–17th Karmapa (2012)


17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje practising Chod at the 2012 empowerment.

On Dakini Day today, the Arya Kshema nuns’ annual debate participants performed the Karmapa composed Chod ritual “Source of All Qualities’, see video here. My small offering for this event is this short research piece compiling and providing  information about the Gyalwang Karmapas’ important and  essential connection to Chod. 

In 2012, I received the Chod empowerment, transmission and instruction of an 8th Karmapa Chod text, directly from HH 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje at Dorzong Monastery, India (see official report here). The event, which was the first time the 17th Karmapa gave the Chod empowerment, was requested by Chod practitioner and teacher, Lama Tsultrim Allione.  In attendance were several members of Allione’s predominantly female Tārā Mandala community and the revered British nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, founder and head of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India.  

I wrote about this event, the 8th Karmapa on Chod, and transcribed the 17th Karmapa’s teachings here.  The 17th Karmapa said:

“Since the time of the 3rd Karmapa who wrote the first commentary on Chod, the Karmapas have maintained a close connection to this practice. I myself feel a deep bond with these teachings coming from Machig Labdron….The Gyalwang Karmapas are the historical holders of the direct lineage of Chod, which is based on the Indian Buddhist deity Prajñāpāramitā, the Mother of all the Buddhas, embodiment of wisdom. Of the eight practice lineages of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Chod is the only lineage established by a woman.”

I also wrote about the Chod lineage passed directly down from Machig Labdron (1055-1149) to the Karmapas here based on the supplication prayer of Bengar Zangpo

In this short article, I first give an overview of relevant contemporary English-language research on Chod that refers to the Karmapas.  This is followed by a closer analysis of research on the 3rd, 8th and 14th Karmapas on Chod, in relation to their lineage and text. In particular, the importance of the 3rd Karmapa in not only interpreting and preserving Chod in Tibet, but also grounding it in Indic sources, and developing it into the Mahāmudrā Chod it is commonly seen as today. For research on Machig Labdron and other Chod traditions, see here.

May this brief post be of benefit in bringing out the important influence and role of the Karmapas in the transmission and preservation of Chod and may well all achieve the ‘severing’ of conceptuality and duality in the warm and blissful embrace of the Great Mother of Wisdom!

Music? Song of Chod  and Chod Lineage Prayer by Margot Reisinger/Lama Tenzin Sangpo; Give It Away by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and  Let it Go in Frozen.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 17th March 2023.

Contemporary English-Language Research on Chod

In terms of contemporary English-language research on Chod, Michelle Sorensen’s 2013 PhD study, Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chod Tradition (Columbia University) seems to be the most in-depth and extensive academic work on Chod and Machig Labdron, not only in terms of textual and lineage history but regarding the philosophical foundations of Chod practice. Sorensen also translates two of the 3rd Karmapa’s Chod texts and analyses his importance to the tradition.

There is also Sarah Harding’s book Machig’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod (2003) and her translation (2016) of Jamgon Kongtrul’s compilation of Chod texts in his Treasury of Precious Instructions (Damngag Dzo). However, in a 2006 review, Sorensen critiques Harding’s work on Chod as being neither suitable for a scholarly, nor a practitioner audience, which I have to agree with[1]. Although, frankly to be fair, more people will read and benefit from Harding’s work than Sorensen’s PhD, which is very academic but also illegible to a non-scholarly (and hard work even for a scholarly) audience as far too much is in Wylie Tibetan (which I am not a big fan of, as I wrote about here)!

In any case, despite the value of their research, one thing is certain, neither Sorensen nor Harding provide any substantive overview or analysis of the Karmapas on Chod, even though, as Sorensen (2013:67) asserts:

“the relationship between Machig and Rangjung Dorjé [3rd Karmapa] is perhaps the most historically important in the transmission and renewal of the Chöd tradition.”

 As for the 8th Karmapa on Chod, he is not mentioned at all hence why I wrote my article on the 8th Karmapa and Chod (see below). Also, in Ruth Gamble’s recent books (2019 and 2020) on the 3rd Karmapa, I did not see any mention of his connection to Chod either, and Alexander Gardner’s biography of the 3rd Karmapa in Treasury of Lives only mentions it in passing.  

So, the lineage and influence of the Karmapas on Chod is a major subject and worthy of further research (one which I may take up).   In order that importance and influence does not get lost in these hefty academic publications/books, here is my brief overview of the Karmapas and Chod for a general readership and for practitioners of Chod.

The Chod lineage of the Karmapas and Karma Kagyu

Machig Labdron. Source HAR 619.

As  I wrote before, an important Chod Lineage Supplication by Bengar Jampel Zangpo (15th Century) (who was a student of the 6th Karmapa, and a teacher to the 7th Karmapa and 1st Gyaltsab Rinpoche) could be called the Chod lineage of the Karmapas and Karma Kamtsang. 

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[2] and Jamgon Kongtrul 1st and 2nd.’ To read my article and translation of this lineage supplication, see here.

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.

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa – contact with Machig Labdron?
1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-93)

Although the lineage supplication does not mention the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (Dus gsum mkhyen pa, 1110-93), Sorensen (2013: 234) notes that the Chod lineage of Karmapas may have begun with him:

“Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa studied Prāsaṅgika with Pa tshab as well as esoteric teachings with Gampopa (Sgam po pa). Ronald Davidson intimates that Dusum Khyenpa may have had contact with Machik in the mid-twelfth century when he stayed in Zangri where Machik lived.”

2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi 
2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1284)

Sorensen (2013: 234) queries a 19th century historical text by Chokyi Senge that notes that the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1284) and the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorjé are both said to have followed Machig’s partner, Thopabhadra (Thod pa bha dra), as ‘chronologically unlikely’[2]. However:

“Chökyi Sengé later mentions that Karma Pakshi and Tsondru Senge (Brtson ‘grus seng ge (1207- 1278; Shangpa Kagyüpa) received the linear transmission of the essential profound teachings of Chöd (zab don snying po’i bka’ babs grub chen karma pakshi) (68a). According to the TBRC database (P 95), Tsondru Senge received a Single Lineage of Chod (Gcod kyi chig brgyud) from “Ma gcig sprul sku” in 1216 CE.”

3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje – Chod Lineage Holder and inventor of Mahamudra Chod
3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339)

These are the opening lines to the 3rd Karmapa’s Profound Instruction Manual on Chod, which is translated in full in Harding (2016).   Most of the Chod lineages mention the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. Harding explains how important the 3rd Karmapa was for Chod:

“The 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), had a special connection with the Severance [Chod] teachings and was instrumental in codifying them and bringing them into the Karma Kagyu lineage by connecting them with the mahāmudrā. He received the complete teaching cycles of Dampa Sangye at the age of eighteen (Red Annals) and Machik Lapdrön’s Severance teachings from Lama Kunga Döndrup (Kun dga’ don grub). However, in most Severance lineages and in the colophon here, he received the transmission from Lama Namtsowa (“Guru of Sky Lake”), one of his teachers at Tsurpu Monastery, whose full name was Namtso Dopa Mikyö Dorje (gNam mtsho do pa Mi bskyod rdo rje);* he was also known as Repa Sangye Nyima (Ras pa Sangs rgyas nyi ma). He heard many Severance teachings from Khambuyale’s disciple Jñānajvala. Thus he is only the third in the lineage after Machik herself. Most of Rangjung Dorje’s works on Severance are found in volume 11 of his collected works, with only two included here in The Treasury of Precious Instructions.”

3rd Karmapa’s Chod texts – ‘commentary on The Great Speech’ and the ‘Garland of Jewels’ ritual

Chod Thangka depicting Machig Labdron and lineage. In the top-bottom right, is the 2nd Karmapa with his distinctive goatee beard.

After a quick search on BDRC, I found the following texts on Chod by the 3rd Karmapa:

  1. Outline of the Great Speech[3]  (Chod Ka-Tshom Chenmo གཅོད་བཀའ་ཚོམས་ཆེན་མོའི་ས་བཅད།) and Bindu of Chod commentary (Chod ki Tika གཅོད་ཀྱི་ཊཱི་ཀ།) [4]. Translated by Sorensen (2013) and Harding (2016).
  2. Assembly of the Source of All Excellent Qualities[5] (Yonten Kungjung ཚོགས་ལས་ཡོན་ཏན་ཀུན་འབྱུང།).
  3. Garland of Jewels (Chod ki Rinchen Trengwa གཅོད་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་ལས་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་ཕྲེན་བ་འདོན་བསྒྲིགས་བལྟས་ཆོག་ཏུ་བདོད་པ། གཅོད་ཀྱི་ལུགས་སོར་བཞག།)
  4. Song of Supplication to Machig Labdron (མ་ལབ་སྒྲོན་ལ་གསོལ་བ་འདེབ་པའི་མགུར་མ།).
  5. Instruction Manual on the Profound Chod of ’Demons’[6] (Zabmo Du gi Tri-Yig ཟབ་མོ་བདུད་ཀྱི་གཅོད་ཀྱི་ཁྲིད་ཡིག།). Translated in Harding (2016).

The first text is the 3rd Karmapa’s commentary on Machig Labdron’s Great Speech/Sayings.  Sorensen explains that:

“A note on this attribution of the text to Machig, states that this teaching is in the tradition of Āryadeva the Brahmin, particularly the tradition that was passed from Machik through her spiritual son Drapa Hagtön (Grwa pa hag ston, n.d.). Drapa Hagtön is mentioned by Gö Lotsawa Zhonnupel in his list of great “sons” who received the precepts from Machik herself (1976, 985; 2003, 1143). He is also mentioned in the Zhijé and Chöd History by Dharmasengé as one of the “eight sons” of Machik. In an addendum to The Great Speech Chapter by an unknown author (possibly the editor Jamgön Kongtrül), it is explicitly stated that this text should be presented together with Rangjung Dorjé’s Outline and Commentary.”

Harding (2016) has translated these texts, as has Michelle Sorensen, in her 2013 PhD study. For the benefit of the reader, I have pulled out some of Sorensen’s most interesting passages on this text in terms of its historical and philosophical import and origin. She first explains the context of the 3rd Karmapa’s text:

“Rangjung Dorjé’s commentaries help us to understand how The Great Speech Chapter [by Machig Labdron] was both legitimated and renewed by scholars of Chöd. Through these commentaries, we begin not only to understand how Chöd was assimilated to the Kagyü school, but also to trace the development of Chöd. As we see from his commentaries, Rangjung Dorjé was at least partially responsible for later developments in Chöd, including increased emphasis on the “demonic” nature of the Negative Forces (as well as exorcism and healing), the development of more formal sādhana (along with deity yoga including supramundane female figures such as Vajravarahī and Vajrayoginī), and the intertwining of Chöd with Mahāmudrā.”

 As Kurtis R. Schaeffer (1995, 15) notes, the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorjé (1284-1339) is well known as a “systematizer” of Machik’s Chöd teachings. Dharmasengé, the author of the 19th century Zhijé and Chöd History, credits Rangjung Dorjé with “clarifying the inaccuracies regarding the Chöd of Machik Labdrön,” presumably at least in part through his Commentary and Outline on The Great Speech Chapter.”

Sorensen (2016: 234) also details other important texts by the 3rd Karmapa on Chod:

“In addition to The Great Speech Commentary and The Great Speech Outline, both translated in the present study, Rangjung Dorjé is credited with the composition of Chöd practice manuals and other explanatory texts.  One of the most comprehensive collections of works on  the practices of Chöd (the Gcod kyi tshogs las rin po che’i phreng ba ‘don bsgrigs bltas chog tu bdud pa gcod kyi lugs sor bzhag, or the Gcod tshogs) is attributed to Rangjung Dorjé and was revised by Karma Chagmé in the 17th century.”

One of the texts in this Chod Collection of 3rd Karmapa is called ‘A Jewel Garland’ (Tsogle Rinchen Trengwa) is a Chod ritual, which the 17th Karmapa performed with the nuns at Tergar Monastery, in 2015. A Chod empowerment text by Karma Chagme Rinpoche states:

“This profound Chod practice [Garland of Jewels] is more profound and potent than other practices for the removal of sicknesses, evil influences, and obstacles in this life. It is swifter than other practices for bringing about the attainment of future awakening…This is the way for simple meditators to accumulate merit; one hundred other practices of merit accumulation cannot rival it…The view, primordial purity beyond extremes, is unrivaled by one hundred other dharma practices.”

3rd Karmapa’s connection to Padampa Sangye

Padampa Sangye, Indian Mahasiddha and lineage holder and founder of Zhije. Teacher of Machig Labdron.

So when and how did the 3rd Karmapa become interested in Chod? Sorensen (2016: 234) explains:

“Rangjung Dorjé’s interest in Chöd may have been due to his connection to Padampa Sangyé: at a young age, Rangjung Dorjé’s family made a pilgrimage to Langkhor, Dingri, a site closely associated with Padampa Sangyé, and the boy received blessings from a statue of Padampa Sangé.

What can be definitively established is that Rangjung Dorjé was aware of these Chöd teachings by the early fourteenth century and found them important enough that he wrote commentaries on existing Chöd texts as well as composing his own teachings. From Rangjung Dorjé’s commentaries, we learn that by the fourteenth century, teachings were circulating under the name of “Chöd” that were not presented as a subset of Padampa’s Zhijé system. Rangjung Dorjé’s commentaries also allow us roughly to date The Great Speech Chapter as existing prior to the fourteenth century.”

Most interestingly of all, Sorensen (2016: 249) suggests the 3rd Karmapa tried to diminish Machig’s contributions within a male-centred tradition:

“Rangjung Dorjé’s frequent references to canonical texts not only legitimate Chöd as authentically Buddhist, but they serve to diminish Machik’s unique contributions to Buddhist dharma. In Machik’s biographies and The Great Explanation, there is a distinct effort to locate Machik in a previous (male-embodied) life in India, to identify her as a student of Padampa Sangyé, and to describe her teachings being tested and found valid according to “experts.”

Similarly, Rangjung Dorjé, in his efforts to domesticate Chöd, makes canonical Buddhist references explicit, drawing connections between passages in The Great Speech Chapter and authoritative Indic sources. Machik’s teachings are thus both legitimated and altered through Rangjung Dorjé’s references.”

Mahāmudrā Chod and 3rd Karmapa’s citation of Tilopa

Tilopa statue, said to be created by the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje

There is also an interesting section where Sorensen (2016: 254-260) credits Rangjung Dorje influencing the evolution of Chod teachings, by grounding Chod in the Prajñāpāramitā and contributing elements of later practices, but also helping to establish the association of Chod with Mahāmudrā, a relationship that she asserts contemporary scholars seemingly take for granted:

“If one were to become familiar with The Great Speech Chapter only through Rangjung Dorjé’s commentaries, one might think that Chöd philosophy is inherently associated with Mahāmudrā. Since the *Anuttaratantra Mahāmudrā is central to the Kagyü lineages, it is unsurprising to find Rangjung Dorjé construing Mahāmudrā as the highest teaching in his commentary on Chöd. What is more difficult to understand is why Rangjung Dorjé should engage with Chöd so extensively. Perhaps Chöd was popular enough at the time that Rangjung Dorjé felt the need to assimilate its teachings and its practitioners to the Kagyü tradition, or perhaps the Kagyü saw Chöd praxis as particularly efficacious. By aligning Chöd with Mahāmudrā, Rangjung Dorjé initiated the historical process through which Chöd became known as “Mahāmudrā Chöd.” While Kagyü teachings were apparently accorded greater popularity, prestige, or efficacy by incorporating Chöd, Chöd was able to survive as a praxis through its incorporation by dominant schools such as the Kagyü.”

Rangjung Dorjé then supplements his gloss with a reference to Tilopa’s Personal Instructions on Mahāmudrā (Phyag rgya chen po’i man ngag):

“Mantra expressions, pāramitā, vinaya, sūtra, abhi[dharma], and the like, as each has its own textual tradition and tenet system, the luminous Mahāmudrā will not be seen; one is not able to see the luminosity because of one’s own wishes.”

Using Tilopa, Rangjung Dorjé is able to insist on the primacy and transcendence of Mahāmudrā even as he appears to be agreeing with Machik’s classification of Mahāmudrā as one school among many. Intriguingly, Rangjung Dorjé’s citation of Tilopa resonates with a later passage of The Great Speech Chapter in which Machik says that “the perfection of wisdom (shes rab pha rol phyin pa; prajñāpāramitā) is not established through objects of the discursive mind” (16/465) even if such an object is the foundation of a tenet system. Whereas for Machik, prajñāpāramitā is descriptive of the perfected wisdom that is obscured by clinging to the discursive objects of tenet systems or particular texts, Mahāmudrā takes this place for Rangjung Dorjé. Through using Tilopa, Rangjung Dorjé makes a subtle revision to Machik’s argument, intimating that Mahāmudrā is not merely a tenet system or a discursive object of a tenet system; for Rangjung Dorjé, Mahāmudrā also signifies ultimate actuality and thus transcends the critique of tenet systems, as the prajñāpāramitā does for Machig.”

 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje and its transmission by 17th Karmapa
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje with teacher 1st Sangye Nyenpa (both of whom were holders of the Chod Lineage)

Below is a summary of what I wrote about the 8th Karmapa and Chod before here [7].

In 2012, after bestowing the Chod empowerment, the 17th Karmapa gave a teaching based on the Chod Guiding Instruction text (gCod kyi khrid yig) by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, which outlines a week-long Chod retreat. This text by 8th Karmapa has not yet been translated into English.

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.   For a transcript of those 2012 teachings, see here.

There is another 8th Karmapa Chod text (available online at BDRC): Profound Chod Instructions (gCod khrid zab mo)[8]. 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) 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[9].

One of the 8th Karmapa’s main teachers was the 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor, who is also mentioned in the Chod lineage supplication.

14th Karmapa, Thekchog Dorje – arrangement of Chod in the Zurmang tradition

The Chod ritual text by 14th Karmapa, Source of All Qualities [10], has been translated into English by Lama Lodro Rinpoche (with a foreword by Bokar Rinpoche) and can be downloaded here.  Harding (2016) explains that:

“Source of All Qualities [11] is the fourteenth Karmapa’s arrangement of the prayers and practices traditionally used in the Severance feast activities of the Zurmang tradition. The first part of the title is nearly identical to that of White Crystal Mirror in this volume; most likely Karmapa Tekchok Dorje (Theg mchog rdo rje, (1798/9–1868/9) wished to enhance that earlier text. Also found here are many sections from Pearl Rosary. And it is clear from the internal comments (yig chung) that to practice it one must draw on the liturgies of these earlier compositions. What is distinctive in this text is the addition of a number of the ancient supplications to the gurus of the lineage, particularly the beautiful prayers to Machik by her son and grandson. The most unusual feature of all is that Tekchok Dorje provides the authorship for each of the added prayers, a rarity in this Tibetan tradition of recycled liturgy…..In addition to this text, Tekchok Dorje is usually cited as the author of the most popular daily practice of Severance in the Kagyu tradition, The Concise Charity of the Body for Daily Practice (although the fifteenth Karmapa and Karma Chakme have also been credited with it). Despite their close connection, Kongtrul did not actually receive the transmission of Source of All Qualities directly from Tekchok Dorje but through the Chöwang Tulku, according to the Catalog, which also mentions that Tekchok Dorje himself received it from Situ Pema Nyinje.”

Clearly, a lot more could be written and said about the Karmapas and Chod. For now, I hope this short compilation and overview whets the appetite and interest in the topic.

Here are a couple of photos taken from the Arya Kshema Chod practice today (Source FB):

Bibliographical Sources

14th Karmapa, Dorje, Thekchok and Jamgön Kongtrül Lodö Taye. 2007. Chod Practice Manual and Commentary. Trans. Lodö Rinpoche. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.

Gamble, Ruth.

—2019. Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: The Third Karmapa and the Invention of a Tradition. Shambhala Publications.

—2020. The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje: Master of Mahamudra Shambhala.

Alexander Gardner. “The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje,” Treasury of Lives.  

Harding, Sarah.

–2013. Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod (Expanded Edition) (Tsadra). Snow Lion Publications.

–2016. Chod: The Sacred Teachings on Severance: Essential Teachings of the Eight Practice Lineages of Tibet, Volume 14 (The Treasury of Precious Instructions). Snow Lion Publications.

Sorensen, Michelle.

—2013. ‘Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chod Tradition‘. PhD diss., Columbia University.

—-2016. Sorensen on Labdrön, ‘Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd: A Complete Explanation of Casting Out the Body as Food’. (Center for Buddhist Studies, Columbia University Department of Religion) Published on H-Buddhism.

Tomlin, Adele.

June 2022. 8TH KARMAPA ON CHOD: TEXTS AND LINEAGE. New translation of 8th Karmapa’s short daily Chod practice and full transcription of 17th Karmapa’s Chod teachings

June 2021. Chod Lineages and Machig Labdron: Indic-Tibetan Sources, Contemporary Works, The Karmapas and ‘The Long Lineage Supplication to Machig” by Bengar Jampel Zangpo

August 2022. ARCHAIC, ANGLO/EURO-CENTRIC GOBBLEDYGOOK?: A case for abandoning the use of Romanized (Wylie) transliteration of Tibetan script

STAINLESS IN THE WOMB AND THE MOON: New Concise Liberation-story and artwork of 3rd Karmapa (by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa)


[1] I agree with Sorensen that although having translations of Chod texts is useful, Harding’s generally do not meet high scholarly standards on research or translation, but also do not provide any real guidance on the history, editions, or even interpreting or practising the ritual and commentary texts she translated.   Sorensen states that:

“While Harding acknowledges that she did not intend her translation as a scholarly work, it is difficult to identify an appropriate audience for her text. Harding claims that she wanted to present the Complete Explanation “as it has been used by Tibetan practitioners for many years” (p. 14), but such an arcane text (and practice) obviously requires the guidance of a learned teacher. Though such guidance is necessarily beyond the scope of a written work, Harding gives little hermeneutic guidance to practitioners. Because of its formal and philosophical complexities, the Complete Explanation also calls for detailed commentary. Harding does supplement her translation with a brief introduction and various critical apparatuses (including annotations, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index), but she does not provide much explication of the text. She occasionally references one of her Tibetan teachers in her notes, but these notes usually concern mundane points. Moreover, although Harding consulted with numerous teachers in the Tibetan tradition, she seems to have relied primarily on English-language secondary sources for her preface and introduction, and thus her critical materials add little to the corpus of Chöd studies. Since Western studies have provided insufficient contextualization of the praxis itself, especially from an indigenous Buddhist perspective, further critical engagement–in the form of historical contextualization, philosophical analysis, or textual criticism–would have been a welcome complement to the first English translation of the Complete Explanation.”

[2]   In his 19th century history, Khamnyon Jigdrel Chokyi Senge (Khams smyon ‘jigs ‘bral chos kyi seng ge) (1974, 27a-b) refers to the namthar by Namkha Gyaltsen and notes that the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1284 CE) and Rangjung Dorjé are both said to have followed Machik’s partner, Thopabhadra (Thod pa bha dra). This would be chronologically unlikely according to normative historical dating, since there would be almost a century between Thod pa bha dra (given Machik’s dates) and the second Karmapa, and more than a century between Thod pa bha dra and Rangjung Dorjé. In addition, this information does not appear in the editions of Namkha Gyaltsen’s biography of Machik that are in the Great Explanation collection. Moreover, Chökyi Sengé voices his lack of confidence in this connection, stating that it is not absolutely certain and cannot be confirmed because of the lack of biographies (“’on kyang rnam thar du ma yod pas mtha’ gcig tu ma nges so”).

[3] Harding translates the Tibetan word tshoms here as ‘bundle’, this is not what it means though. It has more the sense of ‘gathering’ or ‘meeting’ or an ‘assembly hall’.

[4]  Karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje. “gCod kyi bkaʼ tshoms chen moʼi sa bcad gcod kyi ṭīkka bcas.” gSung ʼbum rang byung rdo rje, vol. 11, [mTshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis], 2006, pp. 269–302. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),

[5] Karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje. “gCod kyi tshogs as yon tan kun ʼbyung.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, edited by Si tu chos kyi ʼbyung gnas, vol. 20, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 530–73. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),

[6] Harding translates this title as ‘Evil Objects’, however, the Tibetan says bdud which means demons. Zab mo dud kyi gcod yul gyi khrid yig bzhugs/ Karma pa rang byung rdo rjes mdzad. In DNZ: Shechen printing. Vol. 14 (pha), pp. 173–84; Kundeling printing. Vol. 9, pp. 618–28. Second source: Collected Works of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Vol. 11, pp. 299–312.


[8] 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),

[9] 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.

[10] Thekchok Dorje, Karmapa (Theg mchog rdo rje), comp. Source of All Qualities: The Severance Feast Activities Arranged Unerringly According to the Teaching Tradition. gCod kyi tshogs las yon tan kun ’byung gsungs rgyun ’khrul med ltar bkod pa bzhugs pa’i dbu phyogs lags so. In DNZ: Shechen printing. Vol. 14 (pha), pp. 297–334; Kundeling printing. Vol. 9, pp. 741–78. Second source: Dingri Volumes. Vol. ja, pp. 587–647.

[11] gCod kyi tshogs las yon tan kun ’byung gsungs rgyun ’khrul med ltar bkod pa bzhugs pa’i dbu phyogs lags so, from the Zurmang tradition. According to the Catalog, compiled and arranged by the fourteenth Karmapa, Tekchok Dorje (Theg mchog rdo rje, 1798/9–1868/9). DNZ, vol. 14 (pha), pp. 297–334; DNZ-K, vol. 9, pp. 741–78. DV, vol. ja, pp. 587–647.

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