SCHOLARSHIP ON CHOD
by Michelle Janet Sorensen
Scholarship on Chod in the West has ranged from early sensationalist descriptions that emphasize the “exotic” aspects of Chod to contemporary interpretations that discuss the praxis of Chod as a uniform tradition. Western scholarship in general has not been adequately attentive to the historical and cultural contexts of the emergence and development of Chod. Recently, Chod has been interpreted through the lenses of Bon and/or “shamanism,” precluding study of the explicit relationship between the teachings of Machik and traditional Buddhist teachings. My study aims to address the Buddhist foundations, transmissions and developments of Chod that have been largely neglected in Chod scholarship.
Although the 18th and 19th centuries were a time of increased Tibetan interest in Chod, with texts being recovered, authored and edited, Europeans and North Americans did not begin to write on Chod until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Early sensational representations of Chod as a morbid Tibetan Buddhist ritual were included in foreign ethnographic travel narratives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; such representations continue
to influence the way that Chod is considered to the present day. Perhaps the earliest reference to Chod in a Western source is in an 1863 text, Buddhism in Tibet, by Emil Schlaginweit (162-63). Lawrence Austine Waddell also briefly mentions Chod in his The Buddhism in Tibet, or Lamaism, first published in 1895 (74). A lengthier first-hand description of a Chod practice is provided by Alexandra David-Neel in her 1929 writing, Mystiques et magiciens du Tibet; however, like the previously mentioned Western authors, David-Neel represents Chod as a sensational and macabre “Mystery” performance (1993, 148-166). In the early 20th century, English-reading audiences were exposed to the details of one particular form of Chod practice attributed to the Nyingma scholar,
Longchenpa (Klong chen Rab ‘byams pa, 1308-1363). This teaching was recovered by Jigme Lingpa (‘Jigs med gling pa, 1729/30-1798) and was translated and published in 1935 by Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup. Dawa-Samdup was a Sikkimese translator for the British government and a teacher of and translator for David-Neel. This was the first Chod practice text that was widely available in the English language. The first Western author to characterize Chod as a form of “shamanism” was the comparative religion theorist, Mircea Eliade, in his book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964). Unlike
David-Neel, Eliade had not done ethnographic field study of Chod; however, his description of Chod as a shamanic practice has remained popular. Fokke Sierksma, in Tibet's Terrifying Deities: Sex and aggression in religious acculturation (1966), classifies Chod as “shamanism” and “mysticism.” The influence of these early texts is felt in misinterpretations of practices central to the Chod tradition. As I mentioned above, one genre of Chod teachings employs the practitioner's cherishing of her own body as the most fundamental source of subject/object perception and thus existential
attachment. Various Chod instructions in this genre feature a visualization method of offering one's body to other sentient beings (lus sbyin). Unfortunately, it is common for secondary sources on Chod to interpret these methods erroneously. For example, in Geoffrey Samuel's translation of Giuseppe Tucci's The Religions of Tibet: “If a fear-inspiring phantom arises, there is no point in avoiding it; one must look it boldly straight in the eye, and indeed look through the meditation on non-existence at both the object causing fear and also the subject experiencing fear, and the fear itself. The meditation is particularly strengthened by the offering of one's own body as food or plunder to fear appearing or manifesting itself in demonic form” (1988, 90).
Machik, the practitioner confronts the obstructions, obscurations, and suffering produced by one's own mind. Many texts also make the error of equating the obstacles to be confronted, usually called “Dud” (bdud) in Chod texts, with “demons.” In the texts included in my study, I have translated “bdud” as “Negative Force” in order to remind the reader of Machik's fundamental position that these forces are products of the practitioner's own discriminative
thinking. Although the practice of visualizing the offering of one's body to illusory beings has become an oft-cited characteristic of Chod (to the point of being identified with it in some cases), it is often overlooked that many versions of this offering feature a variety of recipients to whom one is beholden in positive or in negative relationships, from the three jewels to one's karmic creditors. In chapters four and five, I provide an analysis of these practices that aims to correct such misinterpretations.
Western scholars' interest in Chod was revived in the late twentieth century. Janet Gyatso published an important study in 1985, “The Development of the gCod Tradition,” which describes various source texts and contributes a preliminary historicization of Chod. Several other Western scholars have also recently provided access to important Chod texts. For example, Giacomella Orofino has been engaged in the study of Chod since the mid-eighties and has published several Italian translations of Chod texts, including Contributo allo studio dell'insegnamento di Ma gcig lab sgron (1987) and Ma gcig: Canti
Spirituali (1995), as well as an abridged English-language translation of The Great Speech Chapter (Bka' tshoms chen mo) in “The Great Wisdom Mother and the Chod Tradition” (2000). Michael Azzato wrote an extensive MA thesis on Buddhist Chod in 1981, including a translation of a biography of Machik (Ma cig gi rnam thar mdzad pa lnga pa by Gshongs chen Ri khrod pa), as well as a translation of 10 More recently, there has been an interest in theorizing the psychology of Chod with an emphasis on the role of fear by authors such as Michael R. Sheehy (2005), who has written on the “contemplative dynamics” of Chod,
The Great Speech Chapter. Carol D. Savvas' 1990 dissertation contains translations of several Chod texts from the Geluk lineage. Elena de Rossi-Filibeck (1983) also considers Chod in a Geluk context in her study of the Second Dalai Lama's account of the transmission lineage. In Der Schmuck der Befreiung': Die Geschichte der Zhi byed-und Gcod-Schule des tibetischen Buddhismus, Karenina Kollmar-Paulenz provides a German translation of the Tibetan language Zhije and Chod History (Zhi byed dang gcod chos byung) by the 19th century Nyingma scholar Dharmasenge; she supplements this translation with an annotated bibliography of Tibetan sources on both Zhije and Chod lineages.
While this scholarship has enriched the study of Chod by making more primary sources available in western langages, many of these works revisit the same territory. There is still a vast quantity of indigenous materials available on Buddhist Chod that has not been critically translated. Many of the works that have been made available in European languages have not been either adequately studied or critically examined. An example of the latter is the first
complete English language translation of what is considered a central collection of teachings attributed to Machik, the Phung po gzan skyur gyi rnam bshad gcod kyi don gsal byed, commonly referred to as the Rnam bshad chen mo, or The Great Explanation, by Sarah Harding, entitled Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod: A Complete Explanation of Casting Out the Body as Food by (2003). Unfortunately, Harding's presentation is not complemented by sufficient historical contextualization nor by critical examination of the philosophical and practical content and the literary genres that are represented in the ten chapters.
A weakness endemic to the majority of Chod studies, both Tibetan and Western, is what might be considered hermeneutic anachronism: there is scant attention paid to the temporality of sources and their relation to one another in time and cultural context. A related weakness is the uncritical reliance on 19th-century texts such as Dharmasenge's Zhije and Chod History and Jamgon Kongtrul's volumes for the historical, cultural and philosophical accounting of 12th- century events and developments. Not only has the reliance on these texts perpetuated errors in the identification of key figures and timelines of important events and teachings, but the biases of these projects—leading to generalizations about figures, transmissions, and teachings—have not been critically considered.
To counter this tendency to hermeneutic anachronism, my work aims to provide a much- needed historicization of the Chod tradition. The majority of texts discussing the praxis of Tibetan Buddhist Chod, as well as Bon Chod, have generalized over the problem of the transmission and evolution of Chod in the Tibetan cultural sphere. Chod is presently taught to groups of various sizes in Tibet, India, Europe, and the Americas. It is often the case that teachers
are transmitting a teaching—usually based in a practice text—as they have received it; rarely have teachers or students engaged in the critical and comparative study of the variations of Chod. In my experience, teachers and practitioners alike often resort to ahistorical generalizations of Chod and its transmission histories, thus neglecting issues of the sources of the discrete transmissions, their location in time, their development and the ways in which they reflect textual sources.
Examples of this ahistoricism may be drawn from two recently published texts. The first is a 2006 publication of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche's teachings on Chod in the Ganden (dga’ ldan) tradition of the Gelukpa school. This text does distinguish the particular Chod lineage that it follows, as well as its origination with Je Tsongkhapa (Rje Tsong kha pa Blo bzang Grags pa); however, other than a biography of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, it provides little historical discussion of the tradition. David Molk, the editor of Zong Rinpoche's text, writes that “[f]rom Khedrup Choje (also known as Khedrub Chenpo
Zhonu Drub), Je Tsongkhapa received the Chod lineages that can be traced back through Machig Labdron and Padampa Sangyé to Buddha Shakyamuni. Je Tsongkhapa also received teachings on Chod directly from Manjushri. This visionary lineage is known as the Ganden Oral Lineage of Chod. A ‘Dakini' oral lineage is also practiced in Gelug. Je Tsongkhapa passed the Chod [sic] to only one of his disciples, Togden Jampel Gyatso, who was the principal holder of his Tantric Mahamudra lineage as well” (2006, 28). This discussion of “the Chod” suggests that the Ganden tradition is the preeminent, or even singular, transmission of Chod. Unfortunately, such obscuration of Chod's history is common to many such practice texts.
A similar problem occurs in a Chod practice text by the fourteenth Karmapa, Thegchok Dorje (1798/9-1868/9), with a commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul, considered to belong to the Kagyu lineage (particularly the Karma Kagyu), and translated by Lama Lodo Rinpoche. This text contains an oral biography of Machik Labdron by Lodo Rinpoche that appears to be an abbreviated version of the biographies contained in The Great Explanation. Lodo Rinpoche remarks that “[t]he especially well-known, profound practice of Chod was brought from India to Tibet by the great mahasiddha Dampa Sangye. This teaching flourished
through the great wisdom dakini Machik Labkyi Dronma by the depth of her realization and compassion. Specifically, the Chod teachings and practice were transmitted in Tibet by Machik Labdron, who thus played a very important role in the Chod lineage” (2007, 11). Lodo Rinpoche's biography of Machik is included in the same volume as translations of a Chod practice text (grub thabs, sadhana) for the offering of one's body (lus sbyin) and a commentary on this practice text, both of which are from 19th century Karma Kagyu scholars. Unfortunately, Lodo Rinpoche does not explain why these texts are qualified
as “Mahamudra” (rather than, for example, Prajnaparamita). Given that the text does not provide a teaching lineage originating with either Padampa Sangye or Machik in narrative (although one can use the supplied tables to piece together an unbroken lineage), the characterization of Machik's teaching as specifically “Mahamudra” appears to be somewhat partisan. Lodo Rinpoche later repeats the ubiquitous claim that “(w)hile the teachings of the Buddha had been faithfully carried from India to Tibet and elsewhere, never before had any tradition been transmitted from Tibet to India. Machik's Chod of Mahamudra transmission was the first time in history that a valid source of Dharma went from Tibet to India. Thus, such a great being, Machik Labdron, was the first lineage holder, and this unbroken lineage continues until the present guru” (2007, 13). As I discuss later in this study, the identification of Chod with Mahamudra does not originate with Machik herself, but is a historical development of the transmission of her teachings.
Several aspects of Lodo Rinpoche's biographical sketch raise questions and issues that I will be considering throughout my study. First, as in several other biographies of Machik, Lodo Rinpoche reports that Machik's system of Chod was paradoxically both originally transmitted by Padampa Sangye from India and initially transmitted by Machik to India. Concomitant with this apparent contradiction is the paradox that Machik inherited the Chod teachings from someone— according to various sources this may have been Padampa Sangye—and that she is the initial lineage holder and genetrix of these teachings. In chapter two on the transmission lineages of Chod, I address these problems. Assumptions that the system of Chod that is attributed to Machik was always
characterized as “Mahamudra” is a problem I grapple with at the end of this study. This association with Mahamudra also invokes the parallel Sutra and Tantra aspects of Chod, which I explore in chapter three. Lodo Rinpoche's text illustrates the prevailing tendency to neglect or gloss over the many distinctions in Chod transmission lineages, in Chod teachings, and in Chod practices, by students and scholars alike. This disregard has not only resulted in undervaluing the role of Machik in the origination of Chod, but also rendered Chod's theoretical, practical and cultural development obscure.
Another problematic development in the recent study of Chod has been the prevailing insistence on the indigenous Tibetan roots of Chod and the neglect of its fundamental Buddhist grounds. In her PhD thesis, Lucy A. Jones (1998) puts her study of a Bon Chod practice text in dialogue with the theory of Georges Bataille and emphasizes the intersections of transgression and compassion in these two systems. Alejandro Chaoul's work complements the study of Bon Chod by Jones; however, his efforts to historicize Bon Chod as antecedent to Buddhist Chod is undermined by his dependence on Buddhist Chod materials for his discussion. In his 1989 article, “Offering the Body: The Practice of Gcod in Tibetan Buddhism,” David Stott makes brief mention of the Indic underpinnings
of the Chod tradition, and he provides a cursory analysis of Jamgon Kongtrul's Gcod yul rgya mtsho'i snying po stan thog gcig tu nyams su len pa'i tshul according to an oral teaching he received. Stott follows Eliade in suggesting parallels between Chod and shamanism. As these works by Stott, Jones, and Chaoul indicate, many recent studies of Chod associate it with “shamanism.” This tendency is the result of identifying Chod with its outer ritual practices rather than systemically investigating the lineages of the tradition. Those who have made such connections also generally fail to clearly articulate what they mean by “shamanism.” Early writers drew connections between Chod and shamanism based on the drumming and movements of some Chod practices, while
contemporary writers refer to recent classificatory systems, such as those proposed by Mumford and by Samuel, to equate Chod with shamanism. Chaoul, influenced by such theoretical suppositions, has recently gone so far as to suggest the equation of “shamanism” with “Tantra.” Charles Van Tuyl, in his article on Milarepa and Chod, not only suggests connections between Chod and shamanism, but also considers it to be possibly prehistoric. According to Van Tuyl, “The ch'o ritual is of great importance to the history of religions, in part due to the antiquity of the rite. Since a form of the ch'o ritual is
practised not only in Tibet and North Asia, but also among the Eskimos and some of the Indian tribes of North America, this rite appears to date back to the times of the peopling of the Americas by migrations across the Bering Straits, perhaps as early as 25,000 BC. This ritual thus constitutes one of the oldest human possessions and might be accurately described as a living fossil” (1979, 34). There are two important problems in identifying Chod with shamanism. The first is that if we take a general description of what might be called “shamanic,” it is difficult to see how the adjective applies to Chod. For example, Chod contains no communication with supramundane beings, no return from the dead, and no supramundane travel to other realms. The second and
more important problem with yoking Chod to shamanism is that it obscures the Buddhist core of the tradition. Often when this connection is made, it seems that the purpose is to suggest that there is something “non Buddhist,” or “non Indic,” or “indigenously Tibetan” about Chod. But rather than illuminating the tradition, the term “shamanic” suggests elements by association that are not present, such as possession. Part of the purpose of my present study is to counter this unfortunate tendency in the study of Chod by providing an account of the tradition on its own historical and philosophical terms.
In addition to the limitations of current scholarship on Chod, there has been little sustained critical study of the philosophy, praxis and contributions of Machik to the male- dominated Prajnaparamita commentarial tradition. The reception and canonization of Machik is symptomatic of the production and reproduction of woman through and in Buddhist Tantric traditions. As I explain further in chapter three, Machik is frequently deified as an embodiment of
Prajnaparamita and thus becomes a static personification of wisdom. In complementary representations of Machik, she stands in for the enlightenment of all women, but as a symbol illustrating the positive valorization of women in Tantra as uneducated helpmates who provide assistance as nurturers and sexual partners, thus eliding female sovereignty and emphasizing the path to male enlightenment. In order to interrogate these conventional gender constructs, it is crucial to seriously consider Machik's philosophy and praxis rather than simply emphasizing her lived experience as represented in hagiographies.
Machik was renowned as a “reader” of the Prajhaparamita Sutras, texts that articulate the central Mahayana Buddhist teaching of emptiness (stong nyid, sunyata). Recognizing the ways in which Machik's Chod praxis builds on the tradition of the Prajhaparamita contests the image of Machik as an uneducated woman. As I have noted, such a reading also counters the typical way in which Chod is represented in Western studies: as an unduly exotic ritual that advocates the “renunciation” of the body. I would suggest that such representations perpetuate cognitive formulations of the West—particularly a “self”
that possesses a mind and a body—as part of a received rational tradition that undervalues the body, embodiment and women's experience. Such rationalism, one might argue, dovetails with hegemonic commentarial traditions established by men throughout the histories of Buddhism. In Buddhist traditions, the idea of embodiment has often been used to perpetuate regimes of ascetic misogyny grounded in preoccupations with women as objects of desire. Subverting such constructs, Chod refigures the centrality of embodiment in an existential reorientation toward the impermanence of being human—of being subject to death.
Chod meditation techniques assist in cultivating compassion as a complementary experiential process, as a “cognitive responsiveness,” to the teachings of emptiness and of the Prajhaparamita. In Chod, process is enlightening: cultivating liberative techniques (thabs; upaya) with the complements of wisdom (shes rab;prajna) and compassion (snying rje; karuna) as generated by the impulse to enlightenment (byang chub sems; bodhicitta).
In order to counter some of the prevailing tendencies of current research, such as ahistoricism and exoticization, I present here a study of the development of Tibetan Buddhist Chod as evidenced in emic materials and my own translations of key early Chod texts. I hope that this study will provide some resources to develop a “thicker description,” to borrow a methodological trope from Gilbert Ryle (1968), in order to enhance our understanding of
Chod. Since recent scholarly studies have largely failed to historicize Chod, thus broadly misrepresenting its relationship to Buddhist traditions, I endeavor to show how Chod both situates itself within and adapts traditional Buddhist ideas and practices. To supplement the recent emphasis on yogic practitioners of Chod in both contemporary scholarship and diasporic practice, I also explain how Chod has developed its distinctive praxis through a
symbiosis between institutions and individual practitioners. Through analyzing developments in Chod teachings and shifts in institutional and lineage identities of key figures, I present an account of Chod as a dynamic tradition that has, from its beginnings, invoked and adapted earlier Buddhist teachings. In each of my chapters, I show how Chod has both legitimated itself through its association with Buddhist traditions and presented itself as an innovation on those traditions.
My discussion of the Chod tradition is divided into three sections: “Historical Development,” “Philosophical Contexts,” and “Textual Analysis.” The first section on “Historical Development” consists of chapters on “Historical Contexts” and “Transmission and Legitimation.” Against the prevailing tendencies among translators of and contemporary commentators on Chod to treat the tradition as continuous and stable, this part of my dissertation illuminates the
changes in Chod over time. “Historical Contexts” provides the first thorough discussion of the cultural environment in which Chod developed. I examine the “later spread period” (phyi dar) in Tibet, from the 11th through the 14th centuries, during which historical conditions led to a tension between conservative and innovative impulses in Buddhist teachings. When we understand that Machik's teachings were developed in this context, we see how she negotiated the tension between the need to authenticate her teachings as Buddhist and the need to present an innovative system in order to distinguish herself in this age dominated by male charismatic teachers.
In “Transmission and Legitimation,” I extend this historical survey to trace how the Chod tradition was developed and codified by various Tibetan schools. This chapter begins by remarking on how Chod commentaries associate the tradition with several precursor texts, including the Abhidharmakosa and the Hevajratantra. I then consider the vexed question of the influence of Padampa Sangye's Zhije teachings on Machik's Chod. In contrast to many traditional accounts, which position Padampa Sangye as the “father” of Chod, I speculate that his influence on Machik may have come through a text by his maternal
uncle, The Great Poem by Aryadeva the Brahmin, which has often been cited as the root text (gzhung rtsa) in the transmission of Buddhist Chod teachings. The remainder of the chapter surveys a wide range of Dharma histories (chos ‘byung) and spiritual biographies (rnam thar) to identify key figures and to
trace lineages and traditions in the development and transmission of Chod in Tibet. As I explain in this chapter, returning to such primary sources as The Great Explanation and the Blue Annals has compelled me to reconsider received notions about the identities and roles of persons who have contributed to the transmission of Chod teachings. In concert with Machik's own strategies of authentication and innovation, this survey demonstrates how institutions were instrumental in both preserving and transforming the tradition.
The second section of my dissertation on “Philosophical Contexts” contains chapters on “Philosophy and Development,” “Cutting Through the Body,” and “Cutting Through the Mind.” This second part of my dissertation aims to counter exoticizing readings of key Chod ideas and practices by elaborating the philosophical underpinnings of the Chod tradition in Indic Sutra and Tantra materials. Drawing on my research in primary sources, I consider the influences of Buddhist teachings on the theory and praxis of Chod. In “Philosophy and Development,” I explain how Chod legitimates its practice and philosophy by explicitly drawing from both Sutra and Tantra traditions, and also how it innovates in intertwining elements from these two sources. I begin this chapter
by considering the influences of the Sutra Prajhaparamita corpus on the development of Chod, and then I turn my attention to exploring the lesser known Tantric antecedents and parallels of Chod. To demonstrate how Chod developed a more explicit ritual apparatus through its association with established Tantra methods, I explore the resonances between Chod and Vajrayogini praxis. This association between Machik and Vajrayogini helps me to account for the
later diminishment of Machik's role as philosopher and teacher, as she becomes equated with an ahistorical supramundane goddess. In the next section of “Philosophy and Development,” I explain how we can better understand Chod as a fusion of Sutra and Tantra elements through an etymological investigation of the Tibetan homonyms “gcod” and “spyod.” Finally, I explore Machik's own claims about her teachings to demonstrate that she uses a strategy of “anti-legitimation” to position her teachings as both integrating and transcending their Sutra and Tantra antecedents.
The next two chapters in the “Philosophical Contexts” section, “Cutting Through the Body” and “Cutting Through the Mind,” are complementary explorations of how Chod interweaves Sutra and Tantra teachings in several of its most important practices. Chod advocates procedures for severing self-attachment and ego-clinging using both Sutra- and Tantra-based methods with the goal of realizing enlightenment. From the standpoint of the Prajhaparamita Sutra teachings,
Chod recommends that the practitioner eliminate mental afflictions (nyon mongs; klesa) that support the elaboration of the individual ego, with its subjective propensity to discriminate reality into discrete objects. This is done primarily through repeated identification of such afflictions and analysis of their ultimate emptiness of any independent reality. Complementing such strategies, Chod also advocates various methods for arousing the deeper and more latent egoistical attachments and compulsions for subject/object discrimination through meditative states and environmental contexts; in this Vajrayana-type practice, the practitioner actively seeks out the cognitive afflictions which might be otherwise suppressed in order to cut the root of what generates one's sense of self.
In “Cutting Through the Body,” my focus is on the Chod practices of visualized offerings of one's body. While these practices are often treated as exotic non-Buddhist elements of Chod, I explain that they are derived from exoteric Buddhist teachings on attaining wisdom and cultivating compassion. In particular, Chod's “gift of the body” practice is a manifestation of a long history of Buddhist dehadana: the offering of the body as the supreme act of
virtue. I examine this practice from within the context of Indic and Tibetan sources, but my discussion is also informed by contemporary Western conversations on concepts of “the body,” “gift” and “sacrifice.” Drawing on a range of traditional Buddhist ontologies and Western philosophies, I explain that Chod inscribes itself within the doctrines and discussions of Buddhist practice while also revaluing analyses of the value and utility of the body. Chod provides a means for practitioners to integrate conflicting Buddhist ideas of the body as useful or useless, as the body becomes both source of suffering and means of liberation from that suffering. Chod also provides technologies for every practitioner—not just highly realized beings—to make this body offering of supreme virtue.
While “Cutting Through the Body” explores practices that use the body as a focal point, “Cutting Through the Mind” turns to practices that concentrate on the mind. My focus in this chapter is on Machik's adaptations and revisions of important Buddhist Mahayana Buddhist concepts and teachings, particularly her innovative interpretations of the idea of Düd (bdud, mara), which are mentally-fabricated “Negative Forces” that some translators refer to as “demons,” and of the pairing of “Universal Base Consciousness” (kun gzhi rnam par shes pa; alaya-vijñana) and “Universal Base” (kun gzhi; alaya). In the first part
of the chapter, I explain how the Chod practice of “Opening the Gates of Space” allows the practitioner to transform her mundane and karmically defiled consciousness, the Universal Base Consciousness, into the ideal of the supramundane Universal Base in its aspect as Intrinsic Knowledge (rig pa; vidya). In the second part of the chapter, I discuss how Machik's discussions of Negative Forces reflect her revision of the Indic Buddhist idea of “mara” as negative
forces arising from mental discrimination of experience and resulting in psychic distress and ontological error. Based in their states of fundamental ignorance, sentient beings have propensities for relations of attraction and aversion, which lead to the discrimination of reality into categories of “helpful” and “good” or “harmful” and “bad.” These categories are often further substantiated into “divine” or
“demonic” activities, which are attributed to “gods” or “demons,” according to the positive or negative connotations the subject ascribes to them. Chod allows the practitioner to see that what appear to be gods or demons are in fact illusory embodiments of one's own mental discriminations that can be “cut” through practice. By revaluing Chod practice in “Cutting Through the Mind” and “Cutting Through the Body,” I dispel the prevailing evaluation of Chod as an exotic and “shamanistic” tradition by explaining how Chod assimilated itself to and distinguished itself from traditional philosophical discourses of Buddhism.
The third part of my dissertation, on “Textual Analysis,” includes a chapter on “Texts” and a conclusion on “Mahamudra Chod.” The “Texts” chapter focuses on six essential Chod texts attributed to Machik Labdron and two of the earliest commentaries on Chod that were composed by Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), the Third Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu lineage. I have critically translated and annotated these texts, making all but one of them available to English-language
readers for the first time. As I noted above, due to the increased interest in studying the non-Buddhist history of Chod, particularly in the praxis of Chod in the Bon lineages, the ways in which Chod adapts and has been adapted by Buddhist traditions has been underexamined. By examining several key concepts in these seminal texts, including the “Three Bodies,” “gift of the body,” and the “exceptionality of Chod,” I demonstrate how Chod developed by
consciously positioning itself in relation to Indic sources. This “Texts” chapter also begins an investigation of how Chod was assimilated by different Tibetan schools. Through close analysis of his commentaries, I argue that Rangjung Dorje modified Chod teachings in order to assimilate them to his lineage of Karma Kagyu Buddhism. Rangjung Dorje's efforts at making explicit some of the implicit connections between the Chod root texts and canonical Buddhist literature helps us .