This section serves as a brief introduction to the various Chod practitioners with whom I interacted. Understanding their various backgrounds is important to constructing a more complete understanding of where their views on Chod come from. There are many different kinds of Chod, with interpretations and different specific practices that vary from teacher to teacher and from practitioner to practitioner. There is not really one specific way of interpreting things such as the symbolic meanings of instruments or the way that you are meant to play the instruments. The different traditions and lineages of Chod provided a complex and varied background from which to pull information. Keeping in mind the different traditions that these practitioners adhere to and how long they have been practicing is helpful for understanding their perspectives and the opinions that shaped the information they were willing to share with me.
Kalsang Tso was the first Chod practitioner with whom I had an in-depth conversation. She was incredibly interested in the practice of Chod and graciously helped as a translator when I Kalsang Tso has been practicing Chod for around 3 years. She received permission to learn from Lopon Gyaltsen, who began to teach her Dudjom Tersar (bdud ‘joms gter gsar) Chod, which she described as part of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The type of Chod that she
practices, Dudjom Tersar Chod, draws its name from the founder “Dudjom” and the word “Tersar,” which means ‘new treasure.' It can also be called Dudjom Throma Chod, wherein “Throma” is the name of the protector deity of the practice—the dakiriï named Throma Nagmo (khros ma nag mo), ‘the Wrathful Dâkiriï” or “Black Wrathful Lady.” Dudjom Tersar Chod was founded by Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987), whose legacy was carried on by his son Dungsey Thinly Norbu Rinpoche and his grandson Dungsey Garab Rinpoche, who appointed Lopon Gyaltsen. Prior to Dudjom Rinpoche there was Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904), who revealed the information.
In regards to Kalsang Tso, she was drawn to Chod after being exposed to it by her uncle, who is also a Chodpa. She was particularly struck by the music, which she said caught her ear and was beautiful. This fascination with the music helped draw her to the practice and she decided to undertake a month-long class under Lopon Gyaltsen, who also used to lead two practices every month that she has attended. These classes are held on Guru Rinpoche Day on the 10th
of the month and on Dakiriï Day on the 25th of the month according to the Tibetan calendar. According to Kalsang Tso, these days are specific to Dujom Tersar Chod. These practices are the main times she performs Chod. She said that she does not yet go practice in “scary” places. In terms of the music, she is now proficient in the melodies as well as in playing the bell and damaru, but she has not yet acquired a kangling. While Kalsang Tso said that she would describe herself as ngakma, a type of Tantric practitioner, she seemed to indicate that she was not very deep into Vajrayana practice.
Sonam Dorjee is another Chodpa from Boudha with whom I was able to speak. He said that he is also sometimes called Kunsang Dorjee, a religious name given to him by a Lama. The type of Chod that he practices is called the Laughter of the Dakinis (mkha' ‘gro'i gda rgyangs), which he described as coming from a set of four volumes called Nyingtik Yabshi. The meaning of this title is the “Fourfold Innermost Spirituality.” In describing the origins of this type of Chod, Sonam Dorjee said it began with Guru Rinpoche, who gave knowledge to the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen and Khando Yeshi Tsogyal; however, at that time there was not yet enough merit in the world, so the knowledge was hidden. Guru Rinpoche is said to have hidden the knowledge as one of his “treasures” in the Stupa in Boudha. Years later, the treasure was revealed by a yogi named Jigme Lingpa (‘jigs med gling pa), who was guided to it by a prophecy or
prophetic dream. After acquiring the knowledge, however, he kept it hidden. This remained the state of affairs until a student of Jigme Lingpa had his own dream that Jigme Lingpa had found the teachings from Guru Rinpoche. This student got Jigme Lingpa to share it, and these teachings became Nyingtik Yabshi. It should be noted that this is a newer version, as there was an old version of Nyingtik Yabshi created by Longchenpa.
Sonam Dorjee seemed to have great respect for Chod and to take it very seriously— referring to it as a “very powerful” thing. In his words, giving the body as an offering allows one to attain more merit than any other offering, for the body is priceless. While Chod is therefore very effective, it is not very easy. There are many vows that Vajrayana practitioners need to keep, and there are some things that cannot be told, such as when he goes to perform Chod. In Sonam Dorjee's opinion, the purpose of Chod—cutting the ego—is a very difficult thing to achieve. It is nevertheless worthwhile. The respect that he
holds for the practice was easy to see given the detail with which he was able to describe the all-important visualizations that are so key to the practice of Chod and the conditions that he gave to me for helping me to learn. Before we got into much detail, Sonam Dorjee told me that I was welcome to use his information, but not for the purpose of increasing my own fame or power—I could only use the information for the benefit of all sentient beings. Hopefully this paper fits the bill.
Kalsang Ngodub is another man living in Boudha who performs Chod. He is sometimes called Rinzin Norbu, the religious name given to him by a Lama. For the past 15 years he has been practicing a type of Chod belonging to the shi gcod lineage, which is associated with Pa Dampa Sangye and “pacification.” The specific type of practice that he follows is called gcod nyo rdar ma seng ge. He first learned Chod from Lama Tsering Wangdu Norbu Rinpoche, who used to be
here in Boudha. On the origins of his type of Chod, he explained that shi gcod comes from the tradition of Pa Dampa Sangye through Machik Labdron. He further explained that Chod of this sort is referred to as male Chod and is part of the combined sutra-tantra tradition; after Machik Labdron, types of Chod referred to as female chod also emerged.
Kalsang Ngodub also had great respect for the practice of Chod and was incredibly humble. He went so far as to say that he would be more comfortable calling himself a ‘beggar' than calling himself a ‘Chodpa,' as he feels like he is not realized enough to merit the term. He was happy to speak with me—although he too wanted to make sure I was doing my research to help people— but said that I should find some ‘real' Chodpas as well. As became clear from his humble bearing, he does not consider Chod easy. He made the observation that people often say Chod is a fast way to achieve enlightenment, but he wanted to make sure I understood that it was still a process—it was not something that could be accomplished in a day. Chod is not easy.
He expressed some concern about the increasing number of people that are practicing Chod. He recollected that ten years ago there were not that many Chodpa here in Boudha, but now there are a very large number. Once again showing his respect for the practice, Kalsang Ngodub laid bare his concern that Chod is becoming too ‘promotional' in a sense or to ‘commotional'— that the essence of Chod is being lost because people lack sincerity in the practice. Perhaps some of the newer practitioners are too swept up in the performative aspect of it or lack sincerity in their desire to truly use the practice to cut away the self. In Kalsang Ngodub's words, Chod is an “all¬day practice,” and it is dangerous to do Chod without sincerity. While he has found Chod to be the best method in his search for truth, he worries about the current state of the practice and the community of Chod practitioners.
The Chant Master
I was able to speak with the Chant Master (dbu mdzad) of a local monastery, who asked that his exact identity be kept anonymous. I was fortunate enough to have the help of Kalsang Tso as a translator, for the Chant Master's ability to speak English was not perfect. Through Kalsang Tso, the Chant Master told me that he has been a Chod practitioner for around three years. He identified his type of Chod as Tsok Lay Rinchen Trinwan (tsogs las ring chen phring ba); however, he added that he also practices Chokling Tersar (mchog gling gter gsar), which is a revealed treasure. He and said that the lineage came from Chokling Rinpoche and the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This type of Chod was brought to his monastery by a Rinpoche, who then proceeded to empower many high Lamas at the monastery.
The position of Chant Master is a respected role in monastic life—a role that is often highly desired among the monks of a monastery. His most important responsibility is to know all of the vocal chants and instrumental music that are performed at the monastery. Within this role, the Chant Master acts as a sort of conductor for ritual performances, albeit one who is also active in the rituals. He functions as the lead instrumentalist and lead vocalist in ritual ensembles, directing vocally through his singing and instrumentally through his playing on instruments such as the cymbals (rol mo). Other performers in the ritual listen to his singing and playing as well as actually watching the Chant Master in order to follow his directions.
The Chant Master who I met was involved not only in leading the ritual ensemble of the monastery, but also in giving a series of classes on Chod for anyone interested. I was able to attend two of the classes and witness his style of teaching. It was interesting to see that the vast majority of people attending the two classes that I sat in on were foreigners from the West, at least some of whom were studying at the monastery. The class was therefore conducted with the aid of a translator, who translated Chant Master's Tibetan into English. The class was structured for those just beginning the practice and many who attended did not have the instruments like the damaru or the bell. In this classroom setting, the Chant Master filled a similar role to the one that he fills in an ensemble setting—guiding the music, both vocally and instrumentally—as well as filling the additional role of instructor.
Anonymous 5 is another Chod practitioner who also asked to be kept anonymous. They have been practicing Chod for around two years. They work at the same monastery as the Chant Master and seems to perform one of the same types of Chod as he does. They told me that their lineage of Chod comes from Chokling Rinpoche and is referred to as “Tersar” They said that their type of Chod was more completely called Tersar Lujin Chod (gter gsar lus sbyin gcod). They
later told me that their type of Chod was from the Dudjom Tersar lineage, so it is not entirely clear to me exactly what type they practice. In trying to clarify, I asked about their learning experience, and they told me that they were taught by the Chant Master. This would seem to indicate that they likely practice the same type of Chod as the Chant Master does. In this case, it would be the type that comes from Chokling Rinpoche, referred to by the Chant Master as Chokling Tersar.
Anonymous 5 was very humble about their experience in Chod. They informed me that so far they still only do group practice and has not yet learned to play the kangling. They clearly seemed to consider themselves a modest student of the practice, yet nonetheless had a great deal of knowledge. Anonymous 5 has had a great deal of exposure to Chod, besides during their own performance. For instance, at the monastery where they work, they have seen others do
another type of Chod that lasts almost a whole day, rather than the hour or so that their practice takes. This particular longer type of Chod is known as the Jewel Garland of the Chod Liturgy (tshogs las rin po che'i phreng ba). Anonymous 5 noted that the music in this longer practice resembles that of the music done in pujas for peaceful deities. They went on to say that most of the music done during Chod at their monastery is done in the peaceful style, but they have infrequently heard other styles of Chod where the music is like that done for wrathful deities.