Chöd literally means “cutting through”, is also known as the “practice of fear” and “cultivating the spirit of generosity.” It is a Diamond Path practice designed to sever the ego and attachments, founded by the famous Tibetan yogini Machig Labdron, considered to be an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal, one of the most accomplished disciples of Guru Padmasambhava.
In this practice, practitioner visualizes offering their own body to sacred beings, demons and those to whom they owe a karmic debt in many lifetimes. The practice is often performed in frightening places such as cemeteries or desolate mountains in order to overcome fear.
To do this, the practice involves invoking different kinds of sentient beings and visualizing the cutting and transformation of the practitioner’s own body into offerings.
However, in the process of researching Chod, LotusBuddhas has encountered some conflicting opinions. Some believe that Chod is just “empty talk,” a “pretense,” or a “deceptive delusion” of the mind. Evidence suggests that Tantric practitioners only “visualize” and do not actually “offer” or “sacrifice” their bodies – they still live normal lives. It is a deception, a promise of pretense until the actual event occurs. If faced with a real-life situation, it is uncertain whether these Diamond Path practitioners would offer their bodies to sentient beings. All of this is just “empty talk” to glorify their ego.
What is Chöd practice?
Chöd (also spelled Chod or Chö) is a spiritual practice found in Tibetan Buddhism and some forms of Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet. The word “chöd” means “to cut” or “to sever” in Tibetan and the practice is aimed at cutting through the ego and the attachment to the self, which are considered the root causes of suffering in Buddhist philosophy.
Chöd practice involves a combination of meditation, visualization, chanting and the use of ritual instruments, such as the damaru (hand drum) and the kangling (thighbone trumpet). The main visualization involves offering one’s own body as food for various beings, including demons and spirits. This offering is done mentally, not physically, and is meant to help practitioners cultivate compassion, generosity and fearlessness. This process is believed to help transform the practitioner’s mind and ultimately lead to spiritual realization and enlightenment.
History of Chöd
The history of Chöd practice can be traced back to the 11th century in Tibet, where it emerged as a unique spiritual tradition that combined elements of Indian Buddhism, Tibetan shamanism and the indigenous Bon religion. Its development is mainly attributed to the female yogini and mystic Machig Labdrön (1055-1149 CE), who is considered the founder of Chöd lineage.
Machig Labdrön was a highly accomplished practitioner and teacher who received teachings from various Buddhist lineages. She is said to have received direct teachings from the Indian master Padampa Sangye, who is considered one of the main influences on the development of Chöd. Machig Labdrön synthesized these teachings and practices, creating a distinct method for cutting through the ego and overcoming fear, which became the Chöd practice we know today.
Over the centuries, Chöd practice spread throughout Tibet and the Himalayan region, becoming an integral part of various Buddhist schools, such as Nyingma, Kagyu and Gelug. The practice has also been adopted by some practitioners within the Bon tradition. The Chöd lineage has been passed down through a succession of teachers and practitioners, and various sub-lineages have formed over time, each with its own unique interpretation of the practice.
In the 20th century, the practice of Chöd spread beyond Tibet and the Himalayas, as Tibetan Buddhism gained popularity in the West. Nowadays, Chöd practice can be found in many Buddhist centers around the world, where it is taught and practiced by both Tibetan and non-Tibetan teachers and students.
Who can practice Chöd?
Chöd practice is open to anyone who has a genuine interest in Tantric Buddhism and is willing to commit to the practice with sincerity and dedication. However, since Chöd involves complex visualizations, ritual elements and deep meditation, it is recommended that those who wish to practice Chöd seek guidance from a qualified teacher. A qualified teacher can provide proper instruction, support and help practitioners understand the nuances of the practice.
It is also helpful if the practitioner has a foundation in basic Buddhist teachings and practices, such as understanding the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the nature of suffering, as well as some experience with meditation. This foundation will help them to better understand the context and goals of Chöd practice.
In many cases, Chöd is practiced within the context of a formal initiation or empowerment (Tibetan: wang) from a qualified teacher. This empowerment is considered essential for establishing a connection to the lineage and receiving the blessings of the practice.
How to practice Chöd
As LotusBuddhas has shared, Chöd practice is a complex practice that involves various stages such as meditation, visualization, and ritual performance. Ordinary people are almost incapable of practicing it, or if they do practice, they may not do it correctly because they do not fully understand its essence. Moreover, according to Tibetan Buddhism, a Guru’s guidance is required to begin the practice of Chöd.
Here is a general outline of Chöd practice:
Before beginning Chöd, it’s essential to prepare the mind with preliminary practices such as taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), generating bodhicitta (the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings), and performing a brief meditation to calm and focus the mind.
The main part of Chöd practice involves visualization. Practitioners visualize offering their own body as a feast to various beings, including demons, spirits and other sentient beings. The body is typically visualized as being transformed into an enormous offering, such as a mandala or a grand feast.
Chanting and ritual instruments
Chöd practice often involves chanting prayers, mantras, and other texts while playing ritual instruments such as the damaru (hand drum) and the kangling (thighbone trumpet). The chanting and instruments help to invoke the presence of deities, spirits and protectors and create a supportive environment for the practice.
Meditation on emptiness
As the visualization progresses, practitioners meditate on the emptiness of the self, the body and all phenomena, recognizing that everything is interdependent and lacks inherent existence. This meditation helps to cut through the ego and attachment to the self.
At the end of the practice, practitioners dedicate the merit they have accumulated through Chöd to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. This dedication helps to ensure that the positive energy generated through the practice benefits others and contributes to their spiritual progress.
Please note that this is only a brief outline of Chöd practice, and the specific details, visualizations, and texts can vary depending on the lineage and the teacher.
Benefits of Chöd practice
In addition to cultivating compassion and cutting through the ego, Chöd practice brings countless other benefits to those who practice it sincerely and diligently.
Reduction of ego and self-grasping: By visualizing offering one’s body to various beings, Chöd practice helps to reduce attachment to the self and the ego, which are considered the root causes of suffering in Buddhist philosophy.
Development of compassion and generosity: Chöd practice cultivates the qualities of compassion and generosity, as practitioners learn to offer themselves to others, both in the visualization and in their daily lives.
Overcoming fear and obstacles: Chöd is known for its ability to help practitioners face and overcome their fears and internal obstacles, as it involves working with frightening visualizations and confronting one’s own demons and negative emotions.
Purification of karma: By offering oneself to all beings, practitioners accumulate positive merit and purify their negative karma, which can lead to better future rebirths and a more favorable spiritual path.
Transformation of consciousness: Chöd practice aims to transform the practitioner’s mind through meditation, visualization, and ritual. This transformation leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of reality, ultimately paving the way for spiritual realization and enlightenment.
Healing and well-being: Some practitioners have reported that Chöd practice can have a positive impact on their overall mental and emotional well-being, as it helps them to release negative emotions, let go of attachments and cultivate a more balanced state of mind.
Development of spiritual powers: In some cases, advanced Chöd practitioners are said to develop spiritual powers or siddhis, such as clairvoyance, psychic abilities and healing powers, although these are considered secondary benefits and not the main goal of the practice.
The relationship between Chöd practice and emptiness and compassion
Chöd practice is deeply connected to the teachings of emptiness and compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. These two concepts are central to the understanding and practice of Chöd and play a significant role in the transformative process it aims to bring about.
Emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā, Tibetan: stong pa nyid) refers to the understanding that all phenomena lack inherent existence and are dependent on causes and conditions. In the context of Chöd, this understanding of emptiness is crucial as it helps practitioners recognize that the self or ego, which is often the source of suffering, is also empty of inherent existence.
Chöd practice incorporates the teachings of emptiness through meditation and visualization techniques. For instance, the practitioner visualizes offering their body as a feast to various beings, including demons and spirits. This visualization helps practitioners to see their own body and self as empty of inherent existence and encourages them to let go of their attachment to self.
Compassion (Tibetan: snying rje) is another key aspect of Chöd practice. It is the heartfelt wish to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings and plays a central role in motivating practitioners to engage in the practice. Chöd cultivates compassion by encouraging practitioners to offer their own bodies to various beings, both in visualization and in their daily lives. This self-sacrifice and generosity help to develop a deep sense of empathy and connection with others, ultimately leading to a more compassionate attitude.