Chod Interview

with H.E. Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche
submitted by Wendy Becker

“The opening of the gates of Dharma
Is not an initiation of a deity transmission to the body;
It is an initiation of the ultimate meaning transmitted to the mind.” ~ Machig Labdron


WB:  How many lineages of Chod are there? What is your lineage?

HETYR: From the beginning we have to know who the founder of Chod Practice is and where it comes from.  In Tibetan language the meaning of the word “chod” translates “to cut” and here, in Tibetan Buddhism, Chod means, “to cut the ego”. Machig Labdron founded Chod which signifies a specific practice of the dharma.  She was born in Labchi in the year, 1015 and passed away 1153.  Although her birth name was Rinchen Dronme she was later renamed from her original name of Dronme and her place of birth in Labdron, to “the shining light of Lab” hence, the name “Labdron.” Her practice was inspired by “perfection of discriminating insight,” otherwise known as Prajnaparamita and spread into the Gelugpa and Kagyu schools. 

Three root gurus came before Machig Labdron: Yum Chenmo (Blessing Lineage), Vajradhara (Tantric Female Lineage), and Sakyamuni (Sutra Male Lineage) that was disseminated through Manjurishi, Dakini Sukhasiddhi, Nagarjuna, Lopon Aryadeva to Brahmin Aryadeva, Dampa Sangye, Sonam Lama, Kyosakya Yeshe, and Mara Sepo).  Machig Labdron received direct transmission from Yum Chenmo, Great Mother of Prajnaparamita and “constitutes an original specific system, both from a philosophical point of view and in terms of the methods of realization...” (Machig Labdron and the Foundations of Chod, by Jerome Edou; pp.79-88). 

From the three root gurus came three transmissions:

“The first main transmission came down from Dampa Sangye directly through Sonam Lama with precepts from the mahasiddha tradition as well as the Chod precepts connected with Prajnaparamita.  The latter tradition, obtained from the Brahmin, is referred to as the oral transmission lineage and is also known as the Sutra tradition.  The second transmission, the Vajrayana Chod, was directly revealed to Machig Labdron by Tara through visionary experiences and thus considered to be an emanation of the Great Mother Yum Chenmo, the Perfection of Wisdom, a wisdom dakini.  The third originated with Machig herself and consists of a corpus of teachings born from the previous two, combined with her own meditative experience” (Ibid as above, pp. 79-88). 

Also, the Ngingma tradition has Chod practice with masters like Jigme Lingpa. I have both both Ngingmapa and Gelugpa Chod lineages.




WB:  How many years have you practiced Chod?

HETYR:  Each time after I receive Chod empowerment and teachings, I practice Chod.  I especially practice, when my ego destroys my peaceful mind, and when there are more obstacles, stress or depression.

WB:  What is your most memorable experience with Chod?

HETYR: During their practice, the good practitioners can feel they are ready to give up everything they have and also feel countless sentient beings receiving what they have to give them.  But an ordinary person like myself only has my visualizations to offer, yet they have helped me to generate more feelings of relaxation and calm when there is struggle and stress.

WB:  Is Chod a deity practice or more like Tonglen?

HETYR: It is both. It is practice of Tonglen with the deity and to give more of everything. For instance you should give your happiness, your joy, your merit, your love, your compassion, your wisdom, your energy, your smile and physical body to free all sentient beings from suffering.

WB:  What is the symbolism/meaning of Chod Instruments?

HETYR:  The Bell represents wisdom.  The Vajra symbolizes method.   The   Drum beats to the wisdom of unborn emptiness and the two faces of the drum represent compassion and wisdom.  The Kangling is the symbol of selflessness.

WB: Is Machig Labdron a real person or a deity?

HETYR: She is real person, yes, but Tibetans believe she is a reincarnation of the Great Mother Prajnaparamita.

When Machig started to read the texts, she was able to complete twelve volumes in the time it took others to read four volumes. As she progressed on her studies she dedicated her tasks for the benefit of all beings to reach the Khecari realm of Sky-Goers (adapted from Ibid, pp 129-130).

WB:  Why practice in graveyards/cemeteries?

HETYR:  Because Buddhists believe that in those kinds of places, there is more spiritual energy.  In Tibet, when we practice near water on edge of lake, beach or rivers and mountains, it is called Chumig Gyatsa.  The Tibetan term is Nyensa, when practicing at different cemeteries or other haunted places. Chodpa.  But in Western countries, is easier to practice Chumig Gyatsa.  And, if someone can go to Tibet, India or Nepal, I think they can practice
Nyensa Chodpa.   

WB:  What is the purpose of Chod practice?

HETYR: To cultivate detachment, relax and generate more love and compassion. By gaining better understanding of all phenomena, you make yourself a Bodhisattva. When you become a less sensitive person vulnerable to getting angry, jealous, sad, depressed, or feeling need to isolate yourself or break up relationships with others you exist in the true nature of what you are.

WB:  Are there more auspicious times of the month/year to practice Chod?

HETYR:  Year and month don’t matter. But traditionally, practice during the night is best time in addition to Dakini days.

WB:  How does a student learn the practice of Chod?

HETYR:  First, you have to receive empowerment, transmission and teachings with your guru.  Then you go on to 108 practices. Additionally, you should study the story of Machig Labdron, the history of Chod, Lama lineage and texts.  I have composed two sets of practices for practitioners. One is An Abbreviated Chod Sadhana of Machig Labdron and the other the long one is A Complete Chod Sadhana of Machig Labdron. If people are very busy, the short sadhana is appropriate to practice while the long version is used for monthly practice and retreat.