What is Chöd?

At KTD December 11-13, Lama Jinpa will be leading a weekend Chöd Retreat, based on the Milam Lungten text by Karma Chakme Rinpoche and on the outline of the Chöd retreat given by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. Open to all levels of Chöd practitioners, including beginners. More information here.

What is Chöd? Chöd is a unique vajrayana practice which is used to directly “cut through” our ego, bringing us closer to our mind’s natural state. It is unique in many ways. The Siddha who established Chöd – was the Tibetan woman Machig Labdron. As lineage it originated from Tibet, and then spread to India; as opposed to most other teachings in Tibetan Buddhism which spread from India to Tibet. Most importantly, Chöd employs a variety of skillful means designed to directly overcome the resistance of our ego on the Buddhist path.

As Mahayana practitioners we are always trying to engender generosity and kindness – but we often encounter our own limitations. These barriers are only in our minds – but they are reinforced by our habits and seem very real to us. Rather than say to ourselves, “It’s just not possible” – the skillful methods of Chöd practice can provoke us to go beyond the limits of our fear, and narrow notions of “possibility”. In the visualization of a Chöd feast – a practitioner offers the very thing we are most attached to and fear losing – OUR OWN BODY. This is something that the Lord Buddha actually did to benefit a starving tigress and her cubs in his previous live. If we were to try such a thing – it is almost certain that we would come up against our limitations. Not only are we not as courageous as Lord Buddha – we aren’t as patient! However by practicing the Chöd visualization – we can gradually habituate our minds towards increasing generosity while confronting our limitations. This seems to be what the Siddha Machig Labdron intended when she said:

“Confess your hidden faults.

Approach what you find repulsive.

Help those you think you cannot help.

Anything you are attached to, give that.

Go to the places that scare you.”

So, in doing this practice we can gradually increase and expand our efforts towards embodying the paramitas in a manageable, yet provoking, way.

In many dharma practices we make offerings to our Lamas, enlightened beings, and indeed towards all sentient beings. However, Chöd is unique in that it specifically includes sentient beings that we might normally fear or resist helping – including god/demons, spirits, negative forces, those with whom we have karmic debts, as well as Maras. In this way we can ideally expand our compassion and generosity in a more complete way rather than resisting due to our ego. As a result of relating to these beings with compassion instead of fear – they are often naturally pacified and our relationship to them is redefined.

While I myself am a beginner to Chöd practice – what I love most is that within this one practice is that many other practices are present. I am able to connect with the Lamas, Yidams, and Protectors. It includes elements of Loving Kindness, Compassion, Prajnaparamita Tong len, Creation and completion, Mahamudra, and so on. Chöd also quickly takes me out of my “regular way of thinking” when I get stuck in my practice; which is a great benefit! Many of my dharma friends have expressed similar feelings to me as well.

Several years ago Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and Lama Tsultrim Gyaltsen very generously designed this retreat to meet the requests of students who were ready to begin Chöd practice. Due to a conflict in schedule, Lama Tsultrim will not be available – but we will continue to follow the structure of the previous retreats. On Friday night we will teach on the Chöd text “Milam Lungten”; discussing the structure and visualization as well as the use of the instruments. For the remaining four sessions in the weekend we will follow a series of contemplations based on a Commentary for Chöd Retreat by the Eighth Karpama – and was recently taught by the 17th Karmapa.

I look forward to this workshop and sharing the practice of Chöd together!

Lama Jinpa

Lama Jinpa and Sangha during the celebration for Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s 90th birthday, in 2014.