A Brief Description of the Practice
At its most basic level, Chod is a form of meditation wherein the practitioner goes through a series of visualizations while chanting from a text and playing various ritual instruments. The visualizations are truly the core of the practice, but the chanting and playing of music are both seen as fairly indispensable parts of the process. Chod does occur in group settings, but it is often a solitary practice, with the practitioner going to a “scary” place such as a charnel ground or graveyard in order to practice. Once at this place, the practitioner often performs a series of rituals and dances in order to
prepare it for the meditation by purifying it and calling various deities and spirits. When this has been accomplished, the practitioner sits down and goes through the visualizations, which are meant to help them accomplish the act of “cutting away the self” by offering their own body as a feast to the spirits, deities, and beings that have been called. There are four different feasts in Chod—the red, white, black, and mixed feast. The following description follows deals mostly with the multicolored or mixed feast.
Although the visualizations can differ to a degree, the basic form and process is shared between most types and traditions. The visualization process often begins with you visualizing yourself in your typical ordinary form. You are inside your body and aware as you would normally be. Once you are able to visualize and feel this, you envision your mind as a sphere of white light resting within the central channel in the center of your body. This white sphere encompasses all the deities and aspects of deities within your body, as well as your own life force. It is your mind, and your mind is “everything that is good and everything that is essential.”
You next visualize your mind in the form of this sphere of white light shooting upwards out of the top of your head—exclaiming “PHAT” as you do so. Once your mind has exited your body, you envision it taking the form of Vajrayogini—or sometimes another deity or spirit—and that you, embodied as the sphere, truly are Vajrayogini. In this form, you watch as your corpse falls over and lies on the ground before gesturing at your corpse with a hooked knife in your right hand. The gesture makes the top of the skull fly off and flip over, growing in size until it is as large as a galaxy. It becomes an enormous skull-cup or kapala (thod phur).
You, in the form of Vajrayogini, then proceed to pick up your corpse with the hooked knife and place it into the enormous kapala. At another gesture from the knife, your corpse dissolves into a red mass of blood and flesh, which is similar to a fresh and warm uncooked stew. As this occurs, you visualize a white “OM,” a red “AH,” and a blue “HUM” appearing over the kapala— these represent the body, speech, and mind of all buddhas. These three syllables
dissolve into the kapala one by one and transform its contents into ambrosia, changing the color as they dissolve until it becomes a sort of pink with a blue gleam. The mass in the kapala is now wisdom ambrosia that contains not only your corpse, but also the essence of the body, speech, and mind of all buddhas due to the three syllables. This mass of ambrosia, sometimes also called nectar, is the ideal food. It is intrinsically positive in taste, nutrition, and every other element. It contains within it “everything that any kind of being would ever want or need to eat.”
In most Chod practices you would then summon the ‘guests'—various deities and spirits— to come and feast upon the nectar that you have created from your body. You would then proceed to offer the nectar that you have created from your body to the inhabitants of each of the six realms that are thought to exist in Tibetan Buddhism—the god realm, the demigod realm, the human realm, the animal realm, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and hell. By offering this nectar you would get many blessings. In this particular practice, however, the multicolored or mixed feast, you do not need to forcefully summon the guests. Instead, you simply bring them to mind and the guests appear in the sky beside you.
Once this has been accomplished, you envision an innumerable amount of dakinis who look like Vajrayogini emerging from the heart of yourself, which is still indistinguishable from Vajrayogini. These dakinis are carrying small kapala, which they fill with the ambrosia that you have created from your own corpse and present it to the various guests that have appeared. The dakinis slowly descend through the six realms and feed the ambrosia to all sentient beings of the six realms. The ambrosia gets offered not only to those assembled in front of you, but also to all deities and beings no matter where they are. As this process occurs, you envision that all the deities and beings that have received the ambrosia are pleased and satisfied. This concludes the process of visualization, having successfully offered your body as a feast to the various deities and beings as an act of compassion.
Beyond the visualizations, Chod is still contains other important and nuanced components; it is not a simple meditative act, but more like a way of thinking. It has been described to me as an “all day practice,” which is not easy. According to Kalsang Tso, Chod can be divided into two parts: methods practice and liberation practice. Sonam Dorjee, another Chodpa, described these two parts as the “how”—methods practice—and the “why”—liberation practice. Methods practice includes the offering of material things and the offering of the body through meditation and visualizations. It can be referred to as ‘external Chod'—the various ritual practices that are involved and that happen at definable times such as playing the instruments and doing the
visualizations. On the other hand, liberation practice essentially involves being aware of your mind, body, and speech at all times. It can be referred to as ‘internal Chod,' and it is meant to help you to be aware of and avoid the three poisons (dug gsum). The two fit together; methods practice allows you to earn merit to counteract previous negative karma, and liberation practice helps you to stop from gaining more negative karma. In this paper, I have focused more on the methods practice.