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by Michelle Janet Sorensen

In the preceding chapter I described how the Prajnaparamita Chod doctrine of Machik Labdron adapts traditional discussions of the practice of dehadana within the context of the perfection of giving and the development of the wisdom that is defined by emptiness. Through introducing new strategies for visualizing the practice of giving one's body, Machik Labdron revives canonical discussions from Indic Buddhist teachings to ground her development of an innovative practice that a variety of practitioners can engage in for personal and communal spiritual development.

In this chapter, I continue my discussion of Machik's tradition and innovation in her development of the practices of Chod: I trace her reception and refiguration of classical Buddhist teachings to make them efficacious for her audience of Buddhist practitioners. As I argued in the preceding chapter, Chod praxis addresses what I called the “body-mind modality,” a non- dualistic conception of being. In understanding the complex strategies of Chod,

however, it is useful to distinguish provisionally between practices that use the body as a meditative focal point and those that use the mind as a site for transformation. While in the previous chapter I focused on Chod techniques for cutting through the body, here I will be considering corresponding techniques for cutting through the mind.

The Chod system provides several techniques to aid the practitioner in attaining non-dual awareness. Such techniques complement the analytical dismantling of the discursive construction of conventional existence as presented in the Prajhaparamita sutra teachings with an emphasis on the cultivation of non-dual awareness as articulated in the Tantra teachings. Chod, grounded in the Mahayana motivation of bodhicitta, explores the manifestations and limitations of mind and mental activities in order to cut through the root of karmic attachment. In a parallel movement, Chod also cultivates mental capacities in order

to cut through the root of these manifestations and limitations. In this chapter, I will discuss how the Chod teachings attributed to Machik Labdron both rely and innovate on Buddhist representations of mental functionings of a human being, including the onto-epistemological trope of the Universal Base Consciousness and the psycho-ethical trope of Negative Forces as Dud. By drawing on and revising these traditional models, Chod is able to develop effective techniques for “cutting through mind.”

As I discussed in the previous chapter, the Chod tradition explores the problem of what is to be cut through various engagements with the body-mind aggregates (phung po; skandha). In Buddhism, it is these aggregates onto which beings impute an individual mind and self, and in Chod, they are foregrounded as the objects that are to be cut. In his verse composition, The Great Poem on the Prajhaparamita and regarded as a root text of Chod, Aryadeva explains that Chod praxis is ultimately aimed at cutting through the root of mind:

To cut through the root of mind itself, And to cut through the five poisons of mental afflictions, And because all extreme views, mental formations during meditation, And anxiety, hope and fear in activity, And arrogance, are cut through, This is the definition of ‘Chod.'

This trope of “cutting” through the root of mind can be traced to early Buddhist texts. For example, in the fifth century Pali text, the Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa writes that the “relinquishment by means of cutting off takes place in the one who cultivates the supermundane path leading to the destruction of contaminations.” In The Blue Annals, Go Lotsawa cites Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa (V.34) as another fifth century Indic source for Chod: “Mental afflictions (nyon mongs) are generated from holding on to tendencies, from the presence of external objects, and from inappropriate mental activities.” Go

Lotsawa's commentary then links the Abhidharmakosa to the system of Chod: “What should be cut are mental afflictions. If these mental afflictions are generated from tendencies, and objects, and mental fabrications of inappropriate mental activities, when the yogin has contact with an object, habitual tendencies (bag chags) are taken on. It is called ‘Gcod yul' because one precisely cuts through the mental afflictions preceded by the mental fabrication of inappropriate mental activities and objects.” One obvious set of questions arising from this formulation concerns the nature of mind. If the principal goal of Chod is to cut mind at its root, what is it that is cut and what is it that is doing the cutting? These problems can be articulated more clearly

when Chod is considered as a non¬dual Sutra and Tantra practice. Briefly, cutting through the root of mind should be understood on both conventional and ultimate levels. On an outer, conventional level, what is to be cut is depicted as the body: basically, one’s self-grasping desire for identity and

permanence manifests as an attachment to physical form. On an inner, more profound level, what is to be cut is the mental functioning that discriminates subject and object, and generates a mistaken sense of identity, independence, and permanence, thus obscuring the ultimate nature of actuality as emptiness. Like most mainstream Buddhist teachings from the time of the Buddha, Chod addresses the different needs and abilities of its audience of practitioners: the

teachings not only explicitly identify the different needs and resources of practitioners, they provide multivalent instruction on levels including those of “inner” and “outer” discourse. In what is considered the “outer” form of Chod, physical embodiment represents the body-mind modality, and practitioners are taught to cut through the attachment to body in order to cut through attachment to ego. As in other traditions, the body-mind modality is a necessary condition for liberation. Chod, however, entails a more profound transvaluation of the body than do other traditions. As I explained in chapter four, the

physical body is not simply used as a meditative support or as a condition to be transcended, but through mentally visualizing one’s body transformed into pleasing offerings for a variety of sentient beings, the practitioner’s understanding of his mental and physical interrelationship and interdependency with conventional and ultimate reality is transformed. In “inner” Chod teachings that are intended for advanced practitioners, more attention is paid to the fact that four of the five body-mind aggregates are mental. At this deeper level, Chod praxis explicitly addresses the mind as the source of our perpetual self-grasping and thus the root of what is to be severed.


In order to understand the processes of “cutting through mind,” Chod praxis can be schematized using the Mahayana Buddhist concepts of “Universal Base Consciousness” (kun gzhi rnam par shes pa; alaya-vijnana) and “Universal Base” (kun gzhi; alaya). The “Universal Base Consciousness” can be understood as the discriminating consciousness of the body-mind modality, which is simultaneously constructed and defiled through conventional ego grasping and dualistic conceptualization processes. The term “Universal Base” signifies the realized potential of non-discriminating primordial consciousness free of defilements.

While the terms “Universal Base Consciousness” and “Universal Base” are not used in all Buddhist texts, they represent a fundamental Buddhist opposition between mundane discriminating consciousness and supramundane nondualistic matrix. A goal of Buddhist praxis is to sublate this duality. The Pali Anguttara Nikaya posits mind as originally pure and luminous, but defiled by ignorance and its consequent emotional reactions and habitual

predispositions. This canonical description is a precursor for Mahayana Buddhist discussions of transformation of the defiled consciousness, such as in Asanga's Yogacarabhumi. The Yogacarabhumi describes liberation of the defiled Universal Base Consciousness through a process called “transforming the basis” (asraya-paravrtti). This transformation of the basis—the realization of a supramundane consciousness—is achieved through the “cultivation of wisdom (jnana) which takes true reality (tathata) as its object.” There are many manifestations of this practice in Buddhism, but they have in common the apprehension of reality as conditioned and impermanent.

Although the Universal Base Consciousness functions as a principle of karmic continuity, it should itself be understood as conditioned and impermanent, without an independent existence. The Universal Base Consciousness is conditioned because it is compounded through the causes and conditions of karmic actions (las; karma). It is impermanent because, due to its conditioned nature, it is continually subject to change. The term Universal Base Consciousness

first came into use between the third and fifth centuries in the Yogacara tradition and was elaborated by thinkers such as Asanga and Vasubandhu as a heuristic category to provide a locus for the operations of karma and rebirth.

As William Waldron (2003) and Paul Griffiths (1999) have pointed out, the Mahayana theorizing of the Universal Base Consciousness (or, as they write, “all-

ground consciousness”) as an element of mind—though not equated with mind—provides a means for understanding the functioning of karma. Within the Universal Base Consciousness, the aggregates (phung po) are proliferated and karmic being is perpetuated. Griffiths calls Universal Base Consciousness an “explanatory category” which provides a locus and principle of continuity for the logical functioning of karma and rebirth. The causes, conditions and consequences of one's positive and negative actions dependently co-arise with the four mental phung po. In combination, the phung po comprise not only the

discursive mind and consciousness, but also the material form of the karmic being as ethical agent. The discursive mind is susceptible to mental habits and emotional reactions which, when one lacks awareness, proliferate and thus perpetuate the phung po. In turn, the phung po accrue the karmic traces deposited in the Universal Base Consciousness. Milarepa, a contemporary of Machik Labdron, explains this dynamic in a song about his own practice. In preparing to

offer his body to sentient beings, Milarepa describes the accumulation of karmic traces as phung po: “we have all taken myriads of bodily forms in our past incarnations. . . . Nevertheless, we have seldom utilized these bodies for a worthwhile purpose. Instead, we have wasted them by doing meaningless things [over and over again], thus accumulating more and more Skandhas and pains." Milarepa intimates an equation between the proliferation of skandhas and the perpetuation of samsara in a practice that has marked affinities with Chod. Milarepa experiences a situation which provokes fear of his own impermanence and the corollary attitude of self-grasping. He mediates this experience by analyzing the composition of his being and offering his phung po for the sake of all sentient beings.

The Universal Base Consciousness is produced by the symbiotic relationship between one's accumulating karmic traces and discriminating cognitive activities such as perception and conception. This consciousness generally functions below the level of awareness, susceptible to mental habits and proliferating emotional reactions that perpetuate samsara. Dualistic cognitive processes produce the experience of cyclic existence, and Universal Base Consciousness provides a locus for the functioning of these processes. The Universal Base

Consciousness contains and undergirds the causes and effects of karmic activity and emotional afflictions, resulting in the continuity of identity through successive rebirths. According to Buddhist traditions that have inherited this Yogacara paradigm, liberation from this suffering is only possible through a transformation of this defiled consciousness into a perfected and non-discriminating awareness.

In Sutra presentations of Chod, the Universal Base Consciousness is a cognitive ground for conceptual and perceptual processes. Especially in certain Vijnanavada interpretations, the Universal Base Consciousness seems to become an absolute entity in itself. In contrast, Tantra Chod interprets the Universal Base Consciousness as composed of the subtle mental capacity (sems) and subtle energy wind (rlung), which are ultimately impermanent and non-

abiding. In a Tantra context, the Universal Base Consciousness denotes a potentiality that can be overlaid with traces of experience and experiential structures. In conjunction with appropriate conditions, this potentiality founds future experiences. Even given these differences, both Sutra and Tantra Chod retain a pragmatic understanding of the Universal Base as an indeterminate ground of the causes, conditions and consequences of the law of karma. The trope of the Universal Base Consciousness provides for a theorization of the ethical effects of the law of karma and of the beings that undergo cyclic existence.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the realization of the impermanence of one's physical form, along with the desire for a non-changing permanent physical form, perpetuates one's karmic attachment to samsara. As Waldron, contextualizing alayavijnana in the Abhidharma, explains: “karmic action creates results which are experienced as feelings, which evoke the active counterparts (klesa) of the afflictions underlying them, which then lead to more karmically

productive activities, which produce more results, and so on, ensuring the perpetuation of cyclic existence” (2003, 69). That is, one’s habit of self-grasping, although unsuccessful in yielding a permanent self, is successful at proliferating the body-mind modality which will keep one karmically attached to cyclic existence. Thus, in order to be liberated from samsara, Chod provides techniques for cutting through the proliferation of the body-mind modality

and cultivating an awareness of the uncontaminated Universal Base. By cutting through the body¬mind modality, one is actually severing one’s flawed identification with fabricated mental consciousness. Or, as Aryadeva claims in the Chod root text, “to cut through the mind itself” is to sever all mental afflictions which tie one to existential suffering.


Such theoretical understandings of the onto-epistemology of Universal Base and Universal Base Consciousness help us to understand the Chod practice of “Opening the Gate of Space” (nam mkha’ sgo ‘byed). This practice both recalls and recontextualizes traditional previous Buddhist teachings, and it provides an innovative interpretation of similar Tantric practices, such as the

transference of consciousness techniques of ’pho ba. According to historical and biographical sources, Machik received the teaching of Opening from Padampa Sangye’s student, Kyoton Sonam Lama. Apparently, the format for this initiation was recorded in Padampa Sangye’s ‘Brul tsho drug pa; however, no copy of this text has been located. Versions of the initiation are recorded in Panchen Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen’s (Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan) Gcod dbang nam mkha sgo byed,411 Thu’ukwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma’s Gcod dbang nam mkha’ sgo byed kyi dbang chos kyi sgo ‘byedpa’i Ide mig, and Taranatha’s Gcod yul gyi dbang nam mkha sgo ‘byed du grags pa.

One of the more elaborate discussions of the onto-epistemological framework of Universal Base and Universal Base Consciousness is found in the Ma gcig gsang spyod recovered treasure (gter ma) tradition of the Bhutanese philosopher-adept Thang stong rgyal po (ca. 1361-1485). Thang stong rgyal po is revered for activities as diverse as his bridge engineering skills, medical knowledge, and expertise in performing arts, as well as for being a great discoverer of hidden Buddhist teachings, or “Terton” (gter ston). According to the [[Gsang

spyod snyan brgyud]] (SPNG) collection associated with the school of Thang stong rgyal po, Thang stong rgyal po received teachings from Machik in the form of Vajravarahi. In the Dge sdig ‘khrul spong rgyu ‘bras gsal ba'i don ston, Thang stong rgyal po discusses the connection between the Universal Base (kun gzhi) and karmic action (las), including positive and negative actions in the context of Chod. According to this exposition, it is within one's own mental capacities to know mind alone [[[sems]]] as the Universal Base of samsara and nirvana. It is also within one's own mental capacities to realize the non-duality of subject and object.

To such philosophical theories of consciousness, Tantric Buddhist teachings contribute methods aimed at the transformation of consciousness to its undefiled and ultimately luminous, aware and empty state. I will discuss some of these methods as they are elaborated in the Chod tradition, using texts from The Great Explanation attributed to Machik Labdron and from the SPNG collection. The school of thought associated with Thang stong rgyal-po's SPNG

cycle of teachings emphasizes the Chod practice of Opening the Gate of Space. These texts present a philosophy of mind and consciousness in relation to practices of ethical activity and liberation from suffering. The SPNG Chod tradition systematically articulates the relationship between the supramundane and mundane consciousness, or Universal Base and Universal Base Consciousness, in the context of practice.

Various Buddhist teachers who have transmitted Chod teachings identify the practice of Opening the Gate of Space as the most significant element of the Chod system—possibly more important even than offerings of the body—including Aryadeva the Brahmin (the author of the “root text" of Chod), Thang stong rgyal pa, Tsong kha pa (1357-1419, who cites Aryadeva), Jamgon Kongtrul and, more recently, the Geluk teacher Zong Rinpoche (1905-1984) and the Karma Kagyu teacher Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989). For example, Jamgon Kongtrul blo gros mtha' yas (1813-1899), the scholar responsible for collecting many rare

texts from Tibetan traditions such as Chod, emphasizes the importance of the Opening the Gate of Space practice, which he describes as a method enabling one to focus on intrinsic awareness (rig pa) and to settle mental phenomena (1982, 3:425). Kongtrul develops his own teaching on offering the body, which he explicitly connects with the Chod lineage of Machik. In this teaching, Kongtrul refers to the Opening as “the king of all transference; the meaning of the wisdom mind of the Mother [i.e. Machik qua the Mother Prajnapapramita; the actual Holy Dharma; the final meaning of the doctrine of cutting off the

object—the demons." For Kongtrul, not only is the practice of Opening as outlined according to Chod the epitome of all transference practices, it encapsulates the perfection of wisdom, the Buddhist Dharma, and the quintessential meaning of Chod which severs the Negative Forces. More recently, Kalu Rinpoche has stated that Opening “is said to be one hundred times superior to ordinary powa ‘pho ba” (1995, 156).

As Kalu Rinpoche suggests, precursors for the Chod practice of Opening the Gate of Space might be located in the ‘pho ba techniques of separating consciousness from the body taught by Niguma and Naropa. A key difference between Chod Opening the Gate of Space and ‘pho ba is that the former is an integral part of a more elaborate practice, while the latter is considered its own practice. Conventionally, the practice of ‘pho ba is repeated a number

of times in preparation for death, but then is not practiced again until the time of death. On the other hand, Opening is a method for reorienting consciousness to uncontaminated emptiness (stong pa nyid; sunyata); that is, returning to a state of intrinsic awareness released from processes of dualistic thinking. In Mahayana Buddhism, emptiness is defined as the lack of inherent existence, and thus permanence, of “self” and “other.” While “self

and “other” appear to be independent, they are concepts arising from mental operations of discrimination and categorization of phenomena that are impermanent and lacking any independent essence. Through the practice of Opening the Gate of Space, one is able to transform one's discriminating consciousness to an “extra-discriminating” or immediate mode of awareness. One's conventionally-functioning consciousness, constructed through discriminating “self” and “other” from birth (or even from previous births), is thereby transformed and reunited with its primordially empty state.

the emptiness of inherent existence, these two modalities of consciousness—and of human experience—are non-dual. The Chod praxis of Opening is taught as one possible path for Mahayana Buddhists to have experiential realization not only of the non-duality of body and mind, but also of samsara and nirvana, and thus to achieve liberation from suffering. Chod texts frequently recommend that one practice the technique of Opening daily. The many variants of

Opening praxis can be categorized as those “Without a Support” and those “With a Support,” depending on how the consciousness is visualized. In both types of practice, the practitioner imagines that her mundane consciousness is transformed into the full intrinsic undefiled potential of sentient beings, or Intrinsic Knowledge (rigpa). In Opening Without a Support, this potential undefiled consciousness is conceived as a state without form or qualities. Conversely, in Opening With a Support, this potential undefiled consciousness is visualized as a substantial form, for example, that of a dakini. These two types of praxis are considered complementary, and can be done in succession.

In the Opening With a Support, one transforms the discriminating consciousness into an ideal form as the enlightened consciousness of a perfected being, such as Machik Labdron as wisdom dakini, or a yogini, such as Vajrayogini, Vajravarahi or Khros ma nag mo. When one has visualized one's Intrinsic

Knowledge as represented by a realized being, the process of transformation is completed by the compassionate offering of the body-mind to sentient beings. As a realized being, the practitioner visualizes cutting up and offering her body-mind modality to other beings. This offering is a manifestation and representation of severing one's self¬attachment to ego. One's visualized consciousness as Intrinsic Knowledge thus cuts through the discriminating consciousness that perpetuates suffering and keeps one attached to samsara.

The preliminary technique of Opening the Gate of Space in Chod praxis cuts through the practitioner's attachment to the discriminating ego and prepares her for the visualization of the ultimate ethical and liberative behaviour: the offering of her body-mind to all sentient beings. By engaging in this process of cutting through the mental attachment to a reified concept of self, the Chod practitioner is conditioned for the visualization of offering her body-

mind: the processes of cutting through mind and body are symbiotic. Cutting through the mind enables the practitioner to cut through dualistic conceptualization and prepares her for the effective offering of the body. Chod inherits the traditional Buddhist paradigm of the body-mind as a composite

of psychophysical constituents, upon which a notion of a permanent self is imputed. As I discussed in the previous chapter, by visualizing the dismemberment, transformation and offering of this mind-body, the practitioner realizes the ultimate emptiness of the psychophysical components that constitute the self . The Chod technique of Opening is intended as a method for transforming one's mundane karmically-defiled consciousness, the Universal Base Consciousness, into the ideal of the supramundane Universal Base in its aspect as Intrinsic Knowledge (rig pa; vidya). This equation of Universal Base Consciousness and

Intrinsic Knowledge is made clear in The Great Explanation: “the Universal Base, the essence of spirit of enlightenment, is the god of reflexive intrinsic knowledge.” In this process, consciousness is freed from dualistic appearances by a method in which consciousness as subject pervades emptiness as object,

resulting in an experience of the non-existence of subject and object. By habituating oneself to this experience, one’s consciousness eventually becomes regulated by non-discriminating non-duality.

When texts in the Chod tradition want to emphasize the ethical operations of karma, they generally use the language of Universal Base Consciousness and Universal Base. In order to signal the transformation of ethical actions and karmic traces, Chod texts render the Universal Base as Dharmadhatu. For

example, according to the Rnam bshad, the non-discriminating nature of Intrinsic Knowledge allows for “the view of the inherent purity in Dharmadhatu untainted even by the stains of ripened [[[karmic]] consequences],” without elaborations due to misknowledge, karmic action, or emotional afflictions (nyon mongs; klesa). The practice of Opening Without a Support not only instructs practitioners in the conceptualization of Intrinsic Knowledge, but it also provides a method for uniting one’s Intrinsic Knowledge (rig pa) with the realm of emptiness, that is, transforming and homogenizing it with the Dharmadhatu (see Table Two).'

Table Two

universal base consciousness -> intrinsic knowledge -> Dharmadhatu

{purify/transform} {identify/homogenize}'

Tsong kha pa (1986b), citing The Great Poem by Aryadeva the Brahmin, maintains that the transformation of mind characterized as Intrinsic Knowledge into the Dharmadhatu is the optimum method for freeing oneself from samsara. “Intrinsic Knowledge” (rig pa) is the undefiled non-discriminating consciousness of a sentient being, which has the potential to become conscious of and ultimately non-differentiated from Dharmadhatu, or the universal expanse of phenomena. In this context, Intrinsic Knowledge signifies the Universal Base Consciousness of a sentient being purified from its discriminating activities, while Dharmadhatu and the Universal Base are signifiers for the ideal supramundane.

When Intrinsic Knowledge and Dharmadhatu are merged, all discriminations of subject and object and signs of existence are dissolved. Mind is freed from dualistic appearances through methods in which the consciousness as subject pervades emptiness as object, and thus non-duality is realized. By habituating oneself in this practice, one abides in the realization of Dharmadhatu. One's individual consciousness is realized as Intrinsic Knowledge

non¬differentiated from the Dharmadhatu. The praxis of Opening without a support has the aim of locating the practitioner in an attitude of emptiness, emphasizing the ultimate nature of actuality as lacking any abiding inherent identity. Having realized the appropriate knowledge of ultimate emptiness, the

practitioner is prepared to understand the physical form of consciousness used in Opening With a Support as ultimately empty in nature. Even though the consciousness takes a physical form in visualization, the practitioner understands the inherent formlessness and emptiness of Intrinsic Knowledge and Dharmadhatu.

The technique of Opening enables the practitioner to practice and habituate herself to the actuality of consciousness uncontaminated by discriminative thinking. The Opening praxis facilitates the assimilation of the defiled consciousness in the primordially present and undefiled consciousness. Opening With or Without a Support ideally enables an experience of the homogenization of defiled and undefiled consciousness. The practice of becoming aware of dualistic appearances as a product of the discriminating consciousness enables the practitioner to cut through mind: to appreciate the fundamentally non-dualistic ground that is considered to be

“co-emergent” with such discriminating consciousness.


Although Chod is based on traditional ideas of body and mind in Buddhism, it also develops ideas of “internal yoga” which are latent in Buddhist teachings from the Pali teachings of Buddhaghosa and Upatissa to the yogatantras of the eighth and ninth centuries. In his discussion of the influence of Brahmanical yoga techniques on Buddhist meditation methodologies, Winston L. King (1980, 88) differentiates the two approaches by emphasizing the Brahmanical interest in “achieving freedom and power in and over the world,” which he contrasts with the Buddhist interest in “achieving freedom from the world and all its values.” King's emphasis on the “internal yogatechniques represented in Pali texts including the Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga provides a thread to follow for the study of practices that emphasize experiential body-mind techniques for cultivating enlightenment (1980, 41).

Jacob Dalton's essay (2004) on internal yoga practices in Buddhist Tantra teachings during the eighth and ninth centuries provides a useful companion to King's work. Dalton (2004, 2) observes that the changes in ritual brought about by developments in Tantra during the eighth and ninth centuries—most notably an internalization of practice and performance—were apparent to contemporaneous Buddhist authors who explicitly described them as “internal yogas,” thus underlining their distinction from “external” ritual practices. Dalton posits that the earliest Yoga Tantras dating from the eighth century introduced

the methodology of locating ritual praxis in/on the practitioner's body: “These were the first ritual systems to thrust the Buddhist practitioner onto center-stage. Where previously the practitioner worshipped an external shrine, in the Yoga tantras, he envisioned himself as the buddha and directed prayers and oblations to himself” (2004, 3). It should be emphasized here that the practitioner of internal yoga, within the ritual sphere, self-reflexively identifies as an idealized enlightened being. Dalton stresses that “[t]his was a physical interiorization, not a psychologization nor a

spiritualization in the sense intended by the western narratives of the shift from the Vedas to the Upanisads” (2004, 26). Dalton does not deny that Tantric practice has psychological components; however, he wants to emphasize the shift of ritual space from an external physical shrine to the interior of the practitioner's body. By the end of the 9th century, “a new ritual discourse of the bodily interior was in place. The tantric subject had become the site for the entire ritual performance; the body's interior provided the devotee, the altar, the oblations, and the buddha to be worshipped” (2004, 2).

Although later Chod teachings elaborate details on certain practices, such as pilgrimage to auspicious practice sites, modes of dancing, specific ways to play the damaru or rkang gling, and so forth, the formative Chod texts that I am considering in this study might be understood as what King and Dalton refer to as treatises on “internal yoga.” As I have explained in chapter four, Chod praxis provides rituals (repeated with the hope of achieving the same goal each time or of cumulative experience based on previously achieved experience) and practices (mental and/or physical activities which are usually done

more than once, but are not meant to be identical in performance or in outcome) to complement the Prajnaparamita teachings. Chod reflects the interest in and development of internal yoga in Buddhist praxis as identified by King and Dalton. Similar to the shifts from external to internal sites of practice as discussed by Dalton, in Chod, there is a shift from the external practice of physical offerings to an internal practice of offerings of the body-mind.

In particular, the Chod practice of cutting through the mental aggregates is embedded in implicit and explicit Buddhist discussions of internal yoga. Chod

elaborates such ideas of internal yoga into new techniques including the Nam mkha’ sgo byed practice of Opening the Gate of Space and the analysis of “Negative Forces” or Dud. The understanding of Dud in Chod is dialectical: the Dud represent a catalogue of internal negative forces that are mistakenly conceptualized and thus externalized; Chod provides a strategy for identifying this cognitive error and for the conceptual “re-internalization” and dissolving of these erroneous percepts.


Following on my evaluation of Chod's revision of the practice of dehadana, the internalization of praxis (internal yoga) helps us to understand the innovative aspects of Chod's confrontation with the Dud. Chod inherits an extensive tradition of conceptualizing negative forces in Indic and Buddhist discourses. The Tibetan wordbdud” is a translation of the Sanskrit wordmara.” The root for the term “mara” is “mr,” “to die.” Apte suggests the

etymology of “mr-dhan” (1998, 1263), with the meaning of “killing,” as well as of “obstruction” or “hindrance.” In Buddhist texts, “mara” refers to an abstraction designating the cause of “obstruction,” “impermanence,” or “death.” In addition, it designates both a particular cosmological deva—“Mara”—and a class of devas—“mara.” In Chod, Mara is not a “demonper se, but a demonized negative force or obstruction: it arises from a person's own ignorance obstructing her enlightenment and liberation.

A popular story, found in various texts including the Padhana Sutta (Sutta nipata 3.2), recounts Mara challenging Siddhartha Gautama when he is on the cusp of attaining enlightenment. Mara, who is also called “Namuci” (“he who doesn't let go”), “Kanha” or “Krsna” (“the dark one”), and “Kamadeva” (“the deity of love and passion”), brings his armies to defeat the Buddha. These armies are manifestations of the eight worldly concerns that are defeated through the

Buddha's wisdom: sensual desire, discontent, hunger and thirst, craving, laziness and torpor, fear, indecision, and pride. This story is visually referenced in the iconography of the Buddha sitting in padmasana (the lotus posture for meditation), with his left hand palm up in his lap and the fingers of his right hand touching the earth, which witnesses his defeat of the temptations of Mara. Such narratives attest to the Buddhist concern with mara as the source for obstructions to one's Dharma practice and spiritual attainment, representing one's ego-clinging.

Buddhist sources usually refer to one, three, four or five mara. The most common Mahayana list, from the Mahaprajnaparamitasastra attributed to Nagarjuna, includes the following four mara: klesa-mara, the manifestation of mental afflictions; skandha-mara, the manifestation of the body-mind aggregates; mrtyu-mara, the manifestation of mortality and death; and devaputra-mara, the manifestation of Mara as a son of the deities, the one who will lead astray sentient beings who are fighting ignorance and attachment and performing virtuous acts in an effort to overcome the mental afflictions, body-mind

aggregates and death. These mara are destroyed by the practitioner's perfection of wisdom.433 Go Lotsawa cites the passage in the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita (27.447-49) that discusses the four reasons why a bodhisattva is untouchable by maras: because he abides in emptiness, does not abandon sentient beings, behaves in accordance with his speech, and is blessed by the Sugata.

In traditional Buddhist discussions, Dud or Mara are harmful embodied forces: external demons to be overcome along the path of enlightenment. By contrast, in Chod the prevailing trope of the Dud provides a context for an examination of the mind and mental activities. The opening statement of Machik's The Great Speech Chapter declares that “the root of Negative

Forces is one’s own mind.” This declaration is similar to an unidentified passage quoted by Padmavajra (ca. 8th-9th c.) in his elaboration on Buddhaguhya’s commentary on the Tattvasamgraha entitled the Tantrarthavataravyakhyana. In The Great Poem, Aryadeva the Brahmin mentions only two types of Dud, or Negative Forces: clinging to things as “real,” attachment, and aversion are called “Obstructive Negative Forces”; pride and producing manifestations of gods and demons are called “Non-obstructive Negative Forces.”

In Chod, the Dud (as “demons”) are ultimately understood as the metaphorical manifestations of mind. This is why the Chod system is frequently referred to as “bdud kyi gcod yul” in historical sources such as The Blue Annals, as well as in titles of later sadhana practice texts, emphasizing that one

externalizes and embodies the mind and its functions as Dud. Just as the body in “outer” Chod is to be understood as a metaphorical representation of the phung po, so the Dud in this “inner” Chod are ultimately understood as metaphorical representations of mental functions that promote self-grasping. Rather than enacting a ritual to confront Dud as external forces, Chod reflects the orientation of internal yoga in developing methods for cutting through obstructions of one’s own mind.

The four Dud that Machik discusses in her teachings include three that arise from attachment and one that arises without attachment. These are presented in The Great Speech Chapter: “The Negative Forces are classified as four: the ‘Negative Forces With Obstruction' {supported by an external object},441 the ‘Negative Forces Without Obstruction' {supported by internal mental conceptualization}, the ‘Joyous Negative Forces' {supported by clinging to manifest qualities}, and the ‘Negative Forces Producing Pride' {discursive thought due to dualistic grasping}. Furthermore, [these four are all] present in

‘Negative Forces Producing Pride.'" The first Dud is one all human beings are confronted with by the nature of the grasping mind: the mind mediates one's existence in the world, desiring to construct a substantial reality; few are able to eliminate this obscuration of the thogs bcas kyi bdud, the Negative Forces with Obstructions. The second Dud affects those who may have overcome their susceptibility to the first Dud: although they do not construct a hypostasized reality, they are still not aware of the suffering which arises from subject/object dichotomization; this process is obscured by the thogs med kyi bdud, the Dud of those without attachments. The third Dud affects those who have overcome, or have become aware of, the dangers of the first two Dud. Unfortunately, they are still susceptible to the Dga' spro yi bdud, the Dud of contentment. The final Dud, considered the most difficult to sever, is that which arises once one has understood the hindrances of the other three Dud: it is the Dud of pride, which is able to obscure the reality of emptiness

(sunyata; stong nyid) by attributing an ego to a non-existent self. Discussion of the Dud of pride is not unique to Chod: a correlate is found in Prajnaparamita sources including the Astasahasrika Prajhaparamita (XXIV), where attitudes of pride and conceit held by the bodhisattva create a psychic opening for the force of Mara to create distractions from the pursuit of enlightenment. However, in the discourses of Machik, it is emphasized that Mara is not an external force; rather, the Dud are in fact produced through one's own mental activity in the course of trying to cut through the root of mind and

its habitual patterns of thinking. The Dud are manifest through challenges that a practitioner faces in realizing and maintaining the irreversible conviction of belief in the true nature of reality as non-dual.

In The Great Speech Chapter, these four Negative Forces are discussed at length and expanded on in a variety of contexts. The Negative Forces with Obstruction are said to be caused by a person's affirmative and negative discriminations of sense phenomena. Believing these discriminations to be correct and real is what fetters a person in samsara and perpetuates her existence in a world of suffering. In explaining this Dud, Machik cites the Prajnaparamita

teaching, “as for form, the essence of form is empty.” She advocates meditation on emptiness as remedy for this Dud, although she cautions against making emptiness into something itself, which would result in nihilism. The aim of the practitioner is to become unattached to form and to liberate her sense consciousnesses—hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and mental consciousness—by not evaluating their experiences as either positive or negative. Thus, one

will be liberated from the Negative Force of grasping things as permanent, which is presented as equivalent to a Negative Force with Obstruction.

Mental consciousness itself is said to be a Negative Force without Obstruction. While the sensory experiences can become Negative Forces with Obstruction, the mental processes that evaluate and grasp them as something permanent and real are Negative Forces without Obstruction. Negative Forces without

Obstruction are the differentiations that are made by one's own discriminative thinking. As Machik elaborates, because one's natural mind does not grasp a deity (lha) as a deity or a spirit (‘dre) as a bad spirit, the hopeful and fearful thoughts associated with these entities are Negative Forces that originate in one's own mind: they are fabrications that are said to appear “like waves arising from a still ocean” (8/457). The core of grasping and the

source of Dud are negation and affirmation. When these discriminating mental activities are abandoned, one is released from the behavior of grasping and the practitioner can rest in the clear state of the self-arisen mind (rang byung sems).

In The Great Speech Chapter, the third category of Negative Forces—the Joyous Negative Forces—is subdivided into two: the Common Negative Forces and the Exceptional Negative Forces, both which arise from mental confusion. One type of Common Joyous Negative Force is the arrogant mind that is produced when a person is unaffected by spirits (‘dre) in severe places. Further types include the Negative Force of Distraction that can arise when one receives powerful

blessings resulting in merit and wealth; and the Negative Force of Enjoyment that can result from the pleasure of having profit, fame, family, friends and even enemies. These are all factors that can cause a practitioner to continue grasping onto dualistic appearances. Machik counsels her audience to see all qualities and appearances to be like objects of a dream, engaging their self-nature without clinging, just as a beautiful woman does not have any cause to

be arrogant, since her appearance is merely an ornament and believing it to be otherwise is a mistake. The exceptional behavior of not grasping onto such qualities and appearances is not only advocated by Machik, but she also exhorts all intelligent people to maintain this attitude deep in their being.

Two types of Exceptional Joyous Negative Forces are explained: Negative Forces of the Path and Negative Forces of the Result. Machik contextualizes these Negative Forces in an iconoclastic fashion, framing them in terms of traditional characteristics that define a Buddhist scholastic tenet system, namely

“view,” “path” (including meditation and behavior), and “result.” As with the Common Joyous Negative Forces, the descriptions of Exceptional Joyous Negative Forces indicate that they are afflictions experienced by practitioners. In elaborating Joyous Negative Forces of Results, Machik criticizes practitioners who desire particular accomplishments. According to her, desires for the attainment of the Three Bodies are the result of the tenet systems (grub mtha') associated with the vehicles of the Hearers (nyan thos;

srávaka), the Self-conquerors (rang rgyal;pratyekabuddha), and the others; thus, they are Negative Forces. She argues that such accomplishments are not attained through the support of enlightened ones, nor are they accomplished through objective, goal-oriented behavior. Rather, because one's own self-nature is always-already enlightened, a Chod practitioner (gcod kyi mi) who is freed from the restrictions of hope and fear, who rests in her own self-nature, who has cut through the ropes of grasping onto objects, does not need to strive for anything else.

According to this section of The Great Speech Chapter, the Negative Forces of the Path are identified with joy arising from accomplishments associated with the Buddhist path, including having a view freed from elaborations, the experience of equanimous mediation, non- conceptual mental attitudes, and practicing the path of experience. These are Negative Forces because if a practitioner feels joy from such experiences, she has turned the experience into

an object and is no longer “travelling the Path.” At this point in her discussion, Machik makes the bold claim that the exceptionality of Chod resides in the non-view of not committing to a viewpoint, allowing any phenomena to arise without the obstruction of definitive mental consciousness and in correspondence with the unlimited expanse. With such a statement, she indicates that Chod is not to be identified as just another doctrinal system. It is worth noting that she does not identify Chod with a Mahamudra or Dzogchen standpoint here, although the experiential language (myon tshig) she uses in this

section—for example, her imperative to “rest in still, clear, luminous experience”—has certain affinities with such systems. In contrast, through her explicit explanation of these terms, she appropriates this language to her own Chod system. Moreover, she returns to the signature Chod trope of “cutting” or “severing” (gcod): “the rational mind (blo; buddhi) must be summonsed by cutting the apparent object.” This is another example of how Machik seeks to locate her teachings within a Buddhist intellectual heritage and cultural landscape, while she simultaneously reinforces her revisionary standpoint. Machik

and the members of her audience are products of their environment and thus share signs and signifiers for communication; however, Machik takes care to establish that her charismatic teachings are distinguished from others.

Machik concludes this section with a reiteration of her teaching that, although the Negative Forces can be classified into four types, they are fundamentally implicated in the Negative Forces Producing Pride, arising through conceptualizing and grasping of the self as one thing and objects as another. The valence of her discussion shifts here, introducing argument by analogy into her philosophical rhetoric. One example is worthy of note in

this context: the snow lion who is neither intimidated nor anxious while living in the highest mountains, but rather possesses an assurance absent of pride. For a practitioner who possesses an assurance similar to the innate assurance of a snow lion in its native environment, there is no possibility for deities and spirits (lha ‘dre) to appear to exist; indeed, the practitioner’s training becomes stronger when she understand that such deities and spirits are her own manifestations. Once she sees that she is grasping onto objects as things independent of her own conceptualization, and once she cuts through

the ropes of pride, she can appreciate the teaching that “one who rests in the clear essence does not identify a mind (sems) of clear essence.”

In Machik's Chod teachings, she insists that the positive and negative valuations of karmic actions and objects of experience are not characteristic of ultimate actuality, but are dependent on the discriminating mind. “Dre” is the conventional Tibetan word for general “demon” or “devil,” and is often paired in Chod texts with “lha,” or “divine force(s).” Many Chod teachings assert that these concepts are merely the result of phenomena being valued as

positive or negative, good or bad, beneficial or harmful. Just as the Negative Forces and the body function metaphorically in Chod praxis, Machik uses the terms “gods” and “demons” to signify such positive and negative judgments. In The Great Explanation, Machik explains that “in a conventional sense . . . the defining characteristics of the gods and demons are just as previously explained. It is necessary to understand [their] characteristics of existence, and it is also necessary to practice according to that

understanding.” This relative understanding includes the appreciation that “positive, virtuous actions are gods, and negative, nonvirtuous actions are Negative Forces.” In Giuseppe Tucci's interpretation of Chod praxis, there are essentially two elements of Chod visualization: “a preparatory element, in which the deceptive assumption of the existence of gods and demons is made, and a second element which brings about the certitude that gods and demons are nothing but emanations of our own thought” (1980, 88).

Machik explicitly intertwines the evaluative activities of the discriminating mind with the Buddhist doctrine of karmic action. This symbiosis is developed in her discussion of the two truths and the functional trope of kun gzhi, or Universal Base. She summarizes that “the

Universal Base, the essence of bodhicitta, is the god of intrinsic awareness.” Machik thus maintains that what is conventionally referred to as a “god” is in fact the positive nature of reflexive awareness that characterizes the full potential of the enlightened mind when it is unsullied by discriminative thinking. In contrast, when “demons” are conventionally invoked, one should understand this as the obstruction of the full potential of the Universal Base by non¬aware emotional reactions (nyon mongs; klesa). Machik points out that though gods and demons are conventionally binarized, “they are a single cause, because of the distinction of awareness and non-awareness.”

The Universal Base is the non-discriminated full potential of emptiness, and it is only the presence or absence of awareness that results in positive or negative characterizations. Machik stresses that in terms of ultimate meaning (don dam), the discrimination into positive and negative, god and demon “are

without even a hair's tip of true existence.” The non¬discriminating nature of awareness allows for “the view of the inherent purity in Dharmadhatu untainted even by the stains of ripened [[[karmic]] consequences],” without elaborations due to non-awareness (ma rig pa), karmic action (las), and emotional reactions (nyon mongs). Machik's analysis here implies that by cutting through the Dud, the practitioner cuts through the obstructions that obscure the awareness identified with the Universal Base.

According to the rnam thar (vitae) chapters in The Great Explanation, Machik attained a personal understanding of the Negative Forces as they are represented in the Prajnaparamita teachings when she was under the tutelage of Kyoton Sonam Lama. This section emphasizes that it is not the Dud qua Dud that are central to Machik's realization, nor even visualization practice, but the contemplation of ego-grasping and its elimination that is central to

realization. Kyoton Sonam Lama is said to have instructed Machik to move beyond simply understanding the meaning of the Prajhaparamita teachings to internalizing them, to examine her own mind thoroughly to gain a mind free from grasping and objectification, with the great fire of the great knowledge of nonaction overcoming the darkness of the misknowledge of grasper and grasped. By following this instruction while reciting the chapter of the Prajhaparamita on the Negative Forces, Machik is said to have gained a profound realization of the non-existence of a self through the wisdom of prajha that was akin to the rising of the sun dispelling darkness.

As was noted above, in traditional Buddhist narratives, Dud are perceived embodiments of negative forces. They are often manifestations of obstacles that a practitioner encounters along the path to enlightenment. A key weapon against the Dud is the wisdom of prajha. Traditionally, prajha is considered a fundamentally mental wisdom and the Dud are thought of as agents in themselves. A particularly remarkable aspect of the philosophy of Chod is a double

chiasmatic shift of these central concepts. The mode of prajna is externalized through the training of the embodied human being and her praxis: wisdom becomes associated with physical performance. At the same time, Düd are refigured as internal psychological processes that entrench ego clinging. The confrontation with the Düd, one of the most well known aspects of Chod, may then be interpreted as a perpetual interplay between non-discursive experience and conceptually mediated experience. In other words, Chod is a strategy of continual attention to and negotiation of the limits produced by hypostasizing human being—that is, cutting through the existential and social closures that obscure enlightenment.

In the Prajnaparamita Chod tradition, Düd function as psychological and ritual signifiers highlighting the ultimately nondual relationship of the body-mind modality of the practitioner. In juxtaposition with the practices of Opening the Gate of Space and dehadana, the confrontation with the Düd as internally produced obstacles to enlightenment emphasizes the symbiotic character of Chod praxis: cutting through the body is cutting through the mind, and vice versa. Ultimately, “inner” and “outer” forms of Chod are grounded on this reciprocity of severing attachment to the self, whether conceptualized as the offering of the body as food or the overcoming of Negative Forces. The psychological experience of Negative Forces also demands that the practitioner understand the fabricated distinctions between the internal and external, the self and other, the individual and society. The inclusion of Düd as guests

receiving the offering of the body-mind constituents at a Chod ceremony (such as those described in chapter four) can be understood as facilitating movement between existential and social realms. The cognitively constructed guests from these interconnected realms—the realm of one's own psycho-physical modality and the realm of the interrelation of one's modality with those of other sentient beings—are invited to gather together. When one is analyzing the

phung-po, or cutting up the psycho-physical constituents which will then be given/offered to the guests that one has invited to the celebration of the process of cultivating enlightenment, such a feeding can be interpreted as a returning of social constructions to the self and of the self to social constructions. If the socially-constructed aspects are offered back to the social environment, one can better integrate them into a complex comprehension of mind/body modality.

This process is heuristically schematized in Table One:


(rnam par shes pa; vijnana)

• due to ignorance (ma rig pa; avidya), sentient beings are unable to be aware of Intrinsic Knowledge as their ultimate nature

• parallel to dualistic mind (sems; citta) INTRINSIC KNOWLEDGE

(rig pa; vidya)

• the consciousness of sentient beings that realizes the mind as luminous and empty

• parallel to a buddha's body of phenomena which are empty of inherent nature (chos kyi sku; dharmakaya)

UNIVERSAL BASE CONSCIOUSNESS (kun gzhi rnam shes; alayavijnana)

heuristic category to locate karmic formations (‘du byed; samskara) based on the ignorance of discriminating activities

• the “eighth consciousness” in the “eight-fold group” which includes the five sense consciousnesses, mental consciousness, and the mental consciousness of emotional afflictions UNIVERSAL BASE

(kun gzhi; alaya)

non-dualistic ground of consciousness undefiled by karmic formations

• parallel to the non-discriminated, and thus empty, realm of phenomena (chos kyi dbyings; dharmadhatu)

These pairs are not identical with each other, but they share sufficient family resemblances and are often mapped onto each other. In each case, they represent aspects of consciousness that arise from the fundamental Buddhist dialectical relationship of nirvana (mya ngan las ‘das pa) and samsara (‘khor ba). In Chod, as in many Mahayana Buddhist contexts, non-duality is sought, and ideally achieved, through a negotiation of dualities. Conventionally, one understands consciousness as divided into a functional contaminated consciousness and an ideal uncontaminated and non-differentiating consciousness. This duality parallels the conceptualization of human experience as conventionally a realm of samsara, but potentially and ideally a realm of nirvana. Ultimately, given the emptiness of inherent existence, these two modalities of consciousness—and of human