Chöd (T. gcod གཅིད་), literally "to sever"
Chöd is based on the view of the prajñāpāramitā teachings, and employs the skillful methods of tantra. The chöd practitioner visualizes offering his or her body to hosts of beings, while reciting prayers and mantras, and playing various ritual instruments. This practice is intended to cut through the attachment to the body and to the "self/ego" (atman).
Jamgon Kongtrul said:
It is a radical method for cutting through the inflation of ego-fixation (ātmagrāha) through the willingness to accept what is undesirable, the disregard of difficult circumstances, the realization that gods and demons are one’s own mind, and the understanding that oneself and others are utterly equal.
Explanation of the practice
The prajñāpāramitā is a very profound philosophical doctrine, and I will just outline the main ideas in it in order to clarify the Chod. First we start off with the confused egocentric state of mind. This state of mind causes us to suffer, and so, to alleviate the suffering, we start to practice meditation.
What happens in meditation is that the speedy mind begins to slow down and things begin to settle, like the mud sinking to the bottom of a puddle of water when it is left undisturbed. When this settling has occurred, a kind of clear understanding of the way things work in the mind takes place. This
understanding is prajna, profound cognition. Then, according to Buddhist doctrine, through the use of this prajna, we begin to see that, in fact, although we think that we have a separate and unique essence, or self, which we call the "ego," when we look closely, we are a composite of form, sense-perceptions, consciousness, etc., and are merely a sum of these parts. This realization is the understanding of sunyata, usually translated as emptiness, or voidness.
It means there is no self-essence, that we are "empty of a self." If we are empty of a self, there is no reason to be egocentric, since the whole notion of a separate ego is false. Therefore we can afford to be compassionate, and need not continually defend ourselves or force our desires onto others.
In order to reinforce and develop the understanding of egolessness and in order to develop compassion for all sentient beings, Machig developed the Chod practice. In this practice, after various preliminaries, the practitioner performs the offering of the body - this is the essence of the Chod practice.
"Chod" (gCod) literally means "to cut," referring to cutting attachment to the body and ego. First the practitioner visualizes the consciousness leaving the body through the top of the head and transforming itself into a wrathful dakini. This wrathful dakini then takes her crescent-shaped hooked knife and
cuts off the top of the head of the body of the practitioner. This skull cup is then placed on a tripod of three skulls, over a flame. The rest of the body is chopped up and placed into the skull, which is vastly expanded. Then the whole cadaver is transformed from blood and entrails into nectar, which is then fed to every conceivable kind of being, satisfying every kind of desire these beings might have. After all beings have taken their fill and been satisfied,
the practitioner reminds himself or herself that the offerer, the offering process, and those who have been offered to, are all "empty," and seeks to remain in the state of that understanding. The ritual ends with further teachings on the true nature of reality, and some ending prayers for the eventual enlightenment of all beings.