This is the 38th entry from my fieldwork diary. The original date is 31.10.2010.
Chöd is a spiritual practice primarily found in Tibetan Buddhism. Also known as "Cutting Through the Ego", the practice is based on the Prajñāpāramitā sutra. It combines prajñāpāramitā philosophy with specific meditation methods and a tantric ritual.
A form of Chöd was practiced in India by Buddhist mahāsiddhas, prior to the 10th century. However, Chöd as practised today developed from the entwined traditions of the early Indian tantric practices transmitted to Tibet and the Bonpo and Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayāna lineages. Besides the Bonpo, there are two main Tibetan Buddhist Chöd traditions, the "Mother" and "Father" lineages. In Tibetan tradition, Dampa Sangye is known as the Father of Chöd and Machig Labdron, founder of the Mahāmudra Chöd lineages, as the Mother of Chöd. Chöd developed outside the monastic system. It was subsequently adopted by the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Chöd, as an internalization of an outer ritual, involves a form of self-sacrific: the practitioner visualizes their own body as the offering at a ganachakra or tantric feast. The purpose of the practice is to engender a sense of victory and fearlessness. These two qualities are represented iconographically by the dhvaja, or victory banner and the kartika, or ritual knife. The banner symbolizes overcoming obstacles and the knife, cutting through the ego. Since fearful or painful situations help the practitioner's work of cutting through attachment to the self, such situations may be cultivated. Machig Labdrön said: "To consider adversity as a friend is the instruction of Chöd".
Chandra Das equates the Chöd practitioner with avadhūta:
"ཀུ་སུ་ལུ་པ ku-su-lu-pa is a word of Tantrik mysticism, its proper Tibetan equivalent being གཅོད་པ gcod-pa, the art of exorcism. The mystic Tantrik rites of the Avadhauts, called Avadhūtipa in Tibet, exist in India."
Chöd practitioners (chödpas) are a type of avadhūta particularly respected, detested, feared or held in awe due to their role as denizens of the charnel field. Edou says they were often associated with the role of shaman and exorcist.
Chöd literally means "cutting through". It cuts through hindrances and obscuration, sometimes called 'demons' or 'gods'. Examples of demons are ignorance, anger and, in particular, the dualism of perceiving the self as inherently meaningful, contrary to the Buddhist doctrine of no-self.
"This is a very sacred tantric practice. It may seem a little strange for a beginner because it's a very unusual and powerful practice. We cut the root of our ignorance through this.
The meaning of Chöd is offering our negative parts to demons and the positive things, like good virtues and good merit, for bodhisattvas and buddhas.
We're going to offer for the lowest realms because the beings in these realms need this the most.
During Chöd practice your mind reaches a higher mental level. You need to visualize that your mind is pure. It is necessary to destroy past life karma. We are in Samsara because we are not yet enlightened, and we have a lot of debt towards our parents and other people.
So during Chöd the mind resembles that of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is kind towards those who are suffering. To become a bodhisattva you need to wish that you can offer your body, good deeds, ignorance and everything. Chöd means that we cut the root of our ignorance.
If you do this with good motivation, it's very powerful. If you do this thousand times, yet without any good motivation, then it is useless.
Chöd can be helpful if you have nightmares and fears. But during the Chöd, you must not show any fear, or else the demons cannot come because this fear would upset them. But if you're compassionate they will come to you, and they may even become your protectors if you're a really good person. That kind of protection is very special.
Chöd brings a lot of joy to your mental state. It also makes the mind smarter and brighter.
So visualize that you are offering your body, mind and speech to these beings. For the lower realms - offering everything that you have. They need it the most. Why? Because they are suffering. In previous lives they could've been our mothers and that is why we must help them. If we don't give that kindness back then they will continue to suffer. We must wish that they can become liberated.
When I say "PHET!" then visualize yourself having a very pure mind. It is very important."
*Important side note: These diary entries do not reflect every word the teacher said, and there may be some mistakes or misunderstandings, for which I am sorry and accept responsibility. In a few instances, I have interjected my own interpretation or explanation.