Tsadra Foundation would like to congratulate two of its long-time Fellows on having been selected to receive the 2016 Khyentse Foundation Fellowship Award. Wulstan Fletcher and John Canti, who are also founding members of the Padmakara Translation Group, have been selected for this honor in recognition of their “service to the Buddhadharma.”
Wulstan, John, and the Padmakara Translation Group are well known for their translation work in both English and French. From the essential Words of My Perfect Teacher, to the advanced philosophical Adornment of the Middle Way, they have provided thousands of seekers and students with access to key Tibetan Buddhist teachings. We congratulate them on their many accomplishments!
One of the objectives of Tsadra Foundation has been to bring recognition and appreciation to senior translators and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, and to the role they are playing in making these extraordinary teachings available to a wider western audience. Wulstan, John, and other members of Padmakara have been supported by Tsadra Foundation for over 15 years in order that they be able to dedicate themselves fully to their practice and translation of the Dharma. The result of such focused dedication is evident in the outstanding quality and accuracy, recognized by all, of the Padmakara Translation Group’s publications. Currently Wulstan is continuing his translation activities supported by Tsadra Foundation while John is now dedicating most of his time to the 84,000 translation project.
We rejoice in the recent increase of support for translators and their work as more organizations recognize the importance of their roles in the transmission of Buddhism in the West. We hope, that other organizations and groups will likewise honor and financially support the work of all of these individuals, be they independent or a part of organized translation groups, from academia or from the Buddhist practice community.
Here is a short list of some of Padmakara’s work accomplished as Tsadra Foundation Fellows:
- A Garland of Views: A Guide to View, Meditation, and Result in the Nine Vehicles by Padmasambhava and Jamgon Mipham.
- Treasury of Precious Qualities, Book 1, Jigme Lingpa, commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche
- Treasury of Precious Qualities, Book 2 Vajrayana and the Great Perfection, Jigme Lingpa, commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche
- Counsels from My Heart, Dudjom Rinpoche
- Introduction to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti, commentary by Jamgön Mipham
- The Adornment of the Middle Way, Shantarakshita, commentary by Jamgön Mipham
- Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva’s “Way of the Bodhisattva,” Kunzang Pelden
For more information on Tsadra Foundation and its Translation and Publication Programs, please visit our website: http://www.tsadra.org
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
You can now view videos of each plenary session, listen to audio from workshops, and enjoy pictures from throughout the 2014 Translation & Transmission Conference on the updated conference website:
Professor Jim Blumenthal, a wonderful example of a kind human being who skillfully blended practice and scholarship of Tibetan Buddhism, passed away last week. Sadly, Jim was to be present at the recent Translation & Transmission Conference, but was unable to make it due to his declining health. There is a memorial website you can contribute to here: MuchLoved
Maitripa College, which he helped to create, also has a page in honor of Jim: http://maitripa.org/resources-jim/
Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner: Remembering Jim Blumenthal
Maitripa College will be hosting A Celebration of Life for Jim on October 26th at 1:30 pm at the World Forestry Center in Portland. Open to all.
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that our friend and colleague James Blumenthal passed away in the early hours of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, after a courageous battle with cancer over the course of the past year.
Jim was known by his students and his colleagues as a generous, kind, and gentle person. Students at Oregon State University flocked to his courses on the history and philosophy of Buddhism, often forming relationships with him that would last well beyond their academic career at the University. He was a key figure in the development of both Asian Studies and Religious Studies at Oregon State, the latter of which has re-emerged as an academic major program in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion. He was also a founding faculty member and prized teacher at Maitripa College, a Buddhist College in Portland, Oregon, which is dedicated to transforming higher education through following the model of Indian and Tibetan monastic Universities.
Jim’s academic career in the study of religion began at the University of San Diego, where he received an Honors B.A. in Religious Studies. His graduate training was at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied with Geshe Lhundup Sopa, earning both an M.A. and a Ph.D. while focusing on the work of the Indian teacher Śāntarakṣita. He later published analytical and translation works on Indian Mahāyāna based upon and extending this research, including The Ornament of The Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Śāntarakṣita (2004) and Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (2004). He had recently completed, with Geshe Lhundup Sopa, a translation of the Lamrim Chenmo, Chapter 4, and was pursuing the publication of a translation of Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālaṃkāravṛtti. In addition to his work on Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka philosophy, he also published and taught extensively on Engaged Buddhism in Theravāda and Tibetan Buddhist contexts. Jim greatly enjoyed philosophical debate and was able to subtly engage and often disarm his opponents while still finding a way to make sure everyone had a good laugh in the process.
Jim will be especially missed for the quiet, calm, and joyful presence that he brought to our academic community.
Stuart Ray Sarbacker
Oregon State University
See more from OSU here: Buddhist Scholar James Blumenthal Dies at 47
Jim’s Madhyamākalaṃkāra (དབུ་མ་རྒྱན་), or The Ornament of the Middle Way.
Tsadra Foundation has generously gifted the CU Libraries with an impressive collection of Tibetan texts consisting of religious, historical, biographical and philosophical materials. The gifted texts include the collected works of a number of the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, whose works are only beginning to be studied in any depth as Tibetan Studies expands as a field…
The donation by the Tsadra Foundation significantly expands both the breadth and depth of these holdings, and the Department of Religious Studies and the CU Libraries would like to express their appreciation to the Tsadra Foundation for this impressive donation of Tibetan texts. For a flourishing Tibetan Studies program at CU Boulder, particularly as the Department of Religious Studies seeks to establish a Ph.D. program, it is essential for the CU Libraries to continue to expand and develop its Tibetan language materials. Substantial gifts like this by the Tsadra Foundation provide crucial resources for advanced language study and research for faculty and graduate students at the university and along Colorado’s Front Range…
New Tibetan Books!
Usually we have a steady stream of small amounts of Tibetan texts and academic works on Buddhism and Tibet coming into our library, but recently we welcomed a doubling of the Tibetan texts held in the Boulder research library. I will try to give a sense of what has arrived recently in a few posts here.
On the top of the shelves you can see our recently rebound version of the Narthang Kangyur. Many of the other texts on the shelves are various series from Paltsek Research དཔལ་བརྩེགས་བོད་ཡིག་དཔེ་རྙིང་ཞིབ་འཇུག་ཁང་།.
Recent Arrivals from དཔལ་བརྩེགས་ :
རྔོག་སློབ་བརྒྱུད་དང་བཅས་པའི་གསུང་འབུམ། rngog slob brgyud dang bcas pa’i gsung ‘bum/ 34 volumes. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011.
རས་ཆུང་སྙན་བརྒྱུད་སྐོར། ras chung snyan brgyud skor/ 19 volumes. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011.
ཇོ་ནང་ཀུན་མཁྱེན་དོལ་པོ་པ་ཤེས་རབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་གྱི་གསུང་འབུམ། Jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ‘bum/ 13 volumes. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011.
ལྷོ་བྲག་མར་པ་ལོ་ཙཱའི་གསུང་འབུམ། lho brag mar pa lo tsA’i gsung ‘bum/ 7 volumes. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011.
རྗེ་བཙུན་མི་ལ་རས་པའི་གསུང་འབུམ། rje btsun mi la ras pa’i gsung ‘bum/ 5 volumes. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011.
དུས་འཁོར་ཕྱོགས་བསྒྲིགས་ཆེན་མོ། dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo/ Twenty volumes. Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, 2012.
བོད་ཀྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་རྣམ་ཐར་ཕྱོགས་བསྒྲིགས། bod kyi lo rgyus rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs/ 61-90 – Thirty volumes. The third set of 30 volumes to come out so far since 2010.
Other Recent Arrivals:
རྗེ་ཙོང་ཁ་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་གསུང་འབུམ། rje tsong kha pa chen po’i gsung ‘bum/ 18 volumes. Ser gtsug nang bstan dpe rnying ‘tshol bsdu phyogs sgrig khang. Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2012.
ཏ་པོ་ – དུས་རབས་བཅུ་པ་ནས་ཉི་ཤུ་པའི་བར་གྱི་སྔ་མོའི་རྒྱ་གར་དང་བོད་ཀྱི་ལྡེབས་རིས་དང་ཡི་གེ་ནུབ་ཧི་མཱ་ལ་ཡའི་གནའ་བོའི་དགོན་གྲོང་ཞིག ཏ་པོ་དགོན་གྱི་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་ནས་དཔར་བསྐྲུན་ཞུས།
TABO: An Ancient Western Himalayan Repository of age-old Indian and Tibetan Mural Paintings and Scripts dating from the tenth to the twentieth century. རྩོམ་པ་པོ། རཱ་ཧུ་ལ། rtsom pa po/ rA hu la/
jo sras bkra shis tshe ring dang chab ngoms bstan pa nyi ma. 2011. Hi ma la ya’i nang pa sangs rgyas pa’i chos dang rgyal rabs rig gzhung gi zhib ‘jug: deb phreng gsum pa: pod yig nang spel pa’i dpyad rtsom khag. Proceedings of the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok, 2008. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
24 Volumes: gser mdog paN chen shAkya mchog ldan gyi gsung ‘bum – Shakya Chogden’s Collected Works, published in 2013 in Beijing by krun go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.
15 Volumes: kun mkhyen go rams pa bsod nams seng ge’i gsung ‘bum/ rdzong sar khams bye lnga rig tub bstan slob gling nas bsgrigs – Gorampa’s Collected Works, published in 2013 in Beijing by krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang.
14 Volumes: dam chos sdug bsngal zhi byed rtsa ba’i chos sde dang yan lag bdud kyi gcod yul gyi glegs bam- Pacification of Suffering tradition of Padampa Sangye and Cutting Through practices of Machig Labdron, published in 2013 by Dingri Langkor Tsuglag Khang.
We are steadily expanding the holdings of our library here in Boulder, Colorado. Here are some of the more recent works added to our research library:
- Faxian. Mémoire sur les pays bouddhiques. Les Belles Lettres, 2014.
- Yang Xuangzhi. Mémoire sur les monastères bouddhiques de Louyang. Les Belles Lettres, 2014.
- Akester, Matthew. 2012. The Life of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo by Jamgön Kongtrul. New Delhi: Shechen Publications.
- Ramble, Charles, Peter Schwieger and Alice Travers. Tibetans who Escaped the Historian’s Net: Studies in the Social History of Tibetan Societies. Kathmandu, Nepal: Vajra Publications, 2013.
- Chopel, Gendun. 2014. Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. Translated by Thupten Jinpa and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Haynes, Sarah F. and Michelle J. Sorensen. Wading into the Stream of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Leslie Kawamura. Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Studies.
- Bengelsdorf, Hernán. Diccionario Tibetano-Castellano. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Dungkar, 2011.
- Cranmer, Marit. Tibetan Literary Arts: Exhibition Catalog. Neilson Library, Smith College.. Shang Shung Publications, 2007.
- Wimmel, K. William Woodville Rockhill: Scholar-Diplomat of the Tibetan Highlands. Orchid Press, 2006.
- Lessing and Wayman. Mkhas grub rje’s Fundamentals of the Buddhist Tantras. Mouton, 1968.
- Lopez Jr., Donald S. and Robert E. Jr. Buswell. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
- Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt. 2008. Die lhan kar ma : ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Wien : Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
- Arslan, Saadet and Peter Schwieger. Tibetan Studies an Anthology. Beiträge zur Zentralasienforschung Vol 23. International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (IITBS), 2010.
- Dotson, Brandon, Kazushi Iwao and Tsuguhito Takeuchi. Scribes, Texts, and Rituals in Early Tibet and Dunhuang. Contributions to Tibetan Studies Vol 9. WiesBaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2013.
- Hackett, Paul G.. A Catalogue of the Comparative Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur dpe bsdur ma). Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies; New York: Columbia University’s Center for Buddhist Studies, 2012.
- Gray, David B.. The Cakrasamvara Tantra (The Discourse of Śrī Heruka): A Study and Annotated Translation. Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2007.
- Gray, David B.. The Cakrasamvara Tantra (The Discourse of Śrī Heruka): Editions of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts. Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2012.
- Balikci-Denjongpa, Anna and Alex McKay. Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture Volume I-III: Tibetan and the Himalaya;The Sikkim Papers; The Tibetan Papers. Proceedings of the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok, 2008. Sikkim: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, 2011.
- ཏ་པོ། དུས་རབས་བཅུ་པ་ནས་ཉི་ཤུ་པའི་བར་གྱི་སྔ་མོའི་རྒྱ་གར་དང་བོད་ཀྱི་ལྡེབས་རིས་དང་ཡི་གེ། ནུབ་ཧི་མཱ་ལ་ཡའི་གནའ་བོའི་དགོན་གྲོང་ཞིག
- Les Neuf Forces de l’Homme. Samten Karmay et Philippe Sagant. Recherches sur la Haute Asie 13. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 1998.
- Les habitants du Toit du monde. Samten Karmay et Philippe Sagant. Recherches sur la Haute Asie 12. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 1997.
- Nigouma et Soukhasiddhi: Hagiographies et chants. suivi de Horizons féminins Hadewijch-Lalla-Rabi’a al-Adawiya. Traduction de Joy Vriens (Lama Tsultrim Namdak). With the support of Tsadra Foundation. La Galerie: Éditions Yogi Ling, 2014.
- Puṣpikā: Tracing Ancient India Through Texts and Traditions. Contributions to Current Research in Indology Volume 1. Edited by Nina Mirnig, Péter-Dániel Szántó, and Michael Williams. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2013.
- Lambert Schmithausen. 2014. The Genesis of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda: Responses and Reflections. Kasuga Lectures Series I. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
- Eimer, Helmut. A Catalogue of the Kanjur fragment from Bathang Kept in the Newark Museum. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #75. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
- Hofer, Theresia. The Inheritance of Change: Transmission and Practice of Tibetan Medicine in Ngamring. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #76. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
- Weissenborn, Karen. Buchkunst Aus Nālandā: Die Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā-Handscrift in der Royal Asiatic Society/London (Ms. Hodgson 1) und ihre Stellung in der Pāla-Buchmalerei des 11./12. Jahrhunderts. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #77. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
- Higgins, David. The Philosophical Foundations of Classical rdzogs chen in Tibet: Investigating the Distinction Between Dualistic Mind (seems) and Primordial Knowing (ye shes). Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #78. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
- Stuart, Daniel Malinowski. Thinking About Cessation: The Pṛṣṭhapālasūtra of the Dīrghāgama in Context. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #79. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
- Kuijp, Leonard W. J. van der and Arthur P. McKeown. Bcom ldan ral gri (1227-1305) On Indian Buddhist Logic and Epistemology: His Commentary on Dignāga’s Pramāṇasamuccaya. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #80. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
- Schneider, Johannes. Eine Buddhistische Kritik der Indischen Götter Śaṃkarasvāmins Devātiśayastotra mit Prajñāvarmans Kommentar. Nach dem tibetischen Tanjur herausgegeben und übersetzt. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #81. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2014.
- Steinkellner, Ernst. The Edition of Śāntarakṣita’s Vādanyāyaṭīkā Collated With the Kundeling Manuscript. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #82. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2014.
- Ernst Steinkellner. 2013. Dharmakīrtis frühe Logik – Dharmakīrti’s Early Logic: An Annotated German Translation of the Logical Parts in Pramāṇavārttika 1 andVṛtti. Volumes 1 and 2. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
- Robert Kritzer. 2014. Garbhāvakrāntisūtra: The Sutra on Entry into the Womb. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd? A Survey of the Early Sources
by Sarah Harding
This provocative title is a result of a persistent question in the back of my mind for several years while I was researching and translating the early gcod texts from Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDams ngag rin chen gter mdzod), the next ambitious project of the Tsadra Foundation. As I patiently went through the marvelous teachings in each text, I kept wondering when I would find the actual instructions on gCod (“chöd”), or “Severance,” that I was so familiar with from translating Machik’s Complete Explanation and from my own three-year retreat practice. The following is a short survey of these texts and my findings therein, which suggest that there is no clear attribution of the body-offering practice, and certainly not in the elaborate form that we find today.
gCod is primarily known, now quite famously, as a visualization practice in which one separates one’s consciousness from the physical body, and then turns around to cut up the remaining corpse and prepare it for distribution to gods, demons, and spirits of all kinds. The ritual offering may involve going to specific places where such spirits might be found, such as isolated, frightening, or haunted places. It is immediately obvious that several terrifying psychological experiences are invoked: fear of the unseen spirit world, of wilderness, and of the maiming and dismemberment of one’s body. It is thus widely recognized as a practice of “facing your fears” and overcoming them.
gCod was developed, also famously, by the woman Machik Lapdrön in the late eleventh century, during the time in Tibet when many other lineages were forming. Although technically gcod is known as a subsidiary of the zhi byed or Pacification teachings of Dampa Sangye, clearly Machik is the single mother of this baby. In the records of Machik’s brief encounters with Dampa Sangye, and in the only Indian gcod source text (gzhung) by Āryadeva the Brahmin, there is little about this specific practice. It therefore seems to be solely a result of Machik’s own realizations, and so is famous as an original Buddhist teaching indigenous to Tibet that uniquely spread to India in a reverse trajectory from all other doctrines.
The realization that gave birth to Machik’s gcod is said to have occurred during her recitation of a prājñāpāramitā text, which she regularly performed as part of her job as a household chaplain. Specifically, it was while reading “the chapter on māra.” Many suggestions have been offered as to which section that would be, but in any case none of them throw light on the subject. The fact that it is mentioned at all, however, is very provocative. Māra, of course, is the antithesis of Buddha, and has been personified perhaps in the same way as enlightenment is personified as a buddha. Māra represents obstruction of the spiritual path or spiritual death (from Skt. mṛ-, “to die”) in all its forms. Besides the Buddha’s antagonist, a variety of māras were eventually classified into two sets of four, but there are many more examples in the texts I have translated here. It is tempting to imagine Machik’s inspiration as a profound encounter with the dark side, eventually resulting in the overcoming of that duality through the integration of the prājñāpāramitā teachings.
There is no shortage of reference to māras throughout the texts on gcod and their sources, and no question that the primary goal of these teachings is to deal with them, whether conceived of as demons or adverse circumstances or ego or as ultimate evil and ignorance. Simply put, the term used to describe that process is “chöd.” But it comes in two homonymic interchangeable spellings: gcod, which means “to cut” or “sever” and spyod, which means “behavior” or “action.” I have seen either used in alternate editions of the same text. Spyod and spyod yul instantly conjure up the bodhisattva’s conduct in the prājñāpāramitā literature, as in the recurring phrase: “In this way one should train in performing the activity of the profound perfection of wisdom.” gCod as severance also has its Buddhist antecedents. The classic definition in gcod source material comes from Āryadeva’s Grand Poem, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom:
Since it severs the root of mind itself,
and severs the five toxic emotions,
extremes of view, meditational formations,
conduct anxiety, and hopes and fears;
since it severs all inflation,
it is called “severance” by semantic explanation.
It is clear that the specific practice of cutting up the body is not alluded to in this definition, as well as all others that I encountered. In fact, it may just be an unfortunate parallel of usage that the process of resolution and integration of problems uses the same term as does the ordinary function of an axe or kitchen knife, or dragon glass, for that matter. We can think of the common term thag gcod pa (“decide, put an end to, determine, handle, deal with, treat”) to get more of a sense of this term, recalling also the interchangeability with spyod pa as “conduct and behavior.” What to do when things get tough? Act with determination.
Similarly, the term yul (“object”) in the longer name for this practice bdud kyi gcod yul (“the devil/evil that is the object to sever”) is used in the most abstract way and is attested in the Abidharma by Kongtrul and others. Consider the first verse in Machik Lapdrön’s source text, the bKa’ tshom chen mo (“Great Bundle”):
The root devilry is one’s own mind.
The devil lays hold through clinging and attachment
in the cognition of whatever objects appear.
Grasping mind as an object is corruption.
Or again, from the same text, referring to a more refined state of practice:
The conceit of a view free of elaboration,
the conceit of a meditation in equipoise,
the conceit of conduct without thoughts,
all conceits on the path of practice,
if engaged in as objects for even a moment,
obstruct the path and are the devil’s work.
The vast majority of the instructions in these early texts are on the practice and theory of prājñāpāramitā, as clearly indicated by their titles. These instructions are often reminiscent of mahāmudrā, and in fact later took on the epithet Severance Mahāmudrā (gcod yul phyag rgya chen po). For instance, from Machik’s Great Bundle:
Everything is self-occurring mind,
so a meditator does not meditate.
Whatever self-arising sensations occur,
rest serene, clear, and radiant.
Even the earliest source text by Āryadeva the Brahmin employs such mahāmudrā signature phrases as “clear light,” (‘od gsal) and “mental non-engagement” (yid la mi byed pa), while the commentary on those passages cites scripture such as Maitreya’s Highest Continuum and other sources usually associated with the third turning. There is constant reiteration of this basic instruction to rest relaxed without doing anything. One of the more famous sayings attributed to Machik, often used as a reference to the gcod practice, is not particularly giving an instruction to sever and offer the body, but is more of a straightforward prājñāpāramitā or mahāmudrā instruction:
Rest the body in the way of a corpse.
Rest in the way of being ownerless.
Rest the mind in the way of the sky.
As a candle unmoved by the wind,
rest in the way of clarity with no thought.
As an ocean unmoved by the wind,
rest in a way serenely limpid.
So where are the references to the practice of casting out the body as food that has made this practice so sensational? A quick survey of the ten early texts (two source texts plus Machik’s eight) making up 134 folia, turns up sixteen references to the catch phrase “separating the mind from the body,” all but one of which merely give mention to the term. This in itself, however, does not constitute the body-offering practice per se. Separating out the consciousness and “blending it with space” (byings rig bsre ba or ‘dre pa) or the much later nomenclature “opening the door to the sky” (nam mkha’ sgo byed) became signature gcod practices. Jamgön Kongtrul asserts that this is the main practice and relegates the body offering to post-meditation (rjes thob) or a branch (yan lag). The number of references to the actual body dismemberment is very rare, and, as I will suggest, limited to the texts of dubious origin. I will briefly survey the texts in the order they are found in the Treasury.
The verse text by Āryadeva the Brahmin, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom, which is the only source text said to be of Indian origin, mentions the body offering only once, in the context of a classic graded path suitable for the three kinds of individuals:
Those with superior meditative experience
rest in the nondual meaning of it all.
The average practitioners focus on that and meditate.
The inferior offer their body aggregate as food.
The Great Bundle is taken as the earliest and most basic text attributed to Machik. As the story goes, she responded to three Indian inquisitors with an explanation of this composition and proved to them that that her teachings were indeed Buddha Word (hence bka’ in the title). It contains only one reference to a body offering:
Awareness carries the corpse of one’s body;
cast it out in an unattached way
in haunted grounds and other frightful places.
The third text classified as a source text by Jamgön Kongtrul is called Heart Essence of Profound Meaning.” That name came to indicate a whole cycle of teachings, but this source text is signed (not here, but in another edition) by Jamyang Gönpo (b. 1208?). In most records of the lineage, his name appears right after that of Machik’s son Gyalwa Döndrup, making him the earliest commentator on Machik’s teachings that I have yet encountered, nearly a century earlier than the third Karmapa (1284-1339), who is often given that credit. In this text, again, there is only one passage indicating the body-offering practice:
Free the mind of self-fixation by relinquishing the body aggregate as food.
Scatter the master of self-fixation by separating body and mind.
Liberate fear on its own ground by inspecting the fearful one.
Tossing away fixation on the body as self, obstacles will arise as glory.
We then come to an interesting text in the Treasury attributed to Machik called Precious Treasure Trove to Enhance the Original Source, A Hair’s Tip of Wisdom: A Source Text of Severance, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom. It is evident that this is not a text by Machik, but a commentary on what may have been her teachings, which can be reconstructed by extracting the quoted segments. Using a methodology of searching citations in other gcod histories, specifically a huge auto commentary on the aforementioned Heart Essence by Jamyang Gönpo and Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge, I have determined that when something called kha thor (“scattered”) is referenced, it is in fact the quoted segments of this text (with one exception that I could not find there). This was an exciting discovery and solved a long standing mystery, and also corroborated my analysis of this text as a commentary, although it doesn’t solve its authorship. That being said, however, there is not a single mention of casting out the body as food. The entire commentary, including the words apparently spoken by Machik, concern the perfection of wisdom.
Then there are two or three or more “bundles” attributed to Machik. Another Bundle (Yang tshom) is in verse form of a dialogue with her son Gyalwa Döndrup. The longer title is Another Bundle of Twenty-Five Instructions as Answers to Questions, although not surprisingly there are actually twenty-eight questions in this version. Tacked on to that and unmentioned in any source or catalogue is a set of eighteen more questions with very cryptic verse answers, called Vajra Play (rDo rje rol pa). Then from an altogether different collection of ancient gcod texts found at Limi monastery in Nepal, there is a text called, again, “Bundle of Precepts” (bKa’ tshom). The colophon titles it “Thirty-five Questions and Answers on the Bundle of Precepts, the Quintessence of the Mother’s Super Secret Heart-Mind.” While this text bears no resemblance to Machik’s Great Bundle of Precepts (bKa’ tshom chen mo), it is strikingly similar to Another Bundle. Of the thirty-five questions (and this time the number is correct!), twenty-six of them appear in Another Bundle. There is some suggestion in the colophon that this bundle may have been gathered by, again, Jamyang Gönpo. What all of this indicates to me is that there were more than one set of notes circulating as records of Machik’s dialogues, and that Jamgön Kongtrul ended up with this particular set for his Treasury, while his contemporary, Kamnyön Dharma Senge, apparently had access to another one, judging from the citations found in his Religious History of Pacification and Severance.
To return to my point, there are but two brief mentions in Another Bundle concerning body offerings. The first is in a list of things to explain the term “unbearable” in response to the question “What is the meaning of “trampling upon the unbearable?” (mi phod brdzi ba), a phrase describing Severance. It says, “casting out the body to demons is unbearable (‘dre la lus skyur mi phod). The second instance is in response to the question “What should one do when sick?” and the answer is: “Chop up your body and offer it as feast.” (lus po gtubs la tshogs su ‘bul. Note the use of gtubs rather than gcod).
One last bundle is called The Essential Bundle (Nying tshom). Although it is attributed to Machik, it appears to be a summary of the other bundles, with a structural outline, scriptural citations, and even quotes from Machik, respectfully referred to as “Lady Mother” (ma jo mo). This assessment is further supported by the fact that it seems never to be cited in texts such as The Treasury of Knowledge, and is not mentioned in Kongtrul’s Record of Teachings Received, nor in Kunga Namgyal’s short list of ten Indian dharmas. In any case, again there are only two references here: (1) if afraid: “Immediately hand over the body to those gods and demons without concern” and (2) “Those of inferior scope give over the body to the dangerous obstructers and rest in non-action within the state of mental non-recollection.”
Finally we have another set of three texts that I’ve called “Appendices” (Le lag), attributed to Machik. Here they are neatly divided into The Eight Common Appendices, The Eight Uncommon Appendices, and The Eight Special Appendices. However, in other supporting material when quotations are extracted from the “Appendices,” it is inevitably from the first set only, The Common Appendices. Moreover, in the aforementioned set of gcod texts from Limi monastery, there are just two sets of appendices, called “The Thirteen Appendices” and “The Eight Appendices.” The latter corresponds loosely to the Eight Common Appendices in the Treasury. The Thirteen correspond neither to the Uncommon nor Special Appendices. I therefore only feel comfortable confirming the Common Appendices (of the three sets) as part of original teachings by Machik.
The Eight Common Appendices mention the body offering practice twice: once simply stating, “The body is a corpse, cast it out as food” (lus ni ro yin gzan du bskyur), and then again reiterating the threefold gradation of practice:
[Recite] “unspeakable, unthinkable, inexpressible,”
or else rest in the separation of body and awareness,
or else cast out the body as food
and rest within the state of evenness.
The Eight Uncommon Appendices is a very interesting text, albeit of doubtful origin. The eight sections are less arbitrary and present a progressive analysis of important elements in the practice. They are: (1) the meaning of the name, (2) the vital points, (3) practices applied to faculties, (4) clearing away obstructions, (5) deviations, (6) containing inattention (7) how to practice when sick, and (8) enhancement. The biggest surprise in this text is in the seventh appendix, which concerns various healing ceremonies, the nature of which is not found in any of the other texts, and involves such items as leper brains and widow’s underwear. However there is a basic principle here, that of dealing with the most difficult circumstances by facing them directly and employing a kind of “like heals like” practice. Thus substances normally considered unclean may be used to cure disease resulting from contamination. Or, as in modern homeopathy theory, the text offers a prescription to “pacify the heat of feverish illness in fire and resolve cold illness in water.” In some ways this could be taken as the essence of gcod practice, though it might be more difficult to identify Buddhist elements here. Of the five references to giving away the body, whether one’s own or the patient’s, two of them are in this section. For example: “To treat sriu, take [the affected] to a haunted place and completely give over the flesh and blood to the harm doers. The mind will be blessed in emptiness.”
The last text of all those attributed to Machik Lapdrön is The Eight Special Appendices, and if the attribution is true, then this is where my theory falls apart. But of course I am somewhat skeptical. Stylistically it is very different from the ancient source texts, being comprised of eight sections outlining a progressive practice from beginning to end, much like a practice manual (khrid yig). The eight main headings are (1) the entry: going for refuge and arousing the aspiration, (2) the blessing: separating body and mind, (3) the meditation: without recollecting, mentally doing nothing, (4) the practice: casting out the body as food, (5) the view: not straying into the devils’ sphere of influence, (6) pacifying incidental obstacles of body and mind, (7) the sacred oaths of severance, and (8) the results of practice. The first four of these have further subcategories that contain not only descriptions, but also actual liturgy to be recited in the practice. And as the contents make clear, there is a whole section devoted to casting out the body as food, though not in the specific detail found in later works, such as Kongtrul’s Garden of Delight. In any case, this is the only text in the group where one can recognize the implementation of the practice of gcod as we have come to know it. And after the seemingly shamanic-type healing described in The Uncommon Appendices, it brings it all back into the Buddhist context with statements such as:
Casting out the body as food is the perfection of generosity, giving it away for the sake of sentient beings is morality, giving it away without hatred is patience, giving it away again and again is diligence, giving it away without distraction is meditative stability, and resting afterwards in the abiding nature of emptiness is the perfection of wisdom.
The refuge visualization includes not only Machik herself but also her son Gyalwa Döndrup and grandson or grandnephew Tönyön Samdrup, which would seem to indicate that it is at least second if not third generation after Machik herself. More research needs to be done and hopefully more will come to light as I continue with the translations in the volumes on Severance and Pacification in The Treasury of Precious Instructions.
The question I proposed: “Is there enough material here to warrant attributing the body offering practice to Machik?” has led to much speculation. I would have to say that so far I have not seen much evidence linking Machik with the culinary detail of the spectacular charnel ground practices we call “Chöd.” Yet this is not much different than any investigation of the sources of a full-blown tradition. Did Virupa teach lam ‘bras? Did Niguma teach Six Yogas? The ḍākinī’s warm breath cools down and the trail is lost, leaving us chilling in a nice cool spot. Buddhist and non-Buddhist elements mix and mingle and we drink, hoping for a good brew to warm us.
Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd? A Survey of the Early Sources
Presented by Sarah Harding at AAR 2013, Baltimore, MD
Attached here is a listing of early gcod texts from the gdams ngag mdzod – Sarah Harding
In case you missed the hubbub about the “discovery” in Nepal, here is an excellent response from Dr. Gombrich. This “discovery” was something even the BBC reported.
The story that garnered international headlines made numerous unfounded and misinformed claims
by Professor Richard Gombrich
In the December 2013 issue of the archaeological journal Antiquity there appears an article by several authors, headed by Prof. Robin Coningham of Durham University. Its appearance has been successfully managed to secure international publicity. The article was embargoed until a specified hour, timed to immediately succeed an announcement to the press in the USA.
The article claims a sensational discovery. The press release is entitled “Archaeological Discoveries Confirm Early Date of Buddha’s Life,” and its first paragraph summarizes the claim in these words: “Archaeologists working in Nepal have uncovered evidence of a structure at the birthplace of the Buddha dating to the 6th century BC. This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha—and thus the first flowering of Buddhism—to a specific century.” On the BBC website the announcement reads: “‘Earliest shrine’ uncovered at Buddha’s birthplace.” Thus at each stage the alleged discovery becomes simpler and more definite. Notice also the word “confirm” in the title of the press release. If we go back to the article we find the same process: as hypothesis, or rather, guess, builds upon guess, possible slides into probable and finally emerges unembellished as a firm claim…
Read the full article here:
Yeh, Emily T. Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2013.
Emily brings her considerable knowledge and depth of research to a range of fascinating topics that provide a truly rich picture of development in Tibet. Doctor Tsering Shakya wrote that the book “should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding contemporary Tibet and China’s relations with periphery regions” and it is clear from the start that he is correct. Filled with rich ethnographic data we find not only detailed theoretical analysis in her book, but also invaluable first person testimony. I am finding that more than anything else, reading Emily’s book is helping me to process the experiences I had in Lhasa in 2007-2008 and in the aftermath of the 2008 riots. In particular, the italicized sections that begin each chapter provide a compelling view of people and their experiences in “China’s Tibet” that I find resonate with my experience much more than many of the other writing out there. Emily provides for us a window into that world that is markedly less mottled than similar accounts. If you study Tibet, or wish to travel there, please do read this book.