Chöd in the Ganden Tradition by Kyabje Zong Rinpoche

Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Chöd in the Ganden Tradition: The Oral Instructions of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Edited by David Molk. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2006. Paperback, 218 pp.

The Chöd (“Cutting Off”) teachings go back to the fully realized South Indian master Phadampa Sangye whom David Molk identifies with Suryakirti, Candrakirti’s elder brother. The Buddha Padampa Sangye is traditionally said to have lived from c. 495 to 1067 A.D.

Chöd, which is firmly based on the Prajnaparamita, essentially consists in meditation and ritual practices that were formerly conducted on a charnel ground. One offers up one’s limbs to spirit entities in anticipation of one’s eventual physical demise and in order to overcome egoic attachment to the realm of forms through the cultivation of compassion and wisdom.

Chöd was made famous by the female Tibetan master Machig Labdrön, who received these teachings directly from Padampa Sangye. Once transmitted as a separate tradition, Chöd became assimilated into the four orders of Tibetan Buddhism—Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelugpa. The fourteenth-century master Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa order, was an enthusiastic practitioner of Chöd, but subsequently this essential transmission receded into the background of Gelugpa practice, until Kyabje Zong Rinpoche (a reincarnation of Suryakirti/Padampa Sangye) revived this transmission in our own time.

Zong Rinpoche (1904–1983) was a highly realized adept, who was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree at the age of twenty-five and served as abbot of Ganden Shartse monastery for nine years. In 1978, at the request of Lama Thubten Yeshe, he left his retirement from public duties to teach Western Buddhists. David Molk’s biographical essay gives us a vivid sense of the extraordinary life and spiritual qualities of Zong Rinpoche and sets the stage for the sublime teachings that follow.

The oral instructions about Chöd found in this volume are truly precious. Zong Rinpoche’s elucidations are indeed lucid and spring from his supreme realization of both emptiness (= wisdom) and bodhicitta (= compassion), and are full of illustrative detail and delivered with humor. To give just three examples:

Without fear, Chöd cannot be practiced. It is fear for the ‘I’ that causes the desperate search for an ‘I’ to hold on to. When the nonexistene of an inherently existent, independent ‘I’ is directly perceived, then we are realizing emptiness. The antidote to such fear is bodhichitta motivation . . . If we have not developed bodhichitta, Chöd practice will be good only for begging tsampa [porridge]. (pp. 61 and 64)

Practice of Dharma is like a mirror. It is only by using a mirror than we can see the dirt on our faces. We must use the mirror of practice to assess ourselves, to look inward, searching four our own faults. Usually we do not see our own faults, only those of others. Through the practice of Dharma, we can perceive our own faults and correct them. (p. 64)

If we are not mindful of the dreamlike nature of existence, and if we do not remember death, our actions become negative karma . . . Remembering “dream and death” morning, noon, and night is the expeditious way to maintain pure motivation for Chöd practice. With these two recollections, we should seek to liberate all beings and take them to enlightenment wherever we go. (p. 67)

This fine volume includes English renderings of important Chöd sadhanas, which are also available separately as CD recordings.

Copyright ©2007 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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