The vivid and visceral imagery of Chod Practice — where you visualize offering your own body to all sentient beings, chopped up into grisly bits, and presented in a human skull — can lead to extreme misunderstanding. Teachings such as Chod are advanced and profoundly effective practices that help us “cut” our ego, tame our internal “demons” and develop genuine bodhichitta for all beings. But, the need for explanation and teacher guidance is critical.
The hypnotic beat of Chod drums and bells, and the careful chanting of melodious but mysterious chants at first seem provocative, and beautiful. Then, when the visualized meditation is described, and the teacher blows on a horn made of human bone, abruptly that perception might change. Chopping up one’s own body? Playing a human bone instrument? What’s that all about?
Event Notice: If you are in the Ontario, Canada area in July, H.E. Zasep Rinpoche will offer empowerment in the precious practice of Five Dakini Chod Practice: July 16, 2019, Empowerment 7pm-9pm. “For serious students, Rinpoche offers Empowerment in Chod — which “cuts self cherishing” Chod “cuts hindrances such as anger through the practice of Bodhichitta and Shunyata (Emptiness) — and is celebrated with song, drums and visualizations. More details to come on the Gaden Choling Toronto website>>
Gruesome Imagery; a Beautiful Giving Practice
Despite its apparently gruesome imagery, if undertaken under a teacher’s guidance, it is a most beautiful giving practice, arguably the highest expression of kindness for all sentient beings.
How then to reconcile this kindness and giving with its “menacing” persona? Chod practitioners often choose to go to “charnel grounds” (cemeteries) or “desolate places” (wilderness) to practice. Again, almost more than any other Vajrayana practice, this seems primeval and dark — until it’s symbolism is understood. What does it all mean? How can it be about wisdom and Bodhichitta?
Chod Means to Cut
Chod literally means to “cut”, but it in reference to “cutting the ego” and “cutting attachment” such as “cutting greed” — being willing to give up everything for other sentient beings — not the literal “cutting” the body.
Supreme Bodhichitta: Offering Nectar to All Beings
Imagining cutting up our own body, helps us to overcome clinging to the body and the ego. Needless to say it’s a visualization, and not literal. Offering the “chopped up” body — now converted into nectar — to all beings, is an act of supreme Bodhichitta.
We are especially taught to offer the nectar also to our enemies, and to demons, not just Enlightened beings and our family/friends. This not only becomes an act of true Bodhichitta (willingly offering our body all beings), it also becomes a path to “taming our demons.”