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Chod

Identifier

003641

Type of spiritual experience

A description of the experience

With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet – Alexandra David-Neel

A cemetery, or any wild site whose physical aspect awakens feelings of terror, is considered to be an appropriate spot. However, the place is thought even more suitable if it is associated with a terrible legend or if a tragic event has actually happened there quite recently.

The reason of this preference is that the effect of chod, or kindred rites, does not depend solely on the feelings aroused in the mind of the celebrant by the stern words of the liturgy, nor upon the awe-inspiring surroundings. It is also designed to stir up the occult forces, or the conscious beings which-according to Tibetans-may exist in such places, having been generated either by actual deeds or by the concentration of many people's thoughts on imaginary events.

It follows that, during the performance of chod, which I have compared to a drama enacted by a single actor, the latter may happen to see himself suddenly surrounded by players of the occult worlds who begin to play unexpected roles. Whatever part auto-suggestion and visualization may have in the production of these phenomena, they are deemed excellent for the good result of the training; but the test proves too hard for the nerves of some apprentice naljorpas and it is then that the accidents that I have mentioned occur: of madness or death.

Like any other actor, the man who wants to perform chod must first learn his role by heart. Then he must practise the ritual dance, his steps forming geometrical figures, and also turning on one foot, stamping and leaping while keeping time with the liturgic recitation.

Finally, he must learn to handle, according to rule, the bell, the dorjee, and the magic dagger (phurba), to beat rhythmically a kind of small drum (damaru) and to blow a trumpet made of a human femur (kangling).  The task is not easy; I lost my breath more than once during my apprenticeship.

The lama teacher who directs the drill must be a kind of ballet master. But around him are to be seen no smiling dancing girls in pink tights. The dancers are young-ascetics emaciated by austerities, clad in ragged robes, their unwashed faces lighted by ecstatic, hard, resolute eyes.

They are preparing themselves,- as they think, for a perilous undertaking, and the thought of the dreadful banquet at which they must offer their bodies to be devoured by the hungry demons haunts their minds.

In such conditions this "rehearsal," which might be comical, becomes rather lugubrious.  Lack of space prevents me from giving a translation of the text of chod.  It includes long mystic preliminaries during which the celebrant naljorpa “'tramples down" all passions and crucifies his selfishness.

However, the essential part of the rite consists in a banquet which may be briefly described as follows.  The celebrant blows his bone trumpet, calling the hungry demons to the feast he intends to lay before them.  He imagines that a feminine deity, which esoterically personifies his own, will, springs from the top of his head and stands before him, sword in hand.

With one stroke she cuts off the head of the naljorpa.

 Then, while troops of ghouls crowd round for the feast, the goddess severs his limbs, skins him and rips open his belly.  The bowels fall out, the blood flows like a river, and the hideous guests bite here and there, masticate noisily, while the celebrant excites and urges them with the liturgic words of unreserved surrender:

"For ages, in the course of renewed births I have borrowed from countless living beings - at the cost of their welfare and life blood, clothing, all kinds of services to sustain my body, to keep it joyful in comfort and to defend it against death. Today, I pay my debt, offering for destruction this body which I have held so dear.

" I give my flesh to the hungry, my blood to the thirsty-, my skin to clothe those who are naked, my bones as fuel to those who suffer from cold. I give my happiness to the unhappy ones. I give my breath to bring back the dying to life.   Shame on me if I shrink from giving my self!  Shame on you, wretched and demoniac beings, l if you do not dare to prey upon it."

This act of the "Mystery" is called the "red meal."  It is followed by the "black meal," whose mystic signification is disclosed only to those disciples who have received an initiation of high degree.

The vision of the demoniacal banquet vanishes, the laughter and cries of the ghouls die away. Utter loneliness in a gloomy landscape succeeds the weird orgy, and the exaltation aroused in the naljorpa by his dramatic sacrifice gradually subsides.

Now he must imagine that he has become a small heap of charred human bones that emerges from a lake of black mud-the mud of misery, of moral defilement, and of harmful deeds to which he has co-operated

During the course of numberless lives, whose origin is lost in the night of time. He must realize that the very idea of sacrifice is but an illusion, an offshoot of blind, groundless pride. In fact, he has nothing to give away, because he is nothing. These useless bones, symbolizing the destruction of his phantom "I," may sink into the muddy lake, it will not matter.

That silent renunciation of the ascetic who realizes that he holds nothing that he can renounce, and who utterly relinquishes the elation springing from the idea of sacrifice closes the rite. 

The source of the experience

Tibetan Buddhism

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities