Chod in the Light of Limitless-Oneness
Chod was named by its founder Machig Labdron as the Chod of Mahamudra. This indicates that the goal and function of this practice is nothing other than achieving Full Enlightenment. Enlightenment may be characterized in various ways to help people appreciate the value of working toward it and understand the principles underlying practices leading toward it. In recent years I have chosen to characterize Enlightenment as Limitless-Oneness which is originally pure. For a detailed exposition please read the first two chapters of my book The Sixfold Sublimation in Limitless-Oneness which is available for free distribution.
In the light of Enlightenment as Limitless-Oneness, the fundamental guiding principle of all Buddhist practices may be liken to a sword of liberation with two blades; one side is Opening Up, and the other side is No Attachment. The function of each Buddhist practice may be understood through these two aspects. As to advanced practices that emphasize non-duality as the approach, or refinement of all practices through non-duality in Sunyata meditation, one simply needs to remember that both blades are of the same sword.
In Limitless-Oneness all notions of a self are extinguished by limitlessness. No attachment in this indescribable state features two aspects: On one hand, it is the growing out of all kinds of attachments, like a man free from the importance of childhood toys; on the other hand, it is freedom from the self-deceit that one could judge or control others. With full awareness of the selfless and conditional nature of all things, one would not interfere in others’ ways but become liberated in such open-mindedness. Only thorough understanding of the conditional nature of all things could help shape a sensible and tolerant outlook on life. The significance of this remark would become more obvious if one looks at ways of life that are guided by fanatic and dogmatic beliefs.
Limitless-Oneness implies, on one hand, the oneness of different aspects such as all aspects of Buddhahood, all aspects of samsara, etc., and on the other hand, the oneness of opposites such as good and evil, wisdom and ignorance, compassion and cruelty, etc. Both kinds of oneness would seem either confusing or impossible from the normal logical point of view. Therefore, its transcendental purport will be carefully explained below.
Limitless-Oneness is the originally pure state that a Buddha became awaken to at the moment of Enlightenment, i.e., the complete and final emergence from engulfment in worldly life. In such a state all distinctions are harmonized in their original purity and oneness. Such oneness can be experienced but cannot be described. Such oneness is beyond the understanding of beings who are still dominated by worldly considerations and know only to grasp on transient distinctions. In such oneness the distinctions are still recognizable and yet simultaneously undifferentiable. Please consider the analogy of a loving mother who can distinguish all her children and yet could not make any distinction in her love toward them.
The Limitless-Oneness of opposites, such as good and evil, wisdom and ignorance, compassion and cruelty, etc., could be understood in an additional light. These opposites are in oneness in the sense that they are like two ends of the same street, the street being the conditional nature of all things. The conditions may be pulling and pushing toward one end or the other and resulting in extreme opposites, but both ends are similar as results determined solely by the combination of conditions. Once this conditional nature of opposites is understood, what is the justification for us to be proud of our goodness, to blame others for their evil activities, or to hold our goodness in antagonism against others’ evil activities? With a switch in the circumstances, they could have been in our position and we theirs. Lacking such understanding often results in shallow displays of moral indignation and condemnation. One who sees deeply into the conditional nature of opposites could not help but have sympathy and compassion for all the fightings of opposites in life. Without such insight how could anyone forgive and forbear all the wrong doings in the world, and persist in the pure pursuit of Enlightenment?
In the light of Limitless-Oneness the usual distinction and antagonism of opposites would become meaningless. The one and only essential task would become the awakening of all beings to Limitless-Oneness because that is the ultimate and true solution to all problems and sufferings in samsara. Machig Labdron’s teaching that the real demons are everything that hinders the attainment of liberation obviously stems from this transcendental and panoramic perspective. Furthermore, any method that is conducive to this transcendental awareness could be employed under suitable guidance by experienced teachers. Therefore, the dismemberment visualizations and the inhabitation at desolate places by Chodpas should be understood in this light and be respected for its transcendental significance. Just as the activities of surgeons and coroners are service to mankind, the visualizations of Chodpas are service to beings at the spiritual level.
Although the object of visualized cutting is the body of the practicing Chodpa, it has been identified through visualization with all things in the Buddhist cosmos. Such an identification may seem absurd from the ordinary point of view; nevertheless, it is not a delusive act of imagination or self-deceit. Such an identification is possible only in the light of Limitless-Oneness, and it is meaningful because all things lack self nature, and when the illusion of a self is cleared away, they are experienced to be originally in oneness. Indeed, a Chodpa must understand the philosophy of Limitless-Oneness, of the unity of Dharmadhatu and the selfless nature of all things, in order to practice properly. Through such universal identification in visualization a Chodpa would gradually gain insight and experiences in the realization of Limitless-Oneness.
The main obstacle to realization of Limitless-Oneness is self-clinging. The main purpose of Chod visualizations is to reduce and eradicate self-clinging that is rooted in identification with the body. Hence Chod is a fundamental approach that works directly at the root of the hindrance, and its result would no doubt be a direct experience of Limitless-Oneness when the identification with the body is cut away. This is the reason why Machig Labdron characterized her teachings as the Chod of Mahamudra, thereby indicating that it is for the attainment of Dharmakaya.
The identification of a Chodpa’s consciousness with the black Vajra Yogini should also be appreciated in the light of Limitless-Oneness. Vajra Yogini is a wisdom being meaning that she is a manifestation of the ultimate Limitless-Oneness. Through this manifestation all enlightened beings are represented, and all their wisdom, compassion and blessings are gathered. The practicing Chodpa is no longer an ordinary sentient being but the representative of all enlightened beings. Consequently all the visualized activities cannot have any connection with the self but aim only at the salvation of all beings in samsara. In modern terms, the Vajra Yogini serves as a role model for Chodpas, and in general, Yidams are transcendental role models for tantric practitioners.
In Limitless-Oneness spatial and temporal references would loose significance, consequently the salvation activities are unbounded by spatial and temporal considerations and limits. This is by no means fanciful talks only. Supernatural events and abilities that transcend the normal spatial/temporal limitations are abundant. The practice of Chod, indeed of any Buddhist teaching, should be undertaken in full accordance with such understanding. The practitioner should possess a firm conviction that the practice does affect the salvation of all beings everywhere for all eternity.
The transcendence of Buddhist practices over spatial and temporal limitations also implies the carrying over of Buddhist insight gained through practices into daily life. Chod practiced in the light of Limitless-Oneness would free one from worldly considerations and thereby enable one to see clearly what is of real significance in life and make wise decisions in daily life. Furthermore, Buddhist practices would last a whole life for devout practitioners and there are even practices for the dying process and the Bardo (intermediate) state between death and the next life. A Chodpa could practice the identification with the black Vajra Yogini during the dying process or the Bardo state and thereby transcend ordinary death. When the identification is achieved, the dismemberment practice would then become the first act of universal salvation for this enlightened being.
The non-dual state of selflessness is emphasized by all Buddhist practices as the ultimate goal and achievement. No Buddhist practice is authentic without sublimation through meditation of non-duality. Chod practiced in the light of Limitless-Oneness is a direct attempt to realize non-duality. It is a practice of non-dual activities, or of non-duality in action. Even though Chod visualizations involve the cutter, the knife and the body dismembered, all of them are cooperating as a team in achieving freedom from superficial duality. Non-duality should not be synonymous to non-distinctions and non-activities. Were they synonymous, why not simply use "dead" instead? Non-duality is truly realized only when the bondage of attachment to appearances is dismembered. When the servitude of submission to formality and appearance ends, non-duality is everywhere all the time, alive and active in a natural way.
What is the difference between one action as performed by a Buddha and a similar action as done by an ordinary person? If the actions could be isolated, taken out of their contexts, then on the scale of the universe there would probably be no noticeable difference. Nevertheless, a fundamental difference does exist in that each action of an ordinary person is somehow connected to self-centeredness and limited by spatial and temporal connections and considerations, whereas each action of a Buddha is an opportune expression of the wisdom and compassion stemming from Limitless-Oneness. Any Buddhist practice, including Chod, should be an attempt to channel all mental and physical activities into Limitless-Oneness. A Buddhist practitioner should practice with the intention to imbue the openness of Limitless-Oneness into all one’s thoughts, emotions and activities.
Why is Chod a practice that can be taught to novices as a preliminary practice and yet is also characterized as a practice aiming at the highest achievement of Enlightenment? In the light of Limitless-Oneness the answer is forthcoming. In Chod there is a tangible object to work with, namely the body in visualization. Hence it can be taught to novices as a preliminary practice, and as such its main function is the accumulation of merits through almsgiving and the reduction of bad karma through paying back to creditors and enemies. As a Chodpa gradually understands better and better the philosophy of Limitless-Oneness and gains more and more insight and realization through accumulation of Chod practices, Chod gradually displays its intended function and power as a direct attack to the self-clinging rooted in attachment to the body. In other words, as a Chodpa expands gradually into Limitless-Oneness through Chod practices, Chod is simultaneously sublimated from a superficial enactment of imagined activities into an experience of Limitless-Oneness in action.
In the light of Limitless-Oneness the transient nature of one’s physical existence becomes obvious. In fact one’s physical existence could end at any moment. This is no reason for despair because one’s wisdom and compassion could take shape through activities that would have influence everywhere forever. Furthermore, the transient nature of our physical existence, once fully understood, could help us become free from self-centeredness; it would then become easier to give up preoccupation with something that cannot be kept for good. One could then even sense the common fate of living beings, the fear, the dangers, the struggles and the sufferings of life, and awake to the compassion that encompasses all beings in oneness. The conditional nature of all things would dictate the continuation of samsara with its many pitfalls. Nevertheless, the compassion born of Limitless-Oneness also commands unceasing enlightened activities of salvation. Dedicating one’s life to the service of the cultivation of all beings’ Enlightenment becomes a deliberate choice and act of will that illustrates the transcendence of Bodhicitta, the unification of wisdom and compassion, over transient human existence. One who lives a life of Dharma service would enjoy what life could offer best. Chod practiced in the light of Limitless-Oneness becomes natural and meaningful; without the illumination of Limitless-Oneness Chod could become a bloody struggle with the self that even further tightens the bound of self-consciousness.