One of the main sadhanas practiced at the Movement Center is Chöd. Chöd means “cutting through,” cutting through tensions, doubts, fears, obstacles and obscurations that deny us access to the joy within us. The heart of the Chöd practice is to cut attachment to the notion of a self as separate from the infinite clear awareness of the divine.
Like Kashmir Saivism, the Chöd tradition is non-dualistic. The goal of the practice is to abide in a liberated state free from dualistic subject-object cognition. In this state we understand all dualistic notions, such as samsara and nirvana, pain and pleasure, happiness and sorrow, friends and enemies, purity and impurity, fame and insignificance, praise and blame, in fact all phenomena, including our minds and bodies, are at their essence not different from clear awareness.
Chöd is traditionally done in cemeteries, cremation grounds, and other places that evoke fear in the practitioner. The intensity of these environments arouses our self-protective instincts and latent tensions such as hatred, anger and jealousy. By confronting these tensions and learning to cut through them, the Chöd practitioner learns to transcend all doubts and fears in order to dwell in the infinite spaciousness that we are.
Chöd is a very ancient practice and one of the earliest Vajrayana sadhanas. It is a practice of self-sacrifice, and in Chöd we sacrifice what is most valuable to us—our bodies. We visualize making an offering of our body, which is transformed into nectar, to all beings in all realms. Through making that offering, we are initiating a flow between us and everything else. In the experience of flow, we begin to appreciate that all forms are completely interconnected and that there is in fact an underlying unity.
In its essence, the Chöd has many similarities and parallels to Kundalini Yoga meditation practice. Through studying and practicing the Chöd, we have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of Swamiji’s teaching on surrender and service, and gain a clearer feeling of what type of intensity and compassion we need to generate within ourselves to truly lead spiritual lives.
The first part of the Chöd prepares us to make our offering. We begin by visualizing, dancing with, and releasing demons of anger, arrogance, attachment, jealousy and ignorance in the different arenas of our awareness. This is analogous to releasing tensions within our chakra and energy system as we begin meditation. Next, we visualize female deities known as “dakinis” bringing energies of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity and wisdom, to subdue those demons. This is the effort we make to open our hearts. We then focus on developing bodhicitta, or the desire for enlightenment, which is analogous to the wish to grow. At the end of the preparation, we practice guru yoga, supplicating to the root guru and Padmasambhava, with the understanding that the guru is a source of nourishment and the means to reach an expanded awareness.
As the offering section of the puja begins, we visualize the red goddess Vajra Varahi rising up through the spinal column and out the top of the head. She represents the kundalini energy, or vital force, which rises and expands as we surrender attachment to our ego centered selves. This surrender and expansion is visualized by her offering our body in a skull cup, which expands to the edges of space.
In the puja, all offerings are made then by Vajra Varahi to all the deities, gurus, demons, as well as, to herself. Here we come to experience that even the thought of offering our bodies and lives is not separate from the nature of the absolute. Even the impetus to make such an offering comes from the Goddess. All offerings flow from awareness back into awareness itself. In the process, all differentiation between the offeror, the offering, and the object of offering disappear.
Vajra Varahi finally dissolves into the goddess Tröma Nagmo, who represents the total expanse of emptiness, beyond space and time. She is analogous to the profound experience of oneness with the infinite field of consciousness and potentiality.
The puja ends with the dissolution of all deities and gurus into pure light, which merges into us, like water into water. In the fashion of all Tibetan Buddhist rituals, we then dedicate the entire Chöd practice to enlightenment, peace and prosperity of all beings.