Who is Machig Labdron?
The renowned female teacher of Tibet, Machig Labdron, depicted as a dancing Dakini. Machig, “Only Mother" or "Great Mother," is best known for her development of the Chod tradition, which is actively practiced in most Tibetan Buddhist sects to the present day. Through her introduction of the Chod, Machig contributed on a magnificent scale to Tibetan religious history and to the perennial Buddhist goal of universal enlightenment.
Chod is a meditative and ritual methodology, based on the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) teachings, in which one severs all attachments to ego through the envisioned destruction and offering of one's own body to deities and demonic spirits alike. Although rooted in Prajnaparamita literature, with its emphasis on non-dual wisdom and boundless compassion.
The Chod practice incorporates many Tantric elements and motifs, including mantra recitation and visualization in cremation grounds.
Prajnaparamita is venerated as the emanation Dharmakaya (truth-body) in most Chod lineages. And Machig Labdron is considered to be an emanation of Prajnaparamita the “mother of Buddhas".
Explaining this to her son, who was also her disciple, she declared:
From an outer point of view, I am the mother of the Buddhas.
From an inner point of view I am Arya Tara,
From a secret point of view I am Vajravarahi
Surrounded by the four Dakinis.
I, the ordinary woman Labdron,
In this mandala of the wisdom Dakini and the five deities,
Am Varahi, the aggregate of consciousness.
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Machig here states her identity with Vajravarahi and Vajrayogini. The Dakini most often invoked in the practice, is "Wrathful Mother" or "Wrathful Black Mother," the fierce black form of Vajravarahi.
Machig is regarded as one in essence with black Vajravarahi as well.
Tara revealed to Machig Labdron,
"The shining black Vajra Lady, who subjugates all demons for the sake of all sentient beings took birth in Tibet. She is no other than yourself, Shining Light of Lab."
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Machig Labdron statue is portrayed here in her standard iconographic form, bearing ritual implements used in Chod:
A Damaru (small double-headed drum) in her right hand
A Bell in her left hand
She dances on a moon cushion and lotus pedestal, radiating a blue and gold bodily aureole and red aura. Machig appears at the center of a vast array of human adepts and deities known as a TshogZhing, or “Field of (Merit) Accumulation."Learn more about the Ritual implements of Vajrayana:
Mother Machig Labdron and Her Sons:
The two sons of Machig Labdron who carried on her teachings are Gyalwa Dondrup and Tonyon Samdrup.
- Gyalwa Dondrup passed on the Mahayana lineage of Chod, which eventually made its way into the Shangpa Kagyu school. He is depicted as a yogi and displays the same implements as his mother.
- Tonyon Samdrup transmitted the Tantric tradition of Chod that would become part of the Gelug school.
Machig Labdron and Her Teacher, Dampa Sangye:
Machig Labdron was not a lama's consort, unlike other Tibetan female Dakini. She was a spiritual mother who nurtured the spiritual life of her children. Her Chod technique was named one of the Eight Great Chariots of the practicing lineages. Machig's student and tantric consort was Padampa Sangye, a great Indian saint. He is also credited with founding the Chod system in its entirety.
Dampa Sangye is in some contexts credited with introducing the Zhijay and Chod practices to Machig. It has also been suggested that her lesser-known guru, Kyoton Sonam, a disciple of Dampa Sangye, initiated her into the Indian Chod tradition. Regardless, she went on to develop the female lineage of Chod, as opposed to the Dampa Sangye's male lineage, and to codify Chod.
Dampa is often depicted in the spare garb of a yogi and displaying Chod implements-a thighbone trumpet and Damaru. He has the dark skin that earned him the epithet Black Acharya. He sits on an antelope-skin and is draped in bone ornaments, his left leg supported by a meditation band. Numerous figures Tantric adepts, deities, teachers, and Lamas, are arrayed around Dampa Sangye.
Machig Labdron is the centerpiece of an oceanic assembly of enlightened beings, meditational deities, and historical figures.
From the mid-11th to the mid-12th century, she had a long and affluent life. Her first "job" was reciting the Prajnaparamita Sutras, which she learnt to read very well as a toddler. While reading The Prajnaparamita in One Hundred Thousand Verses (Twelve Volumes), she comprehended what it meant. Her principal spiritual mentor, Sonam Lama, also chastised her.
The Three Practice Verses of The Chod:
Chod, means "severance" or "cutting through" is a profound teaching and practice that has inspired all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
There are three verses in particular among Machig Labdron's many teachings that sum up her complete wisdom. Her verses show us how to incorporate a full understanding of emptiness and radical compassion into our practice.
1. The First Verse:
"Without asserting any notion of view,
about the unimpeded arising of anything,
unbiased experience dawns as basic space.
The supreme severance is no view."
One of the rudimental Dharma teachings is "View, Meditation, and Action".
The path guides us from the wisdom of emptiness to its human manifestation in life. The idea is how we make sense of our world, so it offers us security.
This is radical teaching where Machig suggests we release all views. It presages the great fourteenth-century mystic Longchenpa's saying
"The best view is no view."
Let go of our attachment to any particular view is the supreme and ultimate severance. No matter how accurate, spiritual, grand, or ground-breaking we may imagine our idea, Machig invites us to abandon the solid ground that beliefs grant us.
2. The Second Verse:
"Carry the load of appearing conditions. If you don't carry the load of all phenomena, the remedy of peace and happiness can't liberate you."
Machig warns us not to avoid what we might consider mere "appearances." These are the phenomena of everyday life. This verse is the bodhisattva's call. It is the invocation of great compassion, living with an open heart, and awakening to the full spectrum of being a human.
To "carry the load" means to take responsibility. And not just take responsibility for what we've done or not done. But we need to assume responsibility for the whole catastrophe of beingness. This is Machig's invocation to keep our hearts and minds open, over and over again.
3. The Third Verse:
"Don't search, don't practice; rest in your nature."
We have let our search define us, as it drives us and motivates us. It is the reason we get up in the morning. But much too often, these exact searches haunt us, torture us, and frustrate us.
However, the catch is that there is no end to this search. We always chase it relentlessly, but we can never grasp it. We are always promised that we are close to achieving what we have pursued so long, but it is never quite the case. Machig tells us to quit it entirely, stop the search and let it go.
As Lama Tsultrim describes it, this is primordial worthiness, or "primordial self-esteem." There is the belief that we are not inherently worthy of life and have to prove our worth through all this searching. But this is not the truth. One does not need to prove oneself worthy solely to exist as a being. Resting means seeing worthiness as our starting point in whatever we endeavour.