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Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd
By Jérôme Edou
This book outlines the history of chöd, focusing on Machig Labdrön, its central figure. It traces the origin of her teachings: her background and transmission history. Then it follows the lineages that developed from her into different familial and spiritual branches.
Chöd originated in the context of Prajñaparamita, Madhyamika, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen. It is, however, a specifically Tantric practice, distinct from the Mahayana practice of offering the body, which had existed in earlier Buddhist traditions. It is clear that Machig Labdrön did not create a new tradition – but acted as a catalyst. Gathering together different currents, she developed an extrapolated tradition, combining philosophical view with methods of realisation.
The book gives a generic outline of the practice of chöd, describing practitioners as wandering yogis and yoginis who have realised the non-existence of a self by offering of their bodies in visualized form in remote and scary places. Chödpas and chödmas would practice to eliminate obstacles and to annihilate negative forces and demons in those suffering from physical or demon-caused illnesses. The book does not offer a detailed explanation of the practice itself, or comment on practice experience. These instructions would have to be requested from a qualified Lama.
The author gives an overview of the existing historical and hagiographical sources in a comparative study, culminating in a translation of ‘The Marvellous Life of Machig Labdrön’.
The book is scholarly but readable, which makes it an accessible source of information for readers with some Buddhist background and a serious interest in the history and background of chöd.
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