Chö 2
Chö, the Tibetan word for cutting, can be defined as using difficult experiences to develop your ability to be awake and clear in whatever life throws at you. This series explores Chö’s origins in the Diamond Sutra, its relationship to Taking and Sending, and daily prayers and practices.

Groundwork Download

Motivation for Chö: transforming our experience of disturbances and negativity as embodied in the eight demonic obsessions; outer, inner and mystical refuge: opening to the totality of experience; visualizing and inviting Machik Labdrön and the four guests.




Section 1

Okay. Before we begin, remember, yesterday I read something that Kongtrul had written about how to approach chö. Here’s something that the tenth Trungpa Rinpoche wrote. That was the one preceding the one who came to North America. This commentary is by the tenth Trungpa Rinpoche. [Pause] He says:

Practice this very, very sincerely as an aspect of secret behavior which is used to augment one’s experience in meditation that fuses the path of means and wisdom. Know that this is the true purpose of chö. If you don’t do it this way and instead practice it to calm illness, emotional eruptions or adversity, or out of a desire for fame, fortune, respect you’ll become very swollen with arrogance, and you fall into the way of error, and you will not utilize the four demonic obsessions and ego-fixation. You will not be able to take them into your practice.

In fact, you won’t take them into your practice; they’ve taken you over.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: More or less.

In the beginning, you cut the longing and yearning for pleasure and comfort in the ordinary aspects of life. In the middle of your practice, as it matures, you cut conditioning, reactive emotions, and confusion, and all the thoughts that come out of that. And finally, you cut in the realm of totality, the propensities for confused projection and inflating the sense of “I”. Through this, you will come to the direct understanding of the vision of The Great Mother, which is sheer clarity, the unborn dharmakaya. And thus come to full awakening.

So, that’s how he ends his text on it.


Section 2

Okay, the explanation of chö takes place under—

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, there are thirteen points in the commentary: groundwork, motivation, refuge, gathering the accumulations, clearing away obscurations, and making offerings. Those are the first five.

Sorry, in the groundwork there is motivation, refuge, gathering the accumulations, clearing away the obscurations, and making offerings. That forms the preparatory. So, those are the five.

In the main practice, there is transference; many of you will know that as phowa. Offering your body as a mandala, that’s number two. The white feast, the red feast, and the power offering. So, that forms another five.

And then in the conclusion phase there is dedication, dissolution, and taking it into life. Those three points, that makes up the thirteen. We’re not going to get through all of them tonight.


Section 3

The two pieces that I want to focus on this evening are what you’re doing in chö and the basic visualization in which the whole chö practice takes place. If you turn to here, page 18. It says, Imagine the sources of refuge clearly in front of you and then say, “All of us.” And “all of us” means you and all sentient beings.

The sources of refuge, at this point, imagine Machik in the center, the buddha, dharma, and sangha. That’s good enough for right now, gets more elaborate later.

Beginning with our enemies that provoke anger, impediments that generate harm, conditions that cause interruptions, obsessions with mortality, local disturbances, physical disturbances, and our own parents. [Laughter]. In short, all sentient beings who’s numbers are as infinite as space will obtain the direct understanding of the Supreme Mother, which is the Prajnaparamita. Consequently, I take up the profound practice of the holy ground where obsessions are cut down.

Now, that last thing, the holy ground where obsessions are cut down, that’s a translation of the actual name of chö in Tibetan, dam pa bdud kyi gcod gyul (pron. dam pa dü kyi cö yul).

There are eight sources of disturbances. Let’s go through them again. Enemies that provoke anger, that’s number one. Impediments that generate harm; conditions that cause interruptions; obsessions with mortality, that’s number four; local disturbances; physical disturbances; and mother and father. That makes eight, right? So nice when…pardon?

Student: Are mother and father considered as one source of disturbance?

Ken: No, each parent is one.


Section 4

Well, I’m going to go through and explain these. That’s the subject matter of tonight, okay. Now, the language of chö is all about inviting demons. But what you’re really doing is working with what is arising in you.

When something arises and provokes anger, you move out of presence, right? So, anything which gives rise to the disturbance of anger in you is included in that “enemies that provoke anger.”

When we encounter impediments in our practice, things that block us, then our practice goes to pieces. And all of us know what happens when our practice goes to pieces: really good things happen in our life. Okay? We experience harm, emotionally, spiritually, possibly even physically. So, anything that comes up in our experience that, bang, blocks our practice—it’s an impediment—you’re also inviting here.

Conditions that cause interruptions. This is not quite as strong as the things that block the practice, but these are things that interrupt, you know. We get a lot of business. And so we’re so involved with our business and earning lots of money that our practice goes down the tubes for a couple of months. Or we fall in love. I’ve found that falling in love is the worst obstacle to most people’s practice. People become totally unworkable when they’re in love. It’s not the same as loving someone. When they’re in love they become unworkable, you know. When a student comes in and says, “I just met someone.” I go, “Oh shit!” [Laughter]

Okay, but there can be other things. Any set of conditions—the loss of someone close to you, a relative getting sick, losing your job—all of these kinds of things. These are conditions that cause interruptions in one’s practice.

Obsessions with mortality. Actually, these “obsessions” include the four obsessions: the classical obsessions, obsessions with mortality, obsessions with reactive emotions, obsessions with peak experiences, and obsessions with physical being. But particularly obsessions with mortality, that’s something that gives rise to a great deal of anxiety and fear in us.

Local disturbances. These are places that hold a charge for us and give rise to disturbance in mind. Because we may have associations with them. Something unpleasant may have happened, so we’re uncomfortable going to that place. In Tibet, these were regarded as local deities and things like that. But it’s anything which causes us disturbance coming from the physical environment.

Physical disturbances refers to things happening in our body which causes disturbance. Which can be illness; it can be pains, arthritis, you know, things like that. They can be actual physical illnesses or psychosomatic stuff, doesn’t make any difference. Anything that’s happening in the body that causes disturbance.

And most of us have a little bit of baggage connected with our parents which causes us some anxiety or some frustration or some irritation. And then there’s the rest of humanity, which can be an absolute pain in the neck sometimes too.

So these are the eight demons or eight sources of disturbance. And this what we are working with in chö. But the point is, in effect, what we’re working to cut through is the disturbance that arises in us.


Section 5

So, this first stanza is about establishing our motivation. And that is, everything that causes us trouble, everything that gives rise to disturbance, these represent aspects of our experience where we aren’t awake. Follow? And we’re inviting them to participate with us in this ceremony, in this ritual, with the intention of helping them wake up and be present too.

So, …will attain the direct understanding of the Supreme Mother which is the intention to bring awareness into all of these areas where we’re asleep. And because we’re asleep we react. This making sense to you? Okay. Consequently I take up the profound practice of the holy ground where obsessions are cut down.

And then we move into the next section, so that was the first section of the preparation, the groundwork, which was motivation.


Section 6

Now, the second section is refuge—here it’s labelled refuge in awakening mind. Now, all of these aspects of us that aren’t awake, do they want to wake up?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: No.

Ken: No. So, they need a little coaxing which is why we have the next lines, All spirits, weak and small, don’t be afraid, don’t be frightened, don’t be frightened at all. All sentient beings from the highest planes of existence down to the depths of the worst hells, listen to me. Come here all of you, come here quickly all of you! Now, do you feel what’s happening here? You’re opening to the totality of your experience. Nothing is excluded here.

In samsara, you know, we have the—I just ran through it earlier this afternoon—you have the eight hot hells, eight cold hells, four this, the hungry and thirsty ghosts, animals, human realms, titans, desire realm gods, form realm gods, formless realm gods. This comprises the total possibilities of experience as long as a sense of self is functioning.

The high god realms, that sense of self gets pretty tenuous. I think one of them, called “neither being nor nothing,” is the name of the god realm, very tenuous. Another one’s called “infinite space”. But there’s still some sense of self. So, we’re opening to all of the possibilities of experience based on a sense of self and asking them to come and be awake.


Section 7

And, naturally, because of these are all conditioned patterns, they don’t want any part of it. And this is an important aspect in your meditation. In your meditation, when you encounter resistance, what happens if you push on it directly?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, it gets stronger. And when the resistance is up, just as I was saying a few moments ago, you have to just be there with it and let it open up. This quality of working gently with strong areas of resistance, very, very important. And that’s what’s being modeled or described right here.

Now, the last lines are done with kangling. And kangling means leg trumpet made from the human leg. Rinpoche had us make our own when we went into the three-year retreat—so we did. I won’t tell you how we got the legs but [chuckles] they came from medical supply store. [Laughter]

Student: Not everybody took [unclear].

Ken: Pardon?

Ken: Yes, I need a new one, would somebody donate a leg? So, when you say, “Listen to me!”, then you blow. [Ken blows kangling]

And then you say, “Come here all of you!” [Ken blows kangling] “Come here quickly all of you!” [Ken blows kangling] Now, if you were out in the wilds of Tibet, and you were doing this, this gets a little frightening.


Section 8

Student: Can you explain those coaxing lines?

Ken: Sure, just those three lines?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, it’s actually exactly what the Tibetan says. dren bu nyams chung ba rnams (pron. tren bu nyam chung wa nam), which means, “all spirits weak and small.” ma skrag shik (pron. ma trak shik), “Don’t be afraid.” ma ngang shik (pron. ma ngang shik) “Don’t be frightened.” shin tu ma ngang shik (pron. shin tu ma ngang shik), which is really weird Tibetan, but “Don’t be frightened at all” is what it means. “Very don’t be frightened” is what it says. Okay?

And then it says, From the pinnacle of existence down to the depths of the worst hell, all sentient beings.

And Listen to me, nyon chik (pron. nyön chik), which is the usual imperative. You say to somebody “Listen to me!” You say, nyon chik. You would say nyon chik, which would be really like, “Listen up!” And if you want to say it politely you’d say, nyon rogs nang (pron. nyön rok nang).

So, thams cad dir sdud chik (pron. thamché dir dü chik. thams cad is the word for all. dir is “here” and sdud chik means “gather” So, “Come here.” And then thams cad dir sdud chik, “All of you come here quickly.” So the way it sounds, [Long quote in Tibetan] Okay?

Tibetan doesn’t have a special power that English does. Some things are more convenient in Tibetan because of the way the language is structured, but this has been translated into English. Now the next stage is to translate it into English in a way that can be sung. I started to do that a couple of years ago but it became quite difficult. Haven’t completed that yet.


Section 9

So, All of us beginning with—and you notice, the list is exactly the same here—All of us, beginning with our enemies that provoke anger, impediments that generate harm, situations that cause interruptions, obsessions with mortality, local disturbances, physical disturbances, and our own parents. In short all sentient beings who’s numbers are as infinite as space.

And what you do when you sound the kangling and you invite them all together to gather here, you imagine that they’re all right around you. And these impediments that cause harm, they’re right there, they’re right here with you. You know, all of these things. And the obstacles that cause, obstacles, impediments and interruptions and obsessions with mortality, you imagine that they’re all right here.

And your parents, right in front of you. All sentient beings. And the first thing you do is you go for refuge together. And so when you’re repeating refuge, it’s not just you going for refuge, but all of these wayward states of mind; all of the things that keep tripping you up in your life. And you’ve invited them and all of you are going for refuge. They’re taking refuge too. Not what they’re inclined to do normally.

So, We go for refuge in the teacher, we go for refuge in the buddha, dharma and sangha.

And then it goes through the longer refuge. We go for refuge in the glorious teachings of the chö lineage who obtained mastery. We go for refuge in the dakinis of the three levels.


Section 10

Dan do you remember what the three levels of dakinis are? Nope, nor do I. Oh, that’s what they are. The three levels of dakinis are the dakinis that live in the sky, those that live on the ground, and those that live below the ground.

Student: What’s a dakini?

Ken: What is exactly a dakini? A dakini is a symbol of the activity of awakened mind. And so it has this very alive quality of how your wakefulness actually manifests in life.

Now, there’s a section in here on dakinis which may be helpful to you. The term dakini was originally an Indian word, which was one of four kinds of spirits which enchanted people and caused a lot of confusion. And so, the original meaning of dakini was something that trapped you in reactive patterns. And in Buddhism it became a symbol of when you woke up in that reactive pattern you had all of the energy of the reactivity but now it didn’t trap. It opened, and you’re awake. So it became a symbol of that very alive, awake quality. You follow?

Student: Yes.


Section 11

Ken: Okay, so, Khyungpo Naljor, who was a twelfth century teacher, had a vision of a lion-headed dakini—because they come in many different forms, and they’re female, they’re female embodiments of the activity of pristine awareness—that would be a formal definition for it. And surrounded by thousands of dakinis. And they all sang this song:

Crystal dakini guards against interruptions
Jewel dakini increases wealth
Lotus dakini gathers energy
Action dakini gets everything done
When wanting and grasping hold sway
The dakini has you in her power

Because the wanting and grasping your own attachment, now you’re in the power of the dakini, the power of the reactive process.

Wanting nothing from outside, taking things as they come
Know the dakini to be your own mind

You follow?

The essence of mind is knowing
Know that the crystal is the non-thought of mind itself
And the crystal dakini guards against interruptions

So, rather than thinking of some magical thing which is going to take care of everything for you—this crystal dakini—that’s just wishful thinking. The crystal that she holds represents non-thought of mind itself. The nature of mind itself is beyond thought, right? When you know that experientially, nothing interrupts your practice. You don’t need anything else. Do you follow? Okay.

Know that the source of wealth is contentment
And the jewel dakini fulfills all wants and needs
Know that the lotus dakini is the non-thought of freedom from attachment
And the lotus dakini gathers energy
Know that action has no origination or cessation

I can’t believe I used origination.

Know that action has no origin or cessation
And the action dakini gets everything done
Those who do not understand these points
Can practice for eons and know nothing
So, the heart of the matter is
To know that the dakini is your own mind

It’s on page 214 if you want to study it, but I love that song. It’s just so great. So, the dakinis are the…you can imagine, they’re your mind when it’s awake. And the way that your mind embraces all experience vividly and completely knowing exactly what to do all the time. That’s what the dakini represents. The literal meaning of dakini is “she who travels in space,” so the sky-traveler. You follow? Okay.


Section 12

We go for refuge in the buddhas and bodhisattvas who abide in the ten directions.

The ten directions are the eight cardinal points of the compass and up and down.

We go for refuge in the sugatas, which is another name for the buddhas of the five families.

We go for refuge in the lords of the three families. And the three families are, well, actually the body, speech, and mind families. And the three lords are Manjushri, Chenrezi, and Vajrapani, or Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani.

We go for refuge in the teacher, Vajra Dakini and her retinue.

Here Machik is being identified with Vajra Dakini.

We go for refuge in the Kagyu teachers and their retinue of dakinis. We go for refuge in our kind root teachers and their retinue of dakinis. We go for refuge in mind itself, empty, unborn dharmakaya. We pray for refuge, please take us under your protection.

And we follow through.

I and all sentient beings rely on the buddha, rely on the dharma, rely on the sangha. May what all beings do be virtuous, may what they say be virtuous, may what they feel be virtuous. May they be cured of the 404 kinds of illness. May they be free from 91 kinds of unexpected disturbances. May they not be disrupted by the 360 emotional states. May the 80,000 kinds of interruptions naturally die down, may they naturally let go, may they naturally go away.


Section 13

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon? Well, in Buddhism one of the first metaphors was this idea of refuge. And this is based on a feudal system, a feudal thing, where you had the big lord, big castle. And anytime somebody came tromping in, everybody went in the castle and they were protected from the invading party.

Here the image is all the confusion and disturbance we encounter in daily life. Okay, where do we go for refuge from this?

Well, we go to the clear awake mind in itself, or mind-nature, which is what this whole retreat is about, okay. That’s symbolized as the buddha, and then the teachings, the dharma, and the sangha. And the guru embodies that for us in our experience. So, when we say, “Please take us under your protection,” we’re speaking metaphorically here. But what we’re really praying for, is to come to understand this, so that we are free from all the confusion we normally experience. Paul? Okay. Do you have a question Donna?


Section 14

So, what follows are all basically continuing the sense of refuge and also renewing the sense of bodhicitta, or awakening mind, up until the end of the second stanza on page 20.

Just as the buddhas of the three times gave rise to the supreme awakening mind, it definitely brings about pure awakening. I also give rise to the sacred aspiration and ask all those who have done so to think of me. Not only to think of me but to look after me.

And this was Machik’s version of the bodhisattva vow.


Section 15

And then there’s a break. That completes the preparatory phase of chö. And what we’ve done…sorry, go back to our index here. This is all preparation. So, at this point we have completed the generating, the motivation, and refuge.

Now we start getting into the meat of things. And this is about as far as we’re going to go this evening. In the sky before me is my kind root teacher who is one with Machik Labdron. And you have a picture of Machik Labdron in the front and back. And so you picture her. Actually, you imagine this is your teacher appearing in her form. That’s what you imagine.

And there’s this description:

Her body is white like a conch shell, she has one face and two arms, the right beating a gold drum held high, the left holding a silver bell to her hip. The three eyes staring into space, her hair is black, half of it tied up on her head the rest falling freely over her back. Her naked body is adorned with gold and jewel ornaments. Her right leg is drawn in, her left leg extended in dancing posture. Around her are all the teachers of the Kagyu tradition.

That’s a heavy bunch. You know, in the paintings you know, you have Machik who’s just standing there dancing like this, and then there are all of these lineage teachers who are all sitting like this. [Laughter]


Section 16

Now there are many different traditions connected with chö. To her right is Padampa Sangye. And if you look at the picture at the back, you see right here this grayish-blue figure who is blowing a trumpet and rattling a drum, that’s Padampa Sangye. And all of the teachers of the Father Lineage—and I’m not going to go into details of what that particular lineage—it’s a whole other lineage which feeds into chö, are around him.

And then to her left is Vajrayogini. And if you look here, you see this red dancing figure; that’s Vajrayogini. It’s the one on the back, it’s also on the front one but it’s much smaller; it’s more difficult to see. She’s on the left. Now, around her are the five dakinis, and around them the whole Mother Lineage.

And then, you see directly above Machik is Shakyamuni Buddha, right here, actually directly above her you see Green Tara but that’s because she’s an emanation of Green Tara, but above there is Shakyamuni Buddha. And around Shakyamuni Buddha are the Non-Dual Lineage. So, there is another whole set of teachers there.

And then above him is this gold figure. This is the Perfection of Wisdom, and difficult to see in this picture but like Avalokiteshvara she has four arms, and if I recall, two are joined in prayer, and one holds a rosary, and the other holds the Prajnaparamita, the text of the perfection of wisdom. And around her are all of the masters of chö throughout all ages. So, as you can see this is a very big visualization. I expect you to be able to do this perfectly tomorrow. [Laughter]

Now you might ask, “What is the purpose of doing this?” The purpose is very simply for you to feel the presence of this whole lineage and all of the inspiration and appreciation that comes out of it. So, within us there’s a great feeling of faith and devotion and appreciation. We’re raising that energy, that’s the purpose of this. And even if you can’t, don’t remember all of the figures, just to have that feeling is sufficient.


Section 17

Below Machik are all the gods and demons of existence, including the eight classes of demons and all karma debt collectors listening and obeying attentively. So, down here, now, in this picture, you have four teachers that would normally be up here but because of the thangkha they put them down here. But all in this area, all of those ones that you were inviting before, you know, enemies that provoke anger, impediments that generate harm, etc. all of those, you imagine right in front of you. And there are hundreds and thousands, everything that ever caused you any kind of problem. Okay.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Right, yeah.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, that’s actually a protector. And that’s another manifestation of awakened mind. We’ll get to that a little later. But the thing is, you have Machik, and then Padampa Sangye, and Vajrayogini, and Buddha Shakyamuni, and Prajnaparamita. These are the sources of inspiration. And then all of the things that cause you trouble, you invite. And you know you can imagine all kinds of horrific forms, that’s fine. And you can really let your imagination go here. And you just imagine them all in front of you. Why? Because you’re going to be offering your body to them.


Section 18

Traditionally, in these kinds of practices there were four kinds of guests that are recognized if I can remember them. There are those that are worthy of being offered to because of their qualities such as the buddha, dharma, and sangha and guru and so forth.

And then there are those who are worthy of being offered to because they can do things for you. That’s like the dakinis and protectors.

And then there are those that you give things to as an act of generosity, that’s all sentient beings.

And then there are those who you gives things to because you owe them. These are the karmic debt collectors, that’s actually what they’re called, len chags (pron. lenchak), you know. And see when we do somebody harm, when we act out of a reactive pattern, it’s because we’ve ignored something in our own experience. So something hasn’t been experienced. And that becomes the karmic debt and what you’re inviting here is all of the stuff that you’ve never assimilated, never come to terms with…[recording ends]