Zhijed and Chod: An Introduction

An Introduction to Zhijed and Chod

|| namaḥ śrīprajñāpāramitāyai ||

The term Dugnal Zhijed (sdug bsngal zhi byed) means “Pacification of Suffering” or “That which Pacifies Suffering.” The term appears in the short Sūtra on the Perfection of Wisdom, the “Heart of Wisdom” (prajñāhr̥daya), where it is said that the mantra of the Prajñāpāramitā is “the mantra that pacifies all suffering” (sarvaduḥkhapraśamanamantra). Thus, the expression was used by Buddha Śākyamuni himself, while offering the teaching that most Buddhist masters deem to be his final intent.

The founder of the tradition is known as Dampa Sangye, the “Supreme Buddha,” Phacig, the “One Father,” and as Ācārya Kamalaśīla. An omniscient Indian Buddhist scholar and long-lived Mahāsiddha, he learnt from at least one-hundred Gurus, including Noble Nāgārjuna, Master Āryadeva, and the Great Padmākara, with a great emphasis on the teachings of the Perfection of Wisdom and the Mahāsiddha meditation methods. It is told that at one of the annual gatherings of Mahāsiddhas, Pha Dampa Sangye expressed his realization by stating that his sole interest is “what pacifies the suffering of sentient beings,” that is, Zhijed or duḥkhapraśamana. Ārya Nāgārjuna praised him and now this term, reflecting the terminology of the Perfection of Wisdom, describes the tradition of Pha Dampa Sangye.

During his extraordinarily long life-span, Pha Dampa Sangye travelled broadly. He visited ‘The Golden Continent,’ Suvarṇadvīpa (probably Indonesia), where he learnt from a great master of the Perfection of Wisdom, Dharmakīrti. known in Tibet as Serlingpa, ‘The One from the Golden Continent,’ who had also taught Atiśa Dīpaṁkara Śrījñāna and Ācārya Ratnākaraśānti. On his fourth visit to Tibet he also visited China – and many have noticed the remarkable similarities between his teachings and Bodhidharma’s Ch’an tradition, occasionally even identifying the two masters as being the same person. Pha Dampa Sangye went to Tibet five times. The largest collection of Zhijed teachings still available belongs to Phadampa Sangye’s fifth visit, and is closely connected with the Dingri area of Tibet, bordering Nepal; so much so that one of Phadampa Sangye’s most famous teachings is entitled “The Hundred Verses of Dingri.”

Until recent times, and for several centuries, the Zhijed teachings were mostly available in the condensed collection that forms a part of the Dam Ngak Dzo (gDams sngags mzod), “The Treasury of Sacred Instructions.” Jamgon Kongtrul the Great prepared this from teachings of all the Buddhist traditions available to him at the time, and included Zhijed and Chod, together, as one of the “Eight Great Chariots of Practice” meant as a comprehensive list of all the main meditational systems of Tibet. However, a larger collection of Zhijed teachings, transmitted during Phadampa Rinpoche’s fifth visit to Tibet, had been preserved by the Mindroling tradition; centuries ago, Lochen Dharmaśrī begun editing the texts, and not being able to complete the edition, wished for someone to do so in future. With the blessings of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, who provided the texts, and of Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, who made aspirations and predictions, the task was taken up by two indefatigable Lamas hailing from the sacred area of Dingri, with deep historic connections with the Zhijed and Chod tradition. Lama Au Tsultrim Gyaltsen and Dungzin Dampa Rinpoche successfully edited the Zhijed teachings pertaining to the Later Lineage, now available as six large Tibetan volumes, together with another six volumes of Chod teachings, and one volume for the index, enriched by translations of the titles in Sanskrit and English and traditional Vartula calligraphy. Furthermore, Lama Au Tsunkela has composed a number of Zhijed and Chod texts, including, most prominently, the largest commentary on the One Hundred Verses of Dingri.

Zhijed and Chod (Skt: cheda) share a common emphasis on the Perfection of Wisdom, which forms the basis for their yoking together of Sūtra and Secret Mantra. Machig Labdron is indeed considered an emanation of the Perfection of Wisdom, and her practice of ‘Cutting off Māra’s Domain’ finds much of its scriptural source in the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines, and in its powerful verse summary, the “Stanzas on the Heap of Precious Qualities,” which she recommended her followers to read. Her teachings became so popular that Indian Paṇḍitas visited Tibet, then translated Chod into Sanskrit and propagated it in India. In Tibet itself, Chod practice, including both Kama and Terma teachings and a variety of lineages, spread widely, not only within the Zhijed tradition, but also among Kagyu and Nyingma practitioners.

Thanks to the blessings of the late Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche and Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, and with the encouragement and official support of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dungzin Rinpoche and Lama Au Tsunkela have now offered the auspicious conditions for the revival of Zhijed and Chod as a distinct lineage of Tibetan Buddhist practice. Several unique teachings, especially connected with the Perfection of Wisdom, but also with Tantras and close instructions (Upadeśa) not found in any other tradition, may now once again be preserved as an integrated system and flourish throughout the world, especially for those with an interest in a direct and quintessential transmission of the Buddha’s final intent.

|| Sarvamaṅgalam ||

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