Blue Annals Chapter 13

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Summary of The Blue Annals Chapter 13: The Cutting (gcod) Traditions and the Tradition of Kharakpa

by K. Thornton; revised by Stefan Larsson


In this chapter Gö Lotsawa describes the Cutting tradition and its various transmission lineages in Tibet. He also portrays the tradition of Kharakpa (kha rag pa) briefly. The latter tradition is a separate lineage with no specific relation to the Cutting transmission lineages and was just inserted at the end of the chapter by default. The two main Cutting lineages that are being depicted are the Female Cutting (mo gcod) and the Male Cutting (pho gcod), as the names reveals these two lineages origins with a female and a male master, respectively. The famous Indian master Padampa Sangye (pha dam pa sangs rgyas), who is mainly associated with the Peace making (zhi byed) tradition (depicted in the chapter immediately preceding the chapter on Cutting), figures in this chapter too, as a kind of background figure. Padampa Sangye was the main teacher of both the male and female masters who transmitted the two Cutting lineages in Tibet. It is, however, a bit hard to determine to what extent the Cutting teaching and practices originates in his teachings. It seem reasonable to assume that Padampa Sangye, who himself was a rather radical and non traditional master, gave his Tibetan disciples a lot of freedom to use his instructions in a personal and creative manner and make something Tibetan out of it. Cutting eventually became famous as the only Tibetan Buddhist lineage originating in Tibet and not in India. It is said that Indian Buddhist scholars visited Tibet in order to check if Cutting was a genuine Buddhist teaching or a heretic invention. According to Tibetan tradition the Indian scholars became impressed by the Cutting tradition and accepted it as genuine Buddhism. Interestingly, Gö Lotsawa never relates this particular story that is very common in later Chö exegesis. Cutting is a practice firmly grounded on Indian Buddhist principles, most importantly the Perfection of Wisdom. Originally it was practised and transmitted by yogins who wandered around in various places with no permanent abode. Later Chö died out as a separate transmission lineage but survived as a part of all the major Buddhist traditions of Tibet. The Female transmission lineage originates with the famous female master Machik Labdrön (Ma gcig labs sgron) who nowadays is the figure most intimately associated with Cutting. The fact that the founder of this particular transmission lineage was female raises some interesting question regarding gender issues and female presence in Tibetan religion. A female master as a head of a transmission lineage is unusual, not only in Tibetan religion, but in most religions worldwide. Despite the prominence of Machik in the Cutting tradition in general and in the Female Cutting transmission in particular it should be held in mind that even the Female Cutting lineage is dominated by males and that the majority of Machik’s disciples who later inherited and upheld her lineage were male. This being said, Machik was not the only woman in the Cutting tradtion and more female masters are mentioned in this chapter than any other chapter of the Blue Annals. The Male Cutting transmission lineage originated with Kyo Sönam lama (kyo bsod nams bla ma) and Rampar Serpo (ram par ser po) of Yarlung (yar klungs), who like Machik accepted Padampa Sangye as their main teacher. The Male Cutting lineage is less known than the Female Cutting lineage and Gö Lotsawa devotes only a few pages two it (Ruegg 996–999) before he turns to Kharakpa’s tradition. Although Gö Lotsawa depicts Kharakpa together with Milarepa and Padmasambhava as the main ornament of Tibet only seven pages of Blue Annals (R: 999–1005) is devoted to this tradition. The bulk of the chapter is thus concerned with female Cutting and it is also the traditions originating with Machikma that nowadays are the most spread and famous ones of Chö. Gö Lotsawa himself had received instructions in one of the branches of the Female Cutting transmission and he mentions the name of some of the masters from whom he had received the Cutting transmission (R: 991). Finally it is striking that the Cutting tradition is closely related with different diseases and epidemics. Several kinds of diseases, such as cancer (lhog), leprosy, tuberculosis and stroke are mentioned in the chapter and the practitioners sometimes stayed at and supported hospices. It is mentioned that practitioners of Cutting actively participated in healing ceremonies and helped when epidemics devastated the Tibetan plateau. The rite obviously had a powerful healing potential and could be used both for healing oneself and others. Several cases of how practitioners of Cutting became completely healed by practising Cutting are depicted by Gö Lotsawa. Sometimes practitioners of Chö deliberately contracted dangerous diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis as a part of their practice, just to test whether they where able to heal themselves by means of the Cutting ritual. A practitioner of Cutting was supposed to have cut off all clinging and thereby he or she should be completely free from fear and egocentric thoughts regardless of outer circumstances. The practitioners of Cutting were encouraged to practice in dangerous and haunted areas and to embrace disease, death, demons, and all kinds of difficulties and negativities as important means, helpful on the path of Cutting. This rather unusual strategy has contributed to rather bizarre and outrageous ways of practice and it is therefore no surprise that many so-called crazy yogins (smyon pa, zhig po etc.) are found among the adherents of Chö.

Gö Lotsawa’s introduction to Cutting (Chö) (Chandra 870; Chengdu 1139–1142; Roerich 980–983).

Gö Lotsawa starts the chapter with a very interesting description of the Cutting tradition. Here he point out that the adepts of the Chö (gcod) lineage adhered to the philosophical doctrine of Prajnaparamita. Therefore it is called the Lineage of the “the object to be cut” (gcod yul) of the “demons” (bdud) of the Prajnaparamita, he continues. Lord Maitripada said that even in the Prajnaparamita, mention is made of the practices which imitated the Tantras. This indicates that Chö is not a tantric tradition but rather a set of practices which imitates the Tantras and that it is closely related with the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita). Having clarified this Gö Lotsawa (gos lo tsa ba) begs the rhetorical question, “How can it (i.e. gcod) be similar to the Tantra?” And answers by citing several lines from the Hevajra-Tantra where it is stated that meditation will be fruitful if carried out in places inhabited by demons, such as at the foot of solitary trees, in cemeteries and at night when demons are most active. Furthermore, he quotes the Prajnaparamitasancayagatha where the following statement is made: “A Bodhisattva endowed with the power of learning cannot be shaken by the four demons, because of four reasons: because he abides in the Void, because he has not abandoned living beings, because he acts according to his word, and because he is endowed with the blessing of the Sugata.” The fact that followers of the Chö system observe those four religious injunctions further indicates the close affinity between the Perfection of Wisdom and Chö. To prove how the observance of those injunctions makes a practice called Cutting (Chö) Gö Lotsawa cites a line from the Abhidharmakosa: “Defilement (kleśa) originates from attachments, the presence of external objects, and a wrong conception of them.” That which is to be cut asunder, is defilement. The secret precepts of the Chö system were handed down by Dampa (dam pa, Padampa Sangye). Those handed down through Kyo Sönam lama (kyo bsod nams bla ma) and Rampar Serpo (ram par ser po) of Yarlung (yar klungs) were called Pho Chö (pho gcod), or ‘Male Chö Those handed down by Machig (ma gcig, labs sgron ma) were called Mo Chö (mo gcod), or ‘Female Chö. Dampa Sangye (dam pa sangs rgyas) liked to say that he had given three words of friendly advice to Majo chöne ma (Ma jo mchod gnas ma) at the house of Rog pa (rog pa) of Yarlung. They both said that it was through those words that she had attained emancipation. She preached many precepts on her own. The introductory text then goes on to discuss why one thing was called two different things (spyod, or ‘practice,’ and gcod, or ‘cutting asunder’). He uses several other examples that the only differentiation is linguistic and that they are inherently the same thing. It’s clear that Gö Lotsawa wants to dispel all confusion that might detract from the lineage, and is seeking to establish that cutting is the practice, and the practice is one of cutting. After this, he really focuses on the stories of individuals as they relate. Gö Lotsawa uses many stories depicting how practitioners of Cutting acted. In this way the action and spirit of the rite is poignantly shown. One such example is found in Blue Annals (R: 993–994): Formerly he used to fall ill, whenever he felt cold, or hot. There he pressed his stomach against a cold stone, drank ice-cold water, and slept naked. He gave up himself saying: “Illness (is) joy. Death (is) pleasure”. He practiced (the precepts of gcod) “and on the eleventh day a foul odour came out of his mouth. On the twelfth day, about midnight, he vomited out all his ailments. About midday he was completely cured. Within half a month he succeeded in completing the study, overcame his disease, and a mystic trance was produced in him.

13.1 Female Cutting (mo gcod kyi skabs. Chandra 870; Chengdu 1142–1158; Roerich 983–996)

Labdrön (Labs sgron)

  • She was an expert reader. For a while she was the reader of the Prajnaparmita for gra pa. While reading the prajnaparmita, a clear vision of the Void was produced in her. After this, she met Dampa (Phadampa Sangye).
  • She met him because she had gone once to Dambu (‘dam bu) to read. While she was there, she met a native of Cherdrön (gcer gron) named Thöpabare (thod pa ‘ba’ re). She sleeps with him and then marries him, but because this means that she has renounced her vows she is subjected to extremely harsh criticism. The women of the region call her Jomo kalog ma (jo mo bka’ log ma, a ‘nun who had violated her vows’). It seems to matter more that she is no longer acting as a nun than that she is still an expert reader and is married to another religious person. Pressure and expectations from others – mostly what seems to be jealous judgment – is a dominant factor in the life of Labdrön.
  • The couple is unable to take the harassment, so they leave and go to Kongpo (kong po). They have one daughter there, one on the way to Lawar (la bar), and three sons once they have reached Lawar. However, it is not long before Labdrön feels compelled to return to her life as a nun.
  • During the initiation of the cycle of maya from Kyo Sönam Lama (skyo bsod nams bla ma), a yogic insight is produced in her. She leaves the ceremony to go outside, and is once again subjected to harassment from her peers. However, in this instance the Teacher silences them, saying “She went away have received the initiation of the meaning, but you have obtained the initiation of the word only.”
  • After this, she journeys throughout Tibet, preaching the precepts until she dies at the age of 95.

Machig’s importance is further indicated with symbolic event that took place when Dampa visited Tibet. At that time four black birds flew around him. They transformed themselves into four dakinis: Labdrön (labs sgron) of Ye (, Ma Jo Jangchub (ma jo byang chub) of upper Nyel (gnyal), Zangmo Gyelthing (zang mo rgyal mthing) of Tsang (gtsang), and Nyönma (smyon ma, the ‘Mad One’ of Lhasa (lha sa). Gö Lotsawa goes on to talk about each individual and does so with more sensitivity than any other treatments. Maternal and other traditionally feminine qualities are played up. Jomo Jangchug (Jo mo byan chub) of upper Nyel

  • Possessed a clear understanding of the state of nature. Benevolent. Helped spread the doctrine.

Zangmo Gyelthing (Zan mo rgyal mthing) of Tsang

  • Afflicted by grief after her husband’s death. Dam pa imparted the precepts that expose the absence of a link between the mind and the objects (dngos). Realizing this, she obtained emancipation.

The ‘Mad One of Lhasa’ (Lha sa’i smyon ma)

  • Often settled disputes between followers of the doctrine, a sort of peacekeeper. It is also said that she showed the King’s Will to Atisa.

Next are the great ‘Sons’ who received the precepts from Labdrön. They include the following. From upper Yar (yar): Ngakpa Gyeltsen (sngags pa rgyal mtshan). From lower Yar: Entön Rinchen War (an ston rin chen bar). From middle Yar: Drena Jose (dre na jo sras) and Sübu Lotsawa (sud bu lo tsa ba). And many others (several more are listed in the text). Labdrön’s son, Drubche (grub che)

  • He was initially very mischievous and made enemies in the community because he stole the goats of the villagers. One time, he stole the goat of a magician and subsequently heard that the magician had performed a magic rite against him. However valid this story is, it is the cause for Grubche’s interest in the precepts held by his mother, because he immediately goes to her for help.
  • She says to him, ‘You should be dead’ and leaves. She then circumambulates Mount Tsata (tsha tha) and then told him what to do to avoid being killed. He did so, it worked, and he entered the Gate of the Doctrine at age 42. He practised and penetrated the meaning of Ultimate Essence.
  • He later stayed at the monastery of Yechung Lanlün ( chung glang lun) and became a mad ascetic. He was able to subdue demons by his blessing and to produce wisdom in all his disciples.
  • He had three sons by his first wife: Tsewang (tshe dban), Kujug (khu byug), and Neljor Drag (rnal byor grags). Khambu Yellé (kham bu yal le) was born of another wife.

Tsewang had three sons: Gyelwa Tönzung (rgyal ba ston gzungs) lived in Rimodo (ri mo mdo), Thönyön Samdrub (thod smyon bsam grub) lived in Shampo Gang (sham po gangs), and Kyeme Ösel (skye med ‘od gsal) lived at a ‘Odo (‘o mdo) in upper Nyel (gnal). Thönyön Samdrub

  • He was called the ‘Snowman residing in Shampo Gang.’ He fought in his youth and was undefeated. He fell ill with leprosy and practiced meditation in the snow in ba yul and was cured. During this time, he slept naked in the snow and people threw yak tails at him. He wore them, made a mat of them, and wore one as a hat (hence the black hat of gangs pa).
  • The self-deprivation worked to purify him, and he (like others in the lineage) challenged himself. At Drenpa (dran pa), he sucked the scars on the nose of a leper and his fortunes increased.
  • Later, he prohibited the killing of wild animals and fishing in the hills. He provided food and shelter, protected the doctrine, and Gö Lotsawa calls him a ‘matchless saint.’ He does seem to have upheld all the aspects of this tradition, based primarily on self-deprivation.
  • He had 21 male and female disciples and 18 daughter siddhas.

Gangpa Muyen (Gangs pa dmu yan)

  • Gangpa Muyen was the son of Thönyön Samdrub and among his father’s disciples he was unmatched. At the age of 14 he became violently ill with a stomach-ache. He lay down, pressing his stomach against a cold rock and fell asleep. This cured him since he gave in to the pain.
  • He was a mediator between Tibet and Sergyu (gser gyu). He had a thousand shepherds and was rich. He also introduced the practice of continuously reciting the Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur). His son was Gangpa Lhündrub (gangs pa lhun grub). Gangpa Lhündrub had a son named Sanggye Tensung (sangs rgyas bstan bsrungs).

Sanggye Tensung (sangs rgyas bstan bsrungs)

  • He protected the doctrine, but also showed himself to be highly capable at a very young age. He developed prescience at 3, mastered meditation at 5, performed a funeral rite at 15, and took over the chair of his forefathers.
  • His son was Gangtrö Repa (gangs khrod ras pa).

Gangtrö Repa (gangs khrod ras pa)

  • Was equally adept. Was nominated to the abbot’s chair at age 13. Very benevolent and mastered a great deal of teachings and secret precepts.

There are several members of the lineage mentioned briefly here before dwelling on Machik’s disciple Khugom Chösen (khu sgom chos sen). For instance Gölotsawa devotes some attention to other sons (besides Thönyön Samdrub) and their respective family lineages. The whole section above was about Machik’s son’s and their lineages and the following is a description of disciple’s who were not. Khugom Chösen (khu sgom chos sen)

  • Listened to the exposition of the ‘Great Achievement’ and practiced solely meditation. He obtained from ma gcig the Cycle of Meditation of the Dakinis.
  • When Machik grew old, he massaged her feet and asked her to impart on him the complete Chö doctrine. Machik gave him the Meaning of the Lineage of the Teaching. She foretold that he would benefit others and told him that he should also give the teaching to Döndrub (don grub, the son of ma gcig). However, Döndrub did not wish to hear them.
  • Later Khugom Chösen fell ill with leprosy and performed the Chö rite to cure himself. It worked. His disciple was Dölpa Zangtel (dol pa zang thal).

Dölpa Zangtel (dol pa zang thal)

  • He was said to have a penetrating mind and became known as the Penetrating One. Practiced in a cave, but visited places with infected people and his yogic insight was improved by this.

From here, there are several more members of the lineage, but they largely focus on the same things. From here, practitioners become more confident and several purposely contract illnesses in order to practice the gcod rite. They help others, but mostly live as hermits when they are not touring localities that are infested with illnesses.

13.2 Male cutting (pho gcod kyi skabs. Chandra 883; Chengdu 1158; Roerich 996).

Mara Serpo (Sma ra ser po) of Yarlung had visited India and not discovered the doctrine he was looking for. He then encountered an atsara (a tsa ra). The Indian ascetic broke the staff of his companion (a kalyanamitra named dngos grub), saying that – while he knew how to use it – it was useless. Mara Serpo was intrigued and asked the ascetic’s companion who he was. The companion told him that it was Dampa and he proceeded to ask for instruction in the doctrine. Dampa imparted the precepts on Ngödrub (dngos grub), who was convinced and accepted dam pa as his guru. Dampa said to Mara Serpo “a doctrine desired by you, is coming to you in the future.’ Dampa took up residence in a hospice. While there, a man named Kyo Sakya Yeshe (skyo sakya ye shes) came to ask dam pa to heal his two sons whose brothers had been destroyed by demons. Dam pa imparted the Chö precepts on Kyo, his disciples and Mara Serpo. The boys practiced the precepts, skyo practiced them only on himself, and Mara Serpo wrote them down, put didn’t preach them to others until his old age. Then he bestowed them on his attendant smyon pa be re. When he taught them, he told them not to bestow them on any others. Clearly there is a very secretive aspect to the Phochö (phod gcod=. The nest transmission takes place when Chetön (lce ston) fell ill and he sought the Chö doctrine. He and Phugtön (phug ston) sought them out. While they got three sections, the teacher did not give them all. When Rog Sherab Ö (rog shes rab ‘od) asked for all the precepts, he initially declined, saying, “I didn’t disclose more than three to Shatön Dordzin (sha ston rdor ‘dzin) at Phutang (phu thang). If I were to preach to you the complete precepts, he might become displeased.” He explains by saying that imparting the doctrine to monastics leaves them open to being copied by other men they live with. However he was convinced and imparted the entirety of the doctrine saying he did so because he would be of benefit to living beings. However, he demanded that he not write down the oral precepts. These precepts were then handed down to a line of sons, daughters, and disciples. Throughout, there was a premium on keeping a secretive nature and not passing all of the precepts until the possessor was in old age or there was a dire need for the rite.

13.3 Kharakpa (kha rag pa’i skabs. Chandra 886; Chengdu 1162–1169 Roerich 999–1005).

Gö Lotwawa opens by saying that Tibetans possess a crown ornament and two ear ornaments: the crown ornament being Padmasambhava, the first ear ornament is Kharak Gomcung (kha ra sgom chung), and the second ear ornament is the venerable Mila (mid la, e.g. Milarepa). Aro Yeshe Jungne (A ro ye shes ‘byung gnas) had been seen by a royal nun who took him in as a child. He later walked into a room where monks were praying and recited prayers and doctrines, but also told the monks that he knew many doctrines they didn’t know. The monks deemed him the origin of knowledge and listened as he imparted wisdom and doctrine. He had a long disciple lineage that believed in the potency of the rite (one said, “If I were to preach the doctrine into the ear of a corpse, the corpse would move.”) Gru gu klog ‘byon taught the doctrine to rba sgom bsod names rgyal mtshan. When the latter met Atisa, he offered him his understanding of the doctrine. Atisa suggested the practice should be tempered by love and mercy. He was disappointed when he read several Tibetan writings, but then he read the Mahayana-yoga of a ro and was pleased. This lineage is much higher profile with the invocation of much more high profile names (Atisa also cites the aid of Maitreya and Avalokitesvara). There was a particular affinity for hermits in this tradition, but a clear feeling that the teachers and disciples were more venerable than the hermits. However, some of this pomp took its toll on the lineage. Many realized this and saw the potential of some un-ordained practitioners. The lineage was spread widely by people in positions of power and fame enough to move the rite fast and far.

Blue Annals Chapter 13 last modified by Christopher Bell (cpb5v) on 2007-feb-13 17:40:05