Machig Labdrön

Machig Labdrön

Machig Labdrön (bo-tw|t=མ་གཅིག་ལབ་སྒྲོན་|w=Ma-gcig Lab-sgron) (1055 - 1149 [*Norbu, Namkhai (1986). "The Crystal and the Way of Light". London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0140290848] ) was a renowned 11th century Tibetan Tantric Buddhist practitioner and teacher.

Machig Lapdrön (Ma-gChig Lap-sGron), whose name translates as ‘Unique Mother Torch of Lab', was a great Tibetan yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Indian tantric practice of Chöd. Machig may have came from a Bönpo family and, according to Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, developed Chöd by combining native Tibetan Bönpo shamanism with the Dzogchen teachings. Chöd is a visionary Buddhist practice of cutting attachment to one’s corporeal form (in terms of the dualistic proclivity to relate to one's corporeal form as a reference-point that proves one’s existence). The Chöd practice, which has been widespread in Tibet since Machig's lifetime, is also called "The Beggars' Offering" or the "The Cutting-Off-Ritual". This means that a practitioner offers their own body. The practitioner works entirely with their own mind, visualizing the offering, and by practicing in lonely and dreaded places--like cemeteries--works to overcome all fear. This is also why Chöd was often used to overcome sickness in order to heal oneself and others. In the Chöd practice, practitioners use a bell, small drum (a Chöd "damaru"), and a thigh-bone trumpet ("kangling").

Iconographically, Machig Labdrön is often signified with the investiture of Digambar. She holds a drum ("damaru") in her right hand and a bell in her left. Her right leg is often lifted and the standing left leg is bent in motion. Machig is white in color with three eyes and wears the six bone ornaments traditional to a practicing "yogini".


Machig was the incarnation of another great yogini Yeshe Tsogyal, as well as "an emanation of the 'Great Mother of Wisdom,' "Yum Chenmo," and of "Arya Tara", who transmitted to her [Machig] teachings and initiations." [*Edou, Jérôme. "Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd". ISBN 1559390395, p.6] This pattern of reincarnations and emanations continued into the life just before her birth as Machig Labdrön. In the lifetime before, she was Indian "yogi" Mönlam Drub. After his death, the body of the twenty-year-old Mönlam Drub is said to have remained "alive" in the cave of Potari in Southern India.

According to tradition, it was Mönlam Drub's mindstream which entered the womb of "Bum Cham" ("Great Noble Woman"), who lived in the area of Labchi Eli Gangwar in Tibet, which caused the birth of Machig. According to the biography of Machig that appears in Tsultrim Allione's work "Women of Wisdom", her mother experienced auspicious dreams of dakinis shortly after conception:

When consciousness entered the womb of the mother on the fifteenth day, she dreamt that four white "dakinis" carrying four white vases poured water on her head and afterwards she felt purified. Then "seven" dakinis, red, yellow, green, etc., were around her making offerings, saying “Honor the mother, stay well our mother to be.” After that, a wrathful dark-blue "dakini" wearing bone ornaments and carrying a hooked knife and a retinue of four blue "dakinis" carrying hooked knives and skull cups, surrounded her, in front of her, behind her, and to the left and right. All five were in the sky in front of Bum Cham. The central "dakini" was a forearm’s length higher than the rest. She raised her hooked knife and said to the mother: “Now I will take out this ignorant heart.” She took her knife and plunged it into the mother’s heart, took out the heart and put it in the skull cup of the dakini in front of her, and they all ate it. Then the central "dakini" took a conch which spiraled to the right and blew it. The sound resounded all over the world. In the middle of the conch was a luminous white “A”. She said” “Now I will replace your heart with this white conch shell”... Even after she woke up she felt great bliss. [*Allione, Tsultrim. "The Biography of Machig Labdron (1055-1145)," in "Women of Wisdom". Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559391413, pp. 174-175]

As a child and young woman, Machig made a living as a liturgy reader. She was fortunate to be literate and patrons would hire her to read the "Prajna Paramita Sutra" or 'The Perfection of Wisdom', a Mahayana Sutra) in their homes as a form of blessing and to gain merit. Machig was known to be a fast reader and so was in much demand as this meant that she could complete the entire text quickly and her patrons would have to pay for fewer meals for her while she read.

The “Secret Biography of Machig Labdron” [ [,_1997] ] relates the struggles that she underwent in order to avoid traditional marriage and eventually left home to practice the Dharma as her life's calling. After leaving the monastic order in Yuchong, she married Indian Pandita Topa Draya. (thod-pa gra-ya), also a Buddhist practitioner, who supported Machig in her practices. Together, they had two sons and one daughter (or three sons and two daughters by some accounts). Her second son Tonyon Samdru (thod-smyon bsam-grub) became one of her main successors and a propagator of Machig Labdron's teachings. He became a monk at the age of 15 under the tutorship of Pha Dampa Sangye. Pha Dampa Sangye's original name was Dampa Sangye. Tonyon Samdru treated him as stepfather and called him Pha Dampa Sangye, with "Pha" meaning "father" and many Tibetans call him Phadampa Sangye to this day. [ [] (German)]

Some say that Machig received instructions from Phadampa Sangye, as her Guru and the reincarnation of Padmasambhava which led to profound realizations. However, for several years Machig's man practice was one of tantric union with her spiritual consort and husband, Topabhadra, with whom she raised a family. [ [ Short Biography] ] .

Even though Machig spent some time living with monastics, she was not a celibate nun; she partnered and had both daughters and sons who became lineage holders. One of her sons even started out as a thief. Machig was eventually able to bring him to the Dharma and became his teacher. "You may think that Gods are the one's who give you benefits, and Demons cause damage; but it may be the other way round. Those who cause pain teach you to be patient, and those who give you presents may keep you from practising the Dharma. So it depends on their effect on you if they are Gods or Demons", she said. Machig also had female disciples and the four main women disciples were called Machig's "Gyen", or" Ornaments". [See Harding for more on these female disciples]

During Machig's lifetime, the Buddhist teachings that came from India were considered authentic and there were none that originated in Tibet. As one of Machig's biographies states:

All the Dharmas originated in IndiaAnd later spread to TibetOnly Machig's teaching, born in Tibet,Was later introduced in India and practiced there. ["The Marvelous Life of Machig Labdron", as quoted in Edou, page 1]

As a result, there was so much controversy over Machig's teachings that a delegation of Brahmins were sent from India to Tibet to assess Machig's qualifications and teachings. After her students gathered with her at Zangri Khangmar (Machig's home in Tibet from the age of 39 until her death at the age of 99), Machig taught and debated with the pundits. In addition, a delegation was sent to southern India to find the relics of Mönlam Drub as Machig instructed, thus adding further validity to her status as a teacher and lineage holder. As a result, of these and other events, it was determined that Machig's teachings were indeed authentic and established that the Chöd teachings were the first Buddhist teachings to emerge in Tibet. [Harding and Allione]

In more recent history, Machig Labdrön has incarnated and emanated both in Tibet and in the West. In Tibet, the great yogini Jetsun Rigdzin Chönyi Zangmo (1852-1953) [ [ SHUKSEP LOCHEN CHÖNYI ZANGMO 1835-1953] ] was a recognized incarnation of Machig. [(Edou, p. 4)] In the west, Lama Tsultrim Allione (1947- ) was recently recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön at Zangri Khangmar, Tibet, the place where Machig Labdrön lived from ages 37 to 99, and where she passed away, by the resident Lama, Karma Nyitön Kunkhyab Chökyi Dorje [ [ THE SNOW LION NEWSLETTER] ] .

Machig's Chöd is still practiced today in Tibet, India, the west, and other parts of the world.

Western reports

The first Western reports of Chöd came from a French adventurer who lived in Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel, in her book about travels in Tibet titled "Magic and Mystery in Tibet" (1932; reprinted in 1971 by Dover Publications).W. Y. Evans-Wentz published the first translation of a Chöd liturgy in his 1935 book "Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines" (Oxford University Press, 1967).Anila Rinchen Palmo translated several essays about Chöd in "Cutting Through Ego-Clinging" (Montingnac, France: Dzambala, 1987). Giacomella Orofino's piece called "The Great Wisdom Mother" was included in "Tantra in Practice" (Princeton University Press, 2000), edited by David Gordon White. In addition, she published articles on Machig Labdrön in Italian. [ taken from "Feeding Your Demons", section "Further Reading", p. 262]

Prediction by Padmasambhava

In the '“Life of Yeshe Tsogyel,” Padma Sambhava predicted that Yeshe Tsogyel would be reborn as Machig Lapdron; her consort, Atsara Sale, would become Topabhadra, Machig’s husband; her assistant and Padma Sambhava’s secondary consort, Tashi Khyidren, would be reborn as Machig’s only daughter, and so on. All of the important figures in Tsogyel’s life were to be reborn in the life of Machig Lapdron, including Padma Sambhava himself, who would become Phadampa Sangye. [ [ Women of Wisdom, Extract :MACHIG LAPDRON] by Tsültrim Allione]

Allione quoting from Machig Labdrön's teaching

cquote|As long as there is an ego, there are demons.When there is no more ego,There are no more demons either! --Machig Labdrön



*Allione, Tsultrim. "The Biography of Machig Labdron (1055-1145)," in "Women of Wisdom". Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559391413
*Allione, Tsultrim (1998). "Feeding the Demons." in "Buddhism in America". Brian D. Hotchkiss, ed. Pp. 344-363. Rutland, VT; Boston, MA; Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.
*Allione, Tsultrim (2008). "Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict." Little Brown and Company;. ISBN 978-0316013130.
*Benard, Elisabeth Anne (1990). "Ma Chig Lab Dron.” "Chos Yang" 3:43-51.
*Beyer, Stephen (1973). "The Cult of Tara". University of California Press. ISBN 0520036352
*Edou, Jérôme. "Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd". ISBN 1559390395
*Harding, Sarah (editor and translator). "Machik's Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd", a translation of a Tibetan Text with this name, along with a scholarly introduction and commentaries, 2003, Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559391820
*Kollmar-Paulenz, Karenina (1998). “Ma gcig Lab sgrn ma—The Life of a Tibetan Woman Mystic between Adaptation and Rebellion.” "The Tibet Journal" 23(2):11-32.

ee also

*Phadampa Sangye
*Lineage (Buddhism)
*Tsultrim Allione

External links

* [ Yogini Macik Labdron and the Formation of Chod Sect] - Section 2 of China Tibetology article: "Nuns of the unique Joyul (gcod-yul) Sect of Tibetan Buddhism"
*Summary of Machig's life from Jerome Edou's book []
* [ The Mother Essence Lineage, Part 2 – Ma-gÇig Labdrön and Jomo Menmo]
* [ Extract of Machig Labdron's biography by Tsultrim Allione]

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