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The Buddha Tree

Machig Labdron
Tib., ma gcig lab sgron
; Sole Mother Lamp (of Dharma) 
1031-1129 or 1055-1143 

    Machig Labdrön is a famous adept who finalized and set up the lineage of teachings known as Chö or Chöd ("cutting through clinging to the ego"). As such, she is one of the women who deeply influenced the development of Tibetan Vajrayana; and it is through her that a number of the most ancient shamanic practices have passed into some of the Tibetan schools. 

    Machig Lapdrön left her hometown La-phyi (in Tsang) after her "scandalous" cohabitation with Lama Thod-pa Bhadra (Tib., thod-pa, skull cup) at Grwa-thang monastery, by whom she had one daughter and two sons. The founder of this monastery, the terton Grwa-pa (1012-90), became her first teacher. However, her most important teacher was to be Phadampa Sangye (1045-1117), the "official" founder of the Chöd tradition, who taught her his specific manner of attaining mahamudra. 

    At some point, he told her to "go to the charnel grounds and to the mountains", to "leave studying behind" and to "become a wandering yogini". She followed his advice, left her family and went to live in caves and among the outcasts of society. Later, Machig Lapdrön also formed a specifically female branch (mo-gCod) of Chöd, and her teachings are still alive in this century. 

    Machig Lapdrön is generally believed to be an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal, but sometimes also of other historical figures. Legend has it that she received direct attention and initiation from the goddesses Mahamaya, Tara and Prajnaparamita. 

    One of her more recent lineage-holders was A-Yu Khadro (1837-1952!), who lived and taught in both Tibet and Nepal. Today, this tradition is represented in the West by Chödrön Namkhai Norbu. 

    When Pa Dampa Sangye came to Tibet, he found the people in the county of Tingri, which is near Mt. Everest on the Tibetan side, to be especially amenable to his instruction. He therefore settled in Tingri and established a school of Yoga practice there. A young Tibetan woman named Machig Labdrön (1055-1153) was one of those who became his disciple.

    Machig and her guru Dampa Sangye are generally viewed as the founders of the Chöd system. However, it would appear that Chöd itself is a blending together of Pa Dampa Sangye's teachings and Machig's native inheritance. Pa Dampa Sangye taught Machig the rudiments of Mahamudra meditation. Fairly soon after her meeting with Pa Dampa Sangye, the Tibetan woman Machig Labdrön went to live in Central Tibet, where she took up residence in a lonely cave and set herself to practice meditation. 

    Following her guru's instruction, she began by spending the first year completing the preliminary exercises (ngön-dro). Afterwards she went to a place called Zang-ri Khar-mar, which then became her residence for the rest of her life. It was there that she developed Chöd as a definite system of practice.


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