Chöd practice for the challenge of our times

Chöd practice for the challenge of our times


Lama Döndrup introduces the practice of Chöd and gives an overview of Sukhasiddhi’s offerings for the coming year that will help us cut through obstacles and embody the dharma.

Confess your hidden faults
Approach what you find repulsive
Help those you think you cannot help
Anything you are attached to, give that
Go to the places that scare you.
~ Padampa Sangye’s instructions to Machig Labdrön

PADAMAPA SANGYE’S INSTRUCTIONS to Machig Labdrön provide sage guidance as we step into this new decade, which has already proven to be turbulent. The path forward calls for reflection and listening deeply to what is being called forth as we renew our aspiration to wholeheartedly travel this spiritual path, not only to liberate ourselves, but to be of service and benefit others.

Sukhasiddhi Foundation has been engaging in this sort of reflection on an organizational level and we enter this new decade by launching freshly designed class and program formats. There are a wide variety of offerings planned for 2020. In January and February, we are deepening our understanding of and connection with the feminine aspect of awakened mind, and special attention will be given throughout the year to Machig Labdrön’s Chöd teachings and practice.

Machig was a female Tibetan spiritual adept who lived in the 11th-12th centuries. Her name means “One Mother Lamp of Dharma” and she developed a practice tradition that lights the path to freedom by helping us to recognize our true nature and the true nature of all phenomena. Chöd is a bold practice that can skillfully meet the depth of the challenges we face at this time, both on personal and global levels.

Machig’s method is designed to help us recognize that not only is there no self that needs to be protected but that who we truly are is indestructible and primordially pure. Habitually, we mistake the empty, open aspect of mind as a self and the luminosity or clarity aspect as other. Once we coalesce around a sense of self, we take our body, which is subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death, to be who we are, and we instinctually act on the need to protect that self. This motivates us to draw towards us phenomena that we consider to be safe and enjoyable; to push away or withdraw from phenomena that we perceive as unsafe, harmful, or unpleasant; and to simply ignore or choose not to give attention to experiences or phenomena that we don’t feel impact us one way or the other.

All of these reactions serve to reinforce a sense of a self and entrench us further in habitual patterns that lead to suffering and therefore are obstacles on our path to freedom. These obstacles are referred to as lha ‘dre which can be translated as god-demon. Here, “god” is referring to any experience that we draw towards ourselves and “demon” is referring to any experience that we push away. Machig’s method is radical in that it is centered around intentionally calling forth these forces that obstruct our path and feeding them our body, that which we identify as a self that needs to be protected.

Chöd is a rich practice that makes use of beautiful melodies, drum, bells, and horns. The sangha will do this profound practice together on Sundays during February as a part of the current Sukhasiddhi Sunday Series, which has a focus on the divine feminine. On Sunday mornings, the Chöd ritual is preceded by Green Tara practice and a class on the five Wisdoms and the five Buddha Families, with a focus on the female buddhas. In the summer, we will follow this up by taking a deeper dive into Chöd practice with a two-week non-residential retreat.

Another area of focus this year is embodying the teachings and practices. Lama Pat is leading a new monthly class called “Awake in the World,” which is focused on fully integrating the teachings so that they are a lived experience as we move about in our daily lives. Guest teacher, Susan Shannon will be presenting four classes throughout the year on Shantideva’s text “The Way of the Bodhisattva.” This is a great opportunity to learn from a teacher who has a depth of experience in restorative justice, emotional literacy, fostering interconnectedness and healthy community engagement. For many years Susan has done remarkable and inspiring work developing and presenting transformational programs in the prison system.

We are honored to have Kalu Rinpoche coming to visit the Center in April! He will be offering a Niguma evening empowerment and will follow this with two days of teaching on shamatha and the nature of mind. This will be followed in June with a visit from our founding teacher, Lama Palden as she makes her first trip back to the US after relocating to Portugal. And I am excited to announce that Lama Drupgyu will be joining the sangha for our annual residential retreat in June.

Our depth programs have also undergone a transformation and two are accepting applications. Our Dharma Training Program is entry-level program is designed to provide a solid foundation of Buddhist teachings in a systematic way that is supported by individual guidance from a teacher and the support of a cohort of fellow practitioners. This new DTP format allows for participants to move at a pace that works in the context of one’s everyday commitments to family and work. We are in the first weeks of a new DTP module and the program is still open to new applicants.

For those who have completed ngöndro and are interested in studying the core practices of the 3-year retreat curriculum, Lama Palden and Lama Tashi have re-designed the Shangpa Program and which will begin in June. This program offers the opportunity to engage in yogic training in the midst of daily life and is also accepting new applicants. Simultaneously, the Lineage Program, our most advanced program, has also been newly formatted and renamed as the Vajra Sangha as they deepen their leadership role in the sangha and continue their advanced studies and practice.

These new developments, along with our ongoing Monday evening meditation with Barbara Juniper and Tuesday morning Lujong and meditation with Trinity Sipila and Gitte Dobrer will provide a rich tapestry of offerings that will inspire and propel us further along the path. Please join us in this journey of recognizing our innate wisdom and compassion as we explore together how this can be embodied so that we can be of service and benefit to our communities and all beings.