About the Artwork

Machig Labdron, or Machik Labkyi Dronma (circa 1055-1153), was the famous yogini who founded the Chöd lineage of practice in Tibet, and her main teacher was the Indian yogin-mahasiddha, Padampa Sangye. The name Machig means 'One-Mother', and Lab refers to the province that she came from in Southern Tibet. The Chod or 'cutting' practice is derived from the early Prajnaparamita or 'Perfection of Wisdom' teachings, which seek to overcome the self-cherishing attitude and the belief in an inherently existing self, which are viewed as the two main obscurations to self-liberation. These obscurations are symbolized in the sacrificial form of one's own body, which is visualized as an 'object of cutting' (Tib. chodyul) that is chopped into small pieces and presented to the hungry ghosts and tormented spirits as a feast offering. The Chöd rite is traditionally performed as a solitary practice in the terrifying nocturnal setting of a haunted charnel ground. Such fearful places bear little resemblance to cemeteries or churchyards in the West, which are really gardens of love and remembrance. The beautiful and hypnotic prayers that accompany the Chöd practice are sung to the rhythm of a hand bell and a large wooden Chöd drum or damaru.

Machig Labdron stands upon a white moon disc and a multicolored lotus in dancing bow-and-arrow posture, with the heel of her right foot drawn up to her pubic area. She is beautiful, youthful, radiant and white in color, and her naked body is adorned with the golden ornaments of a five-jeweled crown; earrings; a short, medium and long necklace; bracelets, armlets and anklets. She has a sweetly smiling face with three bow-shaped eyes. Half of her sapphire-black hair is piled-up into a topknot, while the other half hangs freely behind her back. With her raised right hand she rattles a chod-damaru fashioned from two human skulls, which has four striking pellets and a triple-valance of silk brocade adorning its golden handle. With her left hand she rings an upturned bell, which she holds at the level of her hip.

Shakyamuni Buddha appears upon the lotus directly above Machig Labdron's red halo, and above Shakyamuni is the four-armed wisdom goddess, Prajnaparamita. She is golden-orange in color and sits with her first pair of hands resting upon her lap in dhyana-mudra, and her second pair of hands holding aloft a rosary and a text on the 'Perfection of Wisdom'. Seated amidst the clouds above Prajnaparamita are the sambhogakaya manifestations of the 'Five Buddhas', with white Vairocana at the center, blue Akshobhya in the east, yellow Ratnasambhava in the south, red Amitabha in the west, and green Amoghasiddhi in the north. Crowning the top of this assembly is blue Vajradhara, the primordial or 'Sixth Buddha', who is the source of the main lineages of tantric transmission in the Sarma or later schools of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

© text by Robert Beer

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