Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who Is Machik Labdron, and Why Do I Care About Her? (Part One)

The first time I can remember learning about Machik Labdron’s unique practice, chod or “cutting”—as in cutting attachment to the ego, the idea of “me” as an individual who is separate from others, and therefore special—was in Alexandra David-Neel’s book Magic and Mystery in Tibet.

In that book, David-Neel describes a conversation about a chod practitioner that she has with one of Tibet’s rinpoches, or precious teachers, in which the rinpoche tells her:

“It is hard to free oneself from delusion…to blot out the mirage of the imaginary world and to liberate one’s mind from fanciful beliefs. Enlightenment is a precious gem and must be bought at a high price. Methods to reach supreme liberation are many. You may follow another one, less coarse than that suited to the man whom you pity, but I am certain that your way must be as hard as that of my disciple. If it is easy it is a wrong one.”

If your path is easy, it is a wrong path. These words ring true for me, based on my own experience since taking refuge as a Buddhist just a few months before my father died in 1991. While I am not a great meditator, I do try to put the teachings of Buddhism into practice in my daily life; I can truthfully say that this is the hardest work I have ever done.

Like that of Janis Nelson, mentioned earlier in this blog, the story of Alexandra David-Neel’s life would make a great movie: from opera star to intrepid traveler to Buddhist practitioner who became, in all likelihood, the first Western woman to enter Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, during the time when Tibet was almost completely isolated from the Western world.

I can really see Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess fame, in the title role as Alexandra—but I digress.

David-Neel’s Tibetan name, bestowed upon her by one of her Buddhist teachers, was “Lamp of Wisdom.”

Several centuries before David-Neel’s visits to Tibet, the practice of chod had been established in Tibet by another female “lamp,” Machik Lapkyi Dronma or Machik Labdron—“One Mother, Light of Lap” (Lap being the region into which Machik was born).

Maybe one reason I resonate so strongly with these women is because my own given name comes from a Latin root meaning “light"—or maybe because, when I was learning to talk, “light” was my first word.

Hmmm, mentioning my own stuff—I guess I’m still attached to the idea of “me” as a separate, special individual. I guess the awareness of that attachment is one of the reasons I am drawn to the teachings of Machik Labdron.

1 comment:

  1. If your path is easy, it is a wrong path.

    These words ring true for me in a different way: I instinctively feel that if it's not taking effort, if it's not strenuous, if it's not making things harder, it's wrong. But what Buddhism has given me is counter-intuitive: After taking refuge in April of last year, I find that the easiest, gentlest, and most transformative thing I can do is to let go of all other paths and their attractions and simply practice Buddhism. Sit down for daily shamatha, read Dharma books, practice with friends, and keep the teachings in mind. So much simpler, so much easier, than anything else I have tried, and yet with infinite vistas of progress up ahead.