Dudjom Tersar Chod Practice
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The dynamic figure of Troma Nagmo (Tib. khros ma nag mo), the 'Wrathful Black Mother' (Skt. Krishna Kali, Krishna Krodhini), dominates the centre of this gold-on-black composition. She is extremely fierce, as youthful and nubile as a sixteen-year-old, and black in colour like the darkness at the end of time. With her right leg drawn up and her left leg bent in 'bow-and-arrow' posture, she dances upon the golden sun-disc of her lotus seat, with her left foot pressing down upon the breasts of a naked female demon that has been thrown down onto its back. This fierce demon reveals her sharp teeth and vagina, and her breasts are the 'seat of desire', thus her corpse represents the concept of the self-cherishing attitude that is sacrificed through the practice of the chod ritual.
Troma Nagmo's facial expression is ferocious and terrifying, with three round and angry red eyes that gaze piercingly towards the left, and a large gaping mouth that reveals her sharp teeth and fangs, and her twisting red tongue. Her nose is wrinkled as she frowns, and her red facial hair blazes upward like tongues of fire. The tawny-yellow locks of her matted hair swirl upwards like thunderclouds above her five-skull tiara, and from the crown of her head protrudes the wrathful black or brown head of a squealing sow that gazes up into the sky towards her right. Troma Nagmo's face represents her single potential and the 'relative truth', while the sow's face represents her perception of emptiness as the 'absolute truth'. Her black colour indicates her unchangeable nature, and her two heads the transformation of ignorance (sow's head) into wisdom or pristine awareness (dakini's head). Her three eyes perceive the three worlds and times; her four sharp canine teeth liberate the four maras or demonic obstructions; her twisting red tongue indicates that she leads beings from cyclic existence; her blazing facial hair indicates her triumph over hopes and fears, and her two legs represent the purity of samsara and nirvana.
As upper garments Troma Nagmo wears the freshly flayed and bloody skins of an elephant and a human, while around her waist she wears a tiger-skin skirt that has been loosened to reveal her pubic area. The arms of the human-skin are draped around her shoulders like a shawl, with its head at her right side and its legs billowing out near her thighs. Similarly, the white elephant-skin is stretched behind her back like a cloak, with its right legs draped over her shoulders, its head at her right side, its rump and tail at her left, with its left legs billowing out below. These three skins represent her triumph over ignorance (elephant-skin), desire (human-skin), and aggression (tiger-skin). She wears a golden tiara adorned with five jewel-topped dry white skulls, golden earrings, necklaces, bracelets, armlets and anklets; and the filigree bone ornaments of bracelets, armlets and anklets, little bone loops that hang from her crown, a bone belt, and an elaborate bone apron with sixty-four hanging loops. A long writhing green-black serpent encircles her chest as a sacred-thread, and around her neck she wears a garland of fifty blood-dripping heads that are strung together on a thread of human intestines. These fifty freshly severed heads represent the purification of speech as the mantra-rosary of the fifty Sanskrit vowels and consonants.
With her right hand she wields aloft the vajra-handled curved knife of the dakinis, which she circles towards the ten directions to terrify all maras or obstructive demons. This sharp knife severs the dualistic distinction between subject and object, and represents her ability to sever the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. With her left hand she holds a skull-cup full of blood in front of her heart, with strands of hair hanging from the base of the skull. The blood swirls in an anticlockwise direction to indicate her performance of the left-hand practices of the 'mother-tantra' traditions. While the blood-filled skull-cup symbolizes the cultivation of great bliss, and her ability to consume the blood of misperception. Resting in the crook of her left arm is the long white eight-sided shaft of her tantric staff or khatvanga, which represents the essence of Heruka, and her ability to perform all kinds of method activities or skillful means. The top of her khatvanga is adorned with the symbolic attributes of a golden crossed-vajra (Skt. vishvavajra); a golden nectar vase; a billowing white silk ribbon; a fresh red head; a decaying green head; a dry white skull, and the crowning symbol of a blazing iron trident. A blazing mass of awareness fire emanates from her body, and behind these orange-red flames appear the radiating golden light rays of her aura.
Encircling Troma Nagmo is her mandala assembly of eight directional dakinis, with the semi-wrathful form of Vajravarahi appearing directly above her head. Troma Nagmo is actually the extremely wrathful manifestation of Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo), whose name means the 'Indestructible Sow'. Vajravarahi is radiant red in colour and appears in a similar form to Troma Nagmo, but she is far less wrathful, and is only adorned with the five bone ornaments, a flower garland, and a long silk scarf that billows about her naked body. She likewise has the fierce head of a squealing sow protruding from her crown, bears the attributes of a curved knife, skull-cup and khatvanga, and stands in dancing bow-and-arrow posture with her left foot pressing upon the breast of a corpse.
Four of the other eight encircling dakinis are identical in appearance to Troma Nagmo and have the same kind of aura, although they are coloured to correspond to their Enlightened Families and the wisdom they embody. Troma occupies the central place as black Buddha-dakini, 'whose innate wisdom of the dharmadhatu overwhelms the ignorance of the gods and demons, who are subdued by her awesome splendor'. While the mirror-like wisdom of white Vajra-dakini in the east overwhelms their hatred: The wisdom of equanimity of yellow Ratna-dakini in the south overwhelms their pride: The discriminating wisdom of red Padma-dakini in the west overwhelms their desire; and the all-accomplishing wisdom of green Karma-dakini in the north overwhelms their jealousy. 'By the blessings of these Five Great Mothers all male and female demons, nagas and earth spirits, and the local spirits of place and body, are all tamed by their awesome splendor'.
The other four dakinis are distinguished by their right hand attributes and the appearance of their auras, which have radiating golden lines on the inside and a ring of flames on the outside. These four wrathful dakinis serve as guardians of Troma's four mandala gateways, and they hold in their right hands the subjugating attributes of an iron hook, a rope-noose, an iron-chain, and a bell. White Ankusi guards the eastern gateway, holding an iron-hook (Skt. ankusa). Yellow Pasha guards the southern gateway, holding a rope-snare (Skt. pasha). Red Sphota guards the western gateway holding an iron-chain (Skt. sphota). And green Ghanta guards the northern gateway holding a ritual bell (Skt. ghanta).
Outside the circle of dakinis are the four fierce animal-headed female protectors of Troma Nagmo's mandala, who all wear bone ornaments, human-skin shawls and tiger-skin skirts.
In the east is the snake-headed (Skt. nagamukhi) protector-goddess with a white body and the green head of a snake, who holds an iron-hook and a curved knife in her right and left hands. Her vehicle is a blue wolf with a human-skin saddle, which she rides amidst a swirling mass of wind and fire.
In the south is the lion-headed (Skt. simhamukhi) protector-goddess with a yellow body and the white head of a lion, who holds a vajra-hammer and a blazing jewel in her right and left hands. Her vehicle is a wild pink ass with a human-skin saddle, which she rides amidst billowing clouds and fire.
In the west is the vulture-headed (Skt. gridhramukhi) protector-goddess with a red body and the blue-green head of a vulture, who holds a flower and a book in her right and left hands. Her vehicle is a blue-gray vulture, which she flies upon amidst billowing clouds and fire.
In the north is the bear-headed (Skt. rikshamukhi) protector-goddess with a green body and the brown head of a bear, who holds a crossed-vajra and a serpent in her right and left hands. Her vehicle is a pink bear with a human-skin saddle, which she rides amidst a swirling mass of wind and fire.
Across the bottom of the painting, from left to right, are five Nyingma protectors: Yama Dharmaraja, Nagaraja, Rahula, Shri Devi, and Tsiu Marpo.
Yama Dharmaraja, the 'Lord of Death', is wrathful and blue-black in colour, with two arms, three round red eyes, a gaping mouth, and upward streaming hair. He wears gold and bone ornaments, a five-skull crown, a human-skin shawl, and a tiger-skin loincloth. His vehicle is a blue buffalo with a human-skin saddle, which he rides upon amidst swirling clouds and a blazing mass of awareness fire. With his right hand he holds his skull-topped 'club of death', and with his left hand he holds a rope-snare.
The serpent-king Nagaraja (Tib. klu'i gyal-po) is peaceful and white in colour, with two eyes and two arms. His head and upper body are human in form, while his lower body is that of a coiling naga-serpent. He stands amidst clouds as he emerges from the waters of a lake, and as a guardian of the underworld and its treasures, an assembly of jewel offerings appears in front of him. He wears jewel ornaments, a white turban, a long white silk scarf, an apron and a belt, and his head is crowned with a canopy of nine snakes. With his right hand he holds a serpent, and with his left hand a precious gem.
Rahula or Rahu, the 'Great planetary and eclipse deity', is maroon in colour with a stack of nine wrathful heads, which are crowned by the small black head of a terrifying raven. His lower body takes the form of a coiling naga-serpent, which is enclosed within a blood-filled triangular dharmodaya that is adorned with white skulls and flames. His powerful upper body is endowed with a 'thousand eyes', and a voracious and demonic face appears on his pot-bellied stomach. He is adorned with jewel and bone ornaments, a human-skin shawl, a silk belt and a long billowing silk scarf, and each of his nine wrathful heads are adorned with a five-skull crown. With his first pair of hands he holds a drawn bow and arrow, and with his second pair of hands he holds aloft a makara-dhvaja or 'crocodile banner' and a long green-black serpent as a snare.
Remati or Shri Devi (Tib. dpal-ldan lha-mo), the 'Glorious Goddess', is extremely wrathful and blue-black in colour, with three round red eyes, a gaping mouth, upward-streaming hair, and two arms. She rides sidesaddle upon her wild brown mule across an ocean of blood, with a mass of billowing wind surrounding her. The mule's saddle blanket is fashioned from the flayed skin of a raksasa or cannibal demon, and a single eye gazes from its rump. Its reins are made from poisonous serpents, and attached to these serpents are the upper skull of a raksasa and Shri Devi's four 'magical weapons', which consist of: a ball of variegated thread, a pair of spotted dice, a bundle of red curses, and a sack full of contagious diseases. She is adorned with gold and bone ornaments, a five-skull crown, billowing garments of embroidered silks, a human-skin shawl, and above her head floats a peacock-feather parasol. With her right and left hands she holds a curved knife and a blood-filled skull-cup in front of her heart.
In the bottom right corner is Tsiu Marpo (Tib. tsi'u dmar-po), the chief of the tsen (btsan) or 'violent demons' that often inhabit mountain passes. Along with his 'Six Blazing Brothers' Tsiu Marpo was oath-bound by Padmasambhava to serve as both an oracle and the protector of the treasury at Samye Monastery in Tibet. Tsiu Marpo is wrathful and red in colour, with three round red eyes, a gaping mouth, and tawny upward-streaming hair. He rides his brown horse amidst the swirling clouds, and is surrounded by a blazing mass of fire. He wears gold and bone ornaments, billowing garments of multicoloured silks, and a tiger-skin quiver and a leopard-skin bow-case hang at his right and left sides. With his right hand he hold the shaft of a spear-flag adorned with a billowing red pennon, while with his left hand he casts the 'red snare of the tsen demons.'
The wrathful offerings in the lower area consist of three skull-cups, with the two outer ones containing swirling blood and nectar, and the central skull containing the five torn-out sense organs of a human's eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and heart. Above again is an inverted skull containing the 'five great meats' that are forbidden for humans to eat, which are represented by the heads of a man, a dog, a horse, an elephant, and a bull (cow). The peaceful offering in the golden bowl to the left of Troma Nagmo contains the five delightful sense offerings of a mirror (sight), cymbals (sound), a conch filled with perfume (smell), fruit (taste), and a silk ribbon (touch). And in the golden bowl to her right are the 'eight auspicious substances': a mirror, precious medicine, yoghurt, durva grass, bilva fruit, a white conch shell, vermilion powder, and mustard seeds.
The floral profusion that surrounds Vajravarahi's aura extends upwards amongst the clouds, with some of its large convoluted leaves supporting the seven lineage holders that crown this composition. At the top centre is Samantabhadri (Skt. Kuntuzangma), the white consort of the blue 'Primordial Buddha' Samantabhadra (Tib. Kuntuzangpo), meaning the 'All Good', who is the source of many tantric transmissions in the early Nyingma traditions of Tibet. Samantabhadri's naked white bodily form is unadorned, and she sits in vajra-posture upon a moon-disc and lotus with her hands folded together upon her lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditation on emptiness.
To Samantabhadri's left is the great Indian mahasiddha and arrow-smith Saraha, who would later incarnate in the forms of both Dudjom Lingpa and Dudjom Rinpoche. Saraha appears in the typical yogic form of a mahasiddha, with a beard and a skull adorning his topknot, bone earrings, a cotton loincloth or dhoti, and he sits upon a deerskin and throne as he tests the straightness of the arrow he holds.
Seated upon a lotus-throne to the right of Samantabhadri is Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava, who wears his characteristic lotus-hat and the three robes that represent his mastery of the three Buddhist yanas or 'vehicles' of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. He holds a golden vajra in his right hand, while his left palm supports a nectar-filled skull-cup and a long-life vase, and his khatvanga rests in the crook of his left arm.
To Saraha's left is the dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, the principal Tibetan consort of Guru Rinpoche, who wears embroidered silk garments, felt boots, golden ornaments, and a five-jeweled tiara. With her two hands she makes the bindu-kapala-mudra, as she holds a skull-cup filled with nectar in front of her heart.
To the right of Guru Rinpoche is Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904), who is bearded like a mahasiddha and carries a terma text on top of his head. He wears silk robes and bone earrings as he sits upon a tiger-skin and his throne. With his extended right and left hands he holds a golden vajra, and a ritual-dagger or phurba made from meteorite iron. Dudjom Lingpa's main disciple, Gyurme Ngedon Wongpo, appears to the left of Yeshe Tsogyal, holding a skull-cup and wearing the robes and the pointed red hat of a Nyingma lama. While Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (1904-87), appears below Dudjom Lingpa on the far right, holding a treasure casket in his left hand.
© text by Robert Beer