Machig Labdron was one of the most realized Tibetan yoginis and female teachers, who lived in the 11th century. She originated several lineages of the Chod practice and spread them all over Tibet for the benefit of all sentient beings. Till now the lineages of this powerful practice have been transmitted and kept alive thanks to many devoted disciples and practitioners around the world. The main principle of the Chod practice (lit. “cutting through”) is based on the idea of the so-called four “devils”, or “maras”, a concept firstly explained in the Prajnaparamita sutra.

While Machig Labdron was transmitting those precious teachings, one of her students, Gangpa Muksang, asked her to define what is the meaning of “devil” in the context of the Chod practice. In reply she gave him these profound expanations and practical advice on the perfect conduct:

“Son, listen. These are the characteristics of devils (bdud). That which is called ‘devil’ is not some actual great big black thing that scares and petrifies whomever sees it. A devil is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedom. Therefore, even loving and affectionate friends become devils [with regard to] freedom. Most of all, there is no greater devil than this fixation to a self. So until this ego-fixation is cut off, all the devils wait with open mouths. For that reason, you need to exert yourself at a skillful method to sever the devil of ego-fixation. As adjuncts, there are three devils that are born from ego-fixation; thus we have the four devils that must be severed.

These are their names:

Devil of the Material and Devil of the Immaterial;
Devil of Exaltation and Devil of Inflation.

“Those are the four devils of ego-fixation.

The Material Devil

“The material devil is the form that is seen with the eye. Attraction arises in relation to fine form, and the attitude of aversion arises toward bad form. In the same way, good and bad sounds, smells, tastes, and textures occur as the sense objects of the ear, nose, tongue, and body, and produce attraction or aversion. This is called the devil of dualistic grasping. One is attached to the [perceived] real existence of a sense object, and the sense organs get caught in the actual object of [attraction or] aversion. This creates the condition for harming sentient beings and thus becomes the cause of bondage to cyclic existence. For that reason it is called a devil. And it is called a devil because one is caught in the good and bad objects that really exist. Hence, ‘material devil.’

“Therefore, son, any good or bad thing that one clings to with attachment is a devil. Whatever the case, you must get rid of attachment and clinging. And as for form, the very essence of form is by nature empty. Therefore, son, since that form is by nature without real existence, you should meditate on that natural emptiness without attraction or aversion to form. You cannot stop form from appearing, [but realize that it is] mere appearance without grasping on to its valid existence. By eliminating clinging to that mere appearance, you will be liberated from form, noble son. It is the same with sound, smell, taste, and texture. Keep this in mind. This is the way of being of the material devil, and this is the way of liberation from that material devil.

The Immaterial Devil

“Listen, son. The immaterial devil arises like this, so pay attention and don’t let your mind wander. That which is called ‘the immaterial devil’ does not appear as an actual object of the senses. Rather, it is any of the good or bad concepts that arise in your own mind. They are called demons (’dre) when you apprehend them as frightful appearances that cause terror, and called gods when you apprehend them as pure appearances that cause cheerful and pleasurable experiences. In that way, the mental grasping at the two concepts of good and bad conditions the mind to become afflicted with emotion. Although afflictive emotion is without actual materiality and there is no real, actual object, it has the ability to inflict certain harm by causing you to stray into unvirtuous actions, so it is called a devil. Since it is not a real object and has no actual, material or sense-obstructing property, it is called the immaterial devil.

“The mind itself (sems nyid) that fixates on the duality of faults and qualities, such as the good ‘god’ and the bad ‘demon,’ has itself never had even a hair tip’s worth of actual reality in its own basic ground. Therefore it is known as groundless, rootless emptiness (gzhi med rtsa bral). Don’t try to block the sensations and such that arise in the mind. Also, don’t block any of the various good or bad thoughts and memories. Don’t even entertain any notions about them. Whatever thoughts and memories arise, don’t hold on to them by dwelling and reflecting on them. Mind itself is the clear nature of vast space, and any thought or memory whatsoever can arise within it. Just as waves and such can appear in the ocean without a mover, so any kind of
good or bad thoughts arise in the mind. If you let the mind rest in its own place without interfering, the immaterial devil will be overcome by splendor. Eliminating mental dualistic grasping and letting the mind relax into its own state without disturbance will liberate the immaterial devil in its own place, noble son.

The Devil of Exaltation

“The devil of exaltation is said to be the mental attachment in which one delights and exalts, thereby giving rise to a great joy. The causes of it [might
be] a tremendous amount of worldly prestige, gain, or fame; a large retinue; seeing the face of the deity; pacifying the pangs of disease by subduing demons with the power of spells; the arising of special meditative experiences; the arising of clairvoyance in vivid dreams; the blazing-up of bliss and power in body, speech, and mind; or the extensive service and worship rendered through the offerings of food, wealth, and enjoyments by gods, demons, and humans who have been irresistibly captivated. Delighting and exalting in any of these causes great arrogance and pride and becomes an obstacle on the path to freedom, so it is called a devil. It is given the name ‘devil of exaltation.’

“Therefore, whatever good things occur, however they arise, in the face of the nonduality of appearance and mind, don’t hold on to those qualities as qualities. Since neither the mind that delights and exalts nor the object of that mind has even a hair’s tip worth of permanent, true existence, understand it all as an illusion or a dream. Practice as if it were an illusion or a dream. Rest in the state of emptiness, free of all [dualistic] extremes of a mind gloating about its qualities or its objects. In that way, as you meditate in the illusory, dreamlike nature of all phenomena within great emptiness free of extremes and integrate it into the path, the dreamlike devil of exaltation will be severed and the welfare of all illusory, dreamlike beings will come to pass, noble son.

The Devil of Inflation

“Since the roots of these three devils reach down to inflation, it is extremely important to sever the root of inflation. Inflation (snyems) means ego-fixation (bdag ’dzin). Given that ego-fixation is the root of all problems and is the cause of wandering in cyclic existence, it is therefore the devil that withholds the attainment of freedom. Thus it is called the devil of inflation or the devil of ego-fixation. The mind that holds on to a self where there is no self has become afflicted. Then discursive thought holds on to any good or bad mental arising and fixates on it as true existence. That is called inflation. “The object (that which is inflated; snyems bya) and the subject (that which inflates; snyems byed ), or ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ all external and internal phenomena, are realized by the timeless wisdom of reflexive awareness (rang rig) as nonexistent, with no true reality. Then the root of fixation to true existence will be withdrawn from the object. Once inflation over thoughts of good and bad no longer arises, there is freedom from the extremes of all conceptual embellishment that causes mental creations and mental aspirations.

Ephemeral—dispossessed of mental designations.
Mind free and easy—fixation on I annihilated.
Pristine—incapable of disturbance by emotional conditions.
Clear—consciousness free of outer and inner dualities.
Transparent—awareness free of attachment to anything.

“Once you are free of the inflation of fixating on true existence, you will encounter the untrue, spacelike absolute. This severs the devil of inflated object. If the devil of the inflated object is severed, then all devils that arise from afflictive emotion are severed. When there is ego, then there is the devil. When there is no ego, there is also no devil. In no-ego there is no object to be severed, and so no fear and no terror. That timeless wisdom of awareness free of extremes expands intelligence to [encompass] all knowledge (shes bya). This is called the fruition of liberation from the four devils.

“These are a few words of explanation concerning the way to enumerate the four devils and the way to sever the four devils and liberate them in their own ground to attain the ultimate fruition. Gangpa, son with karmic destiny, and all of you fortunate ones, keep them in mind. Hurry and exert effort. Make it your priority and engender the vast mind of altruism.” Thus she spoke.

Source: Sara Harding, Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod.

Image: The Chod by Soyoolma Davaakhuu, www. dakiniasart.org.