Jeffrey W. Cupchik, Ph.D. Research Interests

Chöd Damaru Drum

Machik Labdrön (1055-1153)
Founder of the Chöd Tradition

The Tibetan Chöd (gCod¹) Tradition

Buddhism as Performing Art

The eleventh-century Tibetan ascetic Machik Labdrön (Ma gcig Lab sgron, 1055-1153) developed the Chöd (Tib. gCod, “to cut”) tradition, a musical-meditation Vajrayana (tantric) method to "cut-off" the root of suffering -- "self-grasping" -- which is defined as the mistaken instinct of regarding one's self and all phenomena as intrinsically, or independently, existent. Her musical-meditation method became renowned across Central Asia during her lifetime, and Chöd ritual practices and liturgies have been transmitted from teacher to disciple in unbroken lineages until today. The ritual is now well known globally, with Tibetan Lamas, nuns, and empowered exponents teaching widely, across a transnational Diaspora, to Tibetan Buddhists engaging in the practice.

This research combines textual work, ethnographic fieldwork, musical apprenticeship, cultural immersion, and music analysis. A multidisciplinary approach is important for research into Buddhist ritual music because meaning is conveyed in different ways by Tibetan Lamas for disciples as they achieve different levels of understanding and skill in ritual performance. Not all esoteric meanings, ritual performance instructions, and accordant meditative practice directions can be found in a sadhana (liturgical text), nor even in its yig-chung (the small script within sadhanas that provides ritual performance instructions). Rather, it is traditional that a great deal of instructional advice be retained in the parallel oral traditions, where it is safe-guarded by Lamas and their lineage exponents.

¹ The phoneticization of gCod as Chöd throughout is used to facilitate reading.
² Sadhana refers to a ritual practice's liturgical text. The term literally means "method of accomplishment," and denotes that by practicing a particular sadhana liturgy, or "method," one can achieve enlightenment.

Full text: The Tibetan Chöd Tradition: An Overview