Padampa Sangye, Milarepa, and ཐག་ཆོད་

Mila and Dampa

It’s Winter Break, and I’ve had an insatiable appetite for hagiography. Having (re)read the “Lives” of Padampa Sangye, Marpa, Milarepa, Tsangnyon Heruka, and many others, I felt it appropriate to write about them.

Included herein is a translation of a song sung by Milarepa in praise of Padampa Sangye, taken from the latter’s biography. This song has great significance to me as a practitioner in the lineages of both Milarepa and Dampa Rinpoche, but it is also simply brilliant poetry. In particular, I would like to highlight the skillful and polyvalent use of the word/phrase “ཐག་ཆོད་.”

The Backstory

While the great yogin, Milarepa, is staying at the famous “Belly Cave,” Nyanang Dröphug (Tib.གཉའ་ནང་གྲོད་ཕུག་), he has a vision of Lion-Faced Dakini (Tib.མཁའ་འགྲོ་སེང་གེའི་གདོང་པ་ཅན་ or སེང་གེ་དོང་མ་). She exhorts him to go meet Dampa Rinpoche and so he sets off.

Around the same time, Lion-Faced Dakini also appears to Padampa Sangye and urges him to meet with Milarepa.

Right before the two meet, Milarepa decides to test Dampa’s clairvoyance. He transforms himself into a heap of flowers and waits. At first, Padampa Sangye pretends to be unaware of the trick and walks right past the flowers. Just as Milarepa is filled with doubt, Dampa turns around and kicks the the heap of flowers. He commands Milarepa to sing a song and gleefully exclaims how, upon the song’s completion, he and a retinue of flesh eating dakinis will feast upon Milarepa’s corpse in a tantric feast.

Milarepa, apparently impressed, sings a song in praise of Padampa Sangye. I have chosen to translate the title as “The Six Severings of Delight.”

Meditations on Thag Chod ཐག་ཆོད་

Throughout the song, “severing” (Tib. ཐག་ཆོད, Wyl. thag chod) has the dual meaning of both “cutting” and “deciding” (in a similar way that “sharp” can mean “intelligent” in English). It can also mean “having decided upon something with strong conviction,” or even “confidence.”

In the narrative from which this excerpt is taken, just prior to Milarepa singing this song, the Indian Siddha Padampa Sangye gleefully describes how he and a gathering of flesh eating dakinis are about to feast upon Milarepa’s body in a ganachakra puja (Tib. ཚོགས་འཁོར་བྱས, Wyl. tshogs ‘khor byas). This imagery is congruent with the “body offering” practice (Tib. ལུས་སྦྱིན་, Wyl. lus sbyin) performed in the “school of cutting” (Tib. གཅོད་ཡུལ, Wyl. gcod yul) that has become so closely associated with Padampa Sangye and his dakini-disciple, Machik Labdron.

Therefore, the repeated use of the verb “thag chod” (lit. “thoroughly cutting,” or “resolving”/“deciding”) has polyvalent significance. Paradoxically, “sever” could mean that the hero has abandoned the view, meditation, conduct, empowerment, pledge, and result, or it could mean that s/he has confidence in them. In this way, the verbalization of nondualism with “thag chod” fractally mirrors the oxymoronical motif of the song.

Lord Milarepa’s “The Six Severings of Delight”:

 

In isolated places where dakinis naturally gather,

What bliss, pondering the dharma in solitude!

Prostrations to the Hero that severs the self by the root.

 

Soaring deathlessly in unborn mind,

Dualistic perceptions of birth and death are liberated in their own place.

Severing the view, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

 

Soaring unwaverlingly, meditating without meditation,

Dualistic perceptions of meditation and non-meditating are liberated in their own place.

Severing meditation, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

 

Soaring unimpededly with spontaneous conduct,

Dualistic perceptions of “sacrilege” are liberated in their own place.

Severing conduct, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

 

Soaring in the nonattainment of initiationlessness,

Dualistic perceptions of the deity’s body are liberated in their own place.

Severing the empowerment, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

 

Soaring undefiledly, without regard for samaya ,

Dualistic ideas about “keeping vows” are liberated in their own place.

Severing the pledge, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

 

Soaring fearlessly, without hoping for results,

Dualistic perceptions of hope and fear are liberated in their own place.

Severing the fruit, how delightful!

Of such delight, Dampa is a treasury.

Translated from Classical Tibetan by the lyin’ lotsawa, Senge Drayang (Westin Harris). Responsibility for mistakes is his alone. May all beings benefit.

Source

གྲུབ་པའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་ཆེན་པོ་རྗེ་བཙུན་དམ་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་པར་ཐར་པ་དངོས་གྲུབ་འོད་ སྟོང་འབར་བའི་ཉི་མ།. Sangye, Lama, Ed. Vol. ༼ཅ༽. Dingri Langkor Tsuglag Khang, New Delhi: 2013. Pecha pp. 100-101.

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