Dharmapala Thangka CentreSchool of Thangka Painting

15.11 Macig Labdron [1]


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Macig Labdron, the "only mother, the lamp of Lab" [1055-1153], was the founder of the chod [Gcod] tradition and is one of the most renowned women of wisdom in Tibet. In his biography of her, Jamgon Kongtrul [1813-1899] offers an account f her divine origins, as is typical in Buddhist historical literature. In it he recounts the detailed narrative of her most recent existence prior to her rebirth as Machg Labdron.

Macig is born as an Indian yogin and prince whose name, rendered in Tibetan, is Monlam Drup. Monlam Drup receives Ordination at a young age and devotes most of his time to studying the Perfetion of Wisdom literature. On time, the youg man debates with non-Buddhists at Varanasi and triumphs, though he is then forced to flee.

Soon after, while meditating at potari cave near Varanasi, he beholds vision of dakinis such as Arya Tara, Mahayana, and Vajravarahi. These enlightened female figures instruct him to go to Tibet and teach. Finally, a wrathful dakini covered only with bone ornaments takes monlam Drup's life in a manner reminiscent of the chod rite itself' the dakini severs his head from his body with her hook knife and absorbs his consciousness. His youg lifeless body, twenty years of age, is the placed in the meditation vace, where it does not decay.

Meanwhile, his purified essential consciousness is propelled to Labchi, Tibet where it is transferred into the womb of Macig's mother -to-be. Biographies later report the appearance f many miraculous signs when a baby girl Macig is born with three eyes, and go on to describe her natural luminescence [which accounts for the name Dronma, meaning" lamp"]. While still a child she receives her first ordination and , like Monlam Drup, becomes particularly skilled in reading and reciting the perfection of Wisdom texts. By the time she is eight she can read two large volumes of sutras in the time it takes one adult professional reader to read just half a volume. Through these efforts, she gains clear insight into the empty nature of all phenomena.

As a grown woman , she meets the Indian yogin padampa sangye [d.1017], Who was spending the latter part of his life in Tibet. His disciple, Kyoton sonam Lama, gives her the pith instruction on using the nature of demons to free herself not only from petty dualism but also from even the slightest whisper of self cherishing. As a sign of her subsequent freedom form attachment, she gives up her orderly life as a nun and becomes a yogini, roaming the land, visiting the charnel grounds, and showing no concern for appearance, society, or property.

In a controversial move, she marries the yogin Top Bhadra and gives birth to three sons and two daughters. For some time, she lives in Kongpo in south eastern Tibet, but later moves to lhokha, where she remains in retreat until her death at age ninety nine. There she teaches numerous disciples, including her own Children.

One time, three Indians skilled in the yogi art of fleet fottedness arrive in Lhoka, sent there to determine whether or not Macig was truly an incarnation of the mother of all Buddhas or, instead, an evil demon. According to the story, Macig is not only able to instruct them in Sanskrit, but also testifies to her miraculous rebirth by recounting her past life as Monalam Drup. She subsequentyly orders them to rediscover and burn the body still preserved in Potari Cave. The three yogins, convinced of both the efficacy of Chod and Macig's authenticity, then carry her teaching back to India.

Macig Labdrom transmitted the chod teaching through both the direct lineage, denoting her revelations on the teaching of the perfection of Wisdoam sutras and vajravarihi, and the very direct lineage, consisting of a personal transmission received from the Wisdom Dakini. The practive of Chod, which mean "cutting asunder," involves the actual cutting off of any discursive thought process and the uprooting of any attachment to an illusory sense of self.

The chod ritual itself is a psychologivally subtle meditation experience which, through the imagined act of slaughtering one's own body, reveals the illusory nature of reality as intrinsically empty. Chod doctrine is spiritual efficacy as well as for its more worldly benefits" ritual health and fertility are believed to be increased, quarrels, illness, and hailstorms averted, and malevolent spirits exorcised.

This thanka depict machig Labdron surrounded by rainbow light, dancing ecstatically on a lotus wile shaking her drum and ringing a bell. Her white body is nude, indicating her freedom from all attachments and mental concepts. She is adorned only with human bone ornaments that symbolized the five perfections, or generosity, discipline, energy, patience, and concentration' she herself embodies the sixth perfection of wisdom.

Macig Labdron is regarded as the emanation body [nirmanakaya] of the great mother [yum chen mo], the limitless vastness of space. At her feet, in an imaginary landscape of hills and valleys, one notices the eight Tibetan symbols of good luck: wheel, conch, umbrella, victory banner, two fishes, endless knot, lotus, and vase and the seven attribute of a universal monarch wheel of dharma, wish fulfilling jewel, queen minister, elephant, horse, and general.

Above her, budha shakyamuni appears. At the left, the dark complexioned Indian Yogin Padampa sangye is shown displaying a drum and bone trumpet, the essential ritual instruments for Chod. Surrounding him are five lineage holders, among them a karmapa, a shamarpa, and Ratnashri. To the right, the red Vajrayogini, considered the Enjoyment Body [sambhogakaya] of the Great Mother, dances with her retinue' the blue Vajradakini, the yellow Ratnadakini, the red Padmadakini, and the green Karmadakini.

In the uppermost section of the painting, the golden form of the goddess Prajnaparamita appears out of rainbow rays that radiate from the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. In this form she manifests the Dharma Bodya [dharmakaya] of the great Mother and resides with her lotus and scripture as adornments. Next to her, Buddha shakyamuni, Green Tara, and two adepts reside. In the upper left of the painting, Simhasana Manushri appears atop a lion while, in the upper right, a dakini holds a skull cup and trident.

Finally, the lower porting of the thangka depicts the dance of the black dakini Krodhakali. Inside a flaming fire of Wisdom, she swings a human corpse over her head and blow the bone trumpet to summon gods and spirits to the offering feast. At the left, Damchen and Palden Lhamo Surround Bernakchen, the two armed Protector of the Karmapas while, at the right, three other protectors canter on their mounts.

Source: Tibetan Art Calendar 1999, May, Wisdom Publications, description by Dr. Andrea Loseries-Leick

Measurements: 14.6 x 23.6" | 37 x 60 cm
Price: on request
Shipment: Parcel Service from Germany or Nepal
Color: Color Version
Material: Natural Stone Colors