Chöd therefore is a subtle blend of the Buddhist path to enlightenment (as represented by the Mahamudra-master Dampa Sanggye) brought from India, and an ancient form of Shamanic ritual (introduced by the woman Machig Labdrön) that was native to Tibet. It was the merging of these two streams which resulted in the actual emergence of Chöd as a practice used by yogins today, in their desire to gain Enlightenment by the shortest possible path.
Thus Chöd is a more advanced form of shamanism, which has been raised to a higher level of perfection by virtue of its blending together with the innermost teachings of Mahamudra.
Machig herself said:
“My system of Chöd consists of the intrinsic teachings of Mahamudra. This Mahamudra cannot be explained in words. Yet, although it is beyond verbal expression, it may be indicated [by means of the symbolism of Chöd].”
Traditionally speaking, the path of yoga is a path of self-mastery and the yogin is one, whether male or female, who aims for perfect Enlightenment. This is not a shamanic path.
The way of the shaman, on the other hand, has always been a path involving communion with other powers and spirits, and in many cases the attainment of Enlightenment may not be perceived as its goal at all. A shaman or shamaness, by definition (vide Prof. Hutton, Shamans, Hambledon & London, London 2001), is “someone who works with spirits to help others.” The shaman channels these spirits, to accomplish definite ends, such as healing or gaining access to knowledge of some kind. But Chöd combines the path of Enlightenment and Shamanism into one.
Chöd’s special appeal for women
Chöd practice has had a special appeal for women, perhaps because it was largely founded by a woman saint (Machig Labdrön was the “Mother” of Chöd). All down through history, women have been spiritual leaders in the Chöd tradition. Besides having been created by Machig Labdrön herself, and also attributed to Princess Yeshe Tsogyal, other famous woman figures in the Chöd tradition include Shukseb Zangmo (1852-1953, herself considered to be an incarnation of Machig), Jomo Menmo (1248-1283), Jetsunma Mingyur Paldron (1699-1769, the daughter of Terdag Lingpa), Jetsunma Thinley Chodron, a teacher of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Sera Khadro Kunzang Wangmo (1899-1952). At the Shukseb Convent near Lhasa, more than one hundred Ka’gyu nuns still follow our tradition of the mKha’-‘groi Gad-rGyangs Chöd, a practice revealed by the great mystic Jigme Lingpa.