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Embodying generosity : a comparison of Buddhist and feminist views of the body in the Chöd ritual

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Gabriel, Victor Charles




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Iwamura, Jane N.
Kassam, Zayn
Shakya, Miroj


This dissertation investigates Buddhist and feminist perspectives of the body as seen through the Tibetan Buddhist ritual of Chöd (gcod). Chöd is related to the family of body practices that express the "gift of the body" (lus sbyin). East Asian expressions of the gift of the body include practices of blood writing, body slicing, body mutilation, ritual exposure and self-immolation. In Chöd, the buddha nature (de bzhin gshegs pai snying po) of the practitioner is visualized as the yi-dam (meditational deity). Through a series of visualizations, the yi-dam chops up the practitioner's dead body. The chopped-up body is transformed into ambrosia, and this is offered to the various classes of enlightened and unenlightened beings.
Despite its gory imagery, Western Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and academics have often considered Chöd ritual as a positive feminist ritual for Western women. This dissertation explores how this statement is possible and contributes to this discourse by taking as its working basis two unique perspectives: Feminism and Tibetan Buddhism are considered as two equal dialogue partners; and the mystical experiences of feminist Chöd practitioners are a re-statement of Chöd and Tibetan Buddhism in/for the modern world.

Then, using the framework of the Three Vehicles, the dissertation surveys what Chöd says about the physical body. Chöd is explained as a body practice and the dissertation considers how Chöd practitioners experience their body; what the relationship is between the practitioner's physical body, the yi-dam's body, and the lus sbyin. The pre-understanding of Tibetan Buddhist Chöd practitioners is, next, contrasted with the pre-understanding of feminist Chöd practitioners. This pre-understanding is their sociocultural, historical and spiritual context by which Chöd becomes framed as a positive feminist ritual.

Degree Granter

University of the West



Library Holding