Chod, in Tibetan Buddhism is a form of spiritual practice- it involves various, specific methods of meditation, vajrayana rituals (also known as Tantric Buddhism), and prajnaparamita philosophy. In English, Chod is usually called 'Cutting Through the Ego', as it's literal meaning is 'cutting through.'
What purpose does it serve?
The purpose of chod is to cut through that of 'kleshas', which are mental states that are believed to hinder one's self. These kleshas tend to manifest themselves in unfavorable ways. Some examples would be: Jealousy, anger, greed, ignorance, or lust.
These states are often referred to as 'inner demons.' Perhaps I will post an article soon focusing on the Kleshas themselves and beliefs associated around them.
A rather more odd klesha would be the dualism of perceiving the self as inherently meaningful, contrary to the Buddhist doctrine of no-self.
Chod, like all tantric systems, has outer, inner and secret aspects. I quote how they are described in an evocation sung to Nyama Paldabum by Milarepa:
''External chod is to wander in fearful places where there are deities and demons. Internal chod is to offer one's own body as food to the deities and demons. Ultimate chod is to realize the true nature of the mind and cut through the fine strand of hair of subtle ignorance. I am the yogi who has these three kinds of chod practice.''
Chod usually commences with phowa (a meditational practice, aka the practice of conscious dying, mindstream transference) in which the practitioner visualises their mindstream as the five pure lights leaving the body through the aperture of the sahasrara at the top of the head. This is said to ensure psychic integrity of, and compassion for the practitioner of the rite. This is called sadhaka. In most versions of the sdhana, the mindstream precipitates into a tulpa simulacrum of the dkin (a tantric deity described as a female embodiment of enlightened energy) Vajrayogin. A tulpa is an an upaya concept in Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, discipline and teaching tool. The term was first rendered into English as 'Thoughtform' by Evans-Wentz.
If you are not familiar with Buddhist terms, you may struggle in this part, however definitions will be provided.
In the body of enjoyment, attained through visualization, the sdhaka offers the ganacakra of their own physical body, to the 'four' guests: Triratna, kis, dharmapalas, beings of the bhavachakra, the ever present genius loci and pretas. The rite may be protracted with separate offerings to each maala of guests, or significantly abridged. Many variations of the sdhana still exist.
Meaning of terms used above:
Ganacakra- A term for various tantric assemblies or feasts, in which practitioners meet to chant mantra, enact mudra, make votive offerings and practice various tantric rituals as part of a sadhana, or spiritual practice.
Triratna- The Three Jewels, are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.
Dharmapalas- In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dharmapala is a type of wrathful deity. Eg: Rahu.
Bhavachakra- A symbolic representation of samsara (or cyclic existence) found on the outside walls of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Indo-Tibet region.
Genius loci- The protective spirit of a place. It was often depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding a Cornucopia, patera and/or a snake.
Preta- The name for a type of (arguably supernatural) being described in Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts that undergoes more than human suffering, particularly an extreme degree of hunger and thirst. They are often translated into English as "hungry ghosts". It is said that being a preta is worse than any hell.
In Chod, the adept symbolically offers the flesh of their body in a form of gaacakra or tantric feast. The skin of the practitioner's body may represent surface reality or maya. It is cut from bones that represent the true reality of the mindstream. Some commentators see the Chod ritual as cognate with the prototypical initiation of a shaman.
Traditionally, Chod is regarded as challenging, potentially dangerous and inappropriate for some practitioners. It must be used carefully.
Practitioners of the Chod ritual, Chodpa, use a kangling or human thighbone trumpet, and a Chod drum, a hand drum similar to but larger than the amaru commonly used in Tibetan ritual. In a version of the Chod sadhana of Jigme Lingpa from the Longchen Nyingthig terma, five ritual knives (phurbas), are employed to demarcate the maala of the offering and to affix the five wisdoms.
Key to the iconography of Chod is the hooked knife or skin flail (kartika). A flail is an agricultural tool used for threshing to separate grains from their husks. Similarly, the kartika symbolically separates the bodymind from the mindstream. The kartika imagery in the Chod ritual provides the practitioner with an opportunity to realize Buddhist doctrine, quoted:
'The Kartika or curved knife symbolizes the cutting of conventional wisdom by the ultimate insight into emptiness. It is usually present as a pair, together with the skullcup, filled with wisdom nectar. On a more simple level, the skull is a reminder of (our) impermanence. Between the knife and the handle is a makara-head, a mythical monster.'
A recurrent theme in the iconography of the Tibetan Buddhist tantras is a group of five or six bone ornaments, representing the bodies of various enlightened beings who appear in the texts.
The Hevajra tantra associates the bone ornaments directly with the five wisdoms, which also appear as the Five Dhyani Buddhas. These are explained in a commentary to the Hevajra tantra by Jamgon Kongtrul (quoted):
A) The wheel-like crown ornament, symbolic of Akobhya and mirror-like pristine awareness.
B) The earings representing Amitabha and the pristine awareness of discernment.
C) The necklace, symbolizing Ratnasambhava and the pristine awareness of total sameness (for lack of a better word) and equality.
D) The bracelets and anklets: Symbolic of Vairocana and the pristine awareness of the ultimate dimension of phenomena.
E) The girdle symbolizing Amoghasiddhi and the accomplishing pristine awareness.
F) The sixth ornament sometimes referred to is ash from a cremation ground smeared on the body.
Please do ask any questions you may have. If you found this interesting, I suggest you take a look into Vajrayana, the mindstream and the 'bodymind' concepts.
Please note I used the following people's work, books or sites as sources/references:
Wiki's Chod article
Edou, Jerome- Machig Labdron and the Foundations of Chod.