THE TEACHING OF PHOWA
(TRANSFERENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS AT THE TIME OF DEATH)
ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING OF THE PATUL RINPOCHE IN THE "KUNSANG
LAMI SHELLUNG" --SHORTENED AND TAUGHT BY THE VENERABLE K.C.
AYANG RINPOCHE OF THE DRIGUNG LINE OF KAGYUDPA, BYLAKUPPE,
KARNATAKA STATE, INDIA.
According to the Tibetan custom, in the event of someone dying, a
member of the family of the dying person would request a Lama to
perform the "phowa" ceremony (i.e. Transference of consciousness at
the time of death.)
The Lama performing the ceremony would have himself mastered the
art of phowa (transferring the consciousness at the time of death)
after having previously been initiated into the practice and
meditation given only to Tulkus (Incarnates) and retreated to the
hills to carry out the practice which he would continue night and day
until the signs he was told to watch for (at the time his initiation)
He would then leave his retreat equipped now to instruct monks,
nuns and lay people in the practice. He would however, continue to
perform the practice at least once a month. When he becomes aware of
the signs of his approaching death (signs he was taught to recognize
during his retreat period), he would meet the eventuality with a great
calmness and equanimity.
All the Tibetans are familiar with this practice. During the summer
months at the end of every twelfth year when the plains were richly
verdant after the white of winter, one could see the trek of Tibetan
pilgrims walk to the small temple at Bhum Ngu Sumdo in which phowa had
been given for the first time to the people of Drigung .
They would pitch huge white tents, a stark contrast to the yellow
and maroon robes of the monks and nuns and the colorful chubas (the
traditional dress) of the women and children and summer flowers, in
preparation for three weeks stay for the performance of "PHOWA" by the
head Tulku of Drigung Lamas.
This teaching of "PHOWA" is with the Venerable K.C. Ayang Rinpoche
who continues this uninterrupted succession of the Drigung line of
Phowa Lamas from the Supreme Guru Dorje Chang to Tilopa, Naropa,
Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa up to the present time. He now resides at
the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist Kagyudpa Monastery: "THUBTEN SHEDRUB
JANGCHUBLING" in the Tibetan settlement, Bylakuppe in Karnataka State
When taking the initiation of Phowa, it is important to receive the
initiation from a Tulku (i.e. Incarnate Lama) who continues the line
of succession of the Phowa lineage of Gurus. The blessings of such an
initiation will render the practice safe as the blessings of the
lineage will flow unhampered to meet the disciple and bring with them
Should the Phowa be attempted without this very vital precaution
the results will not be the same and the practitioner will be faced
with many dangers.
Faith in the Lama Tulku is of primary importance. If the faith is
very strong, coupled with devotion, then the results will be very
powerful and immediate. If the faith is not of the highest strength
then the results will be medium and so on . . and where there is
little faith, no good results can be expected, however much you may
In the root Tantra, "GYUD" it is written:
Even if a man is so sinful that he kills a holy man every day and
has committed the five Heavy Sins, if he goes on this path of Phowa
the veils of sin will not remain. For the men of many sins and for all
beings, this is the Path of liberation which is direct and secret.
Urgyan Rinpoche said, "By meditation all can attain Enlightenment.
My meditation is that which is called "MA GOM PI" (i.e. spontaneous
without meditation effort) . . . "
Naropa says, 'There are nine Gates which are of the world but there
is only one which is the gate of Mahamundra (Nirvana). If you shut the
nine Gates then you will get the Path of liberation without any
Marpa Lotsawa said, "From now, if you study Phowa, purify, purify
time and time again. Then, at that time, when death is approaching you
will know no despair. If, beforehand, you have become accustomed to
this Path of Phowa then at the time of death you will be full of
cheerful confidence .... "
Over and above the Nine ordinary apertures of the body called
"buga", there is a 'Crest' aperture, and the virtue of doing this
practice of Phowa is to be able to think of this crest aperture at the
time of death and to direct the consciousness through this gate into
the pure land of the Buddha, the Buddha-field (DEWA CHEN).
The profound Path of Phowa is the Holy Way of the Buddhas which is
Dharma rapidly realized spontaneously without meditation effort.
Account of the Great Drikun Phowa
It is very difficult to attain the precious human body and having
attained it one must utilize it to reach Buddhahood through the proper
hearing, contemplation and meditation of the precious teachings. Even
if one has attained human birth, it can suddenly end without warning.
Because of the overwhelming power of laziness in the postponement of
our practice, one's life ends without one even realizing it, because
life is so short and the galloping Mara of death is so quick. When
death comes we have no escape, we have to accept it and go on to the
next life. At this time neither your accumulated wealth nor your dear
ones nor your cherished body -- nothing can help except the precious
In the precious teachings, Lord Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Dharma
to suit the different levels of understanding and to different
dispositions of all beings through Shravakayana, Pratyekayana and
The Mahayana consists of Hetuyana (cause) and Phalayana (fruit).
The Hetuyana or the Sutrayana consists of all the practices without
the tantric initiations. In the Phalayana or the Vajrayana there are
many means (paths) to attain enlightenment through the Arising and
Completion processes but one must diligently practice over a period of
time before one can realize one's Buddhahood .
In the Vajrayana, the Phowa practice is the most direct and the
quickest path for one to achieve enlightenment. It is said that even
the heaviest of sinners has a chance for enlightenment through the
practice of the Phowa. "There are teachings for one to become
enlightened, but I have a teaching (Phowa) that offers enlightenment
without meditation", said Marpa, the great translator and the father
of the Kagyu Lineage.
The Phowa "Jaktshukma" (the standing grass blade) Linage is one of
the precious phowa practices. In the eighth century, the Dharma king
of Tibet, Thri-song Deu-Tsen invited the great Indian tantric master,
Guru Padmasambhava, to Tibet and they built the Samye monastery. Guru
Padmasambhava was residing in Ch'im-phu cave in the vicinity of Samye
when an important minister of the king, Nyima, had a tragedy. Nyima,
who had two palaces and was in the process of moving from one to the
other, was packing some belongings by the light of a lantern when a
small spark caused a fire which instantly burned down the whole palace
tragically killing thirteen people including his parents. All his
horses, mules, cattle and other animals also perished in the fire.
Minister Nyima, thinking of the love and respect that others show
their parents felt that he had committed the heaviest of sins by
causing the death of his parents and others.
The king desiring to end the suffering of his minister went to
Ch'im-phu cave to request the help of Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava by
miraculous power went to the Pure Land to see Amitabha Buddha. He told
Buddha Amitabha about the suffering of Minister Nyima and of all
sentient beings and asked Amitabha to give a special teaching to free
them from suffering. Buddha Amitabha gave this Phowa teaching to
Padmasambhava who gave it to Minister Nyima who then gave up all
worldly activities to practice the Phowa which he eventually
actualized. Through the path of Phowa, Minister Nyima's consciousness
attained the Pure Land when death came and many different signs
appeared like rainbows and relics from his body.
This text was hidden in the Black Mandala Lake which is at the
backside of Dhaglhagampo Hill. The Naga king, Tsurana-Ratna, asked to
be the guardian of this text and was told by Padmasambhava that the
future incarnation of Minister Nyima would be Nyida Sang-gye and that
he must give the text to him.
Padmasambhava then left to go to the land of the Rakshas. After
more than 350 years the incarnation of Minister Nyima was born as the
son of a shepherd. When Nyida Sang-gye was growing up he felt great
compassion and wept tears of sorrow when the animals would die.
In order to alleviate his great suffering, Buddha Amitabha appeared
to him and gave him this Phowa teaching for the benefit of all
sentient beings. Nyida Sang-gye then gave Phowa to all the dying
animals and often many different signs appeared.
The Naga-king then came to Nyida Sang-gye and told him of the
Hidden Text (Ter-ma) and Nyida Sang-gye took the Ter from the Black
Mandala Lake and gave the teaching to the Sagas. Through this teaching
many of the Nagas were reborn into a higher life.
After this Nyida Sang-gye gave many teachings to human beings
through which many reached liberation.
This transmission of the teaching is held by the Drikung Kagyudpa.
The devoted practitioner who has no doubt in the qualified Lama and
teachings can experience the sign of Phowa merely through receiving
the Lung (Blessing Transmission). This has been experienced by many
practitioners around the world.
The Drikung Kagyu Linage is one of the lineages of Tibetan
Buddhism. The founder, Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon (1143-1217) - thought of
as the second Buddha was the Vajra-regent of Phagmo Drupa who was the
chief lineage holder of Gampopa (1079-1153).
The Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism holds the precious
teachings of all the yanks which Shakyamuni Buddha taught for the
benefit of all sentient beings. This lineage also possesses the
complete transmission of the meditative practices of the Five-Profound
Paths of the Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. The Drikung order
is famous for its ability to successfully transfer the power of the
Phowa meditation to initiated and devoted practitioners who practice
it. Thus, the Phowa transmission given by the Drikung Lamas came to be
known as the 'Drikung Phowa Chen-mo' - the Great Drikung Phowa. The
Drikung Phowa became so powerful that it became a tradition in Tibet
to have a Drikung Phowa Ch'en-mo ceremony every twelve years at
Dro-ngor Sum-dho at Drikung in central Tibet. The fame of this Phowa
continued to spread as thousands of participants would experience the
signs of the Phowa during the 'Lung' (Blessing Transmission) given by
a head Lama of Drikung Kagyu. Due to the accumulated energy of the
lineage and the blessing of the teaching itself, the qualified Lama is
able to directly transfer the blessings of this practice to the pure
and devoted disciples who can experience the signs very quickly. When
one has received any of the signs of the Phowa meditation, then one is
considered to be prepared to enter into the Buddha-field of Amitabha
Buddha (Dewa-chen) at the time of death. It is taught that one does
not return to the samsaric realms after having entered Dewa-chen and
that one can quickly achieve Enlightenment. Because of all this, the
Drikung Phowa is becoming particularly relevant in these times simply
because in today's society we do not have the time nor the
circumstances to walk the spiritual path of the Dharma as did our
predecessors in the past. We desperately need a spiritual path that is
simple, relevant, and direct, enabling us to transform the stresses
and pace of modern life into a vital force that cuts through
materialism and attachment to worldly phenomenal, and awakens in us
the realization of our Buddha-natures.
The Drikung Phowa meditations is simple and yet powerful. We have
the same opportunity as did the thousands of people in Tibet to master
the Phowa practice, enabling us to transform the experience of death,
which is a certainty, into a passage to the realization of Dewa-ch'en
(Blissful, Pure Land). Today, we have His Holiness the Drikung
Kyabgon, the Vaira-regent of Lord Jigten Sumgon who is the incarnation
of Chenrezig, imparting this teaching as well as other Drikung Lamas
like the Venerable K.C. Ayang Rinpoche who is traveling the world to
impart these precious teachings to fortunate human being