Phowa (Transference of Consciousness)

By Stanzin Dasal LEH, Aug 17, 2016
The word Phowa means the transference of consciousness from the samsaric realms to the land of Amitabha Buddha (Dewa-chen). The great Tibetan translator Marpa , once said “There are teachings for one to become enlightened, but I have a teaching (Phowa) that offers enlightenment without meditation”.  This means that even the biggest sinners have a chance of enlightenment through the practice of Phowa. 
In the 8th century, Buddhism was not so flourished in Tibet, King of Tibet; Chosgyal Thrisong Detsen invited Guru Padmasambhava and built Samyas monastery. Guru Padmasambhava used to reside in Chimphu cave of Samye.  It was a time when Lonpo Nyima, a very important minister of the king, met with a tragedy. The minister was shifting to one of his seasonal palace when a small spark from the lantern fell off while packing up the things.  The spark caused massive fire burning down the whole palace.  The fire killed thirteen people including his parents. Horses, cattle’s and other animals also perished in the fire.  The death of people and animals made the minister felt as the heaviest sinners. He started living in guilt, grief, and sorrow.
Looking at the Lonpo’s grief and sorrow the king went to Chimpu cave to seek help from Guru Padmasambhava to end the suffering. After listening to the entire story, Padmasambhava with his power went to see Buddha Amitabha. He explained about the suffering of  Lonpo Nyima and asked for a teaching to end all the suffering. Buddha Amitabha gave the Phowa teaching to Guru Padmasambhava and instructed to impart the teaching solely to the Lonpo for the time being.  After that Guru Padmasambhava returned and gave the phowa teaching to Lonpo  Nyima after which he practiced and his consciousness attained the land of Buddha  or the Pure Land.
The text was treasured and hidden in the black Mandala Lake situated at the backside of the Daglaghampo hill.  Guru Padmasambhava asked naga king Tsurana Ratna to guard the text and told that after 300 years, Lonpo Nyima will be reborn as Nyida Sangyas and the text must be given to him. After 300 years, the Lonpo was reborn as a son of a shepherd and was known as Timed Lotos. He was very compassionate and loving towards the animals. He often used to wept tears of sorrow when animals die.  Looking at his grief and sorrow, Buddha Amitabha appeared to him and gave the Phowa teaching for the benefit of all sentient beings. After this, he practiced and gave phowa to all the dying animals.  Then the Naga king came to him and told about the hidden text. He then took the text and imparted the teachings further and thus came to know as Terton Nyida Sangyas.
The teaching was passed on as a single lineage from one person to another person and it was never transmitted to the masses. 
The practice of Phowa can be done only after receiving the Pho Lung or the Oral transmission.
 “Great Drikung Phowa” is so called and famous because of its great blessing and power, that it can be attained by a person who died up to a distance of an 18-days ride of a horse.
How to practice
Assume the seven meditation postures of Vairochana, preceded by refuge and Bodhicitta prayers. We have to visualize and the centre of the body is the central channel hollow like a tube; the heart level is joint on which a four-petalled lotus is there with a red sphere, size of a pea depicting the nature of consciousness. The upper end of the central channel is opened and right upon sits the Amitabha Buddha in a Maitreya position closing the opening of the central channel the crown with its right toe. With the sound of “HIK” for the seven times push the pea size sphere up at each sound till it reaches the crown and touches the Amitabha Buddha‘s toe. At the end of the session, with the sound “KA” pull down the sphere to its original location.
The phowa teaching for the dead or dying person is different. Above the crown of the head, on a lotus with the moon and sun throne, sits Buddha Amitabha in the Vajra pose. Instead of the word HIK the word PHET is recited and the final word Ka is not used.
Indication or signs
There are many indications or signs after attaining the Phowa practice. Proper practice is very important for the accomplishment.  A white and red colored blood or the Changsem sem karmo appears from each nostril of the dead man.  There are many other signs which indicate the attainment of the practice. 
The prime importance is to have faith and pure heart.  The result will be very immediate and powerful if the faith is very strong.
Practicing and studying phowa leads to the purification of the consciousness. Phowa is especially important to release from worldly attachments that can hold the spirit back and offering liberation. It can benefit all sentient beings.
Looking at the change in society where people have no time to walk on the spiritual path it becomes immense important to practice Phowa in order to transform the stresses and keep away from the attachments to awake and realize Buddha-natures.
After attaining and understanding the oral transmission or the Pholung one can practice the phowa daily.