Phowa (Skt. saṃkrānti; Tib. འཕོ་བ་; Wyl. ‘pho ba) is the practice for directing the transference of consciousness at the time of death, either for oneself or another.
The consciousness may be transferred to the dharmakaya nature, to a pure realm such as Sukhavati or to a favourable existence in the human realm.
The practice is one of the Six Yogas of Naropa, but is also to be found in many other lineages and systems of teaching, including the Longchen Nyingtik and Namchö cycles.
Although it is included among the so-called 'five practices of enlightenment without meditation, it does require a thorough training before it can be put into effect successfully.
Moreover, the teachings advise that phowa for others should only be undertaken by someone who has reached the path of seeing.
Tsele Natsok Rangdrol lists five kinds of phowa:
Patrul Rinpoche mentions another list of five kinds of phowa:
- Superior transference to the dharmakaya through the seal of the view
- Middling transference to the sambhogakaya through the union of the generation and completion phases
- Lesser transference to the nirmanakaya through immeasurable compassion
- Ordinary “phowa of three recognitions”: recognition of our central channel as the path; recognition of our consciousness as the traveller; and recognition of the environment of a buddha realm as the destination.
- Transference performed for the dead with the hook of compassion
In the Dzogchen teachings, two kinds of transference are sometimes mentioned:
Phowa (Wylie: 'pho ba; also spelled Powa or Poa phonetically; Sanskrit: saṃkrānti) is a Vajrayāna
Buddhist meditation practice.
It may be described as "the practice of conscious dying", "transference of consciousness at the time of death", "mindstream transference", or “enlightenment without meditation” (Wylie: ma-sgom sangs-rgyas).
Application of Phowa
The method can be applied at the moment of death to transfer one's consciousness through the top of the head directly into a Buddha-field of one’s choice.
By so doing, one bypasses some of the typical experiences that are said to occur after death.
Example destinations are Sukhāvatī, Abhirati, Ghanavyūha, Aṭakāvatī, Mount Potala, the Copper-Colored Mountain (Wylie:
Zangs-mdog dpal-ri), and Tuṣita; the most popular is Sukhavati.
Phowa is also performed by specialists (Wylie: ’pho-’debs bla-ma) on the behalf of the deceased, as a post-mortem ritual.
The mark of a successful Phowa practice is a small drop of blood directly from the center of the vertex.
To demonstrate a successful practice traditionally a Kusha-grass was pushed into the small opening created in the fontanel.
The main lineage of phowa is one of the Six yogas of Naropa, although other transmissions also exist.
The chöd subsumes within its auspices aspects of phowa sadhana.
The Kagyu phowa lineage is from the Six yogas of Naropa.
Nāropa received it from the Indian mahāsiddha Tilopa and later passed it to his [[Tibetan disciple] Marpa]].
Nāropa’s teachings describe a second method of ’pho-ba that entails the transference of one’s consciousness to another body (Wylie: ’pho-ba grong-’jug).
Milarepa’s query regarding these teachings forced Marpa to search for explanatory treatises on the subject among his Indian manuscripts, and, having found none, to return to India to obtain more scriptures.
The Drikung Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is known for their phowa teachings.
A major pilgrimage and cultural celebration is known in the Tibetan world as the Great Drikung Phowa (Wylie: ’Bri-gung ’pho-ba chen-mo).
This festival was traditionally held once in every twelve-year calendrical cycle, and its last observance took place in August 1992 in gTer-sgrom, Central Tibet, after a hiatus of 36 years due to a ban enforced by the Chinese authorities.
Choeje Ayang Rinpoche from Eastern Tibet belongs to the Drikung school and is an authority on Buddhist afterlife rituals; he gives teachings and initiations to the practice of phowa annually in Bodh Gaya, India.
Some [[lineages of [phowa]] include a rite of incision, or opening of the sahasrara at the cranial zenith, to assist with transferral.
Shugchang, et al., in an exegesis of the Zhitro, discuss phowa in Dzogchen has many different meanings; in Tibetan it means "transferring consciousness."
The highest form is known as the phowa of the dharmakaya which is meditation on the great perfection.
When you do Dzogchen meditations no need to transfer anything, because there's nothing to transfer, no place to transfer it, nor anyone to do it.
That's the highest, and greatest phowa practice.