About the Phowa Ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism

An Old Woman

by PATUL RINPOCHE and VENERABLE K.C. AYANG RINPOCHE

INTRODUCTION

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) appear.

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 India.

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 quick results.

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 try.

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 doubt ...."

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 Buddhafield (DEWA CHEN).

The profound Path of Phowa is the Holy Way of the Buddhas which is Dharma rapidly realized spontaneously without meditation effort.

DRIKUNG PHOWA CHEN MO 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 teachings.

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 Mahayana practices.

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. Padamasambhava 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

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Suggestions for Further Reading

Source: ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING OF THE PATUL RINPOCHE IN THE "KUNSANG LAMI SHELLUNG" PAGE 290--SHORTENED AND TAUGHT BY THE VENERABLE K.C. AYANG RINPOCHE OF THE DRIGUNG LINE OF KAGYUDPA, BYLAKUPPE, KARNATAKA STATE / INDIA.