Phowa (Skt. utkrānti; 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 can also 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.
The teachings advise that phowa for others should only be undertaken by someone who has reached the path of seeing. Nonetheless, as Patrul Rinpoche says "anyone who really knows the right moment to perform [phowa for the dead] can perform it at that very moment if they have a little experience of the instructions on transference. It is extremely helpful for the dying person and, like a traveller being put on the right path by a friend, has the power to prevent rebirth in the lower realms."
Patrul Rinpoche mentions 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
Tsele Natsok Rangdrol has another list of the five kinds of phowa:
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In the Dzogchen teachings, two kinds of transference are sometimes mentioned:
- See for example: Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 363.
- Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 363.
- Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 352.
- Tsele notes that this is the same as 'finding relief in a natural nirmanakaya pure realm', as spoken of in the Dzogchen teachings
- Also translated as 'entering the interior of clear light'. See Zindri, p. 282
Teachings & Transmissions Given to the Rigpa Sangha
- Ayang Rinpoche leads a nine-day phowa retreat in November 1984 at St Paul’s Crescent in London, UK.
- Tulku Kalsang, Watsonville, USA, 3 December 1993, Phowa transmission (most likely from Longchen Nyingtik)
- Tulku Pegyal Rinpoche was the first teacher to give Amitabha empowerments and teachings to the Rigpa sangha for the practice of phowa from the Longchen Nyingtik tradition. He did this on several occasions:
- Lerab Ling, France, 25-28 July 1997
- Zurich, 29-30 January 2000
- Chagdud Khadro has also given the Rigpa sangha Amitabha empowerments and taught the phowa practice of Longsal Nyingpo on different occasions.
- Mingyur Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, 11-12 September 2010.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, San Diego, 2-4 December 2010.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, Kirchheim, 3-4 January 2011.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, Sydney, 22 February 2011.
- Garchen Rinpoche, Dzogchen Beara, 16 October 2011, Drikung Phowa Chenmo from the Drikung Kagyü lineage.
- Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Sukhavati, Germany, 28 July-3 August 2018 (see External Link below)
- Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche, oral transmission of Namchö phowa by Tertön Mingyur Dorje; an arrangement by Palchen Düpa
- Khenchen Pema Sherab Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, 18-26 March 2023, Longchen Nyingtik Phowa practice retreat
- Chagdud Khadro, P’howa Commentary (Pilgrims Publishing, India, 2004)
- Khenpo Ngawang Palzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 'Part Three, The Swift Path of Transference'.
- Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), Part Three, Chapter One: 'Transference of consciousness, the instructions for the dying: Buddhahood without meditation', pages 351-365.
- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Ch. 13 & 14.