Phowa (pron. poh-wa) is Tibetan for "transfer of consciousness" at the time of death. Tantric methods are employed to take "the swift, supreme path to free oneself from samsara and to attain enlightenment." It is considered a complete path, even for those who do not meditate.
There are two different phowa transmissions. One originates with the Nyingma (Old school) as taught by Padmasabhava (Guru Rinpoche) and another is a Sarma Tantra (as practiced by Marpa, Atisha and so forth. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche teaches one that combines both.
Why Learn this Practice
According to Ayang Rinpoche, Marpa the Translator said, "If you study Phowa, then at the time when death is approaching you will know no despair. If beforehand you have become accustomed to the Path of Phowa, then at the time of death you will be full of cheerful confidence . . . ."
Also, it is taught that one does not return to the samsaric realms after having
entered Amitabha's Pure Land called Dewachen, and that from that
realm one can readily achieve enlightenment. So p'howa is like an insurance
policy; if one does not achieve enlightenment while alive, one
can ensure that this attainment will follow death.
Ayang Rinpoche feels that this practice is especially relevant nowadays, when most people cannot afford the luxury of an extended period of solitary meditation. Also, since we are subject to "the overwhelming power of laziness in the postponement of our practice, we desperately need a spiritual path that is simple and direct, and which enables us to transform the stresses of modern life into a vital force that cuts through attachment to illusory objects and awakens in us the realization of our own Buddha nature. Life is very short, and can end suddenly and without warning. When death comes, we have no escape: neither our accumulated wealth nor our dear ones can help us –- nothing can help except the precious teachings."
Even if you are not able to do the practice at your time of death, you will have a better chance of attaining enlightenment if others are able to perform it for you.
There are also benefits of having the connection with this transmission even for those who do not keep on with the practice, and even for those "who have strong emotional afflictions with no desire to denounce samara."
Those with strong negative karma such as results from the commission of the five serious offences can overcome the tendency to rebirth in the lower realms.
People who plan to attend any powa of the Kagyu programmes should begin to accumulate 100,000 repetitions (or at least 10,000 times) of one or the other of the following mantras beforehand:
1) Amitabha (Opameh) "OM AH MI DE WA HRI" or 2) Vajrasattva (Dorje Sempa) long or short form.
Companionship at the Time of Death
One should not let a person die alone. Indeed, in several societies, there are people whose role is to provide this special service. They are not there in the capacity of ritual mourners, but to act as a companion or guide -- a kind of spiritual midwife. Their work is considered to be of great merit. Trungpa Rinpoche, in the Introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle and Trungpa) said that he learned to do that when he was just eight years old.
This companionship is not only to assuage the fears of the dying, but also to comfort the mind of the person immediately as it detaches itself from the physical body. This perspective is not only Buddhist (or Hindu) for, as states the Jewish Code of Laws compiled by 12th-century sage Moses Maimonides (Shulhan Arukh 194: 4,) "From the moment a person is in the throes of death, no one is allowed to leave him, in order that his soul may not depart when he is all alone, because it is bewildered when departing from the body."
A Guided Meditation for Time of Death
(TO BE READ ALOUD TO THE DYING PERSON)
Above the crown of your head, on a lotus with a moon and sun throne, sits Guru Buddha Amitabha in the Vajra pose. His holy body is radiant and ruby red, and he is wearing the saffron robes of a pure monk. He has one face, and his two hands resting in his lap hold a bowl filled with the elixir of immortality,
(Reader can substitute the appropriate deity's name and description as above, and an appropriate invocation prayer instead of the following one. For example, "the glorious risen Jesus Christ surrounded by angels" and the Our Father.)
Repeat [or recite preferred invocation]
Guru, invincible one beyond all evil, endowed with all virtues,
Tathagata, Foe Destroyer,
Fully complete and perfect Buddha,
Magnificent King, Guru Amitabha of boundless light,
I prostrate to and take refuge in you.
Please bestow upon me your countless blessings.
Now do this visualization:
In heartfelt devotion, concentrate single-pointedly on Guru Amitabha (or - --.) From his holy body five-colored nectar-light streams down through your central channel. From there it flows through all the other channels of your body completely filling it with blissful nectar-light. All hindrances, such as illness, guilt, fear are completely purified. All negative forces utterly disappear, especially the grasping at mundane existence. The power to be successful in transferring consciousness and taking rebirth in the pristine realm of Amitabha Buddha (or Heaven) is granted. Your body becomes crystal clear and translucent like a rainbow.
PRAYER FOR TIME OF DEATH [reader can help the dying person]
At the moment the messenger of death arrives
Please come instantaneously from your pristine realm.
Advise me to give up grasping at mundane existence
And invite me to come to your pristine realm.
When earth sinks into water
And the mirage-like appearance is perceived,
And my mouth becomes dry and foul-tasting,
Please come and tell me not to be afraid and inspire me with true courage.
When water sinks into fire
And the smoke-like appearance is perceived,
And my tongue gets thick and my speech is lost,
Please show me your shining face and give me solace and peaceful joy.
When fire sinks into air
And the firefly-like appearance is perceived,
And my body heat and the light of my eyes rapidly fade away,
Please come and fill my mind with the sound of Dharma wisdom.
When air sinks into consciousness
And the burning like a butter lamp appearance is perceived,
And my body becomes like the earth and my breathing altogether ceases,
Please draw me to your pristine realm with the radiant light of your shining face.
And then, may the radiant red hook
Emanating from your pristine heart
Enter my crown, then descend my central channel,
Hook my very subtle clear light mind, and bring it to your pristine realm.
Yet if I must go into the intermediate state by the force of my negative karma,
May all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas rescue me with the power of Dharma
And inspire me with the pure view that sees all beings as utterly pure,
Hears all sounds as Dharma teaching, and sees all places as a pristine realm.
From Guru Amitabha’s (or Jesus Christ’s or other deity) heart a reed [or stem] of radiant white light descends to your crown and forms there an indestructible and cohesive bond. There is now an unobstructed passageway between your very subtle mind, the white-red clear light energy-drop in the center of your heart, and the clear mirror-like heart of Guru Amitabha (Jesus). Then suddenly a radiant hook of red light emanates from Guru Amitabha’s (Jesus) heart, descends through the passageway, and securely hooks the delicate and pure clear light energy-drop in your heart.
See the energy-drop as the traveler, the white light reed as the path, and Guru Amitabha’s (Jesus) heart as the destination. Your consciousness as the blissful energy-drop, by the force of your devotion, flies like an arrow to meet and mingle with the clear, non-dual, and radiant wisdom of Guru Amitabha’s (Jesus') heart. Or you can visualise that the Guru's heart draws the energy-drop upward just as a magnet attracts iron filings.
COMPLETION PRAYER [by reader]
Guru Buddha Amitabha [Glorious Jesus, etc.,] essence of the perfect truth of the Triple Gem, courageous one who liberates all sentient beings from the bondage of mundane existence and delivers them to the supremely blissful realm of Infinite Light, Victorious One, please release (name -------------) and all others from the difficulties and fears of the death process and the intermediate state of the after-death plane. Easily guide (-----) to your wisdom heart by inspiring (------) to thoroughly renounce the grasping at mundane existence and to achieve success in transferring (his/her) consciousness. You are liberator of all beings. Please with great compassion take (------) to your pristine realm.
DEDICATION [by reader]
Through the merits of these virtuous actions
May I quickly attain the enlightened state of Amitabha
And lead all living beings, without exception,
Into that enlightened state.
~ Edited from stupa.org.nz & Christine Longaker < http://www.spcare.org/practices/phowa-practice.html>
Please Note: The substitution of any deity other than a Buddhist one does not necessarily confer the result of liberation from samsara.
The dying one who is empowered in shitro (zhitro) or the bardo thodol, can also say:
Om Ah Hum, Bodhichitta Mahasukhaka Jnana-dhatu; Ah. Om rulu rulu Hum jo Hum.
Note: The Tibetan word Phowa is pronounced p'hoe-wa.
TO THE DYING PERSON: For someone of another belief system, one can substitute appropriate words eg. God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Heaven, The Source of All Being, The Great Mother.) However, we must note that there isan essential and important distinction whenever we do this.