Phowa Practice Transforms Death into an Opportunity for Spiritual Realization

Phowa Practice Transforms Death into an Opportunity for Spiritual Realization


Lama Palden will teach a non-residential retreat on Phowa, the transfer of consciousness at the time of death, from Sept 12-15 at the Sukhasiddhi Center. Here she talks a bit about the practice she will transmit and the benefits of learning it.

Phowa is one of the six yogas or six doctrines. There are three systems of the six yogas: Naropa, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi. I received all of them from Kalu Rinpoche, who was a master of all of them.

The rare and unusual Phowa I will teach in the retreat comes down to us from the enlightened woman, Sukhasiddhi. She lived in the 11th century and was from Kashmir. It is a Mahamudra Phowa. From a Mahamudra point of view, there is nowhere to go and nothing changes when you die. But from a relative point of view, we die and our mind experiences different things. In Tibet, the Phowa practice is considered the friend of a yogi or yogini because it allows one to go to a pure realm after death, even if one is not fully realized. Through the practice, when you leave your body you go to an awakened realm where you can ripen spiritually much more quickly.

The key to Phowa is concentration, proper motivation, intention, and pure devotion. The proper motivation creates strong intention, and this intention creates strong devotion to truth, to reality as it is— the realization of the nature of mind and reality. The devotion needed for Phowa practice includes profound devotion to Sukhasiddhi, gratitude to the lineage beings for realizing and preserving the lineage so it can come to us, and profound appreciation for the transmission of the blessings and teachings.

Phowa requires intense concentration. One needs to be fully rested and well-grounded to do Phowa, and so if you come to the retreat, it is important not to plan anything in the evenings, but to stay in the field of the practice between sessions. It is a powerful energetic practice that transforms the energy body and if fully accomplished makes changes in the physical body as well. It’s extremely liberating for the mind: One can have deep realization doing the practice, as well as achieving the yogic point of the practice, which is learning to properly transfer one’s consciousness out of the body to the pure realms for the time of death.

It is important to get proper instruction in Phowa because it needs to be done correctly in order to open the channels of the subtle body in the way that is conducive to realization. If one is fully accomplished in Phowa and has had the signs veriified by a lama, one can do Phowa for others at the time of their death.