From Rigpa Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Amitabha (from a thangka in the personal collection of Sogyal Rinpoche)

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.[1] 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."[2]


Patrul Rinpoche[3] mentions five kinds of phowa:

  1. Superior transference to the dharmakaya through the seal of the view
  2. Middling transference to the sambhogakaya through the union of the generation and completion phases
  3. Lesser transference to the nirmanakaya through immeasurable compassion
  4. 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.
  5. Transference performed for the dead with the hook of compassion

Tsele Natsok Rangdrol has another list of the five kinds of phowa:

This section contains Tibetan script. Without proper Tibetan rendering support configured, you may see other symbols instead of Tibetan script.
  1. dharmakaya transference free from focus (chos sku gtad med kyi 'pho ba)
  2. sambhogakaya transference of unity (longs sku zung 'jug gi 'pho ba)
  3. nirmanakaya transference of training (sprul sku rtsal sbyong gi 'pho ba)
  4. guru's transference of blessings (byin rlabs bla ma'i 'pho ba)
  5. unmistaken khachö transference ('chugs med mkha' spyod kyi 'pho ba)[4]
༈ ཆོས་སྐུ་གཏད་མེད་ཀྱི་འཕོ་བ།

In the Dzogchen teachings, two kinds of transference are sometimes mentioned:

  1. transference of entering the sphere of clear light (Tib. ösal bub juk gi phowa, Wyl. 'od gsal sbubs 'jug gi 'pho ba)[5]
  2. transference of consciousness riding the subtle energy (Tib. namshé lung shyön gyi phowa, Wyl. rnam shes rlung zhon gyi 'pho ba)
༈ འོད་གསལ་སྦུབས་འཇུག་གི་འཕོ་བ།


  1. See for example: Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 363.
  2. Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 363.
  3. Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), pages 352.
  4. Tsele notes that this is the same as 'finding relief in a natural nirmanakaya pure realm', as spoken of in the Dzogchen teachings
  5. Also translated as 'entering the interior of clear light'. See Zindri, p. 282

Teachings & Transmissions Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading

External Links