Transference of Consciousness

The Dudjom Tersar Ngondro includes a very abbreviated form of p’howa, that is, the transference of consciousness into the pure-land.

By visualizing the Buddha Amitabha above our head, we train ourselves to direct our consciousness toward Dewachan, his pureland of great bliss, when we die.

Even if we are not able to fully accomplish this level of transference at the moment of death—perhaps because we die suddenly amid great chaos—this training equips us with the means to find liberation in the bardos after death, or at least an auspicious rebirth. This is assured for two reasons.

First, exiting of the consciousness from the crown chakra leads to a higher rebirth than does its exiting from one of the lower orifices.

Second, Amitabha’s enlightened intention establishes that all those who pray to him with faith and who longingly direct their mind toward him will find rebirth in his pureland.

At the moment of death, the consciousness can move upward along the avenue we have prepared by visualizing Amitabha over our head. This provides a shortcut out of samsaric suffering.

Having attained the pureland, we can remain until enlightenment, receiving the dharma transmissions that finally clear residual obscurations, or we can choose to come back and continue our spiritual development in this realm. In either case we gain great ability to benefit beings.

This p’howa training, like the practices that precede it in the ngondro, can be undertaken as an aspect of guru yoga if we understand that our lama is inseparable from Amitabha.

We need take only a small step beyond the recognition of the lama as inseparable from Guru Rinpoche, because Guru Rinpoche is the nirmanakaya emanation of Amitabha.

Another way to fathom the meaning of our lama’s inseparability from Amitabha is to ask, “Who will I rely on when I die? Who really has the power to support me in that moment?” Most of us would turn to our lama, knowing that his or her power and blessing surpass any ordinary kindness or help a doctor or a loved one could offer us.

Our lama’s ability to extend help in life-threatening situations and the transitions of death, the bardo of becoming, and rebirth stems from his or her realization of buddha nature, no different from Guru Rinpoche’s or Amitabha’s. This power supports us even when the lama is not directly present.

Some years ago, a Western practitioner was traveling by bus in the mountains of northern India. As the vehicle pulled to a stop, it lost its brakes, swerved to avoid an oncoming bus, and toppled down a steep mountainside, rolling over and over, crushing passengers, until it crashed into a ravine hundreds of feet below, a crumpled heap of twisted metal and broken bodies. Thrown out the back door in the first moments of this nightmarish sequence, the student saw, in a kind of freeze-frame, the bus hover in space, about to slam into her. Suddenly everything changed and her lama, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, appeared, seemingly a thousand feet tall, riveting her attention. Mentally, she implored, “What do I do?” Instantly she knew his answer and began calling out the Vajra Guru mantra at the top of her lungs. The bus somehow missed her and, though terribly injured, she survived. Sixty others died that day.

In the mid-1980s, while Chagdud Rinpoche still lived in Oregon, he and his students were meditating in the center’s shrine room one night when Rinpoche abruptly interrupted the practice. “Pray strongly now,” he urged, “or maybe something terrible will happen.” The next day we learned that a close student of his, driving down the interstate, had fallen asleep at the wheel and spun off the highway. Fortunately, she was unharmed.

More recently, a child in Chagdud Rinpoche’s sangha died in California after a long illness. Rinpoche was in Moscow, but he immediately received a call requesting him to perform p’howa. Sangha members were simultaneously practicing p’howa in the deceased child’s room. After some time Rinpoche telephoned and instructed the sangha members to check for the physical signs of accomplishment. They did, but reported that none had yet appeared. Rinpoche exclaimed, “I am sure of the signs. Look again!” This time he explained carefully how to check, and when the students looked again, the signs were clearly evident.

Distance, even death, does not separate us from our lama. Only our own wavering faith and obscurations come between us. If by prayer and meditation in this lifetime we can overcome these obstacles, in death we can find ultimate unity with the absolute lama.

Source: Tromge, Jane. Ngondro Commentary: Instructions for the Concise Preliminary Practices of the New Treasure of Dudjom. Compiled from the teachings of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche by Jane Tromge. Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995.