of us may have the familiarity with it to recognize it. How

skillful and compassionate the buddhas are to have handed

down to us a method for invoking the very embodiment of

the luminosity in the radiant presence of Amitabha!

It would be inappropriate here to explain the details of the

traditional phowa practice, which must, always and in all circumstances,

be carried out under the guidance of a qualified

master. Never try to do this practice on your own without the

proper guidance.

At death, the teachings explain, our consciousness, which is

mounted on a "wind" and so needs an aperture through which

to leave the body, can leave it through any one of nine openings.

The route it takes determines exactly which realm of

existence we are to be reborn in. When it leaves through the

opening at the fontanel, at the crown of the head, we are

reborn, it is said, in a pure land, where we can gradually proceed

toward enlightenment. 6

This practice, I must stress again, can only be carried out

under the supervision of a qualified master, who has the blessing

to give the proper transmission. It does not require extensive

intellectual knowledge or depth of realization to accomplish the

phowa successfully, only devotion, compassion, one-pointed

visualization, and a deep feeling of the presence of the Buddha

Amitabha. The student receives the instructions and then practices

them until the signs of accomplishment appear. These

include an itching at the top of the head, headaches, the emergence

of a clear fluid, a swelling or a softness around the area of

the fontanel, or even the opening of a small hole there, into

which traditionally the tip of a stalk of grass is inserted as a test

or measure of how successful the practice has been.

Recently a group of elderly Tibetan laypeople settled in

Switzerland trained under a well-known phowa master. Their

children, who had been brought up in Switzerland, were skeptical

about the effectiveness of this practice. But they were

astounded at how their parents had been transformed and

actually showed some of the signs of accomplishment mentioned

above after a ten-day phowa retreat.

Research into the psychophysiological effects of phowa has

been carried out by the Japanese scientist Dr. Hiroshi

Motoyama. Precise physiological changes in the nervous,

metabolic, and acupuncture meridian systems were detected to

take place during phowa practice. 7 One of Dr. Motoyama's findings

was that the patterns of the flow of energy through the

meridians of the body of the phowa master he was studying

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