A Critical Essay on The Assured Realization of Pho-Wa

CW40: No.115

Translated from Chinese work by the same author,
the Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen

This article is to be found on page 25 of my Chinese work Chu Kun Cha Van Che[Qi Gong Zhai Wen Ji in Pinyin]. The topic of the essay is a serious one, but the parables used are interesting and amusing. I use both serious and humorous styles to describe the assured realization of Pho-Wa.

When I was a teenager I went with my father to see a Chinese drama in which a dead body was examined by the police. No wound could be found on the body. The examining official went home to his wife and discussed the case with her. His wife said: "Tomorrow, when you examine the body again, look under the victim's hair and you might find a nail stuck in his head." So the next day they found out that there was a needle. Then the judge asked the official: "How did you know it?" and the official said: "It was an advice from my wife." And actually his wife used the same method to kill her first husband. The judge thus uncovered two crimes and caught the killers. (This was the story.)

If the head was opened by a long nail, should we say that this man was accomplished in Pho-Wa or not? The Pho-Wa belongs to the Yoga of Six Doctrines, which in turn belong to the Anuttara Yoga. The consequence of accomplishing these Six Yogas is Buddhahood. This is quite different from the type of rebirth as taught by the exoteric Pure Land School. Once upon a time there was a sage in Tibet who already accomplished realization of the Pho-Wa. Two shepherds went to the door of his house. One of them said to the other: "Please lie down and pretend that you are a corpse. I will tell the sage that you died and ask him to do Pho-Wa for you." The sage read the boys' minds as they tried to cheat him. He did not tell them that he knew that they had lied and he performed for the boy who pretended to be dead. As the result of the performed Pho-Wa, the boy died. The boy's head actually showed an opening on the top and some of his hair fell off from that place. The boy who remained alive was very surprised and scared. He repented and asked the sage to transfer the dead boy's consciousness back to his body. The sage did so and the body returned to life saying: "I enjoyed beautiful Sukhavati. Why did you call me back?" Many Pho-Wa instances have been reported. Could those who teach Pho-Wa do the same as the sage in the above story?

In another story, there was also a sage in Tibet. Once, when he was going to India on a pilgrimage, he passed a lake. A ghost came out from the red water of the lake and complained that the sage received his offerings for performing Pho-Wa. The Pho-Wa was not effective and the ghost blamed the sage for falling into the lake. The sage remembered this matter and respond with the promise that once he arrives in Bodhgaya, he will dedicate the merits for the ghost to get a good rebirth. The ghost then disappeared.

Our guru Milarepa once said: "Unless you have reached the level of the Bodhisattva's first Bhumi, you cannot successfully transfer consciousness of a dying person." Nowadays many people say that it is enough to open the skull on the top of the head through Pho-Wa practice in which a grass can be then inserted in order to bring out consciousness regardless of whether a person has the first Bhumi or not. If this is not the case then how can we be certain of getting realization of Pho-Wa?

I myself have learned seven kinds of Pho-Wa from different schools. The types of Pho-Wa learned were different, but similarities were present. They all said that the signs were swelling of the skin on the top of the head, that the grass can be inserted in the opening in the skull, and that a few drops of blood come out from the swollen area. Evans-Wentz says the same on page 267 of his book, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. I have carefully studied the Pho-Wa and its philosophy and I also practiced it. From my studies and practical experiences I do not agree that only the three above-mentioned signs are sufficient to indicate successful practice or accomplishment in the Pho-Wa.

Four conditions must be present in order to be successful in Pho-Wa:

  1. Tingle, or the essence of life, which is subject to transfer.
  2. The median nerve should be open through which the transfer of consciousness is made.
  3. Wisdom breathing must be practiced.
  4. Our goal must be Amitabha Buddha, or any other Buddha, to whose Pure Land we transfer consciousness.

If all the above four conditions are not present, the Pho-Wa cannot be accomplished.

The fourth condition concerns the Yidam visualized on the top of the head. The yoga of Yidam should be accomplished, that is, the Yidam should be very clearly and vividly visualized with all details, all details of the Yidam should be identified with the Sunyata, and the Yidam should be confirmed, which means that its presence must be durable throughout the whole life. A person who does not fulfill this condition cannot be a guru in the Pho-Wa.

The first condition involves gathering of all one's consciousness, life force, wisdom, five elements and every essential aspect of the body into a central point. This should all be intensively felt. It is my experience--and this was so far not written in any book--that this feeling and the practice must be identified. If one sees only a little light in the size of a pea in his heart, such kind of a central point cannot be the object of transference in the Pho-Wa.

A sage once said that by practicing the Pho-Wa too much we may shorten our lives. In real Pho-Wa practice we feel like dying. On one occasion I experienced such a feeling, I extended my essential energies toward my fingers and toes to save my life. When a person has a real experience of dying, this means that he has practiced too much. Usually the practitioner cannot concentrate all his sensitivity and energies on one point and will not have such a feeling, but then how can he practice the Pho-Wa? The visualized central point is the root of the person in which one visualizes himself as a person. If this essential or central point consists of two parts, that is, one part involving the person who does visualization and the other part involving the visualized point, then we divide our consciousness in two parts. It is not possible to transfer one half of the consciousness. We must visualize ourselves and the point together in the state of deep samadhi.

A Chinese proverb says: "To change the house and to forget the wife in the old house, cannot be done." Under such conditions samadhi cannot result and we do not get identification with the visualized essential point (tingle). The tingle (consciousness) is involved in the process and without its transference, the Pho-Wa cannot be successful. Amitabha is the object or the goal of the Pho-Wa.

The median nerve is not a man-made thing. It is a holy symbol of Dharmakaya. Taoists mistake their Doma nerve for the median nerve and when they get some movement of energy through the Doma, they believe that they opened the median nerve. This is quite wrong. Please read my book Tantras Discriminations. For example, the Chinese kill pigs by inserting an iron pipe resulting in swelling of the pig thus enabling them to cut the hair. Do you think that by making a hole through the pig's body in this way the median nerve is opened?

When the wisdom energy enters the median nerve, the outward breathing and pulse stop, and ten outside signs appear: smoke, light, star, sun, moon, fire, etc. (see Evans-Wentz The Tibetan Book of the Dead.) These outside signs and the inward minds must be united in the samadhi of Sunyata. If all these conditions have been fulfilled, this indicates that our wisdom breathing has entered the median nerve where it abides and dissolves. If we have not realized the above conditions, and we just say that we opened the top of our skull (the gate of Brahma) and confirm existence of an opening there by inserting a grass in the aperture, we have not really and reliably succeeded in the Pho-wa, since the median nerve is not actually opened. If you dig a tunnel through a mountain, but the tunnel does not penetrate it completely, then how can you say that there is a passage?

As far as the wisdom breathing or energy involved in the Pho-Wa is concerned, we must not confuse it with the subtle breathing of Taoism. We must also not confuse the wisdom breathing with breathing of the human body, which involves rough karmic energies, nor with the Hindu yoga type of breathing. That is why if the practitioner has not accomplished renunciation, and does not keep vinaya, commandments or silas well, his breathing is not holy. If he has not practiced the Bodhicitta well or if his evolutional yoga has not been accomplished, his breathing is not holy and his breathing energy cannot transcend the human body, that is, he still breathes as a human. If the practitioner has not accomplished the perfection yoga and has not achieved the samadhi of the victorious significance of Sunyata or non-egoism then his energy has not become wisdom. If the energy has not become wisdom, it cannot enter the median nerve. Such energy cannot be of help in the Pho-Wa.

The object of the transference is tingle. Tin means a "point" and gle means wisdom. Tingle means the essential wisdom. If the karmic breathing is used to help in transformation, it is like washing the monkey and then dressing him up as a man. It simply cannot happen. If the way of transference of consciousness does not pass through the median nerve, it is like wanting to go northward and mistakenly taking a carriage which goes southward. It is not the real way to accomplish the objective of transference. If the Yidam of wisdom of the Buddha body is not there, it is just like taking a box rather than its content or like taking the peel rather than what is inside of it. Wisdom breath helps in transference, the object of transference is the wisdom point, the way is the wisdom nerve, and the objective is the wisdom body of the Buddha; that is, they all are of the Wisdom. When the above can be accomplished, the final goal is reached which belongs to the Anuttara Yoga. The beginners in the Pho-Wa practice are foolish when they proudly proclaim that they have accomplished Pho-Wa because they opened the gate (opening) on the head. When death comes they cannot accomplish the final goal and at that time it is too late.

My beloved Guru Lola Rinpoche liked to joke. Once a foolish student came to him and told him that he knew how to practice deep, bottle breathing. The Guru asked him how he practiced it. The student answered: "With the upward energy oppressed downward and the downward energy lifted upward." My guru, with a smile, said: "If that is the case, may I ask you to sit on a Rock Mountain, I would like to fly a stone from the heaven and drop it on your head to make your upward and downward energy unite together." Is it right? Actually it is not right. It is not so. For every practice, preparation is needed. You should not undertake any practice without proper preparation; and in the practice itself, unless you have fulfilled all conditions, you cannot succeed. If your practice is not carefully undertaken, and if you take only some outside sign as evidence of success in practice, you only cheat yourself.

Some people may say that all the tantras dealing with the Pho-Was of different schools mention only the three outside signs (swelling of the skin on the head, blood coming out of the swelling, and a piece of grass can be inserted in the hole which opens on the top of the head), and that the Pho-Wa is realized when these signs appear. My answer is that I described four signs of realization which belong to the Anuttara Yoga. Every practitioner must know them. The three outward signs must be present in addition to the four signs mentioned above. If these four signs are not present and we limit ourselves to the three outward signs, we lose the real foundation and the three outward signs will be of no use.

Therefore, in order to correct this mistake, I wrote this essay. Somebody may say that the three outward signs are then useless in transference of consciousness. My answer to this statement is a negative one. As I said before, the Pho-wa should have first fulfilled four inner conditions to which the three outward signs are added. We must have both the inner realization and the outward signs. It is not bad to have only the outward signs. They belong to the grace of guru and Amitabha. When one gets such a blessing, he can utilize it at the time of death when the median nerve opens by itself and he can take advantage of this opportunity. (Even a person who never practiced the Pho-wa may try to utilize spontaneous opening of the median nerve to his advantage). Also, he can take advantage of the dying time when Buddha appears in the Bardo state and accomplish the objective of the transference. For a person who never practiced the Pho-wa, it is very difficult to utilize such an opportunity. It is much easier for the person who obtained the three outward signs even if he did not get the four inner realizations. Although it is better to have the three outward signs, without the four inner realizations we cannot be sure that we will succeed in the Pho-wa, because the Clear Light appearing in the Bardo is very intense and for the untrained person it appears only for a very short period of time, which makes it very difficult to grasp it.

Then again somebody may say that if everybody has a chance at the time of death, why do we need such a practice at all. The outward signs are like a gate of a theater. If fire occurs in the theater some people may pass through the gate, but we cannot say that everybody could do so. The dying person is in a similar position as being in the theater during a fire. His enemies and debtors are around him and trouble him so that it is difficult for him to exit through the gate. Under some conditions you may pass through the gate, but you cannot be certain that you will be able to do so.

After death we enter a quite different world. If you are a practitioner without diligence, you cannot take advantage of the time of death, because the light of Dharmakaya flashes as fast as a lightening. The dying person is quite alone. There is no helper before or after him to guide him. It is just like thousands of heavy things are hanging on one thin hair and he has only his karma with him. When I write this I feel very sad for people who have died, for people who have not accomplished the practice, and for those who will die without knowing real meditation. I do want to give clear understanding to people before they die.

Somebody asked me whether my Guru Lola Rinpoche permits people who have already opened the gate for the Pho-Wa to help dying people. According to them, if you see a dying man or animal you should help them with the Pho-Wa. If you do not help, then you are breaking the Pho-Wa commandment which says that you should render help. My answer is that this commandment applies only to people who have not only the three outward signs but have also realized the four inner conditions. If you have only three outward signs, you must not go to the house of the dying person and be with the corpse. You must stay home and refuse to help to open the gate of the dying person. Only a sage should do that. (If the four inner conditions are not realized and we approach the corpse, by our attachments to worldly things we can only increase his attachments and thus contribute to his fall. For example, if the dying person is attached to his wife and daughter and we find them attractive too, then attachment of the dying man for his wife or daughter will increase.)

Once there was a sage who collected all the ants at his home, killed them in an apparatus in which bran is removed from rice, and then transferred their consciousness by the Pho-Wa technique to Sukhavati. One day he had to leave his house and entrusted his wife to do the same that he did during his absence. His wife agreed to follow his direction, she burned incense, lighted a lamp, killed ants, but she was not able to transfer them to Sukhavati. When her husband came back and saw dead ants, he asked his wife why she killed them. She answered that she did what he ordered her to do. The sage then performed the Pho-Wa for the ants and transferred their consciousness to Sukhavati. His wife misunderstood his instructions; he did not mean for her to kill the ants. She should not have killed the ants. This story was told to me to illustrate what my guru said, that is, that we should do Pho-Wa for others only when we have the ability to do so.

I would like to advise my readers to be careful, to reflect on their achievements, not to be foolish and proud, and not to trust too much their Pho-Wa realizations. Do not stop when you obtain the three outward signs and do not assert that you are accomplished in the Pho-Wa unless you have also the four inner realizations. If you accept my advice, then this essay has not been written in vain.

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