Unlike us who dared not touch the subject of death, Tibetan folks view death very openly.
Many Tibetans would engage in some kind of preparations for the approaching death. In order to secure a place in the Pure Land, there are basically two type of practices a person can follow:
- The common practices
- The not common practices
The common practices in preparations for dying
The main practice for all schools is commonly known as 'phowa' or 'transference of consciousness'.
Phowa is a practice to send the consciousness of a practitioner directly into either heart of Vajradhara (金刚持), Samantabhadra or Amitabah depending on the preference of each schools.
It is not easy to engage in phowa practice. Previously a practitioner is asked to sit in front of a bottle with a small pebble in it. He/she must shout 'hi' until the pebble jumps out of the bottle.
This method is still being practised in certain Tibetan monasteries as far as I know.
For ordinary folks, it is sufficient just perform visualization and shout 'hi!' and then 'ka!' so that the consciousness would rise into the heart of the deity of the choice and then returns to the heart of the practitioner.
For Ningmapa practitioners however, the consciousness is not visualized to return as this school thinks that if the person passed away during his phowa practice, then it is very auspicious.
A preliminary sign of success is that a small hole will result in the middle of the skull. The size of the hole must be able to fit in a piece of kusha grass.
Ideally speaking, phowa ritual should not be practiced by a youngster as his mind is still not set. In the event that he is delinquent in his practice, this hole will automatically closed and further practise in later time would not be fruitful.
On the other hand, if a youngster is diligent in his phowa practice, then his lifespan will be shortened. This is against the Buddha's teaching of 'no killings'.
To overcome the danger of short life, a longevity practice should be followed. Amitayus practice is the most common but there are many other methods according to lineages.
The uncommon practices a.k.a 7 day's to Buddhahood
For a selected few, they can engage into a type of Dzongchen meditation technique that promises a shortcut to achieve Buddhahood.
First a person must build a small hut on top of a hill where he can see the deep blue sky. He must be able to spend 7 days at the hill top each session.
The prerequisite before engaging in Dzongchen meditation is that the person must have practised tummo (inner heat) and Yidam practice for at least 3 years.
When the signs of death (死相) become apparent, then the practitioner should let go of every worldly thing and engage in this fast track to accomplishment practice. Many accomplished practitioners would even stop food consumption one week before their death so as to achieve rainbow bodies (虹身).
After a place is picked and the time is right, he should meditate backing the sun with a clear view of the deep blue sky.
He should then engage in the heart chakra vase breathing (心轮宝瓶气) and concentrate on the syllable 'bam'. When the psychic heat has reached the white 'ham', it will melt and flow down dripping into the 'bam'. At the same time, the red '!' from base chakra rises into 'bam' as well. When the red and white essence meet, extreme joy will be produced.
Simultaneously the syllable 'bam' that represents our human seed gradually shrinks in size. When the practitioner experienced extreme joy and at the verge of fainting; he should immediately shout 'ha' loudly for 21 times sending this now minute 'bam' into the deep blue sky.
He should maintain this meditative state for as long as possible. This exercise directly sending a person's consciousness into the center of dharmadhatu (法界中心) and hence achieving Buddhahood.
If the consciousness failed to return to the body and the body collapses during this time, the person is as good as dead.
I have tried this method once and when my consciousness didn't return for a long time, my guru quickly asked a few of his disciples to recite 'ka' repeatedly for quite a long time before I finally awoke from my meditation.
This is a very quick way to enter into the heart of samantabhadra or in layman's term: death. Don't try it if you still have a family to look after or a big business to run!