Transference of consciousness at the time of death

I want to tell you a story. Not one that I’ve told very often.

AvalokiteshvaraI moved to Florida in November 1999, into an apartment with N, my then partner. The same month a couple moved into the apartment next door, Cheryl and Bob, who hailed from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. We didn’t seem to have anything in common, but for whatever reason we all liked each other. Bob called us “the beautiful people.” And one day as I was watching him drink at some kind of social event, a strong sense washed over me, “I am supposed to be protecting him.”

I assumed this meant that at some point he’d get into Buddhism or meditation. Seemed to me that this was going to take a very long time as he was not remotely interested. But, hey, I could be patient. And I started to keep him in my prayers.

One evening the four of us went to a movie, the Green Mile. Bob became very agitated at the (admittedly disturbing) execution scenes, and several times fled the auditorium to smoke in the foyer. He said afterwards he didn’t know why he found it all so terrifying, he was used enough to violent movies.

Two days later, around 7am, we found a note pushed under our door. It said, simply:

“It is 5am. Bob has had a brain hemorrhage. Please come to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. I don’t know where to turn.”

Our friend Losang was staying with us at the time, so all three of us rushed over there.

We arrived at intensive care to a surreal encounter – Cheryl was hastening towards us with a face blotchy and red from tears, but right behind her walked Bob, who seemed completely fine …

We must have looked startled, for she quickly said, “This isn’t Bob. This is his twin brother Rick.”

Rick, a long-distance truck driver, could not bear to be in the same room as his brother. So Losang sat and talked with him in the waiting room. He helped him a lot that day.

When N and I entered Bob’s room, he was lying in bed with a huge blown-out bandaged head. As I greeted him, to everyone’s surprise he raised up from the pillow in my direction, as if trying to hear me.

So I guessed that he must still be able to hear things, even though he was supposedly in a deep coma.

WhatWillYouExperienceN sat quietly by his bed meditating and praying, and I sat the other side talking to Bob about going to the Pure Land. I asked Cheryl if he believed in Jesus and, hearing that he did, I guided him through a visualization of Jesus sitting above him and how he was going to Jesus’s heart through the crown of his head. I talked about heaven and what it was going to be like for him there. I basically guided him in the Buddhist transference of consciousness to a Pure Land (Tibetan: powa) practice, but using Jesus instead of Compassion Buddha Avalokiteshvara.

Cheryl was listening but still deeply distraught. So, leaving N by Bob’s bedside, I accompanied her outside for her cigarette break to encourage her that this was Bob’s time and it was important he didn’t see her upset. She could help him enormously, but she had to be strong and peaceful. Her own time for grief could come later. I explained about transference of consciousness, even though we’d never had a spiritual conversation before in our life, and described how she could help him do it. I suggested she tell him how much love there was all around him from holy beings and from her, and that she describe heaven for him, including all the things he loved seeing and doing. He need have no fear because he was going straight to Jesus’s heart, and from now on would always be happy and safe.

Bless Cheryl, for she listened attentively, and then did exactly this, talking to Bob tirelessly and with deep love for all the remaining hours of his life. The three of us had to leave for work, but we left her there at Bob’s bedside, and eight hours later he peacefully passed away. By all accounts, the room felt utterly blessed.

Rick was deeply upset, but Cheryl felt strangely okay, as if Bob had not really left. One day she saw white light at the end of her bed. She often felt as though he was communicating with her and trying to let her know that he was alright. This presence went on for a few weeks until, one day, her curiosity drove her to consult a medium. She said this was a first for her, doing something like this, for she had not previously given a lot of thought to life after death. Though I suspect she was always a deep thinker.

The medium was told nothing about Bob’s death nor about me. But this is what happened.

“I am hearing from someone called Bob, do you know him?” Cheryl nodded yes. “He is telling me something that I don’t understand, something about a sister. Shall I just repeat what he’s saying?” Cheryl nodded yes again.

“When Bob was dying, you were with him in the hospital. And there was a woman there you were close to, was it a sister? You both were helping him, telling him what to do. And he wants you to know something …

It worked.”

Cheryl is not given to drama and hyperbole. When she told me this afterwards, it was plain as day that Bob had made it to the Pure Land. Bob also went onto say that we had done everything right, that he was in a pure beautiful place, happy, with no more suffering. He said Cheryl need never worry about him again, and he thanked us both.

Present day

book-Living-Meaningfully-Dying-Joyfully-frntCheryl has gotten even kinder and more spiritual over the years. And this month, February 2018, she has just helped another fiancé, Mike, through the death process. (Perhaps this is why I’m finally sharing Bob’s story.) She wrote to me today of her own memories of those last hours with Bob, which she says she understands better now:

“In hindsight, I came into acceptance of his pending death, which helped his soul complete his transition journey in a peaceful, loving way. I was happy for him to release his body to rebirth to pure spirit … I think we have to put our own grief or situation aside and remember that this can be a wondrous and beautiful time for them. You can choose to be a part of that journey in a loving and peaceful manner.”

As for Mike’s death, she says:

“I am much more present today than I was all those years ago with Bob. I will share what happened with you soon. When I am very low and grieving, I go back to that experience because there was no sadness during that time … only peace and pure unconditional love.”

Please pray for Mike. And for everyone else who is dying (all of us). When the time comes, may we all have someone who can leave their own grief aside and help us die peacefully. May everyone have powa done for them.

It makes all the difference.

Helping each other to die well

Ever since that day in 1999, not surprisingly, I have had a lot of faith both in the importance of helping someone die well if possible, and, regardless of how people die, in the astonishing power of powa practice. I hope this has increased your confidence in all this too, because, as my teacher Geshe Kelsang has said, there is nothing kinder we can do for humans or for animals than to help them reach the Pure Land when they die.

You can find out more about transference of consciousness — as well as other ways to understand and transform your own and others’ death — in the book Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully.


Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

64 thoughts on “Transference of consciousness at the time of death”

  1. I remember reading this a couple years ago and it moved me to tears then and it moves me to tears now. Thank you for sharing this reminding us as it keeps her face in a spiritual path very strong. How fortunate we are to have met a live in Buddha and receive his teachings.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this story.
    My dog, a faithful loving joyful companion just passed on Christmas Day 2019.
    I felt helpless. She was 13 years old and dying of congestive heart failure.
    I search out this article on your site for some sort of help with coping with my loss. Her spot to hangout and sleep was on my bed with my cat as well. I was with her as she laid there telling her it’s ok and I loved her reassuring her with a soft voice a gently petting her. She took her last breaths while I was there with her.
    After reading this article about how you helped Bob with the transition, Powa, I now know I did much more for my dog than I ever thought. I will look to participate in the Powa prayers at my Kadampa center in Huntington Long Island.
    Thank you again.

    1. Dear Don, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. But how wonderful that you gave her the priceless gift of a peaceful death! Thank you for sharing this. Love and prayers to you, her, and the cat.

  3. ‘It worked’ so beautiful. Thank you for increasing my faith in this practice. Preparing for my own and my family’s deaths is a huge part of my motivation to practice Dharma.

    A Nun once told me the greatest gift we can give our children is to show them it’s possible to die without fear. I would like to achieve that for my daughters.
    This article really helps with that . ❤️

  4. Thank you Dear Friend , Yes I also walked mom through the tough parts of her dying with Avalokiteshvara and when she dyed I did powa right away. This is my 3rd. Experience with end of life but this one was with Avalokiteshvara instead of God. I haven’t had any dreams yet or feelings that mom is in the pure land but I do know many people prayed for sweet Ethel.

  5. Thank you dearest Dakini, you will never cease to inspire me. May we be able to apply equanimity to our powa practice and develop the sincere wish to help all living beings without exception attain the pure land.

  6. Thank you for such a helpful, timely article. I have recently been tutting about (Kadampa)) friends going to see a medium and wondering how to respond when I undoubtedly hear about all the spirits giving out their messages.
    Then I read your article.
    Later, I went shopping and bumped in to a girl I knew to have recently lost her baby at a few hours old. She had had the opportunity to visit a medium and Baby had come ‘through’….holding a lotus. I nearly fainted. I told her that on hearing of her baby’s death I did a POWA at the time and that this confirmed to me that Baby had, indeed reached the Pure Land. She was over the moon.
    The lesson (well one of loads of teachings) for this kadampa is, stop judging others (tutting, above) for ‘mixing it’ and (can’t remember who said this, maybe Genla Dekyong, maybe you Luna) “don’t tell your Guru how big your problems are; tell your problems how big your Guru is.”

    1. Thank you for this. And it has given me the opportunity to say a little more …

      I was wary of Cheryl seeing the medium at the time (didn’t try and put her off though) and, although it worked out and I believe it was Bob on this occasion, I personally still am wary about relying on mediums as a rule.

      Although I believe people in Pure Lands can reach us in this way, including that baby, so can spirits fooling around with us; and sometimes it might be hard to tell them apart. That’s the challenge, I think, especially if we get attached to hearing the messages. So generally I trust that the transference of consciousness has worked simply from the experience, especially if it is strong and blissful, and from knowing that the Buddhas will take care of it to the very extent of their power if we ask. For me, this is about refuge — as a Buddhist I have promised not to go for ultimate refuge to anyone but holy beings.

      To be honest, I tend to be very cautious around anything that might encourage spirits to get involved in my life, including seances, ouija boards and so on. (When I was 8, a “clairvoyant” at a fairground in Guyana told me I would die at 12. I didn’t, and in some ways the death awareness woke me up! But still …)

      This is just how I understand it in general. (The subject of spirits is complex and nuanced and I cannot do justice to it in one comment).

      1. Sometimes the medium phrases the message in a way the recipient struggles to understand, (shifting the mind) personal responserbility comes in here, never give anything that you yourself would find upsetting or causes the mind to worry! (Wisdom) To be told of your death at 12 ! Um could well be the complete change of the mindset you would have over the next 4 years of your life! Cause no harm to anyone ❤️ Working with a good heart ! Your living to tell the story 😜

        1. Yes, to be honest i don’t regret being told that. It woke me up. (An old acquaintance from those years told me just a year or so ago that she and others considered me “morbid” 😊 at school). I appreciated being alive, but was also happy when my 12th birthday came and went and I was still here …

          1. My friends and family thought I was weird lol 😂 as I spoke to people they could not see, my mum took me to the doctor as a child with this, who spun me round in his chair which I loved and asked if I could see the man in his room who I see stood next to my mother ! My reply no I see a lady behind you and gave her name lol the doctor started to smile and told my mum I would grow tired of it 😊 Never it is beautiful and very helpful when you have a good heart and see anyone in pain and a dakini has wisdom , at the age of 8 I asked my teacher what was the point in being born if we all just die lol 😂 I’m still waiting for her reply bless her ! Life is never dull working with a good heart and love and compassion it is like being sat in the middle of a see saw 😊 I loved this post! But then I find most of these posts very inspiring

  7. Wow, this floored me. I wish I had known for my father and eldest brother that I could have simply put Jesus in place of Avalokiteshvara. Both so scared of dying and the fiery hell they feared awaited them. With my Mother I was a little closer to realizing that the pure land and heaven were all the same and she was far less afraid. Now, thanks to teachers like you and such wisdom as this, I will hopefully have more wisdom and peace to offer if I’m ever given the incredible opportunity to help those I love pass on. Thank you so much.

  8. Totally blew me away. Thank you – as others said too – this completely invigorated my Powa enthusiasm.
    Recently a young woman in my town that I knew as ‘one of those folks you see in the market’ died. Like most around here, she and her family are of different faith, but doing Powa for her was what I knew was my “job” as a practitioner.
    I never forget that Geshe-la tells us this is the kindest thing we can be doing. Especially when convention can be to worry more about whether we can or should attend memorial services, participate in other rituals, etc.
    Instead, I make sure to definitely and deliberately focus on doing what “we” do at the time of death as Buddhists.
    THANK YOU for putting this story out there. As always, you inspire us all so much.

    1. Nice. Thank you for this. It does seem to be one of our main jobs. Powa doesn’t have to take long, sometimes, especially if we are concentrating and have a lot of faith and compassion.

  9. This. Is. So. Inspiring!! I love Powa practice. This story brought back a memory of when I was very new to Dharma a dear friend, who was also my boss, died. I didn’t know much but did a few fumbling Powas for him in my living room really wanting to help him.

    I had a few dreams a couple days later that he appeared in Cowboy boots and western clothing (he and his wife had always wanted to move to Santa Fe). He kept thanking me. I never thought anything of it until this story. I just thought it was my own wishful thinking or even pride, now I’m pretty sure I sent him someplace fabulous 😉 Thank you for your personal story, faith meter very high right now xx

  10. Hi Luna about ten years ago when I was still fairly fresh to Buddhism my brother died of early onset dementia, having lost both parents the year before it was tough. However I didn’t know about powa at the time but I had an Arya Tara empowerment and a lot of faith that she could help. I sat for most of a day with him giving his wife and others a break and just prayed did mantras imagined Tara on his crown . He had been in pain and discomfort but Arya Tara transformed everything so much that lots of others noticed and commented on the peaceful atmosphere. The next day he died very peacefully with his wife quietly singing his favorate Genisis songs . My kind teacher and a few others did powa for him a couple if days later and I am sure he went straight to a pure land which is full of music (he was a music teacher) . First time I’ve shared that story guess you inspired me x

  11. This is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing. It reinforced my believe that I helped my husband in his transition. Even though I was not a Buddhist at the time and wasn’t trained for the occasion, I was present for him and helped him focusing only on his well-being. I wanted him to embrace that moment completely, with no fear and no attachments to his life here.

  12. I have tears in my eyes… With each new blog entry my faith in Geshe-la and his incredible teachings grows. Thank you so much for sharing this particular story. I can see now that while the end goal of enlightenment can seem overwhelming at times, this beautiful practice is a part of the process and something we can do to truly help those dying as well as the people in their close circle!
    I love that Cheryl received confirmation that the process was successful. How amazing!

  13. I thought I already had strong faith in Powa but this has confirmed/underlined/reaffirmed/reminded/renewed it for me. Thank you so much for this wonderful teaching. How blessed we are to have met a Geshe La in this lifetime.

  14. Dearest Luna. How amazing that most of your topics are appropriate to what is happening in my life at the time. My Gucci-girl , beautiful 7 year old white cat died this morning … I sat with her all night chanting Amithaba from the depths of my broken heart. She had kidney failure and suffered so much Luna. This morning I went and sat under a tree in my yard and through my tears to Amitabha I wondered how would I know that she is there in his Pure Land.. And a downy white feather did the most fantastic, surreal dance between branches above me. I believe it worked! Namo Amitabha and farewell my blessing of a Gucci-girl.

  15. Thanks for sharing this meaningful and ‘powa-ful’ experience 😉. Very moving and inspiring. I was with my dad when he died in 2000, he was unconscious and struggling to breathe, my sister said ‘go on dad, go’ and so he did. His body was there in the bed but his consciousness had definitely gone elsewhere. In the weeks following his death I kept seeing him in my minds eye wandering along a path in what looked like a technicolor version of the Grand Canyon. He was young and healthy again and seemed to be relaxed and curious about his surroundings as though enjoying a leisurely stroll in a new country. As a result of this experience I felt compelled to find out where he had gone and ended up doing a working visit in an NKT Buddhist centre. I had never heard of the bardot before but I had complete conviction in it when someone explained it to me, you don’t doubt your own experience. I wish I’d known about Powa practice back then…

  16. In an ICU where I was repeatedly doing powa for a dying person, somebody else already pronounced dead by the doctors for hours and lying next to me covered by a sheet came back to life, recovered and went home a couple of days later.

  17. Lovely to read 😊 I am myself a medium and bring much peace to many people talking about their loved ones now in a happy place free from the pain and physical sickness of this life’s conditions 😊
    To see the smile and peace of another’s face when that light bulb moment happens and that mind of anger and sadness and confusion changes to joy and peace and harmony is priceless amen to enlightenment 🙏

      1. I love Geshe-las twinkle in his eyes too🤔 and how his heart radiates such love ❤💚❤💚❤ those are beautiful footsteps 👣 to follow x

  18. Tears of joy and faith as I read this beautiful and meaningful story. I wished that I could have been by my father’s and brother’s side when they passed in the last 2 years. My family did tap the crown of their heads three times. I immediately did POWA within seconds of learning of their passing. I pray every day that it worked. I believe that it did.❤️🙏🏽❤️🙏🏽❤️🙏🏽

    1. I am sure it worked due to your deep love for them and your connection with the enlightened beings. We can be like a bridge between them.

  19. Great story. Thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience when my brother passed on.

  20. Love this story so much! Thanks for sharing it with us. Thanks for helping all living beings.

  21. Wow. I rejoyce in your boundless virtue 🙏
    Strangely, just last night I felt compelled to tell my boyfriend about the process of dying so when the time comes he will know what to expect. He is not sick. Conventionally speaking. He meditates and his understanding of emptiness is pretty advanced but his mind is closed to our tradition. I wonder what his equivalent of Bob’s Jesus could be…?

    Thank you!

    1. The monthly powa at centers is such a good thing. Don’t wish for yours just yet though, still got a precious human life to take advantage of!

    2. Larry….please don’t wish your very precious life away. However old or infirm we may be we can welcome each morning and smilingly do ‘taking and giving’ practice ….even from our bath chairs! Cheers…Barbara

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