By Lama Alta Brown

Temporary “Blissed Out” Bliss

The difficulty with the “blissed out” bliss is that even though it is temporarily ecstatic, it is also temporary. That is not the only way in which being blissed out does not produce the truly revelatory states of mind associated with realization. 

When the kinds of agonizing experiences all of us in the human realm find ourselves tortured by occur, temporary ecstasy is not that helpful. Being temporarily blissed out only removes us from the source of the pain for a short time. It does not enable us to solve the basic problem. 

Old age, sickness and death still remain the fundamental conditions associated with having a body, the source of the pain. And, of course, there are always the sources of pain associated with having a mind, namely, damaging emotional states and intellectual impairment. 

So how is the bliss that is not temporary, not artificially removed from our fundamentally painful situation generated? 

Phowa and the subtle body

This is where phowa enters the scene. Instead of temporarily removing conscious states from the sources of pain, phowa uses the structure of the body to open our consciousness to the enduring sources of joy that are an integral part of that very structure. 

The structure of the body I have just referred to, is more complicated than that which is normally pictured in biology textbooks. According to both Hindu and Buddhist portrayals of the body, there is more than one structure understood as our body. This other structure is not physical, in the same way that we typically understand physicality. It is usually called a subtle body or a vajra body. It is comprised of channels, energy winds, and what Lama Yeshe called “drops of subtle liquid energy,” he refers to as “tigles”. 

Channels and chakras

The mind rides on the subtle winds through the channels. Within the channel there are channel wheels, or chakras. At the center of that subtle structure there are three principal channels. The central channel is the one that is responsible for enlightened understanding. 

The problem that we humans struggle with comes about because the two side channels, that are not associated with spiritual realization, wrap themselves around the chakras in the central channel. This makes it very difficult for the energy winds to travel through the central channel without being blocked by the knots in the chakras. Pain is created by these blockages. 

Lama Yeshe says that these knots have a direct effect on the quality of these channels. They become shriveled up and shrunken instead of silky, open and radiant like a rainbow. The wind energy cannot flow unimpeded through the chakras. This is especially damaging to the chakras at the heart and the throat. When the blockages are removed and the knots are untied, the chakras open and expand. The wind energy on which the mind rides, flows unchecked. Bliss results. 

Bliss and natural wisdom

When I asked Khenpo Tsultrim about bliss he told me that this bliss allows your natural wisdom to be revealed. The natural wisdom he was talking about, by its very nature includes the radiance of joy. That radiance is a fundamental constituent of enlightened mind. When the chakras are unblocked, and bliss results, nothing is being added from somewhere else in order to generate that bliss. 

The four joys that are experienced are aspects of the nature of what already exists as components of the very body that causes us so much pain. In Chöd practice it is phowa that reveals the bliss of “the four joys.”

In the next blog, I will talk about bliss, phowa and compassion and how the foundation of Chöd is built on these three.

Read the first article in the series here Chöd Part 1

Read the third article in the series here Chöd Part 3

Join Lama Alta Brown this summer!


When Trungpa Rinpoche arrived in Boulder CO, Lama Alta immediately connected with him and studied as his student. After Trungpa died she studied, and continues to study, with Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. She was introduced to Chöd by Khenpo Tsültrim at the monastery in Pullahari, Nepal. He supervised her practice while she did an individual 3-year Chöd retreat. Eventually, he began to send her students. She has been practicing Chöd since 1996 and has been teaching this practice since 1999.

Dr. Brown completed her doctoral work at the University of Southern California, specializing in Buddhist Ethics. She wrote her dissertation on Mediation as a Bodhisattva’s Practice of Peace. She subsequently taught at the University of California at Berkeley through The Graduate Theological Union where she emphasized aspects of Buddhist ethics. She also taught for The Semester in India program through Antioch University and, for five years, taught weekend retreats through The Immaculate Heart college center at The Retreat Center La Casa De Maria. Dr. Lama Alta Brown currently leads an international Chöd sangha. Much of her training in compassionate activity developed out of her experience as the mother of six children.

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