Soon after a person dies, a high religious teacher performs 'Phowa'.: Becoming Minnesotan

Yangchen Dolkar, c.2005.
  • Name - Yangchen Dolkar
  • Age at interview - 55
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 08.26.2005
  • Tibetan butter lamps in a Tibetan American's home.

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Traditions & Values: What makes up “culture”?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    When the Chinese invaded Tibet, many Tibetan people flooded into the neighboring countries like Nepal.  To this day there are refugee camps in Nepal where Tibetan people continue to honor their Tibetan traditions concerning marriage, birth, death, and other important life events. 

    A phowa is a Tibetan ceremony that is performed by a monk when a person dies. Tibetans believe that the phowa will allow the dying person to die more peacefully. Butter lamps are offered to help with prayer at the time of death. 

    To learn more about Tibetan history and culture, visit our Tibetan Community page.

    • Chapter 1

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    Note: Original interview was conducted in Tibetan.  Excerpt is read in English by Tsering Dolma.

    Narrator: Yangchen Dolkar (YD)

    Interviewer: Tenzin Yangdon (TY)

    TY:  Over there when a person dies, there are some religious rituals performed. Could you tell what are they and how are they performed?

    YD:  According to Tibetan tradition, soon after a person dies, a high religious teacher performs Phowa. We offer butter lamps daily. More you offer butter lamps, better it is. Once every week we have a monk or monks at home, performing rituals and prayers and this goes till the seventh week or the forty-ninth day. Had I not come to the United States, I would not have done all the things that I did for my husband. Money I took from America when converted into Nepalese currency turned out to a huge pile. I spent all my money. I admitted one son in a monastery and other in a school. I spent six months in Nepal.

    Related Glossary Terms

    butter lamp

    Noun:  A lamp used by Tibetan Buddhists for religious purposes.  The lamps traditionally burn clarified yak butter but now often use vegetable oil.


    Verb:  To exchange for something of equal value.  (converts, converting, converted)


    Noun:  Money or other item used in transactions.


    Noun:  Place of residence for members of a religious community (especially monks).


    Noun:  A male member of a monastic order who has devoted his life for religious service.


    Adjective:  Of, from, or pertaining to Nepal, the Nepalese people or the Nepalese language.

    Noun:  1. A person from Nepal or of Nepalese descent.  2. The national language of Nepal.


    Noun:  A meditation practice done amongst Buddhists at the time of death.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  A repeated set of actions, often religious in nature.


    Noun:  A custom that is practiced within a group.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 154