Rainbow body is unique to the Nyingma tradition, one of four Tibetan Buddhist schools of thought. Nyingma is a strain of the ancient Bön (sometimes Bönpo) religion, the indigenous religion of Tibet before the infusion of Buddhism in the eighth century. The practice of Dzogchen is a central feature of the Nyingma school and is known to produce rainbow body, something the other schools do not. Here we can connect the physical dissolution of the body with the mental state that is required to bring it about and, in the process, fundamentally alter the way we perceive reality.
Dzogchen practitioners seek to realize true nature of mind. True nature of mind is not something one must acquire. It is latently present in every living human being. The problem is that mind’s true nature is blanketed and compromised with the human desire for a material existence, manifest in the seemingly unending quest for comfort, pleasure and security.True nature of mind is the subtle, intangible, ineffable underpinning behind all phenomena.If Figure I, for example, represents true nature of mind, smooth and uncorrupted, then Figure II is how it appears when thoughts of materiality arise. The lumps represent the elemental building materials that mother nature and man’s ingenuity and skill set use to make the physical stuff we call reality. The objective of Dzogchen is to get rid of the lumps, so to speak.
Look at it this way. The creation story, Genesis 1, starts, “In the beginning, when God created…” True nature of mind is the primordial condition that existed before the “beginning” began. That is, there is a universal, undisturbed mind of which we are all apart. Material existence is an individualized aspect of that primordial mind, fashioned into people and things, causing the perception of separateness. The objective of Dzogchen for the individual is to return to the primordial state, i.e. the state that existed before the word “beginning,” and return to the primordial mind. So, when we speak of true nature of mind we are referencing an uncorrupted (primordial) universal mind (the true nature) and an individualized mind (the corrupted, individualized, version of the primordial mind.)
Recall the principle of duality of matter discussed in earlier blogs. All matter has a dual nature. It is either particle—a solid, pellet kind of thing. Or it is wave, a subtle, intangible, ineffable state of existence. Wave then is reflective of true nature of mind; the natural state of all sensory perceptions. In other words, all material phenomena, by nature, are empty of existence.But, materially ordered thoughts mess up the naturalness and add lumpiness and individualization.
The human agency called self is a major issue in Dzogchen. Self will be discussed in future blogs. For now, it is the part of being that causes us to think we are different than the person (or objects) standing next to us. In Dzogchen,the emptiness (wave or true nature of mind) that is the natural, connected oneness of everything cannot co-exist with the notion of self which stresses the differences in everything. Recognition of the inherent emptiness of everything (primordial mind—not lumpiness) and the elimination of self then are the major issues in Dzogchen.
The word “recognition” in the above paragraph means more than intellectual understanding. It means experiencing it through action which leads to detachment. Ascetic, meditative lifestyles that center around selflessness are the most prevalent traits of rainbow body adepts. The practitioners engage in deep, prolonged, meditation practices in to absorb the teaching of emptiness and the need for cessation of attention to self. The meditation typically takes place in remote hermitages, far removed from society.Practitioners, ever aware of the pitfalls of karma, live under a high moral imperative to avoid otherwise being blown off course by karmic influence.The practice is conducted under the watchful guidance of an accomplished Master who guides his student through the learning process.