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The Rainbow


The rainbow is eternity’s expression of delight. It cannot but be auspicious, even if it portends the demise of a great master. For such a master – now merged into ‘clear light’ (prabhasvara) of the death process where the most subtle level of mind is experienced as pristine inner radiance – there is no sense of ‘leaving behind’, the notion of self and others having been transcended. For the ‘others’, the disciples or students, there is inevitably a great sense of loss and grief. Yet the miracle of the master’s departing rainbow will always remain as a great source of strength and inspiration for the devotees.

The vaulting arc of the rainbow is known as ‘Indra’s bow’

(Indradhanush), one of the weapons of the ancient Vedic sky god, Indra. The seven colours of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet on the inside. When a double rainbow occurs, the order of colours in the second rainbow is reversed. On rare occasion a similar rainbow effect is created by the moon’s light at night, producing a silver ‘moonbow’ on the opposite side of the sky. A circular rainbow known as ‘glory’, can sometimes be seen from high vantage points, such as hazy mountain summits, forming an aureole halo ring of rainbow light. In Tibetan art the rainbow takes on a more supernatural manifestation. The divine forms of deities manifest and dissolve into emptiness just as a rainbow appears and vanishes into the sky. Rainbows in Tibetan art arise from sacred places or objects, expanding outwards as they twist and interweave with other rainbows or horizontal cloudbanks. They originate from a point and eventually dissolve into space, like winding rivers of light. A miraculous phenomena in the Tibetan tradition is the taking of the ‘rainbow body’ at the time of death. This miraculous sign of realization is known as the ‘body of light’. When a great master has attained the realization of Mahamudra, the world is no longer perceived as a conceptual concrete dimension. Sine all appearance have transformed into ultimate nature of reality itself – as the fully enlightened ‘body’ of the Buddha (dharmakaya), permeating space with no solidity or separation. When the notion of a individual self has dissolved, leaving no residue of an intermediary ‘I’ between unmanifest consciousness and the appearance of a physical universe as light, the physical body is likewise perceived as merely an appearance of light. Such a master will leave instructions that his body should remain undisturbed for a period of days after his death. During this period rainbow emanates from the place where his body rests, as his consciousness remains absorbed in the state of ‘clear light’. When the miraculous rainbows have ceased, all that remains of the master’s bodily form are his clothes, hair, his fingernails and toenails. Tibetan folklore ascribes various omens to the appearance of rainbows. At the end of every rainbow is believed to be a wish-fulfilling jewel. A rainbow at night is believed to be an ominous sign. White rainbow symbolizes, the death of a yogin. A rainbow around the sun is usually caused by ice crystals, but in Tibet it is seen as an omen of the birth or death of a great teacher.

One of the most frequently painted forms of rainbow-body emanation is that of Padmasambhava, a great Buddhist teacher and tantric master. When Padmasambhava is represented as manifesting on the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya level simultaneously, then three rainbow sources emanates from his crown, forehead and heart centres, respectively. These three rainbow-streams merge together very subtly to produce a harmonious triple whirl-pool of rainbow waves. As finely depicted in this thangka.

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