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  • Lama Jigme Gyatso

The Dangerous Myth of the Rainbow Body


Some of the Buddha’s teachings are literal,

and others are figurative.


Those who have been conditioned

to view the world

through the mid-brain’s lens

of empathy and cooperation


often have the intellectual flexibility required

to discern the figurative from the literal.


However those who habitually view the world

through the brain-stem’s lens

of fear, and aggression

are often so blinded by the rigidity it generates

as to mistake the figurative teachings for their literal counterparts.


The tragedy of this confusion

is that it waists colossal amounts

of time and energy


while also concocting strange doctrines:

bizarre and disempowering,

in an attempt to somehow codify

literalism’s confusion.


Let us contrast the literal with the figurative

by way of three examples.


Literal statement:

John is tenacious.


Figurative statement – simile:

John is as tenacious

as if he was a dog with a bone.


Figurative statement – metaphor:

John is a dog with a bone.


Is John literally a dog with a bone?

Does he really prance about

on all fours

striving to sniff the butts of strangers?


Of course not!

For such things are frowned upon

in polite society.


We see the same type of confusion

occurring in the myth of the Rainbow body.


Literally a rainbow can be seen with our eyes,

and, also literally, a rainbow can NOT be grasped

by our hands.


A rainbow is therefore a great example

of an object being seen YET non-graspable.

This is a great illustration of the Mahayana concept

of the two truths.


What are the two truths?

Conventionally – any: thing, being, or phenomena

we notice during our inhalation

is an object of mindfulness.


Ultimately – as we physically relax

into each exhalation

we begin to mentally release


and as such, that (which we previously noticed)

could now seem to be as non-graspable

as if were a rainbow.


Neither the ultimate nor the conventional

are superior to one another

for just as a bird requires both of its wings

to take to the skies


likewise we require

both inhalation’s mindfulness

as well as exhalations insight

to taste of Nirvana’s freedom.


From the figurative point of view,

supported by our empathetic and cooperative mid-brains

we could use the simile of the Rainbow

to explore how during our inhalation


we could mindfully experience our body

as appearing as a rainbow


and then during our exhalation

we could insightfully relax into the experience

of our exact same body

as being as non-graspable as a rainbow.


Or, to add an additional layer of figurative language;

as we breathe out we could experience our body

as being as non-graspable

as a vast, empty void;


like the illusion of the infinite azure sky

on a bright and beautiful, cloudless morn.


But what about the literal point of view?

Those whose perceptions and cognitions

are limited by the rigidity of their brain-stems:

frightened and competitive,


subscribe to the elitist myth

that at the very end of a great yogi’s life

they will be sewn into a tent

and perform, the so-called, “Rainbow meditation.”


When their acolytes later cut open the tent

all that they find

may be their teacher’s clothes, teeth, finger nails, and toenails;


inferring that the rest of their enchanted teacher

had magically transformed into a literal rainbow

and was now in the mythical realm of the Dakinis.


The folly of such magical thinking

is that is supports the elitist assumptions

that enlightenment is difficult to obtain

and only for the chosen few.


But the Buddha taught the opposite.

The Buddha taught that once one has learned

to blend the four bases of mindfulness

with the seven enlightenment factors


if one enthusiastically applies them

actively as contemplation, Vajrayana, or Togal’s leap-over

and passively as meditation, Mahamudra or Trekchöd’s slice through


for as little as seven years, or

seven quarters, or seven months, or

seven fortnights, or seven weeks, or

even seven days


one could master the true knowledge

that comes from the inhalation’s mindfulness

and the liberation

that comes from exhalation’s insight.


When the fundamentalists

of any spiritual path

are confronted with evidence

of their techniques’ impotence


they spin fairytales:

elitist, and disempowering,

claiming that their flaccid techniques really do work

but only in special circumstances


and for special people

of which we, dear reader, are not.


Come, let us dispense

with the greasy kid-stuff of our Brain-stem’s lies of patriarchy


and instead practice the Buddha’s love meditations

that we might fall under the sway of our mid-brain:

empathetic, cooperative, and flexible.




Let us conclude

with a simple

call to action


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