172 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING is often accompanied by spontaneous manifestations of light and rainbows. The ancient Tantras of Dzogchen, and the writings of the great masters, distinguish different categories of this amazing, otherworldly phenomenon, for at one time, if at least not normal, it was reasonably frequent. Usually a person who knows he or she is about to attain the rainbow body will ask to be left alone and undisturbed in a room or a tent for seven days. On the eighth day only the hair and nails, the impurities of the body, are found. This may be very difficult for us now to believe, but the factual history of the Dzogchen lineage is full of examples of individuals who attained the rainbow body, and as Dudjom Rinpoche often used to point out, this is not just ancient history. Of the many examples, I would like to choose one of the most recent, one with which I have a personal connection. In 1952 there was a famous instance of the rainbow body in the east of Tibet, witnessed by many people. The man who attained it, Sönam Namgyal, was the father of my tutor and the brother of Lama Tseten, whose death I described at the beginning of this book. He was a very simple, humble person who made his way as an itinerant stone carver, carving mantras and sacred texts. Some say he had been a hunter in his youth, and had received teaching from a great master. No one really knew he was a practitioner; he was truly what is called "a hidden yogin." Some time before his death, he would be seen going up into the mountains and just sit, silhouetted against the skyline, gazing up into space. He composed his own songs and chants and sang them instead of the traditional ones. No one had any idea what he was doing. He then fell ill, or seemed to, but he became, strangely, increasingly happy. When the illness got worse, his family called in masters and doctors. His son told him he should remember all the teachings he had heard, and he smiled and said, "I've forgotten them all and anyway, there's nothing to remember. Everything is illusion, but I am confident that all is well." Just before his death at seventy-nine, he said: "All I ask is that when I die, don't move my body for a week." When he died his family wrapped his body and invited Lamas and monks to come and practice for him. They placed the body in a small room in the house, and they could not help noticing that although he had been a tall person, they had no trouble getting it in, as if he were becoming smaller. At the same time, an extraordinary display of rainbow-colored light was
THE INNERMOST ESSENCE 173 seen all around the house. When they looked into the room on the sixth day, they saw that the body was getting smaller and smaller. On the eighth day after his death, the morning for which the funeral had been arranged, the undertakers arrived to collect his body. When they undid its coverings, they found nothing inside but his nails and hair. My master Jamyang Khyentse asked for these to be brought to him, and verified that this was a case of the rainbow body.