The-Tibetan-Book-of-Living-and-Dying

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The-Tibetan-Book-of-Living-and-Dying

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

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