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In Tibetan Buddhism there is a phenomenon of the Rainbow Body which involves the dissolution of the physical body into pure light that may occasionally be achieved by practitioners on or around the time of death. The process of obtaining the Rainbow Body is achieved by the practice of Tögal or "Direct Crossing" which is a way of directly perceiving the "Clear Light" which is believed to be the direct root of consciousness. An advanced practitioner of Tögal may potentially achieve one of three levels of this phenomenon:
- Rainbow Body - This achievement occurs only after the time of physical death and generally involves a week-long process of the body shrinking and dissolving into light. In less advanced practitioners, a small baby-sized body may remain and in more advanced practitioners, only hair & nails may be left behind.
- Rainbow Body of Light - This second level of achievement may begin before the time of physical death and the shrinking of the physical body before it dissolves into light may either occur extremely quickly or in many cases may be achieved slowly by the practitioner over the course of months or years all whilst remaining physically functional. In most cases the body will shrink to the size of a baby before disappearing in a flash of white light and sometimes leaving hair or nails behind.
- Rainbow Body of Great Transference - The highest level of Rainbow Body achievement is extremely rare and mirrors the process of achieving the Rainbow Body of Light except that in this case the practitioner dissolves into light but remains fully functional as a being of light. (Incidentally the scene in The Last Jedi where Luke Skywalker dissolves his physical body in order to become one with the The Force appears to have been inspired by this Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the appearance of "Force Ghosts" in earlier episodes could easily be a nod to the Body of Great Transference).
An example of a practitioner allegedly achieving the third stage is found in a small Indian village called Nako, where the alleged footprint of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche (precious guru) can be seen imprinted into a rock. Tibetan Buddhists believe that he achieved the Rainbow Body of Great Transference and performed various miracles. Early stories about Padmasambhava relate that he was brought to Tibet by a Buddhist Master called Shantarakshita to conquer a plethora of local demons (local demigods) who were preventing the emperor Trisong Detsen from building a temple by causing a series of natural disasters.
Padmasambhava converted the demons to Buddhism and making them protectors of the Dharma after which they assisted the locals with the building of the emprorer's temple. Tibetan Buddhists in the present day believe that Guru Rinpoche may appear face-to-face in his Rainbow Body to those who engage him in their meditation practice or chant his mantra with great devotion.
Venerable Chöje Lama Namse Rinpoche says on the subject; "It is not a matter of how he appears rather of whether he appears to one. If one has true devotion for him, engages in one of his meditation practices, recites prayers to him, or repeats his mantra, one can meet Guru Rinpoche face-to-face. When one does, it is very clear and one has no doubts that it is Guru Rinpoche. There are many accounts of his appearance in Tibet hundreds of years after he left. Guru Rinpoche appeared to great masters and devoted practitioners in their dreams or they travelled to his Pure Realm that has the name ‘Glorious Copper-colored Mountain,’ met him there, and received transmissions and instructions from him then."
“Anyone with faith in me is a fit vessel for my blessings. They are never apart from me.
I am here. I haven’t gone anywhere.”
-- Guru Rinpoche, in: Treasure Biographies of Padmakara and Vairochana