Sneak Peek: Rainbow Body and Resurrection
Categories: Excerpt Spirituality & Religion
Below is an exclusive preview of Father Francis V. Tiso’s Rainbow Body and Resurrection, a new book that draws unprecedented connections between Dzogchen and Christian spiritual traditions. The rainbow body phenomenon is said to occur as a physical manifestation of spiritual attainment, where the corporeal form becomes, literally, a body of pure light. Rainbow Body and Resurrection examines the history, origins, and mythology of this phenomenon, and its vast implications for religions the world over. It will be available in stores on January 26th, but in the meantime you can check out this sneak peak or Father Tiso’s Liberation in on Lifetime.
Research on Paranormal
Postmortem Phenomena in Tibet
The body is the vehicle for spiritual practice, even when it is experienced as a weight, an obstacle, a fortress vulnerable to temptation, a fragile temporary dwelling that is subject to old age, sickness, and death. Traditions of spiritual practice have reshaped the body in order to make it a more fitting vehicle for the sacred. These interventions from the outside work to exploit the body’s symbolic capabilities through circumcision, tattooing, hair modifications, piercing, coloring, flagellation, incision, fasting, adopting fixed bodily postures, dance (with concomitant bodily development and decoration), costuming, and nudity.
However, some instances of bodily modification seem not to be the result of an external intervention. Rather they arise either spontaneously or in connection with ascetic practices. These occurrences would seem to indicate that some spiritual practices, either directly or indirectly, produce bodily modifications on a very deep level: stigmata, spontaneous healing of diseases, incorruption of the body after death, symbolic objects formed of human tissue in the bones or organs (found after death, as in the case of St. Veronica Giuliani or in the cremation of highly realized Tibetan lamas), longevity or “immortality,” bilocation, levitation, resurrection, spontaneous combustion, the body of light, and the rainbow body.
Our research is directed toward the manifestation of the rainbow body after death and is based on the case of Khenpo A Chö, a Gelugpa monk of Khams (eastern Tibet) who died in 1998. I am defining the rainbow body in generic terms: the shrinkage and disappearance of a human body within a short time after death accompanied by paranormal phenomena such as unusual emanations of light and altered atmospheric conditions in the locality of the deceased. My spiritual teacher for many years, Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., had heard about the death of this Khenpo from a friend in Switzerland and was intrigued by the reports of paranormal phenomena, including the manifestation of the disappearance of the corpse within a week of death.
In part, Brother David’s interest was specifically directed toward an eventual comparison of the rainbow body phenomenon with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which is of course one of the central faith-convictions of Christianity. Since the days of late-nineteenth-century European biblical scholarship directed along secular lines, the resurrection for the most part has been consigned to the category of those miracles that comprise a symbolic account of the faith experience. This approach, associated with the humanistic tradition of textual hermeneutics (the historical-critical method), asserts that miracles did not happen literally. Rather, paranormal phenomena are retold from the point of view of the disciples of Jesus as an explanation for their continued belief in him after his death on the cross and the reason for their courageous persistence in spreading his message in the face of violent opposition. The historical-critical approach, however, does not seem to answer all our questions. Brother David had been in touch with some of the scientists who were able to study the Shroud of Turin, and he came away convinced that this relic is not a fraud made some time during the Middle Ages. When he tried to raise the question of the shroud as an archeological source in conversation with his historical-critical biblical scholar colleagues, he ran into a total lack of interest. It was as if discussion of the shroud represented of the opposite style of discourse from that of modern literary critics of ancient texts. Worse yet, the scientific aspects of shroud research turned out to be almost incomprehensible to the biblical scholars. Just as archaic tribal societies have their insider ways of articulating reality, so too, literary scholars have an insider language that cannot be violated, and the same is true for scientists. Each community of discourse seems to live in its own emic worldviews. At the interdisciplinary boundaries, communication becomes very difficult and at times almost impossible. Brother David entrusted me with the task of engaging with this risky terrain of research, knowing that I had studied Tibetan Buddhism, had done anthropological fieldwork in the Himalayas, and have a strong background in biblical studies and theology. Moreover, we have been working together on our respective spiritual journeys, including interreligious dialogue, for over forty years.
Working with the fairly recent instance Khenpo A Chö has an obvious advantage in that we can talk to living eyewitnesses. Another advantage is that written accounts were produced within months of the events described. For these reasons, we are able to overcome some of the criticisms of the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus that were written down at the earliest about twenty years after the event. At the same time, given that the rainbow body has been a topic of interest in Tibetan culture for more than a thousand years, we are confronted with a well-established community of discourse that requires careful interpretation.Tags: Buddhism Christianity Francis V. Tiso