On Padmasambhava's Rainbow Body


The Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen

Namo Padmasambhava, the Great Guru! Please bless me in this talk on your real accomplishments. The subject is how the Great Guru Padmasambhava accomplished his Rainbow Body.

I have not the full experience about this kind of high realization, but I will try to tell you from biographies and from what I have learned so far and know about how this can be accomplished. Under this subject I think it is best to classify this talk according to the three Cs which I always emphasize. One is the Cause, or seed; one is the Course, like the flower; third is the Consequence, like the fruit. As we want to discourse about the accomplishment of the Rainbow Body which is the Consequence, to know how it is accomplished, we must first talk about Cause and Course.

I. Cause

So first let me talk about the Cause which is the seed. We read Padmasambhavas biography and we see that his body is surely different from a human body. Most of the teachings of Gautama Buddha were Hinayana and Gautama Buddha had to trust somebody to teach Vajrayana. The great Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara had such Great Compassion that he also agreed that there might be a great guru to teach Vajrayana instead of Gautama Buddha. Amitabha especially wanted somebody to show that even in our Saha world (that is, our earth with its 5 deep defilements and contaminations which are mentioned in Amitabhas sutra) a special birth is possible just as in his Sukhavati, his Great Pleasure World. In Amitabhas Sukhavati there is a special birth which is that everybody who gets birth there is born in a lotus and not born from a woman or through a father. In this world, a father and mother are both needed to give birth to a child; humans are never born in a lotus. So to prove that even in this world full of contaminations such a special birth is possible, in a lotus was born a Sage. The lotus itself symbolizes a person who although born in a dirty place, purifies himself. You see, the lotus grows up in dirty water, from mud; downside it is so ugly, but upside so beautiful; the lotus is never defiled by the mud.

Our Guru has such a cause connected with the three Buddhas Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Gautama Buddha. Amitabha agreed to purify this world and make every human being in this world become as Amitabha. Avalokitesvara is not a Buddha but he always humbly keeps his Bodhisattva status. According to Gautama Buddha, Avalokitesvara is an old Buddha who voluntarily returned to a Bodhisattva position in order to be very close to sentient beings and help Gautama Buddha promote the Dharma. These three Buddhas are closely connected to Padmasambhava.

We must know there are three kinds of Vajras: Vajra of the body, Vajra of speech, and Vajra of mind. First, Gautama Buddhas body shone out a White Light of OM to a certain place called in India Wu-Jin [ed note: Oddiyana]. There was a lotus and to that lotus Gautama Buddha directed his White Light with all a Buddhas body Vajra. As our Gautama Buddha loved so much sentient beings and as his body was already in Parinirvana, instead of himself, he sent the light of his body into the Lotus. This means that Padmasambhavas body is equal to Gautama Buddhas own. Second, according to the situation of the Five Buddhas, Amitabha is in the West and signifies all Buddhas?speech and the throat chakra. Therefore, Amitabha is in the position of representing the speech of all Buddhahood and he sent his light to Padmasambhava as Buddhas speech. Third, Avalokitesvara is the very great Compassion personification of all the Buddhas, and sent his light into Padmasambhavas Mind. These are the three very important Vajra things, the Body, the Speech, and the Mind. The body includes everything of the flesh, the physical; the Speech includes not only speech, but energy to speak things and propagate from the throat; and mind includes all the philosophy and psychological things. So the physical, psychological and energy were given to Padmasambhava by these three Buddhas. Padmasambhava has such a Cause that in his one body are three Buddha bodies. Surely with such a Cause, there can be no doubt of the accomplishment of a Rainbow Body. His Cause was so fixed, and so follows the consequence, just as the seeds of an apple lead to the apple fruit. But we are only plain men and have no such special Cause, so how can we hope to get a Rainbow Body? One might raise such a question.

Surely we dont know where we come from and may doubt about this. We may come from Buddhahood, we may come from Godhood, we may come from some incarnation, but unless this has been discovered by some Guru, who knows? We cannot determine that we have no connection with Buddha. We cannot say like this. One point is this: we cannot say you do not come from Wu-Jin, we cannot say you do not come from the Pure Land, we cannot even positively say that all three Buddhas have come to you. We cannot negatively refuse that we have no connection with Buddhahood. Another point is that Buddha has taught us that everybody has the potentiality of Buddhahood; there are no exceptions. You may say, I am just a human, just a little better than a monkey, as Darwin says in his theory of evolution. Well, you may say like this, you may treat yourself so mean, but Buddha has such great compassion and Padmasambhava has such great compassion that he always shines Light towards everybody. So think, why should his light not shine to me? Surely no matter how mean is myself, they are so powerful, so affectionate, not only Gautama Buddha, not only Amitabha, not only Avalokitesvara but the Five Buddhas, every day, everywhere shine their Light to every sentient beings, to every insect. We should believe that such a Cause we may also have. This is the first part.

II. Course

The second part is the Course. This might take a long time and I will try to make it simplified as for the Course we must talk about all the practices. What did Padmasambhava practice?

First of all, as we also receive Dharma instruction, the first ritual that you must accomplish is the Buddha Body. Inside Buddhas body there is nothing, it is just a bubble. There is no flesh. So the first practice is transforming the flesh into a bubble. We do not speak of Whole Enlightenment but just of the first stage of practice. Try to think of this: if my flesh body becomes as light as a bubble, as transparent as a bubble, it can float up without any hindrance. There is the will, there is the way, and there is the practice. Even Padmasambhava who is so noble had to practice very well. After he got each teaching from the Buddhas and Dakinis, he practiced each one for 5 years in a cave; my Guru taught me this. If you really practice diligently according to the standard of the ritual and you can transform solid flesh into so transparent a thing, so beautiful and so perfectly round, if this standard is accomplished, then the Rainbow Body will be very close. The first step then is to transform your bodyin reality, not just talk, not just abstract theory, but really and truly to do so. I am not accomplished enough in my experience to prove this, but anyhow I also have some Light, I also in my dreams have seen my Light, my body transparent. If I diligently practice again and again, it is quite possible and not impossible, for it is a very bad thing to treat ourselves too mean. We have no pity on ourselves and on such good things and possibilities, but always leave them and do not take care of them; we just take care of our human body.

After the ritual practices have already been completed, then you can come to the first initiation and then meditate on the Buddha body, not on the bubble. The Buddha body is inside as a bubble, as Sunyata; outside are the Buddhas five colors and six ornaments; or you can meditate on some yidam, whatever it looks like according to its ritual. Everything must be visualized exactly as the yidams body. So from a proper human body we come to the Yidam body which inside is transparent as Sunyata and outside has all the dignity of a Buddhas body with the 32 good distinguishing characteristics. If this is accomplished, then you are very close to a Rainbow Body. This is the second step.

In the yidams body you have to have a wisdom body, which is a body of wisdom, not a body of flesh. Since you practiced the bubble meditation, the solid body has already been finished. Then to transform the bubble again you have to have deep wisdom and make the bubble into wisdom light. In the heart chakra you must visualize the padma (lotus) and when you really succeed and visualize this padma, the padma itself can prevent you from rebirth in any kind of womb. We have four kinds of birth; birth from a womb, birth just by being transformed, just as maya transforming this form into that form, birth by wet air (vapor), and birth from an egg. The padma symbolizes the womb of a mother, so once you have visualized the padma, the womb birth may be prevented and you need not come into a mothers womb again. To prevent the transformation birth, you must visualize a moon upon the lotus and confirm it. The moon is round and bright and gives off a white light and if you visualize this moon there will be no more birth for you by being transformed, as a cocoon to a silk worm to a butterfly. To prevent being born of a vapor, we visualize ourselves standing on the moon; we repeat an incantation which spreads outward and returns to shine light, and this light becomes the Yidam.

By meditation alone, one can reach the realm of non-form, the so-called mind-made birth. For to be born in any way, in any form, one must have a seed of consciousness which enters first. In Karmic birth, the eighth consciousness is this very seed, but by visualizing a seed syllable as HUM or HRI, called the bija, this can be prevented and so birth in an egg can be prevented. By visualizing this bija which stands for the Buddhist philosophy of Sunyata, instead of the eighth consciousness being born, you become a wisdom body, not a gross body. In such a way you can transform the birth of consciousness and will be born just as a Buddha, above the heavens of desire and form, in the realm of formlessness. So you can prevent the mind-made birth too. This bija has the wisdom of Sunyata and by centering on it, you can prevent your mind from being born anywhere and you must be born just as a Buddha. These four things must be visualized in the heart to prevent the four kinds of birth: the padma, the moon, the incantation and the bija. So you can be just like a Buddha and need not be born again.

This body is called a wisdom body and is the Consequence of the second initiation. The first initiation involved outward meditation on the Buddha body. During the second initiation, you visualize a yidam which is called the wisdom yidam, in the chakras. This wisdom yidam body is very subtle. The practice is threefold: first, ones body is the flesh body which becomes the bubble body and this bubble becomes a Buddha body. Second, through deep breathing and tummo, the essential body called the wisdom body is formed and this body has the function of preventing other births. This takes place through the second initiation. This wisdom body is formed by the red bodhi and white bodhi, the energy and breathing and wisdom: there is nothing physical. So to transform this kind of body to a Rainbow Body is very easy, theres no hindrance, and there is no doubt of doing so. This is the second stage.

For the third stage: In this wisdom body, the practitioner still has his small bija, HUM or HRI or SHEY. When you practice, all the Universe shines light and all the mountains, rivers, and all phenomenal things dissolve into light. This light comes into the gross body, and the gross body comes to the Wisdom Body, and the Wisdom Body comes into the Samadhi Body. The bija of wisdom body must become like a small hair and this bija must dissolve completely into the Dharmakaya. Then you have the so called Dharma Body. The Dharmakaya body is Sunyata. The rainbow is in the sky, so first you must get to that place and become like a rainbow and then shine out your Rainbow Body. This is the Course. First, develop the common bubble body. Second, the flesh body called Samaya body. Third is the Wisdom body and Fourth, the Samadhi body. If you are able to get these bodies one by one, it may be easy for you to get the Rainbow Body. But the Rainbow Body is very difficult to get. This is because of the many organs which must be sublimated and nerves which must be developed.

In the Buddha body first of all you have a median nerve. Most people make the mistake of thinking this is the spinal column; actually, it is not the spinal column, but the median nerve is the supporter of the whole body. This means all the bones will dissolve into it. Because the median nerve is the supporter of the Buddha body, you may ask, how can you stand up, if it is so soft? But this is not like in a common body. You know, in the median nerve, downside you visualize the tummo, the fire, and upside the HUNG, the white bodhi. Actually in the third initiation, the meditator not only uses himself, but the tummo to dissolve everything, to transform it with fire; like in cooking, to make something soft fire is the very important thing. In the male the tummo is less and the nectar is more; in the female, the tummo is more but the nectar is less. That is why there is the third initiation in which the male and female help each other, to exchange tummo and nectar to make transformation possible. In Chinese we say that the body is formed of two things, the blood and the energy, two principles. Energy is right, blood is left. Energy goes upin breathing we hold the energy so it goes up and out from the right so that all the bad things go out. But the blood becomes essence, becomes semen and through sexual intercourse it always goes down, that is why it corresponds to the left. The essence, the semen and ovum are in the middle. But first the bones must be dissolved. How to transform the human body into the Rainbow Body takes wisdom and many kinds of practice.

The first chakra corresponds to the brain and nervous system. You practice with HUNG and the tummo to transform all this nervous system so it dissolves into this chakra in the head. The second chakra corresponds to the respiratory system, the lungs and breathing system. With tummo, the respiratory system is transformed into this chakra, the throat chakra. We must control the breath and visualize it and bring the Tummo up to transform this system. The circulatory system relates to the blood and the heart. So we transform the circulatory system into the heart chakra with tummo breathing. Now the blood and heart organ is finished, the lungs are finished and the brain is finished. Next, the digestive apparatus is transformed into the navel chakra. All the intestines and digestive organs are transformed and burned up in the fire. In the procreative chakra are burned up all the reproductive organs which become this chakra. So instead of these five major organs and systems of the human body, we have the five chakras. When these five chakras are accomplished and all the organs are transformed, then we have the Rainbow Body. The transformation of the first four chakras is in the second initiation, and the transformation of the reproductive organs belongs to the third initiation. The third initiation involves the help of the opposite sex; the second initiation is done alone, working with the nerves and energy. The purpose of working with the opposite sex is to increase the force of transformation, the Tummo. You must not discharge, if you do so, you will just be born again in the body of a human. You must take the essence up, then it becomes fire, then with this fire force, you can dissolve anything of the flesh. Then you can really be transformed into a Rainbow Body.

Padmasambhava followed this kind of practice, and the Dharma regarding this has come down until now so that we also may practice it. It is also possible for us to do it. It is scientific. Why cannot we do it? We have collected karma from things we have done in past lives, so that our chakras are locked up by worldly things. Everything is confused, this is common with everyone. So we must follow the doctrine and practice whatever our Guru Padmasambhava did so that we also, more or less, can get the same realization. We must develop ourselves well. This is what I hope.

III. Consequence

The Consequence of the Rainbow Body is connected with the 5th Kaya or Body; a Buddha has 5 Kayas; Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, Sahajakaya, and Mahasukhaprajnakaya. The 5th Kaya is just the Rainbow Body. Because he is in Mahasukha he can enjoy the Great Pleasures as well as a flesh body and he has gotten the highest wisdom connected with the Dharmakaya. For Prajna means Wisdom and achievement of the Mahasukha means that he was born in a fleshly human body which was transformed into the highest physical form, the rainbow. The light of the rainbow is this very greatest wisdom while the colors of the rainbow are the highest physical formboth are harmonized together in the 5th Kaya. We say full enlightenment the highest wisdom is the Light. Sinful persons have no light, just darkness. Vidya, knowledge, is light; avidya, ignorance, is no light. The form and color of the rainbow reflected in the no-cloud blue sky is the physical aspect and the light is the wisdom. The physical flesh body is transformed into the form and color of a Rainbow Body while its light is the wisdomMahasukha prajna. As there is form, so he can embrace all the dakinis and get the physical pleasure while at the same time still have the profound wisdom of non-egoism and of emptiness and of all the Buddhas philosophy. This is the Wisdom and the high Consequence. Physically, because he is a rainbow, there is no death. Because there is no death, there is no end of salvation; because there is no end of salvation, he can carry on his Great Compassion without end. So anywhere, any direction, any person on any occasion, can connect with Padmasambhava and get inspiration from him.

The Great Compassion is one principle of Buddhahood. Another is Deep Wisdom which becomes the Light. As Padmasambhava can shine light everywhere, so everyone can become illuminated and receive the wisdom of Buddhism. So our final goal, salvation, can be achieved in this lifetime with the two principles of Great Compassion and Deep Wisdom. This is the real Consequence. We should not pursue the 6 supernatural powers or the 10 forces or 32 forms but only the Great Compassion through which we can save everybody and Deep Wisdom through which we can purify everything and open every mind bringing great happiness. This is the Real Consequence.

This is why Padmasambhava did not die, but as some say, disappeared from this world and went to the Yaksha world appearing as King of the Yakshas for the salvation of that world. Actually he can come back here, he can come to America, he can come to China, or anywhere, if there is some connection established with him. He has no time limitation, no space limitation. This is the real Consequence of getting full enlightenment in this lifetime without passing through many kalpas.

Padmasambhava achieved this in one lifetime, so he is able to help his disciples get the same achievement. As I have already said, we can get the same Cause as he himself because Buddha did not only shine light on Padmasambhavas body but he shines light toward every period if you have the faith, knowledge, and believe in all this. You must believe there is such a possibility for yourself and believe in the Buddhas omnipresence, that he shines light to every person. Actually, if he is not in every place at every time, if he forgets even one sentient being and does not shine on that person, he cannot get the complete Dharmakaya because each person occupies a space of the Dharmakaya. It is Buddhas Samaya or vow to shine light on each of us. The Three Buddhas shone light on Padmasambhava and at the same time they also shone light on us, but we did not accept it, and forgot it.

Our problem is actually not how Padmasambhava accomplished the Rainbow Body, but why it is so difficult for us to get the Rainbow Body. This is very important. We come to this world based upon our past Karma and as we have not cut off roots of transmigration, many things and debts still remain and we are born as such a person. Still, at the same time we are fortunate to meet the Dharma. Even though it is the Kali Age still the Dharma is here, the Tripitaka is still here. First of all we are born as a body to our parents. They love us and care for us, try to keep our good human body healthy. Many things are based upon the body; if someone scolds us we feel pain in the mind and body. As we have a body we must arrange food, a dwelling place, and we have to get some job to feed the body so that we do not die of starvation. So in our daily life everything we think of, talk of, is centralized in this karmic body. Who knows that there is the potentiality of Buddhahood? Who knows that there is the potentiality of Godhood? Who knows whether after this body dies we can get another body? We do not care of these questions. Each day we just care about satisfying this body and never think of those other things. But the body we get after we die may be a body of a dog, cat, ghost; it may be the body of an insect. What you have done in this lifetime with this body will determine that next body. Even in this lifetime, I cannot satisfy this body, so how can I take care of the next body? Nobody takes care of this. The Buddhist tantra tells you your body is from the past karma and even if you do not care for this body, you must care for the next body. If you want to be a Buddha, you must practice some rituals. So you visualize this body as a bubble, to cut off the old conception of your human body; you must forget completely your human body. Other religions do not speak about the Yidam body. But Buddhist Tantra says that your yidam body is just like a bubble; outside is just reflection, inside is empty. As your karmic body is from your past sins, you must come here to return the debts. But the Buddha body is from the philosophy of Sunyata, with no egoism. So Buddha teaches you to get another body instead of this physical one, but to still keep this flesh body going in order to visualize the other one. You have to visualize everything inside from up to down, even the smallest hair, as voidness, and outside as just a reflection. Upon your flesh body you visualize the Yidam body and forget the Karmic body. Always think of this Yidam body and by and by your conception of your physical body will be forgotten, the flesh will not be held as so solid, and worldly things will not be so strong. So every day, every moment, on every occasion forget the physical flesh body and just think you are the Yidam body. Suppose your yidam has four heads, you must think you have another three heads and act accordingly. If your yidam has two horns, when you pass a door you must think you have two horns and go very carefully through the door. Where there is a will, there is a way. My Guru took Avalokitesvara as Yidam with four arms and everybody could see at certain times that my guru had four arms. He truly achieved the visualization of four arms.

Even though the meditator has not achieved the Rainbow Body, in the first stage of the bubble visualization he has the theory of emptiness. Before the first of the four Great Initiations, which is the Yidam Initiation, you must practice the lower three yogas and along with this the bubble visualization where inside all is empty and everything outside is a reflection. Of the lower three yogas, Kriya Yoga is serving the Buddha, Carya Yoga is working for the Buddha, and Yogic Yoga is to practice visualizations on your own body not only on Buddha outside your body. For the first two yogas, the Buddha is outside your body; you just serve him, make offerings to him, but in Yogic Yoga you yourself must become yidam. Just repeat the ritual and visualize all the things. But this is still not the First Initiation of the highest initiation. For the highest one, there is no need of ritual. When you get the highest initiation, you have no need of a book, as the ritual and visualization have been repeated before many, many hundred of times and the ritual has been accomplished with much skill. There is no need of the book, the practitioner just meditates and visualizes all things in great detail when he gets the highest initiations.

In our daily life, we forget the yidam, we forget the potentiality of our body, so we do not practice the bubble body or the yidam body. Padmasambhava practiced the yidam body, after which he practiced the second initiation of the wisdom tummo, wisdom energy, wisdom fire, wisdom drops, wisdom nerves. within the bubble. Then from the bubble again make all this flesh karmic body with its five organs and their systems into the five chakras, all of this within the bubble. Outside the bubble, the reflection is like a shadow; inside the bubble also, all the chakras are like reflections, like a shadow. The surface of the yidam body is reflected outside and the contents of the five organs and five systems are transformed into the five chakras. By slow breathing the five outside elements are transformed into the five wisdom energies which are: upward energy, downward energy, middle position of energy, the pervading energy of the four limbs, and the life energy. When the body dies, this last one, the life energy, leaves with the consciousness; it is in the heart chakra. If this goes out before your death time, the person becomes mad. When you gather all your energy into the wisdom drops when doing tummo, it can be dangerous and you can go mad. You must first confirm the bija and from the bija as center, slowly gather the energies because all this connects with the life energy. If the bija is not confirmed then the life energy also can go out.

So, the second initiation is very important, transforming the five organs into the five chakras. The educated civilized person spends time trying to keep the five organs healthy which is very difficult and so has no time to think of the five chakras. They do not take care of the chakras as they do the organs and that is why it is difficult to get the Rainbow Body. Actually, if you really mediate on the five chakras and keep the deep breathing very well also, there will be no disease of the five organs. I tell you, even if I am not accomplished, I lived in a hermitage in India for 25 years with no disease. Just a little cold sometimes which was quickly finished. So the byproducts of our Buddhist practice are important too. We plant a seed in the earth, every day take care of that it gets water and sunshine, and a beautiful tree is our result, but there are many by-products as the vitamins in the fruit. We say Full Enlightenment is our main goal, but there are also valuable by-products.

As we do not take care of the five chakras but instead take care of the organs, so we may get some temporary help in keeping the five organs healthy, but we just lose the potential energy of Buddhahood. When the five energies of Buddhahood are forgotten, then the Buddha body cannot grow so well, and you cannot get the Rainbow Body.

If we do not practice the third initiation, we do not get the main function which is to exchange the white and red bodhi. You know, among the five organs of the physical body, very essential to the human body is the semen and the ovum, but to the Buddha body it is the white bodhi and red bodhi. As this red bodhi is greater in females, and the white bodhi in males, so they have need of exchanging the two. For this reason there is the third initiation for the practice of vajra love. It is said that males have semen from about 16 years of age onward, but through masturbation, homosexual intercourse, and natural intercourse, it is continually lost, lost, lost, every year, every week, every day. So much essence is continually being lost. If too much of this life energy is suddenly discharged downward it can cause death. This happened to a friend of mine who increased his sexual ability through second initiation breathing and chakra energy practices, but he prolonged too much and discharged his life energy and died. He was not accomplished in vajra love. If he did it correctly and kept meditation on the Sunyata, he would not have met such a danger. His consciousness and semen fell down, not up, and he cannot achieve a Rainbow Body now, but only descend. If you take the advantage of increasing your bodhi, your bodhi goes up. So the tummo will be strong, just like an inner fire, so that you can dissolve everything, and all this flesh becomes Light.

In conclusion, if we get the four initiations and know the philosophy of Sunyata, we can know the Dharmakaya; without Sunyata we cannot get Dharmakaya, and without the Dharmakaya we cannot get the Rainbow Body. For the Rainbow Body is in the sky, if there was no sky you could not see a rainbow. That means our Mahasukhaprajna body is accomplished as a rainbow in the sky and this sky symbolizes the Dharmakaya. When you practice the Dharmakaya, you must practice the Mahamudra, the Sunyata philosophy. If you do not practice but just talk, no realization will come about. Theory is one thing, realization is another. You must take the abstract form of philosophical theory and turn it into concrete embodiment of the Dharmakaya. That is why even if we get the Tantra, even if we get the Mahamudra, without Dharmakaya we cannot accomplish a Rainbow Body. But if we follow Padmasambhavas rules and really practice, the Cause and Course, every condition can be the same as with the Great Guru, and the Consequence might also be the same. This is my conclusion.


Men and women follow the same method of vajra love. After practicing and succeeding in deep breathing, the menstrual period will stop for the woman which means she also does not discharge. Vajra love is nerve to nerve. In the vagina there is a small nerve, the end of the womans median nerve. It is small and can be inserted into the mouth of the penis. So outwardly the penis is embraced by the vagina and inwardly the secret nerve of the female also is inside the male. So it is double; we call nerve to nerve. After nerve to nerve contact is made, then the energy to energy can pass to each other. This way there is no harm. After the energy has passed, as the material of the white bodhi and the red bodhi has been exchanged within their bodies and they are harmonized. No need to discharge the semen to the woman, or the women to discharge the ovum. The material is energy, but the essence of the energy then become semen. Male and female just exchange different materials. You have lack of that material, I have lack of this material, so we exchange the materials and I increase my semen, you increase your ovum. This is called nerve to nerve, and energy to energy, and drop to drop. It is not like discharging but comes up. Deep breathing brings it up and it goes outside and Buddhas energy comes inside and makes the fire come up and the drops come down. The HUNG symbolizes the white bodhi and the fire symbolizes the red bodhi. The father gives a child white bodhi and the mother gives red bodhi. A man has his own red bodhi but he has discharged it for so long that he has to increase it through the practice of Vajra love.

Editing note in square brackets added by Stanley Lam on Oct 31, 2000.

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