Good news: I completed Embodied Philosophy’s online course called “Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Andrew Holecek.” In synchrony, while studying with this amazing teacher, my personal Sadhana happens to involve chanting 108 repetitions of the Maha Mrityunjai Mantra every day, three times a day, for the past 49 days. This mantra is from the Rig Veda and is known as the “death-conquering mantra.” After a couple weeks of practice of mantra repetition, an internal visualization arose from deep within me, spontaneously.
Now, every time I sit, the following visualization–an inner experience of time-stretching and elemental merging–easily accompanies the mantra repetition:
Energy moves up and down the chakras: when the energy pauses for decades at the root chakra, I am the peaks of the Himalayan mountains and mud and stone. When the energy pauses for centuries at the sacral chakra, I am fast-flowing rivers, rolling seas, and rainfalls. When the energy pauses for millennia at the navel chakra, I am every candle flame, every hearth fire, the Dhuni Baba built, Cerridwen’s cauldron fire, every sacred blaze, wildfire, and the burning sun. When the energy pauses for a kalpa at the heart chakra, I am wind blowing lovingly around the Himalayan peaks, blowing over oceans, over prairies, over marshlands, through windows, slamming into my beloved’s face. When the energy pauses at the throat chakra for a maha kalpa, I am blue sky, an ageless, expansive stretch of firmament witnessing the whirls of human, natural, and other worlds. When the energy pauses at the Third Eye for one day of Brahma, I am the white-hot, crystalline center of both the Star of Bethlehem and the Dhruva Tara. When the energy pauses at the crown chakra for a yuga of Brahma, I am the cosmic expanse that is infinite dark emptiness. I am the space that holds everything. I am all that; plus, I am the sound of the mantra vibrating through all that.
This inner experience is a kriya as defined by Patañjali because it involves tapas, Svādhyāya, and iśvara pranidhāna. This is an inner experience that initiates me into timeless and space-less wonder over my own formless nature. At first, I repeated this contemplation as a tapas (discipline) until the visualization and mantra flowed continuously with me. This whole experience has been thoroughly enjoyable, delicious soul food. To flow with this kriya while reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead raises the hair on my skin, as though my whole being knows it is drinking from a source, and my spiritual nature looks forward to whatever arises through any bardo experience, not just the one after I leave this body but through all liminal moments and spaces. I humbly pray: may the benefits of my life’s practices be received by all beings everywhere. Integrating the book of the dead into my practice is a Svādhyāya (self-study).
What’s more, I marvel and fill with awe to witness the fascinating treasure that this kriya brings into my life. Kriya creates the energy of the magnetism, and that is the iśvara pranidhāna (surrender to the divine).
So, where did my surrender lead me?
During his class, Andrew mentioned a book by Francis V. Tiso called Rainbow Body and Resurrection: Spiritual Attainment, the Dissolution of the Material Body, and the Case of Khenpo A Chӧ. Immediately, when I heard mention of this book, every cell in my body lit up, excited. Those words together, “rainbow body and resurrection” ignited my intense curiosity. Andrew said the book is esoteric and scholarly–it’s for “deeper divers.” (Let me add that this book also does not resonate much woman-oriented spirit that I have been more drawn to lately, so my attraction to it is surprising to me; thus, I surrender). I do wish to express how delightful it is to dive with beautiful beings such as Francis Tiso, Andrew Holecek, and Khenpo A Chӧ. Aware that these sages know nothing of my existence, I privately imagine myself a kind of monk brother who is intimately connected to them nonetheless–it’s important for me to insist that I feel that reading this book is the way to access and enjoy their company. The way I encounter these spiritual masters is as a friend and nectar-lover, but if I ponder the ways I do not exist to them, why not let that be? I am empty.
I’m an ordinary yogi who is a deep diver. I read Tiso’s book slowly. I re-read many paragraphs. I like the kinds of fascinating questions he asks; the difficulty of the text is music to me; the investigation he is doing is fraught with noble flaws, complications, and challenges. It reveals cross-pollination of contemplative practice; it mentions a practice of embodying sunlight, which resonates with me; it discusses the enigma of researching, writing about, and describing the rainbow body as this is counter-intuitive to achieving the rainbow body; it suggests historical developments due to connections made on the Silk Road; it’s impossible, but because it is impossible that’s what makes it worth doing and reading about and being with. Tiso is attempting an inquiry that wants to honor dialogue between religions and belief systems, reveal how they impact one another. His book opens inquiry and contemplation on Jesus Christ’s glorious resurrection with inquiry and contemplation on the Tibetan Buddhist attainment of the rainbow body. I love it, especially if we can see that there is no inferior or superior ways but deep, equitible dialogue.
I am especially enthralled with his discussion of the Shroud of Tarin. I hadn’t seen nor really heard of this shroud until reading this book. When I saw the image of the shroud in the book, I fell madly in love!
A practice that I have started to do while I tuck into bed is to visualize that while I am covering my body with blankets to prepare to sleep at night, I imagine I am covering my body with the Shroud of Tarin. This visualization fills me with such a thrill that I swear I could just step out of my skin and join in blissful union with Divine Loving Kindness because it’s that simple.
On another note, I wonder if Francis Tiso is familiar with Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion’s The Magdalen Manuscript. If I were to guide a class, I would recommend reading Tiso’s book together alongside Kennyon’s book. It’s a wonder to imagine all the ideas and inquiries that would arise reading these two books and sitting together through a tea ceremony. The Magdalen Manuscript reveals some dimension of Mary Magdalen’s experience with Yeshua (Christ), and their practice together of refining and empowering his Ka Body (subtle body) so that Christ could accomplish his difficult resurrection. According to this version of the story, that Ka Body practice was a key ingredient in Christ’s attainment. Being sensitive to this dimension of things, it is intriguing to notice that Tiso mentions the nuns who worked with Khenpo A Chӧ, but he did not interview the nuns. He did not include his talk with the nuns about the Khenpo’s visit to them one month before he left his body. This makes me feel that while Tiso’s book is amazing scholarship, it is missing an enormous piece of the picture, i.e. the divine feminine dimension of attaining the Rainbow Body. After reading Tiso, a huge question remains: What role does a divine feminine initiate and woman play in spiritual attainment of these men dissolving into light bodies? What about women who dissolve into light bodies?
According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, after death, while traveling through the bardo, the Noble One will experience a moment when it is time to recognize the divine lovers, a divine mother and a divine father, the doorway to reincarnation; be conceived. On Tibetan tankas, there is the graphic image of the deities enjoying sexual union. There is something highly sacred and important about the sexual union aspect of attainment. How does it relate to the “Initiatory Act of the Four Serpents” as Mary described it? And this is not the way we currently fathom the sexual relationship between two physical bodies. It is more of a spiritual sexual energetic that involves sophisticated connection of intention, strict focus, contemplative intensity, and prayer.
Alas, I don’t teach a class. But there is an imaginary place I like to go to fathom there are people who are actually interested in these inquiries, and they meet with me in happy companionship. This place is called Murakami’s Jazz Bar, or sometimes it is called Mirabai’s Yoga Lounge. Wherever I dream up, I will continue to practice repetition of the Maha Mrityunjai Mantra plus that inner journey with the elementals and chakras. And for sure I am going to keep up with imagining that I am falling asleep at night covered in the Shroud of Tarin.
Infinite pranams to all beings who read this essay and feel a sense of connection, and if you felt a sense of discomfort reading this, even better. Either way, may we enjoy cheerful companionship in the subtle realm. I am with you!