The Man Who Turned into Light
In 1999, David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, proposed investigating the “rainbow body,” a phenomenon in which the corpses of highly developed spiritual individuals reputedly vanished within days of death. Brother David had been fascinated by the stories that he had heard about this remarkable phenomenon from several of his colleagues who lived in Tibet. He contacted Marilyn Schlitz, the Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, (IONS). She was very enthusiastic about the idea and invited him to discuss it with her further.
In a new joint initiative with the Esalen Institute, the IONS was expanding its research on “metanormal capacities”. These capacities encompassed behaviors, experiences, and bodily changes that challenge our understanding of ordinary human functioning. They also raise crucial questions about the developmental potential of human beings.
Brother David told her that he had taken this project to various institutions and foundations looking for support. His intention was to corroborate these claims, and accumulate data that would not only help us understand more about the rainbow body, but also look at its broader implications. He had been told that this type of research was unacceptable within mainstream science. As long as the research could be conceptualized within a rigorous critical frame, the IONS was open to examining any and all questions that can expand our idea of what is possible as humans.
Steindl-Rast’s own curiosity about the rainbow body began when he heard various stories of Tibetan masters who had, through their practices, reached a high degree of wisdom and compassion. It was reported to him that when they died, rainbows suddenly appeared in the sky. Dozens of witnesses reported that after several days their bodies disappeared. Sometimes fingernails and hair were left. Sometimes nothing was left.
These stories made him reflect upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is central to his own faith. “We know that Jesus was a very compassionate, selfless person. When he died, according to the gospels, his body was no longer there.”
In today’s world, Steindl-Rast points out that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is interpreted differently, depending upon an individual’s spiritual beliefs. For fundamentalists, the resurrection- the act of rising from the dead- happened only to Jesus, and couldn’t happen to any other human. The minimalists focus on Jesus’ spirit living on and believe that the resurrection of Jesus had nothing to do with his body.
In 1999, he decided to explore the strange phenomenon of the rainbow body and a possible connection to the resurrection of Jesus. He sent a fax to a friend in Switzerland, who was a Zen Buddhist teacher. The phenomenon occurred frequently among certain Zen Buddhist sects and Steindl-Rast hoped that his friend might know of some practitioners who could provide more information.
Two days later, he received a fax stating that a Tibetan monk had unexpectedly approached him. When the rainbow body was mentioned, the Tibetan said, ‘It happened to one of my teachers just recently, and a famous lama who witnessed the events wrote an account about them.’ At this point, Steindl-Rast contacted Father Francis Tiso, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who has studied ten languages, including Tibetan. Francis Tiso holds the office of Canon in the Cathedral of St Peter and is a parochial vicar.
Steindl-Rast knew that Father Tiso occasionally went to Tibet and asked him if he was planning to travel there in the near future. As fortune would have it, Father Tiso was leaving for Tibet that day. Steindl-Rast asked if he would stop in Switzerland and interview the Tibetan. Despite the short notice, Tiso took a detour to Switzerland, and thus the research journey began.
Through his Swiss contact, Tiso received the name of the monk whose body had vanished after his death. His name was Khenpo A-chos. He was a Gelugpa monk from Kham, Tibet who died in 1998. Tiso was able to locate the village, situated in a remote area where Khenpo A-chos had his hermitage. He then went to the village and conducted taped interviews with eyewitnesses to Khenpo A-chos’ death. He also spoke to many people who had known him.
“This was a very interesting man, aside from the way he died,” observed Tiso. “Everyone mentioned his faithfulness to his vows, his purity of life, and how he often spoke of the importance of cultivating compassion. He had the ability to teach even the roughest and toughest of types how to be a little gentler, a little more mindful. To be in the man’s presence changed people.”
Tiso interviewed Lama Norta, a nephew of Khenpo Achos; Lama Sonam Gyamtso, a young disciple; and Lama A-chos, a dharma friend of the late Khenpo A-chos. They described the following:
A few days before Khenpo A-chos died a rainbow appeared directly above his hut. After he died, there were dozens of rainbows in the sky. Khenpo A-chos died lying on his right side. He wasn’t sick; there appeared to be nothing wrong with him, and he was reciting the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM over and over. According to the eyewitnesses, after his breath stopped his flesh became kind of pinkish. One person said it turned brilliant white. All said it started to shine.
Lama A-chos suggested wrapping his friend’s body in a yellow robe, the type all Gelug monks wear. As the days passed, they maintained that they could see, through the robe that his bones and his body were shrinking. They also heard beautiful, mysterious music coming from the sky, and they smelled perfume.
After seven days, they removed the yellow cloth, and no body remained. These eye witnesses claim that the Khenpo A-chos had totally disappeared. Lama Norta and a few other individuals claimed that after his death Khenpo A-chos appeared to them in visions and dreams.
Francis Tiso remarked that one of his most intriguing interviews was with Lama A-chos. He told Tiso that when he died he too would manifest the rainbow body. “He showed us two photographs taken of him in the dark, and in these photographs his body radiated rays of light.”
Because Lama A-chos emphasized that it was possible to manifest the rainbow body while still alive, not just in death, Tiso plans to return to Tibet with professional camera equipment to try to photograph this radiating light. This is by no means an isolated incident. Francis Tiso is a graduate of the Harvard School of Divinity and holds a doctorate degree from Columbia University. His research is painstaking and meticulous
The results of this research are astounding. In my years of medical training and practice, I have never come across anything even remotely similar to the phenomenon that Steindl-Rast and Tiso had discovered. Medical science teaches that such things are not possible. According to modern medical science, when the body dies, it decays and that is it. There is nothing more.
I have read about the phenomenon of incorruptibility, a condition in which the bodies of saints and certain holy individuals fail to decay after their deaths. The most famous of which is the body of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. Despite having died over 100 years ago, her face and body are so well preserved that she looks as if she were merely sleeping. Her hair and skin are beautiful and radiant. There is no known explanation for this miracle, despite the numerous forensic medical examinations that have been performed upon her body.
There are literally hundreds of cases of incorruptibility that have been documented all over the world. None of them were accompanied by a complete disappearance of the body, nor by the appearance of a Body of Light in its stead. The Human Body of Light is almost unheard of in the West.
Dr. Mitchell Gibson