Most of us love rainbows. They are beautiful. And they also have much to teach us about life and truth. One of the reasons we love rainbows so much is because they are clearly so temporary. As soon as the sun sets, where is the rainbow? When there is less moisture in the air, where is the rainbow? Rainbows usually don’t even last for a full hour or even close to it. They appear like magic and disappear just as quickly. And this is why we love them. It’s a wonderful treat to see a rainbow because they are rare and very temporary. You better look while it’s there because it won’t be here for long.
And this temporariness is part of a rainbow’s great beauty. If a rainbow lasted for days or years, it would not have the same impact. We’d begin to take it for granted. “Oh, yes that old thing. It’s always there.” The short life of each rainbow is a big part of its appeal.
The temporariness of a rainbow points to a very important fundamental truth about all of life. It’s temporary. If you have grown children, you can remember and even have photographs of them when they were just born. They were so cute and tiny, usually weighing less than ten pounds. You could hold them in one hand. Imagine if their body remained that same size throughout their life. It would seem pretty strange when they were twenty and still weighed less than ten pounds. So the body of your child has been changing all the time. At one point they could neither walk nor talk. Now they may never seem to shut up. 🙂
Everything in life is changing. Your body will also not remain the way it is today. The lifespan of a rainbow may only be a few minutes. The lifespan of your body, including all its changes, may be eighty or ninety years. There is a difference between the lifespan of a rainbow and the lifespan of a human body. But both are impermanent. Both begin and end. It is only a matter of how long this takes.
No Separate, Independent Self
There is something else very important about rainbows. They cannot exist without certain elements existing. If there is no sunlight, there is no rainbow. Rainbows don’t occur at night. If there is no moisture in the air, rainbows also can’t occur. Rainbows depend entirely on other things for their very existence, like sunlight and moisture in the atmosphere, among many other things. I think this is pretty clear.
We all understand this about rainbows, but we don’t really consider how much this is also true for ourselves. Just like a rainbow, there are many things that are absolutely necessary for our existence. Our body could not exist if our parents had never met for instance. And then of course there is air, water and food. It is obvious that this body could not last long without these essentials. Most of us don’t consider all the things that the very existence of this body depends on when we think of our body and ourselves as separate and independent. Just as a rainbow cannot be separate and independent from sunlight and moisture, we cannot be separate and independent from the many things that are necessary for our existence.
The Three Seals
In Buddhism we call this the realization of non-self. Not only rainbows and bodies cannot exist separately and independently, but nothing can. The realization of non-self and the realization of impermanence are two of the universal truths that lead to awakening. These are known as two of the Three Seals. They are called Seals because they represent universal truths. The third of the Three Seals is Nirvana or the extinction of all concepts. Concepts, thoughts and language all divide the world up into separate and independent things. Since no separate and independent thing can actually exist, all concepts are fundamentally false. When all concepts are let go, we encounter the truth of life directly.
When we realize fully that a rainbow is impermanent, that it is changing all the time, even while we can still see it, and that it cannot exist independently and separately from all the other elements that are necessary for it to exist, then our concept of a rainbow dissolves. Only then can we truly see a rainbow for what it is, not separate from anything else in the universe. This is true seeing. This is the seeing of Nirvana. Each of these Three Seals (universal truths) we can realize from deeply observing a rainbow. We can actually learn this from deeply observing anything because everything contains the same universal truth. But observing a rainbow might be more fun, if you like that sort of thing. 🙂