The ‘rainbow world’ is a phrase used by a great modern Yogi, Swami Mangalnath. He said we must not merely think of it, but experience the world as a beautiful rainbow. These are analogies, but they’re not to be dismissed as simply poetry. They can be gone into a little bit. No analogy can be pursued too far. Think what it means. A rainbow is an appearance. When the sun is low and it has been raining, or is raining, the sky is full of water and then the rays of the sun are refracted and reflected in the raindrops and they come to our eye, standing on the ground, in bands. The bands are always in a fixed order – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Always the red is at the top. There is a definite reason for this. The raindrop can be analysed (it’s not worth going into it too much). The rays of the sun come in and they hit the raindrops and they’re divided, as we know, into the colours of the spectrum. The red doesn’t bend very much, so it hits the top curve of the bubble of water and comes down into our eye. The violet and blue bend much more sharply and are reflected straight back and are lost – so they don’t hit our eye from this particular drop of water. So we can see that raindrops at this height will always put red into the eye. For the other rays – violet, blue etc. – to get into the eye, they would have to be further down. So the violet, green colours come from droplets that are lower down and the red comes from droplets that are higher up. That’s the reason we see the rainbow in bands.
It’s an illusion – the rainbow looks solid and children think it is solid. There’s something there. They’re often told or they hope that there’s some treasure at the foot of the rainbow, where the rainbow ends. The point is that it is an illusion, and we know it’s an illusion – but it has a certain force, which is determined by the raindrops and the refraction in the raindrops and the reflections which we don’t see. There is an unmanifest form, so to speak, and there’s the actual rainbow that we see. We know the red will always be on top so, although this is an illusion, we can actually experience it, and we shall experience it with the red on top for the reason we’ve explained. If one were to describe a rainbow with the red at the bottom, we would know it to be a complete myth – a fairy story. That would be illusory too, but an illusion that we never actually experience. That would be like something complete unreal, just made of words, a rainbow with the red at the bottom and the violet at the top. So we think – but as a matter of fact we’re wrong. We think that the structure of the raindrops makes this rainbow absolutely inevitable – but it isn’t so. There are cases in which the rainbow with the reversed colours can appear.
This is only worth taking up because the world is taught in Yoga to be an illusion – but nevertheless it is experienced – and in the illusion which we experience, we’re liable to think this is the only possible illusion and that may not be so. In India the example is given of a rope on the ground seen in a bad light by a man carrying a lantern. He’s moving the lantern and that means the shadow of the rope moves, so it looks like a snake moving and he gets a shock. People in this country don’t get that sort of shock when they see a rope on the ground with bad light because nobody here has seen a snake, free or loose. There’s no danger from snakes here, so we don’t have this illusion. But in India it can happen. But Shankara also explains that the rope may be mistaken for a line of water. We may see it on the ground in a cellar and think, “Gosh, the house has started leaking again – there’s like a line of water on the surface.” Or it might be mistaken for a garland. His point is that the unmanifest which we don’t see can be mistaken in various ways. It’s worth just to say that this idea of the world – a phenomenal world, the world as we experience it – being unreal and there being a deeper layer of reality that is quite different, is not some primitive idea which is dispelled in the light of physics today.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 4: World as an illusion
Part 5: Powerful effects of the unreal