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The Lost Sadhanas Project
Practice - The Bodhi Tree Meditation
The Jivamala - The First Watch of the Night

The first lost sadhana to be described here is the practice of the Bodhi Tree, which is a set of four distinct Buddhist meditations. Each meditation is based on an insight that the historical Buddha was said to have experienced as he sat under the Bodhi-Tree.

According to Buddhist tradition, the hours before the Buddha's enlightenment were divided into four watches or periods of the night. During each watch, the Buddha experienced a specific set of insights or revelations. During the last watch, as the morning star appeared on the horizon at dawn, the Buddha entered Nirvana. Several Buddhist texts mention the Watches of the Night, notably the Maha Sutra in the Pali Canon.

Modern Buddhist lineages have not emphasized the importance of these stages as the model practice that the Buddha followed to reach liberation. However, these stages can be understood as an example for all who seek liberation, and in the past, there have been important teachings based on these stages.

  • The First Watch - The recollection of human past lives, and knowledge of the cycle of death and rebirth
  • The Second Watch - The recognition that the cycle of rebirth affects all sentient beings in all worlds, and that the law of karma determines the quality and type of rebirth, and its suffering
  • The Third Watch - The recognition of the cycle of causality that leads to death and rebirth, and the means of liberation from this cycle
  • The Fourth Watch - The state of enlightenment, and the great awakening of the Buddha
  • The Vajra Bhairava and spiritual guide (described further on the Methodology page) to the Bodhi Tree Meditation states,

    The Bodhi Tree meditation is a symbolic representation of the individual's journey to freedom. As the seed which begins tiny and hard grows open and free, so should the mind and heart. The tree is rooted in the ground as the self is rooted in matter. But the seed grows beyond the ground, as it perceives its environment, cares about it, and ultimately leaves the limitations of the body and matter behind. The branches reach towards the heavens yet the vines of the banyan or bodhi-tree reach towards the earth.

    Such is the state of mankind - always being pulled in two directions. One direction gives ultimate liberation and the transcendence of boundaries. The other direction gives security, rootedness, comfort, and tradition - the self that will not turn away from the earth. Those who seek comfort rather than freedom should rest peacefully at the roots, and never climb the tree.

    These Are the Stages of Meditative Practice

    The Jivamala (or First Watch of the Night) practice represents the expansion of individual's identity to include awareness of past lives. This expansion of awareness was the earthly Buddha's first realization on the road to his enlightenment. The term jiva means soul or self, while the term mala means necklace or string of beads. This is the practice of the necklace of souls.

    The purpose of remembering past lives is not to increase pride, but rather to increase detachment and purify the individual of residual karma from those past personalities (jivas). Knowledge of past lives should bring humility, recognition of the universality of suffering, and spiritual wisdom. The Jivamala practice also permits an expansion of personal identity where the self grows beyond the bounds of an individual ego to encompass a broader identity which has knowledge of many past selves.

    During such experience, the practitioner temporarily gains intimate knowledge of a string of individual selves, and as identity widens, compassion tends to increase. This compassion, because it derives from direct experience, can be more powerful than more common notions of compassion, which are based on sympathy for the suffering of others. The basis for these more common feelings of sympathy is limited because it falls short of the direct intuitive knowledge of individual suffering that can come from the experience of past lives.

    The Jivamala deconstructs identity by examining past pain. This leads to the discovery that one's old identity was grounded in pain. This is a prelude to the development of a new self which is grounded in compassion and recognition of the pain in others. This is important because this new self which is aware of the universality of suffering is needed to counterbalance the vanity that often accompanies the increasing awareness, knowledge, and power that comes with spiritual development.

    In the meditative practice of the Jivamala, the past lives or personalities of the individual are threaded together like beads on a string in the shape of a necklace. Each individual life with its karma or jiva is visualized as a pearl, shining and in the shape of perfection. Dark pearls represent lives that contain destructive karma that acts like a millstone, limiting the individual in various ways even in the present life. The white pearls represent the lives that have been purified by memory, realization, and atonement. Past passions must be realized and understood as delusion, and past sins must be realized as wrong or destructive actions. Past lives must be understood as combinations of good and bad intentions, as wise choices and errors. The person must be liberated from the unconscious bondage to those lives and their passions.

    Another important function of the Jivamala practice is to lessen or remove the fear of death by showing the person that death is not the end, but rather an event which is part of a greater system or progression. The Jivamala meditation prepares the soul for death and rebirth whether in the physical world, or in a Buddha world or paradise.

    The process of remembering one life after another is like going from bead to bead using a Hindu mala or Catholic rosary. Each bead contains a collection of memories from a previous incarnation. The practitioner must go through each life in turn, learning from it, and dealing with the karma that has remained active. It can be time-consuming; some lives take months to remember and understand. Dozens of lives were recalled and examined by the practitioner during the First Watch of the Night practice.

    As an example of a more spiritual life, we may look at how one past life relevant to this process of describing lost sadhanas unfolded, that of Chen Ma (Life of Chen Ma). Here the introduction to this life was done by Vajradhara who was ritually linked to Chen Ma during her life in the monastery. The Vajra Bhairava was not directly involved since there was no trauma that needed to be examined and released. Part of the Jivamala practice involves recalling the more spiritual lives, and remembering the knowledge gained in those lives.

    The life of Rukmini Das, a warrior and priest of the Hindu God Hanuman, is also a past life on the more spiritual side though it has elements of violence and war. Here, the soul of the devotee was trapped in a lower heaven of heroes after death, and freed jointly by the Bhairava and Hanuman to enter a higher heaven of a deity when the past life was reviewed. In the life of Rukmini Das, he worshiped Hanuman in his vira or hero form.

    In order to illustrate a past life in a different more western culture, we will also include the example of a woman who had a less spiritual life in Asia Minor during a period of Roman rule (Life of Melecia). This life is recounted by the Vajra Yogini who acts as guide and narrates the life story. This life needed to be remembered in order to deal with a specific trauma, and the Vajra Yogini is a specialist in resolving traumas that are powerful enough to negatively affect future lives, and especially those which are associated violent and unjust death.

    As an example of a more tragic and painful life, we recount the life of Kira, an abused and vengeful shamaness, where the Vajra Bhairava deals with traumatic results of that life (Life of Kira). This illustrates the Vajra Bhairava's role in freeing trapped and traumatized jivas in the afterlife. In addition, it shows how the Bhairava can take on different roles that allow him to relate to and communicate with these jivas. The Bhairava is a karma specialist, and the primary guide to and director of the Jivamala sadhana. It is his job to help resolve the karmic problems associated with the seeker's past lives, and freeing these soul fragments or jivas is an important part of the Jivamala practice.

    As we mentioned earlier, there were dozens of past lives reviewed during the Jivamala meditation, and these are only four sample meditations chosen from a long list of past lives. The lives examined were often ones that contained much pain and trauma, and needed to be purified and understood.

    The last life shows one way a soul can be freed after being trapped in the afterlife as a result of the trauma experienced during life. The following analogy explains the importance of this process when doing the Jivamala practice.

    The Rosebush - The Bhairava Explains the
    Function of the Jivamala Practice Using a Metaphor

    During spiritual evolution, individuals are like rose bushes, and each blossom is a life. Sometimes, as in the case of difficult and painful lives, the roses are eaten by insects, or harmed by chemicals or disease, but they still stay on the bush, taking nutrients. They need to be taken from the bush, placed in new earth and cured of pests, or scattered on the ground if the harm is too great.

    The individual's past personalities have been damaged, but not destroyed. They need to be separated from the stem of the individual's spirit, where they have been taking vital energy with their rage and fury at imprisonment. They need to be replanted, put in vases, and taken away from the stem, so that the bush can grow new roses.

    The Jivamala brings about this liberation from spiritual death by freeing these past personalities, in order to recapture the bright force of spirit that runs through the individual.

    The Bhairava Explains Karma
    and How it Affects Different Jivas

    Some jivas are incarnate while others are in other states, and are sometimes trapped in a negative and painful state in the afterlife. The karma of these different jivas must be dealt with by the Bhairava to free the invididual.

    There are many types of karma. There is the karma of time - of past, of present, and generated for the future. There is the karma of source and place associated with space [or location] and astrology. There is individual and group karma. There is intentional and accidental karma associated with the will and the passions. There is superficial and deep karma.

    The karmas that continue over lifetimes are associated with deep passions. The more emotionally intense the person's response, the more likely the response is to continue when the person dies. Memories and habits scatter. Emotions hold together memories, acting as a sort of glue for the karmic components. Normally, it is intentional karma that is the strongest, but in some cases, trauma that results from unexpected difficulties can be very powerful.

    Events affect people at different depths. There can be overwhelming experiences of fear and horror, or of desire and lust. That which overwhelms the person, and which the person affirms as important tends to affect future lives. If the person does not affirm the event, it may dissipate, or survive as hidden or repressed karma. It is passion that determines longevity of karma.

    There is a real problem today, especially in materialistic cultures. People are encouraged to lose touch with their spiritual dimensions, to amputate that part of themselves in the name of status or power or modernity. As a result, there are many isolated and alienated people. A variety of substitutes for an absolute have been generated - various addictions, compulsions, projections of the unconscious in violent movies and pornography and political parties. It is hard not to have an absolute to cling to - one must be a nihilist or in satori.

    Compassionate bodhisattvas may repair selves that are broken or warped, or they may have paradises in which the individual's fantasies are given free reign and eventually sort themselves out. Bhairavas are wisdom beings rather than compassionate ones - we help by destroying illusion, ignorance, and attachment.

    When the Buddha remembered his many past lives, the purpose of the process was not clearly revealed. The Jivamala gives an explanation for the First Watch of the Night, and explains some justifications for the first stage of meditation that the Buddha experienced on his road to liberation. In addition, the awareness and coming together of jivas from previous lives may be a part of the integration described above where each jiva becomes like a facet in a single jewel that composes the soul as it comes closer to liberation. Though the Buddha did not talk about the concept of partial jivas during his description of the First Watch of the Night, this may be something that is only understood when a person becomes deeply involved in the practice.

    We will next proceed to discuss the final three watches of the night of the Bodhi Tree meditation.

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    Introduction | Methodology - Participant/Observer | The Bodhi Tree Sadhanas | Vajra Dakini Discussion | Vajra Dakini Commentary | Vajra Dakini Sadhanas | Vajra Yogini Commentary | Maitreya Sadhanas | Vajradhara Speaks About Yidams | Lost Sadhanas Conclusion


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