Vajra Bhairava Image
A Buddha Mandala

The Lost Sadhanas Project
Practice - The Bodhi Tree Meditation
The Final Three Watches of the Night

Having described the Jivamala, or the First Watch of the Night of the Buddha's night of liberation, we will now proceed to describe the Second, Third, and Fourth watches of the Night.

During the Second Watch of the Night, the Buddha saw the interdependence of all life, and the commonality of awareness and suffering shared by all sentient beings. The beginning meditation of the Second Watch of the Night starts with an effort to understand the most elementary forms of consciousness. It then proceeds up through more complex species to the human, and then beyond to the realms of beings who inhabit the other five worlds of the Buddhist cosmology.

The meditation, which begins with the most elementary forms of life, has much in common with the Jain religion, which has meditations which focus on identification with various species of tiny and invisible creatures. The first species to explore is an invisible water plant with only one sense, that of attraction and repulsion. It is pulled towards the light and away from darkness. It is the very beginning of the meditation of the second watch which seeks to understand a broad range of beings - from the simplest to the most complex forms of awareness. This meditation begins by instinctual attraction to the light, and expands into conscious motion, so that a path may be chosen toward the light. It continues as the development of body consciousness, and the transformations the body may undergo. Eventually, one moves from water creatures to land creatures, and air creatures. Awareness of eating, digestion, and excretion is studied. More complex senses develop - sight for surfaces, hearing for distance, smell for inner structure, and touch for contact. The meditator should experience the development of each of these. This is animal consciousness. Later meditations bring experience of the different states of sentient beings (plant, fish, reptile, bird, nonhuman mammal, human, and those beyond human). The descriptions provided here are only a basic summary of the meditative process, which is directed by a Yidam or guide.

To provide an example, we can focus on bird consciousness. The feeling and structure of this kind of consciousness is difficult to render into words but the following abbreviated stream-of-consciousness style notes may give a hint as to how such meditation unfolds. Spatial orientation is central to everything. One cannot be too low, near trees and cliffs, or too high, or one will be vulnerable to predators. Predators above, below and on all sides must be watched. There is awareness of a network, the places other birds of the same species are located, but its importance varies. At certain times, all must fly together, and a center must be found that all are aware of which allows the group to fly together in a loose but organized formation. There are different senses. Gravity is one and there are feelings of different orientations to it. There is a remote sense of the feel of objects at a distance, but it is not tactile. There is smooth and rough air, and peaks and valleys in the winds. Sight is calculation rather than enjoyment, shades of gray with the black of danger as objects come too close. There is no taste but there is the subtle smell of bugs to catch and food to find. Hearing is calculation of the wind's whistles and leaves rustling. For birds of prey, there is instinct but there is also desire and intensity of purpose. There is anticipation of struggle, shown in tension rather than reflection. There is fighting for independence and dominance. Hiding places must be large enough, branches strong enough, mates must perceive the world in similar ways and be able to share each other's space. Winds must be strong and continuous. Eating is having ability at finding prey, with fight and flight, and being able to find the way through invisible lines of orientation.

The focus in these meditations is the clarity and precision of the form of awareness being experienced, and the ability to identify strongly with that form of awareness. The important thing here is to realize the broad range of sentient beings with which the person can sympathize and strive to understand during the Second Watch of the Night. The practice can take months and years as the individual takes a panoramic tour of the universe discovering a common bond with many physical and nonphysical beings. It represents a great enlargement of awareness where learning takes place without the use of the normal senses, and the individual's identity is stretched and expanded to encompass areas beyond the normal realm of human experience.

One of the conclusions that can be drawn from the second watch is that non-human consciousness has many commonalities with human consciousness. Both contain desire, fear, the instinct for survival, the movement of awareness from consciousness of change to consciousness of free choice, and the movement from the simplicity of inclination to the complexity of strategy. At all levels of complexity, we have awareness - ultimately the state to which the person returns at enlightenment. The difference is that in the return to enlightened awareness, the field of awareness is much broader.

It is this shared awareness that gives rise to true sympathy with living beings, and thus a suitable moral system. The intensity of desire of the infant differs only in degree with the desire of an animal, and the major human uniqueness is the degree of individual self- reflection and the ability to store knowledge. In terms of basic identity, the human being is not unique. Awareness and sensitivity are shared by all sentient beings.

The Third Watch of the Night represents another radical expansion of identity for the practitioner of the Bodhi-tree meditation. It develops in the practitioner a broad acceptance of all kinds, complexities, and levels of identity, and shows their interconnectedness by direct intuitive perception. The method involves seeing all beings as connected by a universal jeweled net of relationships. The bhairava comments on the Third Watch of the Night:

In this practice, each being is represented by a gem. Though Buddhism traditionally prizes the doctrine of three jewels, the true jewel is individual awareness. Each being shines with light from many sources, and the more individualized the being, the greater the facets for the reflection of the light of awareness. The simpler the being, the fewer the complex reflections, and the greater the capacity of light shining from a single surface.

The countless beings and the light of their awareness may be visualized as a jeweled net that exists in many dimensions. Each being is a jewel where the rope or thread of the net intersects. Each jewel reflects the light of every other jewel on the net.

The net may be seen as composed of layers of cloth woven together with jeweled thread, or great spider webs whose dewdrops are the infinite number of sentient beings.

It may also be a vast canopy of flowering vines that fill the tropical rain forest skies, each interacting in all directions, and each flower full of diamonds. It may also be the infinite night sky, full of star systems and galaxies, each star reflecting the infinite number of points of awareness in the universe.

Let us visualize a sky full of diamonds, or the immense shoreline of the world's oceans full of pearls instead of sand. The meditator is not watching it but existing in its midst, as a star or pearl of awareness. The meditator is in its center, perceiving and accepting more and more of the beings in the universe as good and worthy. None are rejected, no matter how full of ignorance, desire, and hatred. None are rejected for fear, sorrow, or blindness. All are part of the expanding mind of the meditator. All are recognized as part of that expanding Self that transcends selfhood.

He or she thinks, "I am all these, pure or impure, great or small. As a living conscious being, I could be born in any of these forms. Indeed, I probably have been. There is no inherent difference between these forms of awareness and my own."

The more of the universe that is accepted, the greater grows the love and awareness of the practitioner. In the upward path to buddhahood, all are taken on the journey. One cannot travel this road alone- this is a universal form of meditation. The person should contemplate all possible communities and life forms, starfish, coral, herons, squirrels, human beings - and take them into the universe as companions.

The jeweled net becomes more and more filled with light, for the practitioner's mind expands outwardly, including all sentient beings, and upward becoming more and more unified in spiritual light. The more forms of consciousness, the greater the light.

He or she becomes the bodhisattva, who is not only the friend to all, but is also a part of all. His robes billow back, full of the shining hearts with whom he wishes to share his awareness. He walks on the Milky Way and the skies are the rays of his light. His companions on his journey are the far-flung lights of the pilgrim's path. The bodhisattva strives to bring the whole sentient universe to peace.

The meditation of the third watch begins with the flashing of the jewels of the net of universal interdependence. These flashes go to all other jewels, and there is a continual flashing of radiance. The nodes connect the worlds of light and emptiness, the sambhogakaya and the dharmakaya. The flashing energies unite these forms of infinity.

Each node is a center of awareness, whether atomic or subatomic, one-sensed or many-sensed. The jeweled net of nodes is linked together by the patterns of interaction which are known as karma. Whether the strands are bright or dark, full of sorrow or joy, they bind the jewels of awareness together. The node of individual awareness can only be liberated by absorbing more and more of the reflected awareness surrounding it, shining brilliantly with flashing light, broken into fragments by dark sorrow, gaining more and more facets until universes are absorbed by its all-encompassing awareness.

As it moves down to encompass primitive forms of consciousness, it appears as compassion. As it grows upward to reflect more complex forms of consciousness, it appears as wisdom.

Eventually it expands like a sun in nova, and it incorporates both ignorance and clarity. True growth needs to encompass both, or the person grows in a clumsy and unbalanced way, and the net of jewels is knotted. As pure awareness, all experience is recognized as one's own, and the bonds must be accepted as one's own, for the bonds must be recognized and accepted before their power can be overcome. The goal is not to reject one's own karmic bonds but to take on those of the world, and to recognize them as a part of infinite life.

The Third Watch of the Night does not reject the bondage of the world, but rather accepts it. Only by taking on the world's pain may one be free of it.

The Third Watch creates awareness of the boundless connection of all sentient beings through the networks of existence. The networks are maintained by karma which is the limitation of awareness, and thus ignorance and suffering. However, penetration of the jewels gives insight and beauty, though the expression of the net itself is tragedy. The practitioner travels upward through the net of jeweled paradises bringing brilliant light, and the liberation of insight from ignorance.

However, his or her descent through the net to the world of individual beings brings sorrow, for the jeweled lights of consciousness are further apart, and the darkness of ignorance is oppressive. The bodhisattva shines brightly but his or her light is obscured by layers of ignorance and suffering. Thus, his descent into the world is experienced as tragedy and sorrow, and his compassion is automatically evoked by entrance into the worlds of dark and heavy karma.

Part of the Third Watch of the Night is moving from the darker parts of the network to the lighter ones, the worlds of flashing jewels, and the light of pure awareness and awareness of infinity. The net is the ladder that is climbed to bodhisattva status, through the intermediate worlds. It may be called the jeweled net of the sambhogakaya, for it links together the world of samsara and the world of the dharmakaya.

The state of Emptiness is beyond the net, the source of the light of the jewels. We may compare the net to the rigging of a pirate ship, connecting the violence and darkness of the deck, with the observation post of the mast, where the observer may see clearly beyond the realm of the passions. The first stage of this meditation is to see the jewels flashing.

Here the bhairava describes the basic fabric of the universe as perceived during the Third Watch of the Night meditation:

Another way to meditate on the Third Watch of the Night is to perceive the universe as a vast glowing ocean of light beneath a dark sky. The ocean shines in golden white leaving shimmering echoes of waves upon a dark sand beach.

As you look closer at the water, you observe that the water is made of tiny glowing particles - tiny dots of light. As you observe a dot of light, you see that it is made of complexes of even small dots of light. You go down and down, each light particle broken down into smaller light particles - only an illusion, made up of hundreds and thousands of smaller particles, also illusory. Everything is composed of something else, and nothing exists on its own.

What is the universe made of? This is the profound question of the Third Watch of the Night. Of what is reality composed? The meditator moves through the realms of consciousness in many directions - size, time, space, unity, and multiplicity. We might understand the universe to be composed of many fragments of consciousness, the jewels in whose reflections can be seen all the other jewels.

We might also understand it as a limitless embroidered brocade composed of millions and billions of living jewels on its surface, or waves carrying forth billions of one-celled light-creatures, or billions of stars that pulse like beating hearts. All of these metaphors can be applied. The contemplation of the watches of the night destroys individuality. The person experiences being many lives, many species, and eventually many universes. He or she may go past the physical universe and into the spiritual ones. The minds of gods and Buddhas are vast in themselves, and each is like a wave in the infinite sambhogakaya ocean.

There are many forms of consciousness in the universe. There are not only individual centers, but also personifications of broader and broader areas of awareness. A universe may have a sense of self, as may a species, a race, or a galaxy. Indeed, the universes are full of selves of many types. The Third Watch of the Night represents consciousness of the unity of these into broader areas of self, oceans of selves, galaxies of selves. The mind of the bodhisattva is a vast network of selves as he pulls them all towards universal awareness. The mind of the Buddha accepts both their existence and non-existence. And it also accepts the unlimited awareness towards which they strive.

There is some debate about whether the Fourth Watch of the Night can be considered as a separate stage. It is the Buddha's entrance into Nirvana, as the morning star rose in the sky. As the bhairava describes the fourth watch of the night:

The Fourth Watch is the reunion of all worlds. The first three quarters of the night are exploration, learning the limits of the ego, species identity, and of consciousness itself. We might also call these states of self-consciousness, group-consciousness, and absolute consciousness. At the Fourth Watch of the Night, the exploration is complete, and the separate worlds are united into one plane of awareness and action. This is beyond the realm of the bodhisattva, who travels back and forth through the planes of consciousness. The worlds are fused and there is no longer any place to go. Of course, there are many types of Buddhas. Some have universal awareness, yet retain karmic seeds, which can create desires, opinions, and motivations. There are creation Buddhas who have developed personalities for the sake of building worlds and acting as deities. There are also Buddhas that act as bodhisattvas deliberately limiting their own awareness for the sake of compassion. We see this in Buddhas who create heaven worlds like Amida. He stands between the world of the Buddha and the bodhisattva.

In summarizing the bhairava's approach, it is the union of opposites. The opposites most commonly mentioned are being and nonbeing, and fullness and emptiness. We might also say that enlightenment is the simultaneous awareness of all events at one time, while also being aware of their essential emptiness or illusory nature.

The enlightened mind looks at existence like watching a movie but, unlike the typical movie watcher, sees the dark space between the frames. The world comes into being and goes out of being thirty times a second as the movie screen flickers from one picture frame to the next. It is impossible to take the movie as reality when one sees how it is constructed from a series of images strung together on empty or transparent celluloid ribbon. The movie appears as a clever and compelling illusion that fully engages the audience, most of whom are unable to perceive what is happening behind the curtain or in the projection room.

The Bodhi Tree practice reveals a succession of identities, as the bhairava notes:

The First Watch of the Night or Jivamala practice is the breakdown of personality, and finding its components in the past lives, which have contributed to the impulses and desires, which bind the person.

The Second Watch of the Night is the breakdown of identification with human life, and it shows its precursors in the experience of plants and animals. Life is realized to be full and rich and shared with all sentient beings, and beings other than humans are recognized to be sentient.

The Third Watch of the Night is the breakdown of identification with universal awareness, as the universe is broken down into its component parts, and each of these into their component parts and so on to infinity. We see that consciousness is not limited to individual beings.

The Fourth Watch of the Night is awareness of both emptiness and fullness, with all parts working together in the vast sky of freedom. While the first two watches have the meditator step back from the universal fragmentation of consciousness and realize the interconnectedness of all sentient beings, the fourth watch is the return to presence, not as an individual but as the union of all states of awareness, and their opposites. The mind of the bodhisattva is vast and travels while the mind of the Buddha is vast and still. It is both the ocean and the sky merged into one.

Awakening accepts identity with its vast net of causes, and also the infinite sky into which the net is cast. While the third watch reveals the universality and the bottomlessness of cause and effect, the fourth watch and the entrance into Nirvana is the union of opposites, and awareness of all possible states of consciousness at once.

The Buddha mind is awareness of all existence at once without focusing on any particular object. When this state is attained, it may be called nirvana, enlightenment, or ultimate truth. Any further exploration brings creativity, and waves on the infinite ocean, or wind in the infinite sky.

It is clear why the help of a Yidam is needed for this practice, for it is difficult for practitioners to enter such states on their own. This is why it is important to bring some of the older traditions of Tibetan Buddhism into the modern world.

This concludes our examination of the sadhanas of the Vajra Bhairava. Following our discussion of the vajra symbol (on the next page), we proceed with the discussion of the sadhanas of the Vajra Dakini.

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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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