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A Buddhist Spiritual Practice Based
on the Buddha's Night of Liberation

This site introduces a lost Buddhist spiritual practice called the Bodhi-Tree or Wisdom-Tree meditation.

Termas and Lost Teachings

Hidden or lost teachings are called Termas in Tibetan Buddhism and these texts allow for continuing revelation in the tradition. The Bodhi-Tree practice described at this site can be considered a Terma - the recovery of a lost teaching. There are many ways that termas are legitmated in institutional Buddhism. This teaching is not currently a part of any modern Buddhist lineage.

In the history of religions, our historical records are incomplete. Religions rise and fall over time, appear and disappear. Over centuries and millennia, our data about them consists of records that have withstood both natural and man-made disasters. Some texts have been canonized, some texts destroyed, and historians make do with remnants.

This loss is particularly vivid in Tibetan Buddhism, with its ancient history of wars, competition between lineages, and its modern destruction as a culture by Chinese communists. It had both an oral and literary tradition but wars and revolutions have killed or silenced many of its monastic scholars and interpreters. Some traditions disappear when faced with such attacks.

Tibetan Buddhism has survived partly by scholars and monks leaving the country and taking their texts with them, and partly by going underground maintaining lineage teaching outside the public view. But much has been lost.

Introduction to the Bodhi-Tree Meditation

The Bodhi-Tree (or Wisdom-Tree) 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 more than twenty-four centuries ago. 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 Saccaka Sutra in the Pali Canon.

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

The Four Watches of the Night

A brief summary of the insights of the Buddha during the four watches of the night follows. These insights will be correlated with the different practices of the Bodhi-Tree meditation as we proceed with the explanation of the practice.

  • 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 Symbolism of the Bodhi-Tree

    The Bodhi-Tree or wisdom-tree is a sacred symbol in Buddhism for a number of reasons.

  • It represents the place of the Buddha's enlightenment, and is therefore sacred geographically.
  • It is ancient. Thus, it is sacred temporally.
  • It represents growth towards liberation. Therefore, it is sacred developmentally.
  • It was said to rain blossoms. Though these were said to represent the blessings of celestial buddhas and devas, they also symbolically represented the tree as being sacred aesthetically.
  • In all these cases, the Bodhi-Tree's symbolism gives access to the Dharmakaya, which is the most transcendent aspect of Buddhism. However, this access is not based on simple awareness. The access to the Dharmakaya comes via the Sambhogakaya, the pathways through the intermediate worlds of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, which have been mostly lost and forgotten.

    In order to better understand the Bodhi-Tree meditation, we will next discuss its symbolism in greater detail.

    Please click on the [ NEXT ] link below to continue.

    [ NEXT ]                The Symbol of the Bodhi-Tree

    Introduction | The Symbol of the Bodhi-Tree | Obtaining a Spiritual Guide or Yidam | The First Watch | The Second Watch | The Third Watch | The Fourth Watch | Conclusion


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