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The Practice of the Fourth Watch of the Night

The Fourth Watch of the Night is the breakthrough to enlightenment, the direct and unambiguous awakening to the Buddha mind, and the entrance into Nirvana. It occurred at dawn when the Buddha's long night of samsara, and his countless lives of darkness, struggle, and suffering came to an end. The dawn of the new day was the dawn of enlightened awareness, and the great awakening from sleep.

The Bhairava ends the third watch of the night with the following comment:

One should not go to the Buddha empty-handed. On should come bearing the treasures of the universe, the vast collection of jewels which represent the minds of all sentient beings.

In the Bodhi-Tree practice, the stages leading to Nirvana are not a progression of degrees of emptiness. Instead, they are stages of fullness and richness, and of realization of a variety of different kinds of knowledge.

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 fourth [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.

Many have written on the state of enlightenment and its meaning, trying to symbolize its essence. And many others have declined this effort and admitted that describing such a state is impossible.

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.

However another approach is 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 old style movie projected from celluloid stock 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 ability to be aware of many (or all) events simultaneously is also something difficult to understand.

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


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