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The Practice of the Second Watch 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.

The 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).

As stated earlier, the descriptions provided here are only a basic summary of the meditative process, which is directed by a Yidam or guide. We will therefore not go into as much detail as to how each meditation on different forms of life proceeds as we did during the earlier Jivamala practice.

However, 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. The notes for herbivorous birds are given first and followed by some notes for meat-eating birds:

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 much 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 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.

Beyond physical species, the meditator must also seek to understand non-physical intelligent forms of consciousness where the beings have different shapes, senses, and cultures from humans. This is challenging since most people do not even travel and encounter different cultures in the physical world. It requires an openness and respect for ways of being that differ from those commonly experienced in the material world.

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 cultures and beings with which the person can sympathize and strive to understand during the Second Watch of the Night.

The Second Watch of the Night 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 or forms of awareness. 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 that 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.

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Introduction | The Symbol of the Bodhi-Tree | The Yidam or Spiritual Guide | 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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