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The Stupa

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The Meaning of a Stupa

A Stupa is a symbolic representation of Buddha’s spirit. Stupas are often built in places where many people pass, at crossroads for example. A Stupa that is built carefully is said to have a strong positive effect on its surroundings. It diminishes negative forces and encourages harmony and freedom amongst the beings. For this reason the expression Shanti Stupa is also used, which means ‘Monument of Peace’.

In 1987 a Stupa was built on the Letze in memory of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche. Many people from different social circles helped to prepare and carry out the work of building this Stupa. The word ‘Stupa’ soon became well-known. As every German word possesses an article, one needed to find a suitable article for the word Stupa. According to a feeling for language which academic people have, they thought the word Stupa should be ‘die’ as all German words that end with an ‘a’ are female. Educated Sanskritologists however soon warned that it should be ‘der’ Stupa as Sanskrit words that end with an ‘a’ are male! They did not accept the argument that in the past no attention was paid to the article of the original word. However the builders themselves knew exactly what they were building, it was ‘das’ Stupa of the Letzehof: the objective was neutral, a symbol of the enlightened spirit.

Stupas can take different forms. The pointed top of a Stupa can show the degree of spiritual development of the person in who’s memory it was built of:

  • A Stupa that is built for an ordinary person does not have a pointed top.
  • A Stupa that is built for a person who has entered into the stream of liberation has a pointed top with two rings.
  • A Stupa that is built for a person who must take birth only once before attaining liberation from the conditioned existence has a point with three rings.
  • A Stupa that is built for a person who does not have to return any more to the conditioned existence has a point with four rings.
  • A Stupa that is built for a Shravaka Arhat, a person who has achieved complete liberation from the conditioned existence, has a point with five rings.
  • A Stupa that is built for a Pratyeka Arhat, a person who has achieved complete liberation from the conditioned existence and who is on the way to enlightenment has a point with seven rings.
  • A Stupa that is built for a fully enlightened being has a pointed top with thirteen rings.

There are eight different types of Stupas, which have all been built at places where special events in the Buddha’s life occurred.

  • The "Birth-Stupa" (Lumbini) where the steps beneath the top are formed to build a Lotus flower.
  • The "Teachings-Stupa" (Sarnath) has steps with doors.
  • The "Enlightenment-Stupa" in Bodh-Gaya has four square steps.
  • The "Stupa of the return of the Buddha from the kingdom of the Devas" (Sankashaya) has stairs leading over the steps of the Stupa.
  • The "Stupa of Reconciliation" (Rajagir) has eight-cornered steps.
  • The "Stupa of Victory" (Vaishali) has four rounded steps.
  • The "Stupa of the Great Wonder" (Shravasti) has four steps, which are built to form a rectangular Lotus flower.
  • The "Stupa of Buddha’s Parinirvana" (Kushinagar) does not have any steps. The top is directly on top of the throne and has a shape similar to a bell with two horizontal lines.

Many Stupas consist of a bottom part and the actual Stupa. The bottom part, which reaches to the top plate is the throne on which the actual Stupa stands. The Stupa itself then begins with a wreath of lotus leaves followed by four steps, yet another wreath of lotus leaves, a dome, and then the elements at the top. Each part of a Stupa has a symbolic meaning:

  • The base of the Stupa represents the Ten Healing Actions. The prevention of: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slander, swearing, gossip, greed, evilness and false views.
  • The first Lotus flower of the Stupa represents the Six Memories. The memory of: the master, the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the Ethic and the Generosity.
  • The four steps represent the Four Elements: earth, water, fire and wind.
  • The base of the dome represents the Five Forces of a Buddha. The force of; faith, enthusiasm, attention, concentration and knowledge.
  • The dome represents enlightenment.
  • The square, which stands on the top, symbolises the Eight-Fold way and the thirty-seven qualities of enlightenment.
  • The Lotus flower that sits at the foot of the top shows the freedom from the mistakes of the conditioned existence.
  • The thirteen rings represent the ten powers and the three consciousness’ of a Buddha’s mind: the consciousness of being free of all types of lust, the consciousness of being free of hate and the consciousness of being free from the impartial view towards listeners and not listeners.
  • The conical ledge,which leads from the rings to the umbrella, represents the ‘Dharani of compassion’, which means the union of great compassion with the sixteen emptiness'.
  • The umbrella and the ring under the crown shows the Union of Method and Wisdom.
  • The crown represents further activities.
  • The moon and sun represents the wisdom of the so-being and the so-seeing, the Conventional and Ultimate Wisdom.
  • The point corresponds to the condition of the Great Union. That is the condition of enlightenment, in which the body and mind or the illusory body and wisdom of the Clear Light are united.
  • Ornaments, which can be attached between the point and dome, show the sixty "limbs" of the speech of a Buddha.
  • The four columns, which can stand beside a Stupa, show the four fearlessness of a Buddha: The fearlessness of conquering all defeating obstacles, the fearlessness of conquering all knowledge, the fearlessness of stating what must be overcome and the fearlessness of stating the remedies.
  • The Victory banners on these four columns show the victory over the four Maras or negative forces.
  • Garlands with which a Stupa can be decorated, show the 32 characteristics and 80 indications of the body of a Buddha.
© 19.08.2018 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection