The Stupa - A 3-dimensional model of enlightenment
Friday 1 January 2010, by
What are Stupas?
Why do we build them?
What do they the signify?
Where do they come from?
- Shanti Stupa, Leh
- Photo Copyright © Jamie Ashley 2008
A 3-dimensional model of enlightenment
’It is through the language of archetypal symbols that we reconnect ourselves with the primordial ground from which all human culture has sprung... Among the oldest of architectural forms, the Stupa is a universal symbol of enlightened mind, a familiar sight in all countries where Buddhism has flourished. In the Stupa we find the ancient reliquary monuments once built for kings and heroes transformed into profound expressions of knowledge. Rightly interpreted and understood by both reason and intuition, it mirrors the harmony and perfection of universal principles and invites the human mind to awaken its full capabilities...’.
This quotation from Lama Govinda gives us a taste of why Stupas were built and what they signify now and in former times. They are the most fascinating structures on the planet. Their development mirrors that of our cultures, and their transformation stands as a witness to the changes in our philosophical concepts.
Nobody has yet answered the question regarding the earliest origin of Stupas. There are various theories: that the origin of the Stupa was as a stake placed in the ground around which a tethered animal would walk in circles; or as a hill inside which a jar containing the ashes of a dead hero was placed. In their early history, Stupas were used as reliquaries or as graves - similar to the pyramids of Egypt. At the time of Sidhartha Gautama (VI - V century B.C.) the meaning of the Stupa evolved greatly. Symbolic aspects developed so strongly that they changed completely the meaning of the Stupa as a grave or reliquary. Stupas became a multi-purpose symbol, a real treasure of knowledge about phenomena, the universe, the nature of our mind and the way leading to the state of full development or enlightenment. Through its form, and through the ’jewels’ which are placed inside of it, a Stupa works with us on many different conscious and subconscious levels. Stupas are energy generators and transformers. They take energy from nature and focus and redistribute it. It is believed that Stupas have great protective power. Being filled with positive energy, they pacify and transform sources of negative power.
- Swayambhu Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.
One of our goals as developed humans is to protect those who need protection. By helping to build a Stupa we can add our ’brick’ in a joint effort towards the realization of this goal. As purely symbolic structures - Stupas are not temples or ordinary buildings - they invite us to think and meditate about their message. In this way, they are animators of our development in varied fields of endeavor, such as religion, philosophy, history, geography, archeology and mind itself. Once built, they rest on their stone foundation, unchangeable and free from the influence of social and political events and turbulence. Because of these profound effects, Stupas are the most useful buildings we can construct.