What is a stupa? The stupa represents Buddha's holy mind, dharmakaya, and each part of the stupa shows the path to enlightenment. Building a stupa is a very powerful way to purify negative karma and obscurations and to accumulate extensive merit. In building stupas we attain realizations of the path to enlightenment while doing perfect work to liberate suffering beings, who equal the sky, leading them to the peerless happiness of enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of our life.
How is a stupa built? Once a site for a stupa has been chosen, pujas (prayers) are made and the earth deities addressed to seek a blessing for the site and remove any obstacles to the successful building of the stupa. All those involved must be sure to have the right motivation so that every aspect of the stupa emanates the pure mind of Buddha.
In the Tibetan tradition each stupa sits upon a square base called the Lion’s Seat whose four sides refer to the four qualities of mind basic to the attainment of enlightenment. These are Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. This base is then traditionally filled with jewels, precious texts and relics pertaining to the tradition of stupa building. Upon the Lion’s Seat there are then built five steps which represent the progress of the mind towards enlightenment. Each step can be divided into two and alludes to the ten levels of Bodhisattva realization.
Then a rounded form called the bumpa is built on top of the steps. Depending on the size of the stupa, it can contain a room for meditation and puja, or if it is smaller it will be simply filled with further precious and pure representations of Buddha's mind. The bumpa itself is representative of the seventeen levels of the Realm of Form.
Out of the bumpa a spire forms and on top of that sit ornaments which together represent the four stages of the Formless Realm. In much the same way as the Stupa's outer manifestation mirrors that of pure mind, so too must its inner contents. Great emphasis is placed on the consciousness with which the objects within its form are made. The tradition is very particular in the way it states exactly what should be placed inside and in what manner they should be crafted to ensure the utmost purity.
A central axis called the Sog Shing, meaning “Life Stick” is made, and is traditionally carved from Sandalwood or Juniper. However, if it's not possible to obtain these woods, the wood of any tree which does not bear poisonous fruit can be used. In our situation Khenpo Ugyen made the life stick out of wood from Nepal or Bhutan. Once the tree has been chosen, prayers and offerings are made to the Earth Spirits for permission to use it. A monk with full ordination vows must then craft the wood into a tapered shape and either carve or paint mantras over its surface. It is important that all materials used in this process are of the highest quality possible. At the tip of the Life Stick a picture of the Victory Stupa is made and at its base that of a half dorje. Holes are made at the top and base and blessed relics, medicines and texts are placed inside.
The Life Stick is then wrapped in precious materials and is fixed in place on the Lion’s Seat. It is long enough to protrude to the stupa's highest point.
The stupa is then filled with relics which symbolically pertain to the utmost purity of mind. It is said that if the stupa itself is the representation of Buddha's body then the relics are the life force which flows through it and, as such, are even more vital than its outer form.
The first relic, called the dharma relic or tsa tsa is made to fill the stupa. These are small clay models of stupas which have been fashioned from clay, again extracted from the earth after prayers and offerings were made. These can only be made by monks and nuns or lay people who have undergone the refuge ceremony and who have taken eight basic Buddhist vows for the day. Each tsa tsa is made with the recitation of specific mantras and a visualisation of the Buddha. A hole is made in the base of each model and rolled up prayer scrolles are placed inside.
The second relic to be placed in the stupa is a remnant of the body of the Buddha himself. Like the third and fourth specified relics, which are a piece of the Buddha's robe and a white grain of the Buddha's bone respectively, these are rare and hard to come by. Although I dont know for sure the relics that will be placed in the Stupas by H.E. Tulku Sang Ngag Rinpoche we are truly blessed by his abundant collection of relics that he has aquired during his life. Rinpoche has built over 1000 Stupas and is also the creator of the magnificent Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana. (Truly a place all Buddhists in the USA should visit at least once.)
Finally the fifth relic specified to go inside the stupa is the Mantra Relic. These include the eighty four thousand teachings of the Buddha along with the commentaries on his teachings by many of the realized beings who came after him. The Mantra Relic also includes the “Five Great Mantras for Stupas”.
Once the stupa is complete a blessing ceremony takes place. A gathering of realized lamas and masters along with sangha, retreatants and lay practitioners is arranged and prayers and blessings are made to complete the process. The benefit of the stupa emanates far and wide and is said to go on for aeons. The positivity generated by such activity is impossible to measure. Liberation is said to be given by merely hearing about a stupa, by touching it, by seeing it, by praying to it, by walking around it and by eating the offerings that are made to it. In the West, stupa building is an activity in its infancy, but one whose inspiration must surely touch us all.
What are the benefits of building a stupa?
1. If you make 1,000 Stupas, you will become a great 'Wheel-turning Holder of the Wisdom Teachings' (Mahayana Secret Mantra) and have clairvoyance knowing all the Buddhadharma.
2. After death, without being born in the lower realms, you will be born as a king.
3. You will become like a sun, rising in the world, with perfect senses and a beautiful body.
4. You will be able to remember past lives and see future lives.
5. You will be able to extensively listen to the Dharma without forgetfulness.
6. The Stainless Beam Sutra states - "All negative karma and obscurations, including the five uninterrupted negative karmas, are purified even by dreaming of a stupa, seeing a stupa hearing the sound of the bell of a stupa and even for birds and flies etc, by being touched by the shadow of a stupa."
7. The sentient beings will always be protected by the Buddhas, who always pay attention to guiding them to achieve complete pure enlightenment. They abide in the irreversible stage.
8. It is explained by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Sutras that it is extremely powerful to build a stupa for those who have passed away, as it immediately changes a suffering rebirth into a fortunate rebirth with the opportunity to meet the Dharma.
9. It can also heal those with serious diseases.
10. There is no question that it accumulates extensive merit and brings success and happiness. Therefore, dedicate for your ancestors, family members and friends who have passed away or who are sick, and for the happiness of yourself and your family in this and future lives. "