Tibetan Buddhism - Stupas Depicting Major Events in the life of the Buddha
Have you ever visited a mound-like or hemispheric structure often thronged by the tourists in any part of the world? Most likely it is a Stupa, a structure containing relics and often used for prayer and meditation. The word 'Stupa' has a Sanskrit root where 'Stu' means 'to worship' or 'to praise'.
Such often venerated architectural structures are known to have existed even in pre-Buddhism era. But ancient Buddhist literature reveals that, after passing away of the Buddha, the cremated remains were divided into eight parts. These remains were housed in structures called Stupas in eight kingdoms in which the Buddha lived. Subsequently, Emperor Ashoka the Great got these Stupas opened and distributed the remains into 84,000 portions, thus paving the way for expansion of Buddhism in different parts of the world during the 3rd century BCE. The Stupas continue to be the nucleus of Buddhist faith and worship even today.
During introduction of Buddhism, the shapes of these Stupas were transformed due to the architectural impact of various cultures. As a result, many different stylistic types evolved. Also, they were known by different names in other parts of the world. For example, Pagoda in China, To in Japan, Tap in Korea, Zedi in Myanmar, Dagoba in Sri Lanka, Chedi in Thailand and Chorten in Tibet.
The Tibetan Buddhism and the Stupas
Tibetan Buddhism believes in eight significant events in the life of the Buddha which are often depicted in different Stupas. Commemorative Stupas of the Buddha have been built in different parts of the world. Traditionally, these Stupas are taken as visual manifestation of the Buddha and epitomization of his enlightenment and nirvana.
I re-visited Mindrolling Monastery at Dehradun (India) where there is systematic display of these significant events. At the first casual look some of these Stupas looked alike but a careful examination of these Stupas revealed that they were different from each other. Each Stupa depicted a major event in the life of the Buddha. My son helped me to organise photographs of these Stupas.
Presented below are these commemorative Stupas.
1. The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses
This Stupa refers to the birth of the Buddha. When the Buddha was born at Lumbini Garden in Kapilvastu, he took seven steps in each of the four directions (East, South, West and North). From each of his footsteps a lotus sprang up which symbolized The Four Immeasurables: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. To commemorate this, King Shuddhodhana built the Stupa known as The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses.
The four steps of the basis of this Stupa are circular, and it is decorated with lotus-petal designs. Occasionally, seven heaped lotus steps are constructed. These refer to the seven first steps of the Buddha
(a) Lotus Blossom Stupa
(b) Birth Stupa
(c) Birth of the Sugata Stupa
2. The Stupa of Conquest over Mara
The Buddha defeated the hosts of Mara and attained enlightenment under the Boddhi tree in Bodh Gaya, thus, conquering the worldly temptations at the age of thirty five. To commemorate this, King Bimbisara built the Stupa of Conquest over Mara.
The Stupa of Enlightenment.
3. The Stupa of Many Doors
Tashi Gomang Choten
After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha taught his first students in the Dear Park in Sarnath, near Varanasi. The series of doors on each side of the steps represent the first teachings: the Four Noble Truths, the Six Paramitas, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Twelve Nidanas. Thus, the Buddha turned the First Wheel of Dharma. To commemorate this, the first five disciples of the Buddha built the Stupa of Many Doors.
The Stupa of Many Gates
4. The Stupa of Great Miracles
This Stupa refers to inconceivable miracles performed by the Buddha in the Jetavana Grove at Shravasti, when he was 50 years old. The Buddha overpowered demons and heretics by engaging them in intellectual arguments and also by performing miracles. To commemorate this, the people of the Lichavi tribe built The Stupa of Great Miracles.
(a) Miracle Stupa
(b) The Stupa of Conquest of the Tirthikas
(c) The Stupa of Conquest of the Heretics
5. The Stupa of Buddha's Descent from Devaloka
At the age of forty-two, the Buddha spent a summer retreat in Trayastrimsa, the heavenly realm of thirty three types of devas. In order to repay her kindness he taught the Dharma to the reincarnation of his mother, Mahamaya. He then descended into a garden of udumbara lotuses in the town of Sankasya. The inhabitants of Sankasya built the Stupa of Buddha's Descent from Devaloka in order to commemorate this event. This Stupa is characterized by having a central projection at each side containing a triple ladder or steps.
(a) The Stupa of Descent from Tushita Heaven
(b) The Stupa of Descent from the God Realm
6. The Stupa of Reconciliation
When Devdutta, the Buddha's cousin, caused schism, in the Sangha, the Buddha reconciled the devisive factions in the Velluvana bamboo-grove at Rajgriha at Maghada. To commemorate the resolution of the dispute the inhabitants of Magadha built the Stupa of Reconciliation at the place where reconciliation occurred. It has four octagonal steps with equal sides
The Stupa of Reconciliation of the Sangha
7. The Stupa of Complete Victory
The Buddha agreed to prolong his life by three months at the request of Upasaka Tsundra, while at Vaishali. To commemorate this, the inhabitants of Vaishali built the Stupa of Complete Victory. It has only three steps, which are circular and unadorned
8. The Stupa of Nirvana
This Stupa refers to the death of the Buddha, when he was 80 years old. The passing away of the Buddha into the mahaparinirvana between two sal trees at the city of Kushinagara symbolizes the Buddha's complete absorption into the highest state of mind. It is bell-shaped and usually not ornamented.
The Stupa of Parinirvana
Have a Glimpse of Eight Stupas
Your Experiences with the Stupas
Have you ever visited a Stupa?
Do you recall having seen any of the Eight Stupas?
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