A Stupa (Sanskrit) or Chorten (Tibetan) is a mound-like spiritual monument containing Buddhist relics, used by Buddhists as a place of worship. It is a symbol of enlightened mind and the path to its realisation. The stupa represents the Buddha’s body, his speech and his mind, but most especially his mind. In the words of Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche – “The Stupa represents Buddha's holy mind, Dharmakaya, and each part of the Stupa shows path to Enlightenment. Building a Stupa is a very powerful way to purify negative karma and obscurations, and to accumulate extensive merit. In this way you can have realizations of the path to Enlightenment and be able to do 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”.

The Five Purified Elements

The Stupa has assumed the representation of the five purified elements. The shape of the Stupa represents the Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. His crown is the top of the spire; his head is the square at the spire's base; his body is the vase shape; his legs are the four steps of the lower terrace; and the base is his throne. The square base represents earth. The hemispherical dome/vase represents water. The conical spire represents fire. The upper lotus parasol and the crescent moon represent air and the sun and the dissolving point represent the element of space
The Eight Great Stupas
There are eight different kinds of stupas in Tibetan Buddhism, each referring to major events in the Buddha's life.

Lotus Blossom Stupa -
Also known as Stupa of Heaped Lotuses or Birth of the Sugata Stupa, this stupa refers to the birth of the Buddha. "At birth Buddha took seven steps in each of the four directions" (East, South, West and North). In each direction lotuses sprang, symbolizing the Four Immeasurables: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. The four steps of the basis of this stupa is 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.

Enlightenment Stupa -
Also known as the Stupa of the Conquest of Mara. This stupa symbolizes the 35-year-old Buddha's attainment of enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, where he conquered worldly temptations and attacks manifesting in the form of Mara.

Stupa of Many Doors -
Also known as the Stupa of Many Gates. After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha taught his first students in a deer-park near Sarnath. The series of doors on each side of the steps represent the first teachings: the Four Noble Truths, the Six Perfections, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Twelve Links in the Chain of Dependent Origination.

Stupa of Descent from the God Realm -
At 42 years old, Buddha spent a summer retreat in Tushita Heaven, where his mother had taken rebirth. In order to repay her kindness he taught the dharma to her reincarnation. Local inhabitants built a stupa like this in Sankasya in order to commemorate this event. This stupa is characterized by having a central projection at each side containing a triple ladder or steps.


Stupa of Great Miracles -
Also known as Stupa of Conquest of theTirthikas. This stupa refers to various miracles performed by the Buddha when he was 50 years old. Legend claims that he overpowered marasand heretics by engaging them in intellectual arguments and also by performing miracles. This stupa was raised by the Lichavi kingdom to commemorate the event.

Stupa of Reconciliation -
This stupa commemorates the Buddha's resolution of a dispute among the sangha. A stupa in this design was built in the kingdom of Magadha, where the reconciliation occurred. It has four octagonal steps with equal sides.
Stupa of Complete Victory - This stupa commemorates Buddha's successful prolonging of his life by three months. It has only three steps, which are circular and unadorned.

Stupa of Nirvana -
This stupa refers to the death of the Buddha, when he was 80 years old. It symbolizes the Buddha's complete absorption into the highest state of mind. It is bell-shaped and usually not ornamented.


The benefits of building a Stupa

The following ten benefits of a Stupa were explained by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche -

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. "


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