The Eight Stupas
Commentary and Interview with Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
The Buddha spoke of a supreme and powerful means to transform an environment into a holy space, a pure land. Building a stupa, the ultimate symbol of Buddha mind is the method Buddha set forth. Being followers of Buddha, the Board of Directors and members of this center, Kagyu Droden Kunchab, are inspired to accomplish this for the benefit of all beings.
The great Nagarjuna, in his omniscience, revealed eight glorious stupas, all expressing different aspects of the enlightened activity of the Buddha. These stupas impart the blessings of the Buddha, and each is designed precisely according to Nagarjuna's commentary (see below.) All of these stupas will be built on the KDK retreat land. The vast merit created by this effort will be dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings. According to Nagarjuna, eight stupas appeared in the sky at eight different occasions during the Buddha's life. Floating in the sky for several days, they were recorded by a goddess artist who wishing to have a precise measurement of the Buddha's body, found she could measure only as one might measure a mirror's image. Buddha’s body defied all measurement.
Here in brief are these eight stupas :
Q: You mean that our mind is the same as His Holiness’?
LLR: Our relative mind is obscured and confused, but after countless eons of purification and the accumulation of merit, a deep and powerful devotion arises which creates the wisdom to see the qualities and perfections of the lama. This is called “uncontrived devotion.” It is this uncontrived devotion which invokes the lama’s wisdom mind. And so our mind can merge with the stainless mind of the lama. And then our own mind is equal, is undifferentiated, from the lama’s mind.
The heaped lotus stupa appeared at the time of the Buddha's birth, when he walked seven paces and at each step a lotus flower sprung up to meet his feet.
The bodhi stupa appeared at the time of Buddha's enlightenment when he defeated all the maras on the night of the full moon in the fourth month of the year.
The stupa of many auspicious doors appeared when Buddha revealed the four noble truths. He did this when asked to teach after many days of silence, speechless in the simplicity and luminosity of realization.
The stupa of miracles appeared after being challenged to a miracle contest. The Buddha blessed the opponents and thwarted their magical powers. For ten days, he performed miracles such as creating a lake full of birds from his mouth rinse and a tree full of jewels from his toothbrush.
The stupa of descent from Tushita appeared when the Buddha, who had disappeared for four years, returned to earth down a three-lane staircase from the sky, escorted by Indra and Brahma.
The stupa of harmony appeared when the Buddha restored harmony and brought the sangha back together after a schism. His nephew claimed he was equal to the Buddha in every way except for the aura of light beams and caused a schism in the very large sangha.
The stupa of victory appeared when the Buddha fully restored his vitality after prayers from the sangha. After clearly demonstrating his imminent passing, he extended his life for four more years.
The stupa of Parinirvana appeared when the Buddha, giving his last words, lay down on his right side and entered the state of Parinirvana.
Having read this brief but beautiful statement by Nagarjuna, it is important that we understand who this great bodhisattva was. Nagarjuna was both prophetsized by the Buddha and an emanation of the Buddha.
Buddha Shakyamuni prophesied that five hundred years after his parinnirvana, a teacher would come to refresh and revitalize Buddha's teachings in the world. In the shastra, translated, Beautiful ornament of the Jambudvipa… “six ornaments” and “two excellents” are spoken of. The six ornaments refer to six highly realized bodhisattvas who made Buddhadharma flourish. The source of knowledge and wisdom for these six ornaments were the “two excellents.” One was Nagarjuna, the other was Asanga.
As stated above, the source of the eight stupas symbolizing Buddha's enlightened activity was the great and renowned teacher Nagarjuna. The wisdom in his commentary on the sutras and tantras is acknowledged and respected by all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. His commentaries on philosophy, all based, of course, on the teaching of Buddha are unparalleled. His clear and detailed teachings on Madhyamaka continue to be relied upon by all traditions of Buddhism.
How Nagarjuna brought the Prajnaparamita sutra from the Naga realm to the human realm is a significant story. The Prajnaparamitra sutra had been taken by the nagas and thus was unavailable in our world. But Nagarjuna, having been invited to visit the Naga realm by the king of the Nagas, was presented with the Prajnaparamita sutra as an offering. Thus this transcendent teaching became accessible to us.
A stupa represents the mind of the Buddha. Great merit is accumulated by those who donate money, materials and effort toward building a stupa. Depending on ones motivation, any and every help given to such a project will create blessings for this and future lifetimes. We have heard about liberation through listening, liberation through speaking, liberation through touching, liberation through reflecting --these four follow from building a stupa. When we speak of the stupa as a symbol of Buddha mind, when we touch the stupa with reverence and respect, when we listen to the prayers spoken and teachings given in the vicinity, when we reflect on the meaning and visualize this glorious emblem; all this gives instant liberation. Anger, pride, jealousy and all the habits that obscure the true nature of mind are reduced and even disappear as we work to build the eight stupas. The benefit extends not only to humans, but to all beings of the six realms. The birds who fly over, the insects that burrow under, the deer and raccoons and bears that see the stupas – all receive the blessings of the Buddha.
Everyone is invited to contribute toward this endeavor in any way they can, materially or physically, or both. Even if all you can offer is one day of work, this effort plants a seed which will ripen and grow and result in great benefit. Fortunate people will make the most of this opportunity to create blessings for themselves, for their family, for their friends, for the environment. Helping to realize this goal will set in motion benefits never to be exhausted.
Question: Who does one contact if one wants to help?
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: They may wish to contact me or any of the KDK board of directors. There is so much to do and so many materials to be purchased… who they contact is not as important as their sincere heartfelt wish to help and that they follow through with that intention.
Q: Is everybody eligible to help? What if our practice is not too strong or our motivation not too stable?
LLR:(laughing) Yes, yes, everyone is eligible to help. That is the best, the only way to start. For example when any new student came to (the previous) Kalu Rinpoche, the first thing Rinpoche said was, “Here -- do this work – carry these rocks, dig and mix up the sand with the cement, we have to build a stupa.” This seemed, of course, somewhat difficult, but after a while, the more you did it the more you enjoyed it.
You saw your health and wealth increase, your mind became calm and slowly, slowly you got the result of the teaching : true wisdom. So, yes, beginners should start and those with more experience should also do it and even those who have a highly realized practice should participate because true realization takes a long time to awaken.
Q: I remember a teacher, I think this was you, Rinpoche, who said that building a stupa created the same merit as completing a three-year retreat?
LLR: With sufficiently strong motivation and confidence, yes, building a stupa can be as beneficial as three year retreat. Milarepa was told by his teacher to build a house, tear it down, build it again and again. We may call it a house, but it was really a stupa that Marpa told Milarepa to build. Milarepa worked so hard his life was actually in danger. But due to all this effort and great accumulation of merit, Marpa saw a profound purification had happened which allowed Milarepa to directly receive the teachings and thus to renounce preoccupations of this world, and focus on practice. Within twelve years Milarepa experienced complete enlightenment. What Marpa had Milarepa do is what we are doing in building the eight stupas at the retreat land. Those who are fortunate enough to see this as a rare and powerful opportunity for purification and accumulation of merit will enjoy great benefit for themselves and others.
Q: Are there particular benefits associated with the various stupas?
LLR: The benefit created by each stupa is the same. There is no real distinction in terms of benefit. If you want to meditate on just one, you should focus on the enlightenment stupa.
Q: Is the purpose of these stupas to remind us of the enlightened activity of the Buddha, to “refresh” our inspiration and devotion?
LLR: Once you start to build the stupas devotion springs forth. What we are trying to do is construct this symbol of Buddha mind in order to purify our mind's defilements. According to the sutra, there are many sacred items that must be placed inside each stupa, such as mandalas, prayers, tsa tsas, and so forth. All this is accomplished in a precise, prescribed way with the appropriate rituals and ceremonies. But motivation is also extremely important. Placing even one rock with good motivation creates merit. By the same token, if one works hard, but is carrying a lot of anger, greed, jealousy and so on, that reduces the benefit greatly .
Q: Could you talk a bit about Kalu Rinpoche's wish for a stupa in at the KDK retreat land?
LLR: That was always Rinpoche's vision: that a stupa be built there. So, yes, with the completion of this project we are fulfilling Kalu Rinpoche's wishes.
Questioner: Thank you, Rinpoche.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche: You are welcome.
Q: Thank you. The final reliance states: “rely on our wisdom mind, not on our ordinary, judgmental mind.”
LLR: We gain wisdom-mind through study and reflection and meditation. The most effective of those three techniques is meditation. Wisdom mind keeps us on the path; relying on judgmental, ordinary, or relative mind reinforces self-clinging which is why we’ve remained from beginning less time in samsara.
Q: Thank you very much, Rinpoche.
LLR: You are welcome.