Stupas and the Vajrayāna

Stupas and the Vajrayāna

From the standpoint of the Vajrayāna, the stupa combines a view of correspondence between the inner and outer elements, the inner subtle body of the practitioner, the outer flow of the land, the center-periphery model of maṇḍala, the efficacy of mantra, and the blessing of the lineage into a process and product of great transformative power.

These dimensions are complex and subtle, and can only be introduced in immediate experience and approached with great intimacy and care.  The best way to gain understanding is through one’s own practice and through the stories of past masters.  We can look at one of the stories of Milarepa, Tibet’s most famous yogi, for inspiration in this:

When Milarepa met his teacher Marpa and began his practice, he was not permitted to join the other students for the Vajrayāna teachings.  Instead, his teacher made him construct a tower made of stone.  When Milarepa built one circular tower on an eastern hill, his master had him dismantle it and rebuild it as a semicircle on the western side of the mountain.  This tower was also built and disassembled and then he was asked to make one triangular tower in the north.  By this time Milarepa was broken, both physically and mentally, and driven to the brink of suicide.  Marpa told Milarepa to dismantle this tower as well, and Milarepa began another tower in the shape of a square.  When Milarepa was about to take his own life in despair, the wife of Marpa took Milarepa aside and permitted him to receive the Vajrayana teachings without Marpa’s permission, which enraged Marpa and caused Milarepa more hardship.

Marpa then explained to his wife that he knew Milarepa would become his most accomplished student, and all of the towers were ways for Milarepa to purify his internal elements of Fire (triangle) Water (Circle) Wind (Semicircle) and Earth (Square).  Milarepa was called back and welcomed into the family of his teacher, but because he did not complete the final tower, he would have to practice on his own for many years, one day achieving full Buddhahood.

As can be seen in the picture, the structure of the stupa integrates all of these shapes and their corresponding elements.  Just as is the case with altruistic intention being instantiated into the physical design elements of the stupa, the purity of the elements is given a container and form in the five levels of the stupa.  These aspects are esoteric by nature, but when done well, serve to balance and enrich the environment.  Stupas can act in this way as acupuncture needles for the earth, and are placed in particular places to heal the earth, balancing and enhancing the elements of an environment.

When we speak of an environment with balanced and potent elements, it is again best understood through experience.  When someone enters an environment that has such balanced potency, their internal experience shifts and is influenced by the environment.  Similarly, someone who has stabilized their own pure elements through practice can bring new life and grace to an otherwise polluted and broken environment.


Read More: The Inside Outside