Stupa, A Magical Place

Amitabha Stupa SedonaAs the stupa represents the enlightened mind, the person who contributes to the construction…”who gives, who sacrifices something of his wealth, of his person or of his very desires, makes an act of renunciation and succeeds, at least in that very moment, in putting others before himself.” So in building a stupa, or contributing in any way towards one, is considered a ‘good thing’ by Buddhists in general. It is a structure that invites or invokes peace.

Down through the centuries and continuing in modern times, various types of stupas have and are being constructed: those built over relics of the Buddha (or a saint); those containing an object used by the Buddha or a saint; those commemorating an important event in religious history; and those built as an act of devotion. Accordingly, the importance of a stupa has changed from being a funerary monument to being an object of veneration. Their appearance has changed as well. Stupas vary, but each contains five constituent aspects. The mound has evolved into a hemispherical dome, on a square base. The base is without doors or windows. Each of the four sides is aligned compass-like to north, south, east and west with each side representing the four qualities basic to enlightenment –love, compassion, joy and equanimity. On top of the dome is a conical spire. The fourteen rings around the spire seen in all “modern’ stupas, are all that remain of the royal umbrellas found in earlier stupas and symbolize the fourteen stages traversed in the attainment of Buddhahood. In addition, a circular disc and crescent moon always appear towards the top of the construction.

As Buddhist teachings point out, every element of a Buddha’s physical body is pervaded with enlightenment. Thus, even after cremation, the teacher’s remains are considered sacred because they are the distilled essence of his or her physical form and are therefore themselves the embodiment of enlightenment. Because it enshrines these relics, the stupa is powerful. The shape of the stupa represents the crowned Buddha sitting in meditation. 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 stupa also symbolizes the five elements and their relationship to the enlightened mind. These are the essential attributes of a fully realized human being. The base of the stupa signifies earth and composure; the dome, water and indestructibility; the spire, fire and compassion; above the spire, a circular disc representing wind and all-accomplishing action; and at the very top, the jewel in conjunction with the crescent moon represents space and all pervading awareness. The stupa is a mandala, or sacred arrangement, a magical mystical place containing all of these enlightened qualities.

You don’t have to go off to India or to the Far East to visit a stupa. Come to Sedona! The two stupas built here by the Buddhist group, Kunzang Palyul Choling, are meant to be a highly spiritual place; a place of pilgrimage full of healing energy where prayers and meditations are magnified a hundred times over.

The stupas are located at the base of Thunder Mountain in the shadow of Chimney Rock. This area was considered holy by the Native Americans who inhabited Sedona long before white man arrived. “In the land of our holy red rocks, the east will meet the west, and there a flower will bloom and healing of mankind will begin.”

It is believed that the strongest energy stupas have specifically described formations in each of the four directions surrounding the stupa: a mountain that looks like a turtle in the North (Thunder Mountain); a long rock with a bird’s shape in the West (the Eagle’s Head formation of Coffeepot Rock), two tiger fangs in a mountain to the South (the peaks of Cathedral Rock peeking over Airport Mesa) and a long view to the East (the Mogollon Rim). Sedona has provided the extraordinary location prescribed for perfect stupa placement.

Although temples and stupas are typically white in color, the Sedona Stupa is finished in the red-rock hue of the site. The path leading up to the stupa is a gentle climb and designed to slow the mind to contemplate the blessings or teachings about to be received. The first stupa encountered is the smaller White Tara Stupa where you can ask the goddess for blessings in your life. A short walk to the Amitahba Stupa brings you to its easterly side where there is a long narrow table filled with offerings. Place an offering to the Buddha as a symbol of giving to mankind and say a short prayer. Circling each stupa (in a clock-wise direction) a minimum of three times while reciting “Om mani padme hung” (the mantra of compassion) will bring great spiritual energy for realizing your prayers or the path to enlightenment.

A Stupa Story

Once upon a time, there was a 31 year old single mother living in Brooklyn, New York. Strange and unusual things kept happening to her. She wound up selling her home and all her belongings, ‘awaiting further instructions.’ Her family thought she had gone mad. She was obviously delusional. Those same thoughts must have haunted her as she sat on the porch of her just-sold home with her son and whatever she could carry in the few pieces of luggage at her feet. “I should hail a taxi,” she mused, when at that moment, the story goes, a taxi pulled up and out stepped a Buddhist monk.

Zoom ahead. After studying in India for several years, Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, the first Western woman to be recognized and enthroned as a reincarnate Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, returned to the United States where she founded Kunzang Palyul Chöling Buddhist Center in rural Maryland and the business of stupa building began.

Meanwhile, back here in Sedona, a man with plans for building a few speculation homes as well as his own dream home bought some land above the Harmony Heights neighborhood. He liked the feel and the layout of the land and knew that he had something special, but whenever he tried to build upon the land, something always gummed up the works. Either earth-moving equipment failed to perform, workers wouldn’t show up, or building permits would get lost. He gave up on building his special abode when he found the ‘dream home’ already built in a neighborhood more to his liking. He wanted to build spec houses, but he could never get the project off the ground. Finally, he just wanted to sell. He called his realtor and gave the listing. Within a few days, a group of Buddhist monks showed up with a check for exactly the lowest price he told his realtor he ’d accept.

The story goes that Jetsunma’s spiritual brother had a dream about the land and was told it was the perfect spot for a Stupa. Jetsunma left her beloved Maryland and headed for Sedona where she first built the 6 foot tall White Tara Stupa. Soon after, work began on the main Amitabha Stupa, named for the Buddha of long life and Compassion.

The stupas give Sedona’s visitors and residents a unique place to bring together not only Buddhist and native American traditions, but all spiritual teachings. The views are astounding and the area is permeated by prayers and blessings. When visiting the Sedona Stupas, it is easy to believe that many miracles can and do occur simply for the asking.

The KPC Stupas are located in West Sedona and are open from dawn to dusk. From the Center for the New Age on 179, proceed to the traffic light at the “Y” where 179 meets Highway 89A. Turn left onto 89A and drive about 3 miles. Turn right onto Andante at the Circle K. Go through the four-way Stop sign and turn left onto Pueblo. Proceed 100 yards and park on the road. Enter the property at the construction gates.