Jewel Heart Ann Arbor hosted the Stupa Consecration Ceremony for Gelek Rimpoche’s relics on July 14, 2018.
What is a Stupa?
The tradition of building stupas is a very old Asian custom that is similar to the pyramids, which house tombs that contain the remains of the old king and precious items for his use in the afterlife. Even today, different cultures build monuments to memorialize a great person or a great historical event. Similarly in the Buddhist tradition, a stupa houses the relics of a great being such as the Buddha or, in the Tibetan tradition, great lamas.
When Buddha Shakyamuni was about to pass away, his assistant, Ananda, asked him how to handle his relics. Since Buddha Shakyamuni was originally born a prince he replied, “Do what we do for a king.” When he passed away, many of the kings wanted some relics. So the relics were divided into eight groups and given to each king, who then built a stupa for their relics. These eight stupas of Buddha Shakyamuni are known as the “Stupa of Nirvana” (nyang de in Tibetan, which means ‘leaving.’). ‘Leaving’ refers to both the passing away of the individual from this life but also leaving samsara for nirvana. These are the bell-shaped stupas that one sees in places like Indonesia, Thailand, and Nepal.
In Tibet, the stupa tradition continued for the great lamas. In the Potala Palace, the former residence and government building of the Dalai Lama, there are stupas for each of the Dalai Lama’s incarnations. Ganden Monastery also has a stupa for Jamgon Lama Tsongkhapa.
When a stupa is consecrated, the relics are first blessed and then placed inside. The wisdom deity is then generated. The main concept is to remember the qualities of Buddha and the guru and to build it very solidly to keep the memory of the Guru for a long time.
The qualities of an enlightened being are divided into three aspects: body, speech (i.e., teachings), and mind (or heart). The qualities of the body are represented through statues, speech through scriptures, and mind through the stupa. The mind (or heart) of an enlightened being is not physical or tangible. It is the consciousness from the previous life that continues.
The stupa honoring Gelek Rimpoche is known as an enlightenment stupa. The design of it represents the 37 Harmonies of Enlightenment. These 37 are divided into seven categories: the four mindfulnesses, the four perfect abandonings, the four magic feats, the five powers, the five forces (what Demo Rinpoche calls ‘superpowers’), the seven branches of enlightenment, and the eight-fold path. The stupa, from bottom to top, is designed to represent the 37 Harmonies. The four levels, or steps, represent the four mindfulnesses. The flowers represent the five superpowers. The vase (what looks like a cave with the statue inside) represents the seven branches of enlightenment. The square on top of the vase represents the eight-fold path. Above that are thirteen stacked rings that represent the ten forces and three special mindfulnesses of Buddha. And at the very top is an umbrella that represents the great Buddha compassion (in Sanskrit, karuna, which is the mind that protects other people). The umbrella symbolizes protection.
We show our respect and humility to the Guru and representation of enlightenment by making clockwise circumambulations. That represents that we want to gain the same qualities, to keep close to the qualities, to practice and achieve them.