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The stupas became the great centers of pilgrimage and worship.

Two sets of eight large stupas were built shortly after Buddha Shakyamuni reached Parinirvana.

One set is known as 'the Taghata stupas of the eight holy places': these stupas commemorate the eight great events of his life; The second set is known as 'The eight great stupas of the relics of the cities': these contain the eight times divided, relics of the Buddha's body, his mortal remains cremated and divided into eight.




What is a Stupa

The stupa is basically one of the earliest forms of representation of the Buddha image, built to commemorate the major events of his life, mark the holy places where these events occurred, and give home to his relics and those of his most advanced spiritual disciples. .


There are three receptacles representing Buddha's body, speech and mind: a painting or statue of Buddha forms the receptacle of his body; a religious text represents the speech of an enlightened Buddha and the stupa is the receptacle that represents the enlightened mind of the Buddha.


(Fuente: Handbook of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, R. Beer)

History and symbolism

The first flourishes of Buddhism in India, developed the form of the stupa in its origin. Buddha Shakyamuni is believed to have laid the foundation for the stupa's design throughout his life. One of the stories in a Sutra relates that the relics of Shariputra, one of the Buddha's closest disciples, were kept in the home of a lay disciple for veneration. One day the man left the house locking the door, and the devotees were upset that they could not go to visit the relics, which attracted the attention of the Buddha, who decreed that an external reliquary should be built to house the relics. Shariputra so that anyone who wanted could have free access to them constantly. He described exactly how the receptacle should be to keep them.


The stupas became the great centers of pilgrimage and worship. Two sets of eight large stupas were built shortly after Buddha Shakyamuni reached Parinirvana. One set is known as 'the Taghata stupas of the eight holy places': these stupas commemorate the eight great events of his life; The second set is known as 'The eight great stupas of the relics of the cities': these contain the eight times divided, relics of the Buddha's body, his mortal remains cremated and divided into eight.



Structure of a Stupa

The monument consists of several overlapping geometric shapes that have various meanings. Bottom up:

The Base or throne: represented with a square, symbolizes the Earth element, the state of solidity. And the four corners represent the four immeasurable thoughts (love, compassion, empathy and equanimity).

The hemispherical vault: Represented by a half sphere, it symbolizes the Water element, the state of fluidity. It is the vessel that contains the seven elements towards enlightenment (alertness, discriminating awareness, diligence, joy, serenity, concentration, equanimity).



The discs that crown the neck: as they gain height, they lose surface area for what they represent the triangle and therefore the Fire element. Its meaning is the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to Enlightenment (vision, determination, speech, action and the correct lifestyle, effort, awareness and samadhi).

The parasol: its shape represents the Air element and symbolizes Compassion, the state of the Victorious.

The moon, the sun and the bindu: represents the space element and the state of Complete Enlightenment.

This prototype from India underwent various metamorphoses in its aniconic form in all those places where Buddhism spread, such as the Pagoda in China and Japan, the Dagoba in Sri Lanka, the Stupa or Chaitya in India or Chörten in Tibet.


The circuits to the stupas or holy places are always made in the direction of clockwise; adherents of the Tibetan tradition of Bon always circumnavigate counterclockwise.


The monument symbolizes the Buddhist doctrine in which each part represents cosmic elements. The square base represents the earth. The hemispherical vault describes the celestial part. The terrace symbolizes the residence of the gods. The crescent moon is the union of heaven and earth. And finally, the chakras or discs that crown the neck and, as they gain height, lose surface area and represent the successive heavens .


It is a center of beneficial influences, therefore, great care was taken when locating the monument. Prayers are recited in the building and one meditates walking around it, always leaving the object to be venerated on the right. The stupa is delimited in a quadrangular enclosure, opened by four doors oriented to the four cardinal points.


The decoration is concentrated in the toranas, it is very direct, plastic and sensual [ citation needed ] and it often represents the jakatas , that is, the stories of the previous lives of Buddha or his followers .


The eight great stupas

The eight types of stupa found in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism represent the eight great events in the life of Buddha Shakyamuni; The lotus flower stupa: symbolizes the birth of Siddhartha, the man who would later be known as Buddha. He was born in the Lumbini Gardens in Kapilavastu in northern India in the 6th century BC The steps of the stupa are round and decorated with lotus flower petals.

The Enlightenment Stupa: After sitting in meditation for 49 days under the bodi tree in bodhgaya, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment, and understood the true nature of all things. He realized that, like him, all beings without exception have the same potential for enlightenment, the "Buddha nature." The steps of the stupa are square and undecorated.

The stupa of turning the wheel of Dhamma: this stupa represents the point at which the Buddha begins to “turn the wheel of dharma”, teaching the path of enlightenment to others. Also known as the stupa of the many doors. The steps are adorned with doors that symbolize the different entrances to the Dhamma.

The Great Miracle Stupa: This stupa commemorates the display of miracles at Shravasti where he was challenged to demonstrate their accomplishment. The Buddha responded by performing various miracles every day for 15 days. The steps of the four directions have central extensions.

Tushita Heaven Descent Stupa: The Buddha's mother, mayadevi, was reborn in the heavenly realm called Tushita Heaven. To return her goodness, the Buddha spent three months there teaching her the way to enlightenment. This stupa represents the return of the Buddha to earth to continue teaching the people of northern India. Each side of the stupa has a central staircase of the four steps.

Stupa of Reconciliation: This stupa symbolizes the meeting of the monastic disciples of the Buddha after their dispersion due to disagreements. The steps are octagonal with eight corners and eight sides.

The Victory Stupa: This stupa symbolizes the Buddha's agreement to extend his life for three more months, after one of his followers begged him not to die. The steps of the stupa are round.

The stupa of parinirvana: This stupa symbolizes the passage of the Buddha to nirvana, the state that is beyond death. With his last words, the Buddha encouraged his followers to be diligent in their endeavor to achieve enlightenment. Lying on his right side and in a state of deep meditation, he left this world and passed into nirvana. In this stupa there are no steps, the vessel rests directly on the throne.



Benefits of building stupas


“The construction of stupas helps to develop much peace and happiness for the innumerable sentient beings. As a result, wars, diseases, and everyone's desire will be pacified. Instead of feelings of hopelessness, people will gain courage. It is about peace, about the beings who see it, for the whole country, for the whole world, for all sentient beings!

Lama Zopa Rinpoché


The Buddha showed with his life an example to follow in order to achieve that state that he himself represents; but he also knew that such a level of dedication, effort and discipline would hardly be applied by the vast majority, and that very few would be able to literally follow in his footsteps. Fortunately, his infinite compassion and wisdom led him to also reveal other ways to achieve that accumulation of merits essential to reach the goal. With his omniscient mind, he saw that there are actions that beings can perform to accumulate a great deal of virtue without needing to be great practitioners.


Some of these actions can be carried out around the stupas. For example, building a stupa (or assisting in its construction) is said to purify huge amounts of negative karma and accumulate immense virtue. The reason is that the number of beings that can come into contact with said monument are countless, therefore we are directly benefiting them. Seeing a stupa purifies the mind, bypassing or prostrating it accumulates merit, and thus there are many other forms of enormous benefit related to the construction of stupas.

According to the words of the Sanskrit text Caitya-pradakshina-gatha of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, these are some of the benefits:


“Circumventing a Stupa will have this result: You will be as pure as snow, good, radiant and wise. You will have a happy life "


“Bypassing a Stupa will have this result: Both your body and mind will be balanced, your determination will be unshakable. You will have broad shoulders and they can be counted on. "


“Circumvating a Stupa will have this result: You will obtain perfect strength and vitality; and putting laziness aside, you will obtain supreme achievements ”.



Lama Zopa Rinpoche declares some more benefits, not only of bypassing it, but of building it, and beholding it:
- Purifies, calms and brings peace to the mind.

- It is very powerful for good health and for healing.

- For a long life.

- For overall success.

The stupas invite us to think and meditate on their message; They also promote our development in various fields such as: religion, philosophy, history, archeology, the mind itself, etc.

Because they are charged with this great positive energy, they have a great protective and transforming power of negative energy.

Types of Stupa

Buddhist stupas are built for various reasons, and are classified on the basis of their form and function into five types:

  • Relic stupa, in which relics or remains of Buddha, his disciples and lay saints are buried.

  • Stupa of objects, in which buried objects belonged to the Buddha or his disciples, such as begging bowls or clothes, or important Buddhist scriptures.

  • Commemorative stupa, built to commemorate events in the lives of the Buddha and his disciples.

  • Symbolic stupa, which symbolizes aspects of Buddhist theology, for example, Borobudur is considered the symbol of the "Three worlds (dhatu) and spiritual phases (bhumi) in the character of a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. 2

  • Voting stupa, built to commemorate visits or receive spiritual benefits. They are usually erected in sites where there are prominent stupas that are visited regularly .