Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha's (566-485 BCE) death, Buddhists have constructed stupas to contain the relics of enlightened teachers. Stupas have become places of veneration and pilgrimage in Buddhist cultures throughout the world. The Tibetan word for stupa is "chöten." "Chö " means "offerings" and "ten" means "basis or support," thus the stupa is the basis or support for the offerings that have been placed inside it.
A stupa is an architectural rendering of the Buddhist path, the stages and aspects of enlightenment. A stupa is more than just a symbol, however. When a great Buddhist teacher leaves his or her physical existence, the body that remains is considered to be permeated with the very essence of awakened mind, possessing tremendous intrinsic power and blessings. The appropriate vessel for containing these relics is a stupa. Through its design and contents, a stupa is regarded as having the power to transmit the essence of awakened mind, on the spot, to anyone ready to receive it.
Within the Tibetan tradition there are eight kinds of stupas representing eight major events in the life of the Buddha. The Tashi Gomang Stupa commemorates the Buddha's first teachings in Benares (Varanasi) when he expounded the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Interdependence. These teachings reveal the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering and the skillful means to bring about the cessation of suffering (enlightenment).
The stupa itself is totally enclosed and contains many special objects inside. A treasure chest of offerings was placed underneath it in tribute to the goddess of the earth and local deities. It was considered essential to ask their permission before construction could take place. The base, or throne of the stupa was filled with juniper which has special powers of purification. Treasure vases were placed in the juniper along with musical instruments, medicines, herbs, food, precious jewels, silks, brocades, perfumes, gold, and silver. Through the blessings of the stupa, these substances will work to bring good health, harmony, peace, and prosperity to its surroundings.
The stupa has been filled with 100,000 tsa-tsas (or miniature stupas) made by volunteers. Within each tsa-tsa is a roll of prayers, and mantras. The tsa-tsas were blessed and consecrated by visiting lamas before being placed inside the stupa.
The tsok-shing or "life force" pole (tsok - life-force, shing - wood) was placed in the center of the bell-shaped body of the stupa and reaches to the top of the spire. It was carved from a juniper tree into the shape of an obelisk, with a half dorje (vajra - thunderbolt) at the bottom and a small stupa at the top. Precious relics were placed in the life-force pole and then it was painted, inscribed in gold with the Buddha's teachings, and wrapped in silks and brocades. It rests on two mandalas, also covered with offerings.
The statue of His Holiness the XVIth Karmapa, wearing his Black Crown, was placed at the front of the stupa. Artisans in Nepal made the statue and its encasing niche and frame, as well as the ornamentation on top of the spire. The gold leaf finish and additional ornamentation was done in Baca Grande. Inside the statue is another tsok-shing, rolls of mantras, and relics from all sixteen Karmapas and other saints.
The relics in the stupa include those of:
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche III
Also inside the stupa are earth, water, and stone from the eight great pilgrimage sites in India; wood from the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, water from a cave of Milarepa, and other sacred objects.
The Tashi Gomang Stupa embodies His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa. In the words of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche: "Within the stupa the teacher remains unchanging. The Buddha said that whoever sees the stupa will be liberated by the sight of it. Feeling the breeze around the stupa liberates by its touch. Having thus seen or experienced the stupa, by thinking of one's experience of it, one is liberated through recollection.
This past summer, extensive damage on the Stupa caused by extreme weather conditions and lack of funds for regular yearly maintenance, was entirely repaired. This massive, costly job was paid for entirely through generous donations. (Click on the "Friends of Karmapa" page above for the repair story as it unfolded.) Once again, we are without funds. Please visit the donations page to find out how you can help us maintain this sacred monument, the grounds and road leading to the Tashi Gomang Stupa.
Special thanks to all the donors from around the world who made this happen! Gratitude to Raven Fennell of Vermont who supervised the refurbishing of the Purkhang in VT. She gave us the idea to use the Sto system. Thanks to the meticulous and careful sandblasters of Tim Cooley's T C Pipeline Inc., in Monte Vista, CO. Thanks to the stucco crew and Gary Valencia of Kasa Builders in Taos, NM. Thanks to Barbara Falconer who repainted all of the lotus petals and the 56 doors to enlightenment. Thanks to every single one of you who wrote letters, attended meetings, advised. Every single contribution combined to bring this miracle to fruition.
"Eye of the Land," a film about the creation of the Tashi Gomang Stupa, is available from Crestone Films.