We were surprised and delighted recently when a couple of the students in our online course began, totally on their own, to build small stupas for their personal shrines. One of these awesomely creative students, Michael Böhler, has generously agreed to share the heart-felt process he followed to lovingly build his beautiful little stupa and some of the lessons learned. Thank you Michael!
Hand-crafted stupa by Michael Böhler. ©M. Böhler
The Way to your Stupa
By Michael Böhler
In Lesson One (Set Up Your Shrine) of the YoWangdu Practical Guide to Tibetan Buddhism course we learned, that there should be a stupa, or an image of one, on your shrine. When I looked online for one to buy I discovered that they are not cheap! Now I know why!
Research on stupas So I decided to build my own model of a thing I did not know much about, to be honest. I looked up stupas on the Internet and was amazed by the pictures of all the different kinds. I am not sure about the name of the kind of the stupa I built, but from the wikipedia article on stupas, I chose to make an “Enlightenment Stupa.”
First I was looking for some kind of plan and I found a diagram with the basic proportions on the website of the Shambala Mountain Center, which I used as a guide. On their diagram, the title is “The Great Dharmakaya Stupa ‘Which Liberates upon Seeing,'” which is suitable for my process as I “see” now and understand about stupas!
As a first step, I measured the diagram (because there were no numbers shown) and ordered wood to cut it myself and glue it together. Without a clue how to do that round thing where the little Buddha is placed, which I came to learn was called the bumpa, I just filed and carved as I thought would be all right.
Click on any of the images below to get a full-sized view of each part. They may take a little time to open.
Rules for building stupas ??!!
Another student and I were both building a stupa, and we shared pictures on the course Facebook group, full of enthusiasm and willingness to dedicate the model to the course community. I was just asking about all the different things we might put inside the stupa, but then there was a comment by Lobsang telling us that there are “rules” for making stupas!!
Rules?? What rules to build a model for my shrine?? But I have guessed that nothing in Buddhist life can be just made as you like to without rules!
So I looked again on the World Wide Web for those rules and found the answer at the FPMT site with the advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. On that site, I found pamphlets, books and information about what mantras to put inside the stupa. After buying the necessary brochures and books to build, use, fill and bless holy objects, statues and stupas I was thinking: well, this is not as easy as I thought it would be!
Specifically, I used (and read) the following to get my information and knowledge: (All available on the FPMT Store)
- How to use a Stupa (by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)
- Filling and Blessing Statues (FPMT)
- Essential Mantras for Holy Objects (Lama Zopa Rinpoche)
- The Sadhana of Namgyalma (FPMT) (not necessarily needed but good to know as the mantra goes inside holy objects)
- “Commentary on the Zung of the Completely Pure Stainless Light” of Lama Zopa Rinpoche (FPMT) (also just for information)
- Benefits and Practices Related to Statues and Stupas Part 1
Following what I learned in the books, I blessed each single part of the stupa I was making. I am not sure whether I am allowed to do that, but I followed the instructions and recited the prayers and mantras which were written there in the book. The mantras were the the Vairochana Mantra and the Great Wisdom Mantra.
Some adventures in filling the inside
When it came to filling the inside of the stupa, just before putting the parts together I looked up what mantras and things would have to go inside and downloaded them (from the FPMT site), printed them out, cut them out and thought: how will all these things go inside that little stupa? So I wanted to be clever and thought everything would perhaps fit in better if I printed the mantras out very small so there wouldn’t be too much paper to “stuff” inside the model. After I’d done so, I read that the mantras should be printed out big enough so that at least you are able to read them! My dear, I thought, this is going to be more complicated than I planned!
So I printed them out again a bit bigger so that you are able (with a reading glass) to read the mantras, and also found out (while reading) that they have to be rolled around incense sticks! Good that I have those Tibetan incense sticks in the house, I thought, so I rolled the mantras around and had to tape them so they stayed in place (not sure if it’s allowed!).
I had to cut out the inside of my model to place all the rolls inside. I also found it good and necessary to put in some images of spiritual leaders such as of HH Dalai Lama, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche (who has taught me with all his published writings). I also added an image of the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Medicine Buddha, Chenrezig and Green Tara. Finally, I decided to put an image of the Tibetan flag inside the stupa model.
I rolled the big Zung mantra and the Namgyalma mantra around a larger incense stick and drilled a hole into the bumpa (that’s the round thing where the little Buddha is placed) so it would fit in. Again I blessed every single thing and strew some pulver incense inside and laid every roll inside, closed the model and blessed the whole finished model again according to the advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, praying and reciting all the mantras the book told me to do.
Now the stupa there on my shrine, and I know why it is made, how it is to be made and it has an unpayable value to me now!
Dedication: I decided to dedicate my stupa to all the members (also those that will follow in the future) of the course, because it was during this course that I went through this learning process and so it belongs to this very course and all it’s members! I don’t know whether it was necessary to do all the filling and blessing, as a picture of a stupa is also OK to be placed on your shrine, and I don’t know whether the ones you can buy are filled and blessed. Also I don’t know whether a Lama would accept mine as a proper stupa to be displayed on a shrine, but to me it was a process of learning and understanding and offering time to and honouring the Buddhist spirit and that’s what a stupa stands for!
The whole process of research how to make the stupa was so great, leading you from this point to that point on the path. I really enjoyed the whole thing and now my little stupa means so much to me and when I look at it on my shrine I feel like having a little (or maybe a great) part of Tibet and the Buddhist world inside my home. And sometimes it might seem that it beams!
I would also like to thank Yolanda and Lobsang from the bottom of my heart for your kind welcome, work and teachings! May you both be blessed with health, happiness and long lifes because you are wonderful people! 🙂
Thank you so much!
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Karma Rinchen Jr. says
Emaho – thank you fir your devotion and your efforts – there was a man that built 32 full size – over 16 feet high and about 16×16 feet square enough for a large prayer wheel on the inside – any size is perfect and better than no stupa
Melissa L Parhm says
I would like the proper measurements and geometry to draw a perfect stupa, I have been asked to make a drawing and painting of a stupa for fundraising for the actual stupa to be build in Big Sur, CA
Lobsang and Yolanda says
Hi Melissa, Sorry, we don’t know that, though maybe a reader can point you to a good resource for that. Best of luck to you!
Hi everyone. I just discovered this post, and wanted to add some information for readers.
I’m the person who created the original line drawings of the Eight Great Stupas on the Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stupa#Tibetan_stupas) that was mentioned here. To create the line drawings, I used a diagram on page 131 of “The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs” by Robert Beer. The diagram is drawn on a grid that makes it very easy to understand the proportions of the stupa. The difference between my drawings and the one in the book is the bumpa, which is more curved in the book. (The book is available on Amazon for about $60, and is a gorgeous book to understand Tibetan art.)
I also used many other resources, most important of them was The Stupa Information Page. It also has a stupa diagram on a grid, at http://www.stupa.org.nz/stupa/personal%20stupa%20images/kagyugrid1.jpg. This page also has information on the consecrations to be done, normally under the guidance of a lama.
I also bought books from Lama Zopa Rinpoche to help understand stupas, including his book on building stupas.
I did all this research almost 10 years ago because I too wanted to build a small stupa for my shrine. I never have, because I was also worried about doing it correctly. I think this beautiful stupa created by Michael is wonderful and it is truly doing what a stupa should do: leading beings towards enlightenment. I humbly hope that my diagram on Wikipedia in some tiny way helped that happen.
Thank you so much for sharing this background Woody — it’s wonderful to hear from you! We hope you are inspired to build your own stupa! Our warmest best wishes to you.
Alvin Su says
Hi Sir, as what Chee Chiong has mentioned, there are the dimensions and proportions that have to be followed in the process of making one. Will it be possible to share with us on the proportions of making one?
Hi Alvin, We’ll see if we can get an answer from Michael. Cheers!
Michael Boehler says
Well all I did was print out a DIN A 4 sheet of a drawing of the great stupa of dharmakaya and using a gauge measuring 1:1 and transfering the metrics to the wood.
I did not have any measurements or plans.
But i would do it different now! All i can do is recommend the books from FPMT “Benefits and Practices related to Statues and Stupas Vol. 1-3!
These contain everything you need to know when you want to build a Stupa. I think it doesn’t mater what size it should be. The dimensions are always the same.
I would copy out the pages, but i don’t know whether i am allowed to do so, and it would be too much pages. If Lobsang and Yolanda would allow i can scan them and put them as PDFs into a cloud box so only members could download them and it wouldn’t be public.
kok chee chiong says
Do you have the dimensions for your stupa ? I understand that if the dimensions were not correct it will be considered as a black stupa.
I am very touched by your devotion. It must be certain that much light came upon you as you learnt about the stupa and built it. A blessing to have made it with your hands and heart and mind. Thank you for sharing this so we too can learn about the stupa.
Patti Lounsbury says
Thank you so much for sharing this. What a blessed project, something to truly rejoice in!
You are so welcome. It is our pleasure, and Michael loved doing it too 🙂
I don’t doubt that it beams, Michael! The care with which you made it, and the sources you used for inspiration are certainly examples of Right Effort. I have a feeling that the other seven elements of the Noble Eightfold Path were involved in its creation as well. Thank you for sharing this with us!