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!
With the intention of making this course accessible for everyone, we offer it at no cost to all. We earnestly hope that the lessons bring you benefit! If you can, we ask that you support our work preserving and nourishing Tibetan culture while helping people all over the world experience its joys. Please make a contribution of any amount here >>