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Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

The stupa (Pali) - sometimes more commonly known as a pagoda (Chinese) - is basically a memorial; to help memory. With some understanding of their function they are a wonderfully inspiring and uplifting structure. Although they have no 'practical' purpose (just big lumps really) through being little more than this, just symbols, they have a special power and serene majesty. When one considers that such energy and resources have been given to create something that does nothing, in worldly terms, this adds to its function - it stops the mind - leaving it open to Truth. (My passion for stupas gives me a slight bias so I will curtail the approbation.) There are lots of details on their form, function and symbolism in: ART & CULTURE - STUPAS.


4 more stupas







The first thing to consider before making a stupa is: 'How big?'
This is largely a question of time and what one aims to gain from the exercise. The range is enormous - from a one child lump of clay shaped in a few minutes which may lose relevance in a matter of days, to something several meters high which can evolve as the focus of ongoing group ritual or worship. Each has a great deal of potential.

Up to about two meters high. These are often not intended to last that long so the need for extensive planning or expensive materials is not necessary. The only thing to bear in mind is that a stupa is a religious symbol and should be treated with respect. Think about how you might dispose of it when it has been finished with? [see: LOTSA FIRE].
Materials: These can be either rigid [wood, metal, stone, brick, glass] or plastic [clay, papier mache, fibreglass, cement] or combinations. When working on a small scale the amounts required are minimal so the choice can be quite varied with only a small financial outlay and not a lot of work. If it is to be a group project make a few sketches of the overall scheme. Is it to include space for landscaping and modeling of the surrounding area?
Shape: You could start by downloading the 17 profiles of well known stupas [samples left or see: RESOURCES]. Copy these or use them for ideas. You could print a half-section and enlarge it using a photocopier or grid system.
Method: Here are a few suggestions. It very much depends on the materials used. Experiment.

  Segments -
A simple process is to duplicate a half-section - say a dozen or so per stupa - and cut out the profile and glue them at centre. Wrap string, wool or paper strips in horizontal rings around this. The level of detail will depend on how much care is possible and how many segments you use. You could use wire netting or thins strips of wood or cardboard which will give firmer support between segments.
Modelling -
Materials like clay or play dough (or snow!) will give varied results. You could use one of the profiles, make a template, and lay it against the model at odd points to check symmetry. This system can be very accurately employed if you set the template so that it turns on its central axis - a bit like using a potters wheel or a lathe and you just add or subtract to fit the template as it spins.
Moulds -
1) Considering the elementary geometry of a stupa a variety of objects can be found on which your stupa can be moulded. A kitchen mixing bowl can be used for the dome. The cone can be a stack of rings of decreasing size (stacked one on top of the other) or vertical strips of wood gathered at the top and set to a ring at the bottom (or to as many points as is needed to retain the conical shape). A variety of cardboard boxes or the like can be used for the base. Once this is assembled various materials (papier mache is ideal) can be applied to give more detail.
2) If you can get or make a precise, symmetrical stupa off which rubber moulds can be made these can then be cast and decorated quite easily. [see BUDDHA for mould making details]
Loose objects -
These can be beach stones, bricks, slates, wood blocks, industrial bits, etc. Just about anything can be used that you have a lot of - and that is small enough so that some detail is possible.
Decoration: This is up to you and a range of surfacing materials can be used. The only thing to consider is the loss of detail that comes from adding things which are too . . . muchly thing and whatsit. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder but . . . eyes can be trained to appreciate alternatives. Most traditional stupas are quite plainly decorated. You could add flags - see: OTHERS. What can be given a lot of attention is the umbrella / jewel on top. This is the very special bit and it can be installed as part of a consecration ceremony; this is discussed later.



This is anything higher than 1 1/2 or 2 meters - especially if it is expected to last for any length of time. The bigger a stupa gets the more planning there is required. Be prepared to give this time. Make dimensioned sketches (preferably to scale) and even consider architectural or engineering drawings; rubbing out a pencil line is easy - shifting half a tonne of rock is not. Consider the finished weight and the possibility of foundations. With a lot more work involved, ideally the quality being aimed for is higher. It is better to build one beautiful stupa than it is to build any number of ugly ones.
Materials: More permanent materials could be considered - cement plaster or stone are ideal. What have you got to hand? How much money is there to spend? How long do you want it last? How much detail or symmetry are you wanting?
Shape: The larger a thing becomes the more difficult it is to maintain symmetry. The use of a template is OK up to say 2.4 meters high - consider using a sheet of plywood (2.4 x 1.2). You could use steel rods to form the profile and create segments - covered with wire netting and plastered [see: ART & CULTURE - STUPAS - NZ]. It is possible to use just your eye for a reasonable result. Remove it from its socket and cut it carefully according to one of the downloaded profiles - hmmm. Lots of puns appear around stupa - stupor - stupid.
Method: This will very much depend on the materials used and standard construction methods will usually apply. Big stupas can often limit the involvement of a group but there is usually plenty of labouring work available - and tea to be made for the workers.

Decoration: White paint is fairly standard. Gold leaf is nice. Anything simple and elegant.




Regardless of the size of your stupa it can be the focus of at least two rituals: the enshrining of the relics and the installation of the umbrella. Have a look at a review written about an enshrining ceremony held in 1996.

Relics are traditionally the remains of a saint or their personal effects. In most instances the same regard can be given to almost anything that is personal to those who were involved in building the stupa. One element that can be included here is hair. It is very personal and takes up only a little space, and can be posted by those who cannot attend the enshrining ceremony. It is also a very powerful reflection on the earth nature of the body. Obviously there needs to be some way of putting things in the stupa and closing the opening afterwards. If the stupa is a more permanent structure there could be an easily accessible opening for the regular addition of relics / sacred things.
A sketch scenario: Candles and incense can be lit on the shrine (the stupa could be the shrine). Bow three times (to the three refuges: Buddha, Dhamma Sangha). Chanting. It could be an opportunity for people to take the five precepts. People could write or draw something - either as a blessing or something personally difficult. Pass a tray around to collect bits of hair or other personal items - or these could be put in individually. Burn the papers reflecting that both blessings and difficulties as offerings find a suitable resting place in the universe and that they don't remain personal when let go of. Have a vessel of water on the shrine to absorb all the goodness of the situation and when everything - ashes, hair, etc. have been put inside the stupa - the water can be sprinkled over everything. See: LIFESTYLE - RITUALS -BLESSINGS for more details. The ceremony thus includes the four elements of earth (stupa, paper, hair, etc) water (for blessing), fire (for burning) air (for breathing together).

The ceremony around installing the umbrella can be much the same - candles/incense, bowing, chanting, precepts. As the umbrella is very much a symbol of enlightenment their could be an emphasis on meditation or some kind of stilling, centering exercise [see: MEDITATION]. There can be plenty of water blessings at some stage - perhaps after a period of meditation and chanting.