The Significance of Tibetan Stupas

Any ordinary ritual
infused with Dharma meaning
becomes a spiritual practice

— Stonepeace | Get Books

The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit term stupa – chorten — is an interpretive one, meaning ‘receptacle for offerings.’ This reflects the fact that in Tibet they often contain religious objects, texts, images, and the like, and are invested with spiritual energy by being consecrated in special ceremonies. As a result, pilgrimages to stupas are thought to earn merit, as are prostrations and circumambulations. Their construction and veneration are strongly associated with the practice of accumulating merit through virtuous activities. They are often built to commemorate an auspicious event, or for the spiritual wellbeing of the inhabitants of an area. Those who construct them receive a great deal of merit, since stupas also bring benefit to others who venerate them.

The rewards for builders of stupas are sometimes described as a sort of spiritual pyramid scheme, in which the original builder continues to gain merit due to the ongoing utilization of the stupa for religious purposes. A stupa’s function of bringing merit to those who build or venerate it has wide-ranging benefits. People who engage in devotional activities with virtuous intentions purify their thoughts, which helps them to cultivate morality and positive feelings toward others. The merit they acquire brings them good fortune in this and future lives; even more importantly, it helps them to purify their mental continuums of afflictions, which is a necessary part of the path to awakening.

In Tibet, stupas often serve as repositories for sacred articles that have outlived their usefulness, such as texts, paintings, images and so on. When these become old, worn, or damaged, they are not discarded like common garbage, but are generally deposited in stupas. Even sacred articles that are damaged still retain their sacral character, and so it would be an act of desecration simply to discard them. Since religious texts or images represent the Dharma itself, they cannot be tossed into a garbage heap; such an act would be an insult to the Buddha and his teaching. Such negative actions inevitably rebound on those who commit them, bringing suffering and pain.

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism
John Powers
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