History in the Making
Ian Green
Chief Executive Officer, The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion being built in Australia.

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The Great Stupa has been designed by a team of architects and engineers to last 1,000 years. Externally the Great Stupa will be the same size and design as the Gyantse original, yet inside it will be rather unique. A large temple, capable of seating up to 500 people will be inside the Great Stupa, further there will be a library, relics room, and many shrine rooms. Shown here, the foundations, early in construction.

In every culture and every tradition man uses architecture to make statements about what is important to them. In the West our landscape is dominated by symbols of power and competition. We are impacted with the importance of commerce in the form of towering skyscrapers and vast shopping malls. The glory of our secular religion, sport, is trumpeted by our massive sports stadiums. And the individualism of our lifestyles is demonstrated by the suburban sprawl. In a very real sense our view of reality is formed by what we see around us. This is why Buddhist teachers tell us the West needs more holy objects.

The most significant architecture statement that Buddhism has to contribute to our world is the Stupa. The Stupa is an inspiration to us all because it is a symbolic representation of the Buddha's mind of enlightenment or the perfection of wisdom and compassion.

Currently a Great Stupa of landmark proportions is being constructed near Bendigo, in Southern Australia. The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will be the same shape and size as the Great Stupa of Gyantse which was built in the 15th century, in Southern Tibet. The Great Stupa, or Kumbum, of Gyantse has been described as a wonder of the Buddhist world

Being 50 metres wide at its base and rising to a height of just under 50 metres the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will be the largest stupa in the western world. It will be an unmistakeable symbol of the establishment of the Buddhadharma in the West and the resilience of the Tibetan spirit.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has expressed his support for the building of the Great Stupa in the West. He said This stupa will be very significant for Buddhist spirituality and for Tibetan culture. Support for this stupa is a good way of creating merit.

The Great Stupa was the concept of Lama Thubten Yeshe who visited Atisha Centre in Bendigo in 1981. Lama Yeshe's vision was for a BIG stupa with a large temple and a library inside.

Lama Yeshe's plan also called for a monastery, Buddhist retreat centre, lay community and hospice to be established nearby. Today much of this plan has become a reality and the comprehensive development plan for the 120 acre site has been approved by the planning authorities.

Since Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984 the Great Stupa has been under the spiritual direction of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. In Rinpoche's words "The Great Stupa will illuminate the world. It will give so much peace, so much peace of mind to people over the world."

Many great spiritual leaders have blessed the site by their presence, including His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Ribur Rinpoche, Geshe Lama Konchog, Lama Lhundrup, and Master Thich Phuoc Hue. In June 2007 the Great Stupa will be blessed by a visit and a special ceremony by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In November 1994 Khensur Kangyur Rinpoche consecrated the site to subdue all hostile energies and create an atmosphere of peace and goodwill. And in the year 2000 work began on construction of the massive earthworks for the Great Stupa and the circumambulation paths.

In August 2003 Khensur Rinpoche conducted the ceremony to bury four treasure vases on the site of the Great Stupa. These treasure vases were a gift from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And on the most auspicious date of June 4 2004 Geshe Konchok Tsering conducted a puja on the site before taking the controls of the machine to commence construction of the foundations of the Great Stupa. Some months later the massive foundation footings were completed.

In recent weeks work has commenced on erection of the steel framework of the Great Stupa. This first stage framework, which includes construction of the ground floor sheer walls, will create an impressive idea of the magnitude of this project.

The Great Stupa is designed to last for 1,000 years and this has called for innovative solutions from Architect Peter Weiss of Lines, MacFarlane and Marshall, structural engineers Connell Mott MacDonald and services engineers BRT. These companies have all offered considerable costs reductions, as have steel companies Industrial Galvanisers and GFC Industries. And world famous Fung Shui authority, Lillian Too has provided free advice on the direction of the Great Stupa and it's internal layout.

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will be a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists of all traditions as well as a place of worship for our fast growing Australian Buddhist community.  Located next to the Stupa are Atisha Buddhist Centre, Thubten Shedrup Ling monastery, a nunnery, a lay community with plans for a healing centre, a hospice and even a primary school.

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The Great Stupa Holy Relic tour has been viewed by tens of thousands of people all over the world, including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Papeete and Auckland. The exhibition contains over seventy sacred Buddhist relics including those from Kasyapa Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha and the 16 Arhants.

Expected to cost $15 million dollars and funded entirely by donation the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is scheduled to be completed in five years time. Details can be found at www.stupa.org.au

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will house many Buddhist artworks including large statues, thang'kas, frescoes and images. The main Gompa and every shrine room will be used to house these artworks. The list of items collected to date include a 4 metre high Guru Rinpoche Statue cast from brass in China, a 2 meter high Kwan Yin statue carved from marble in Vietnam, 108 small and 2 large prayer wheels from Nepal plus several Kadampa-style brass stupas made in Lhasa. In time it is expected that artists from the Himalayan region will be brought to Australia to decorate the Great Stupa.  

 On the Buddhist altar the Buddha is represented in three ways with three "receptacles" representing the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. A painted image or a statue of the Buddha forms the receptacle of body, a religious text such as a sutra forms the receptacle of enlightened speech, and a stupa forms the receptacle of Buddha's enlightened mind.

But a Stupa is no passive symbol, as His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche has said "A stupa creates a lightning rod for the blessings of your guru, and for the blessings of the Buddha's of the 10 directions and the three times to descend."

In one Sutra it is said that the relics of Shariputra, one of Shakyamuni's closest disciples, were enshrined in a lay disciples house for veneration. One day the laymen went away locking his door, and the devotees were disappointed not to be able to worship the relics. When it was brought to the attention of Shakyamuni, he decreed that an external reliquary should be constructed to house Shariputra's relics, to which all people could have continuous free access. He described its construction as having four gradually ascending steps, a vase dome known as an Anda or egg or Bum'pa, a square altar structure known as an Harmika, a pole known as a Sok Shing, thirteen stacked rings under an umbrella. In ancient India thirteen umbrellas or parasols was the highest emblem of royalty, an honour accorded only to a chakravatin or universal monarch‚?¶this number has much other symbolism as well.

In the Mahaparinibbana sutra the Buddha gave instructions about the disposition of his body. He said the body should be cremated, and the relics divided up and enclosed in four different monuments. These monuments were to be erected at the places marking important milestones in the Buddha's spiritual journey: Lumbini: the place of the Buddha's birth, Bodh Gaya: Where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, Sarnath: where he gave his first teaching and

Kushinagar: the place of the Buddha's death (parinirvana) 

This Indian prototype of the vast domed stupa consisting of a base, dome, harmika, axle-pole and umbrella wheels - underwent a varied metamorphosis in its shape in all lands to which Buddhism spread. It appeared in the forms of the slender and delicate stupas of Burma and Thailand, Chinese and Japanese Pagoda, the Sri Lankan Dagoba, and the Tibetan Chorten. While in Nepal the great stupas of Bodhnath and Swayambhu retained the hemisherical breast-like shape of their Indian prototype, particularly that of the Sanchi stupa.

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The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion will house many Buddhist artworks including a 4 metre high Guru Rinpoche statue cast from brass and a 2 meter high Kwan Yin statue carved from marble in Vietnam.

In India we also saw the rise of the popular tradition of relics and pilgrimage centres with circumambulatory sites. Circumambulation of Buddhist Stupas always revolves in a clockwise direction. The third century BC saw the birth of the greatest stupa builder to date - the Buddhist emperor Ashoka. Ashoka restored and built many of the great stupas and is said to have constructed 84,000 other stupas from their original relics within his lifetime.

Fundamentally a stupa is made up of five constituents: a square base, hemispherical dome, conical spire, crescent moon and a circular disc. Each of these elements is rich in metaphoric content and is identified with one of the five cosmic elements said to make up the entire manifested existence. These are earth, water, fire, air and space.

As mentioned before there is a further interpretation of the Stupa as a symbol of Enlightenment and when you see their design from overhead is a perfect Mandala which is the mystic symbol of the universe. This mandala is seen to be complete in the form of a Stupa. 

The real power of the Stupa comes from the holy relics. Stupas are often a repository for the relics of great saints and teachers. To a Buddhist such relics give immense power to a stupa because the essence of the teacher's wisdom is distilled into their relics. They are like the core of a nuclear reactor. Relics are usually kept in the Harmika of a Stupa.

In Tibet the mummified bodies of highly realised masters were sometimes enshrined in lavish stupas. For example Lama Tsong Khapa's stupa (1357 - 1419)  at Ganden Monastery near Lhasa. It was plundered by the Chinese Red Guards during the cultural revolution. According to witnesses the perfectly preserved body of Lama Tsong Khapa caused great consternation amongst the Chinese cadres. They threw the body into the river but it remained floating on the surface. Eventually they burnt it in kerosene and amongst his ashes only a single tooth remained.

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion has been offered an immense number of holy relics from many different Buddhist traditions including Thai, Indian, Tibetan, Chinese / Malaysian, Mongolian traditions and these include relics of Shakyamuni Buddha (the historic Buddha) but also Kasyapa Buddha (the Buddha before), the 16 Arhants, Phra Sivali a disciple of the Buddha who is revered by Thais, the 5th Dalai Lama, Atisha and so on. This is one reason why it is said that this Great Stupa is a Stupa for all Buddhists.

Visitors to the site of the Great Stupa can view the amazing and inspiring collection of sacred Buddhist relics that have been offered to the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. These relics are on display every weekend and public holiday at the Great Stupa Exhibition Centre and twice a year the Great Stupa Holy relics tour to temples around Australia and Asia. Visitors can also see the holy objects that have been gathered for the Great Stupa including the 4 metre high Guru Rinpoche statue.

The importanc eof the Great Stupa for our world and the universe is expressed in Lama Zopa Rinpoche's special dedication for the Great Stupa during his prayers offered in November 2002:

"Building the external stupa purifies the negative karma and plants the seed of enlightenment in everyone's heart. May the Great Stupa last for billions of years and may it liberate tens of thousand of sentient beings every day. May building the Great Stupa generate Bodhicitta, loving kindness in the hearts of all beings. May it purify wars and bring peace and happiness to the world. By purifying the mind of its negative thoughts and emotions it will purify the cause of suffering. May the funding be received without delay."

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