The Stupa, Symbol of Unity

Oct 04, 2023


Dear Friends,

I wanted to include you in the weave of our thoughts and prayers as we conclude our epic three-week pilgrimage to Java and Bali. One symbol has emerged to tie the threads together of my new book, "Return with Elixir," last year's journey to the Tsum Valley, this year’s tour to Indonesia, and our future plans. 

Over the last year, I’ve been experiencing visions while I wrote my book. One involved the pilgrimage to the Borobudur, the largest Buddhist mandala on the planet, where I saw my teacher Geshe Tenzin Zopa engage in a joint ritual with a local Javanese master, together merging the twin streams of Buddhist and Shiva Tantra that have been separated for five centuries. 

To execute the vision I needed to bring Geshe-la to Java early to meet his Shiva counterpart Mongku Jito, who kindly hosted us at his ashram on the slopes of the sacred mountain Lawu in Solokarta.

The night we arrived was duringTilêm, the so-called dark moon when the lunar cycle is at its darkest. Geshe-la was already amidst the biggest project of his life building a seven-story stupa at Rachen Nunnery, in his birthplace of the Tsum Valley, Nepal Himalayas. The stupa was his guru lama Zopa Rinpoche‘s last wish before he passed away. The full moon energy stirred great doubt in Geshe-la, he confessed to us he had a moment of doubt and panic when he didn’t feel he could handle such an immense project alone. Mongku Jito said our arrival that night was very auspicious, that intentions set amidst the dark moon, would come through the darkness into the light of a new day and all would be fulfilled. Sure enough the next day Geshe-la found renewed energy and confidence in the project, in fact he was even more determined to complete the stupa than before. 

Geshe-la explained that the stupa would be a symbol of enlightenment and unity that would last at least a thousand years inspiring countless generations on the path of virtue toward liberation. Furthermore, all our efforts to develop Rachen Nunnery, making it a hospitable environment for the sangha members living there would also make it the most conducive retreat environment and a future travel destination for those pilgrims eager to study lam rim intensively. 

During the next few days, the masters Zopa and Jito got acquainted with one another by practicing ceremonies at a variety of holy places around the sacred mountain. Though they shared no common language, they merged their Tibetan and Sanskrit mantras into a singular powerful vibration and offered so much kindness, humility, and respect to one another. It was truly inspiring to see them working together in a spirit of selfless collaboration. 

On the final night together they hatched their plan for the ceremony atop the Borobudur that would fulfill my vision and occur within the context of this year’s group pilgrimage. Both masters noted that the chatra, or crowning spire atop the Borobudur, was broken, leaving the potent symbol of the mandala incomplete. Geshe-la described it as having a body with no head. The stone remains of the chatra are either missing or bureaucracy prevents the final piece of the monument from being made whole again. 

The masters decided to combine their mantras and prayers, along with the intentions of our whole pilgrimage group, to form an energetic chatra, thus transcending physical and political limitations and fulfilling the purpose of a mandala to stand complete once again as a symbol of unity, wholeness, harmony, and world peace. 

The morning our group arrived at the summit of Borobudur, Geshe-la kindly offered the group the refuge and bodhisattva vows, and then the two masters led us to the main stupa on top of the monument and directly into a powerful silent meditation. With the bright sun and clear sky above us, the massive monument quiet and empty of tourists, all of us combined our intentions and efforts towards the energetic completion of the chatra. It was a powerful and historic moment. It may be at least five centuries since a Shiva-Buddha Tantra ceremony was conducted here, the lineage once was a mainstay of the Majapahit dynasty that ruled when the monument was active but became extinct during the Islamic incursion to Indonesia. The archetypal themes underlying our tour were “healing and regeneration” and only highly realized beings could have conceived of such an awe-inspiring ceremony for the benefit of the entire planet. 

The Borobudur mandala has stood the test of time, and today still draws spiritual pilgrims and curious onlookers alike to catch a glimpse of its magnificence and experience the harmony it represents. As you read this please feel that the outer mandala is a reflection of your inner mandala, the macrocosm of the celestial paradise a reflection of the microcosm of your inner guru, and that with pure energy and intention, you too can reclaim your innate wholeness, and stand as an ambassador of goodwill and peace.

One day a huge stupa the size of Boudhanath in Kathmandu, will also stand glorious at Rachen Nunnery in the Himalayas, a symbol of us coming together, overcoming our differences, united in wisdom and compassion, serving as a beacon of hope for future generations. Since my students, friends, and I are karmically tied to supporting Rachen Nunnery, the stupa project is our opportunity to participate in a legacy that will last centuries. I hope this excites you and that we can play a role in actualizing the vision of the masters. Together we can overcome any doubts and make the impossible, possible. 

Let's remember, whatever feels broken around and within us, possess the innate capacity to heal and be restored. Our buddha nature means we are already whole and free, we need only to make efforts to dispel our own misunderstandings and misaligned deeds. Feel that with your heart. Feel that your life, culture, society, and planet is also coming through a night of the soul, just like Geshe-la at tilum, into the light of a new day. What has been lost, is being found, what is fragmented, now is coming back together. 

After this year's tour to Java and Bali, we are grateful to our masters, wisdom keepers, and participants, for helping to restore a powerful symbol of the mandala and also inspire the construction of another stupa at Rachen. Past meets future, doubt transforms into confidence, unity contains diversity, and from fragmentation comes harmony. 



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