This article is faithfully reproduced from the Summer 1997 issue of Tyicycle, reproduced with permission from everyone I could get hold of.

Building a monument to enlightenment: The consecration of Tashi Gomang Stupa near Crestone, Colorado.

Stupas Along The Rio Grande

Anna Rocicot

The stupa, an ancient form of architecture, evolved significantly in both form and meaning with the coming of the Buddha. Cairns in ancient India were traditionally raised as monuments to kings and heroes and contained their remains. At the suggestion of the Buddha, stupas began to be built as monuments to the Awakened Ones and their disciples, a reminder of the potential for enlightenment within us all. Its corpulent shape now suggested the Buddha in meditation posture: the base, his crossed legs; the rounded dome, his shoulders; the square-shaped harmika with painted eyes, his head.

As Buddhism spread, so did the building of stupas, and each area or country developed its own style. It was only a matter of time before Western practitioners would try their hands at stupa building.

From 1983 to 1996, six Tibetan-style stupas were built in a line roughly following the Rio Grande river from Albuquerque, New Mexico, north to Crestone, Colorado. Traditionally in Buddhist countries, hundreds of monks supported by devoted lay followers contributed to stupa construction. Along the Rio Grande, each community of dharma students, or sangha, found its own way to meet the rigorous, precise, and expensive demands of building a stupa. Wise direction for the careful completion of each step, from fire pujas (prayer ceremonies) for fair weather to the construction of hundreds of thousands of tsa-tsas - tiny clay stupas - to be sealed in the bumpas, the spherical rooms below the spires, was provided by lamas - especially the Venerable Lama Karma Dorje, resident teacher at the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Center in Santa Fe, who has overseen the construction of three of the stupas in New Mexico.


Khang Tsag Chorten and
Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje Stupa, Santa Fe

The story of stupa building in New Mexico began in the early 1970s in Santa Fe. David Padwa requested H. H. Jidral Yeshe Dorje Drudjom Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism to come to Santa Fe and donated the funds necessary for Khang Tsag Chorten (or "Stacked House" Stupa) to be built. Consecrated in 1973 by the Venerable Drodrup Chen Rinpoche, the eightfoot-high stupa, now under the care of the Maha Bodhi Society, is located adjacent to Upaya, a Zen center. The following year, Khang Tsag Stupa was also blessed by the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It is said that all stupas bless beings who see or touch them whether or not they understand the dharma. But Khang Tsag Stupa is believed to have the additional power to purify all hostility.



Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa, Santa Fe

A few miles from Santa Fe's largest mall and the infamous Cerrillos Road, one of the most hazardous thoroughfares in the state, this stupa looms up over the adjacent trailer park. Off busy Airport Road, there is a graveled driveway, and a large white-walled enclosure. As one enters, only the back of the stupa is visible-white and pristine. Circumambulating, visitors arrive at the huge, painted doors of the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa. Within the shrine room, a statue of the Buddha, surrounded by paintings of saints and holy beings, invites you to take refuge.

Lama Karma Dorje was sent to Santa Fe at the behest of the renowned meditation master, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche. He began building the stupa with a local practitioner Jerry Morrelli, in 1983. They worked for three years, with help on the weekends from members of the Santa Fe sangha, and in 1986, Kalu Rinpoche consecrated the completed stupa.



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