Stupa Day only part of Shambhala’s contemplative arts center
SHAMBHALA MOUNTAIN CENTER – Under a clear blue sky and blazing sun, hundreds of people slowly circled a huge Buddhist shrine outside Red Feather Lakes in northern Colorado this summer.The center is billed as a campus of contemplative arts – a meditational retreat where people stay for a day, a week or a month.I arrived on Stupa Day, a day to celebrate Buddhists’ aspiration for peace, harmony and equanimity for all beings. This one would be special, as it was being held on the second full moon of the month – a blue moon – and the auction to follow would allow the completion of various parts of the stupa.The stupa is huge – 108 feet tall; the largest Buddhist shrine outside of India. It is central to the culture and history of the Buddhist people.The shape of the stupa represents the Buddha, crowned and seated in the meditation posture on a throne. His crown is the top spire, his head is the square at the spire’s base, his body is the vase shape, his legs are the four steps of the lower terrace, and the base is his throne.
Musicians on the stage at the rear of the Stupa of Dharmakaya played light jazz while volunteers scurried around preparing for the afternoon’s celebration. I wandered along the trails of Shambhala Mountain Center – through a central village of sorts, through a serene botanical garden, over a babbling river and up the long path to the Stupa. At the entrance, three women on pedestals and adorned in scant, bright outfits, danced hypnotically to introduce the visitors; visitors draped gifts – necklaces, car keys, jewelry, all things material – on a pedestal nearby.Buddhists also consider the stupa to be a living manifestation of Vidyadhara the Venerable Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who worked to bring the wisdom of the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings to the modern world.Relics of Buddha and other teachers are sealed in the pinnacle of the structure. And countless mantras and fragments of sacred objects – many of them preserved in the Himalayas for centuries – are within the massive base and walls.Here is where one people realize one of the basic truths of Buddhism – that they can be profoundly open to the wisdom of the present moment.That was evident merely in the slow pace of the walkers. Each counterclockwise stroll around the stupa builds merit. The mere act of walking was a meditation in itself. Although many people laughed and visited with friends, it was apparent others were mesmerized with the moment.
A herd of people dressed as yaks lumbered among those walking the path; others dressed as monkeys cavorted among them, teasing and darting away.The acrid smell of juniper filled the air as volunteers fed the plant to a growing fire to greet Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the president of Shambhala Mountain Center and the spiritual head of Shambhala International.He was seated on a throne where volunteers brought him food. And although filled with ritual, the event was also informal, with people approaching, talking and laughing with him as dignitaries spoke.The stupa is almost complete – an auction at the end of the day would provide the money to build the last pieces. The consecrated teachings of Buddha are in place. It is all in preparation for the 2005 arrival of the Dalai Lama. Even I, a religious ignoramus, was impressed.An animated auction was next on the agenda, with volunteers bringing out ornate panels, tiles and various items needed to complete the stupa. Auction participants were excited, often outbidding one another before the auctioneer could take their name.
Visitors spent the next hour in a meditation of sorts; the people around me chanted invocations and invitations in a steady drone. The only sound to break it up was the occasional ringing of a bell. It alone was meditative.Stupa Day is nothing if not a day of feasting. Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, staff members served giant egg rolls, cheese, roast beef, vegetables, fruit and margaritas.The food and drink did not stop.Despite the energy, there was a calm about the whole proceeding. The sun set slowly over the mountains, friends mingled again among each other and Stupa Day came to a close as the second full moon of the month rose in the sky.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at email@example.com.
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