A Brief Summary of the Benefits of Building, Circumambulating, Prostrating to, and Making Aspirations Prayers at a Stupa

The following is respectfully quoted from “Compassionate Action” by Chatral Rinpoche:

Homage to the Three Jewels!

I will briefly explain the benefits of building a Buddha stupa and the advantages for the faithful ones who prostrate before, make offerings to, and circumambulate it. By establishing here the perfect scriptures as witnesses, may those fortunate ones who can understand this teaching accept it with joy!

In the sutra The way of Distinguishing it is said:

The Buddha told the young Brahmin Naytso,
“There are eighteen benefits of building a Tathagata stupa.
What are those eighteen?
One will be born as the child of a great king.
One will have an excellent body.
One will become very beautiful and attractive.
one will develop a very sharp intellectual capacity.
One will become renowned.
One will have a great entourage of servants.
One will become a leader of people.
One will be a support to others.
[One’s greatness] will be expounded in the ten directions.
One will be able to extensively express whatever one wishes in word and verse.
One will be worshipped by gods.
One will posses many riches.
One will obtain the kingdom of a universal monarch.
One will have a long life.
One’s body will be like a collection of vajras.
One’s body will be endowed with major and minor marks [of a Buddha].
One will take rebirth in the three higher realms.
One will swiftly achieve Nirvana.

These are the eighteen benefits of building a Tathagata stupa.”

In the Manjushri Root Tantra it is said:

If you make a stupa with your own hands,
You will be able to purify your body even if you have committed the five inexpiable sins.”

If you build one hundred thousand stupas,
You will be transformed into a universal monarch of the knowledge-holders.
Completely understand all treatises
And be endowed with skillful means.
FOr the duration of an eon, when you die you will always be reborn as a king and never again go to the lower realms.
Like the sun rising in a central land,
You will be endowed with all your sense faculties.
You will be able to retain all that you learn and remember your past lives.

In the sutra called Chest of Secret Relics it is said:

The Bhagavan proclaimed,
“Vajrapani, when you write down Dharma teachings and place them inside a stupa, that stupa will become a relic of the vajra essence of all Tathagatas.
That stupa will be consecrated by the secret essence of all the mantras of the Tathagatas.
It will become a stupa of ninety-nine Tathagatas, as many as a heap of mustard seeds.
That stupa will be blessed as if it contained the yes and ushnishas of all Tathagatas.
Whoever places images of the Buddha inside a Stupa will definitely be blessed by those Tathagata images with the nature of the seven royal treatises of a universal monarch. Whoever pays reverence and honors that stupa will definitely become a non-returner and will eventually achieve the unexcelled and completely perfect state of enlightenment–actual, full Buddhahood.
Even if one offers only one prostration or makes a single circumambulation, one will be altogether freed from reaching various hell realms such as the Hell of Incessant Torture.
One will never fall back on the path to unexcelled completely perfect Enlightenment.
All Tathagatas will bless the entire area that surrounds the place the stupa has been built in.

In the Sutra of the White Lotus of the Sacred Dharma, it says:

Walls ar emade from mud and bricks
And a stupa of the Victorious One is made likewise.
Therefore, even if made by a simple heap of dust in a remote place of despair, or if a child playing games makes one from a mound of sand,
Whomever simply builds one on the account of the Victorious One
All of them will attain enlightenment.

The benefits of making offerings to a stupa are stated in the Sutra Requested by King Prasenajit:

If one applies whitewash to a Buddha stupa,
One will have a long life in the worlds of gods or humans,
One will be free of mental and physical ailments,
All suffering will be completely removed and
One will always be happy and will become wealthy with worldly riches.

By ringing a bell in front of a Buddha stupa,
One will speak with authority and have great fame,
One will have the pleasant voice of Brahma,
Be able to remember one’s past lives,
And obtain all kinds of adornments.

If a learned person silently recites prayers on their rosary with a faithful mind at a Buddha stupa,
They will have many golden rosaries adorned with beautiful precious jewels,
And will be foremost among the meritorious and fortunate ones.

Whoever makes a melodic music offering at a Buddha stupa
Will have an abundance of courageous eloquence in profundity and knowledge,
Their physical body will be perfect and their mind and speech pure.
Their voices will fill the world.

If any person who has a heart and body,
Hangs various banners from the stupa
Which is a stainless source of merit,
It will become a field of offerings and an object of worship for the three worlds.

If one affixes a silken crown to a Buddha stupa,
One will become a glorious ruler of gods,
Will experience great bliss, and in particular,
Will attain the crown of complete liberation.

If one cleans a Buddha stupa,
One will become very attractive and beautiful to look at,
One will have an excellent face
With the complexion of a lotus,
And one will be completely devoid
of the defects of Samsara.

Whoever cleans off the dust around a stupa
In the springtime with clean water
Will be joyfully fanned by ladies
Holding golden-handled fans.

Regarding the benefits of prostrating and circumambulating a stupa, it is said in the Avalokiteshvara Sutra:

If one respectfully prostrates before a Buddha stupa,
One will become a heroic and powerful world monarch.
Protected by the armor of gold-colored symbols
One will become an authoritative teacher who will delight the Buddhas.

In the Sutra of the White Lotus of the Sacred Dharma it is said:

Whoever joins their palms together before a stupa,
Whether with both hands or just one,
Whoever briefly bows their head
Or bows their body just once,

Whoever prostrates or merely says “Buddha” even with a distracted mind,
Whether once or a few times
Before a stupa where relics are kept,
Will attain supreme Enlightenment.

In the Decisive Verses on Circumambulating a Stupa it is said:

The excellent qualities of circumambulating
A Stupa of the Buddha, Protector of the World,
Cannot be sufficiently described with mere words.

These and other quotations from the sutra and tantra scriptures should produce great joy and confidence. I encourage all those who aspire to happiness to make the most of their human existence. Strive as much as you can to accumulate merit and purify obscurations by paying homage and making offerings, circumambulating, making prayers of aspiration and so on with a noble bodhicitta motivation, to the excellent supreme foundation (stupas), which grant very meaningful benefits through seeing, hearing and remembering them.

This was composed by the renunciant Buddha Vajra, who in this time of the rampant five degenerations gives the appearance of guiding beings through the physical embodiment of the Buddha body, speech and mind.”

Composed in the Male Fire Horse Year of the sixteenth Cycle (1966) in the ninth month on the twenty-second day. May it be auspicious!

Places of Enlightenment: The Sacred Geography of Yolmo and Maratika

The following is respectfully quoted from “Compassionate Action” by Chatral Rinpoche:

The Buddhism of Tibet was formed in a landscape of intense beauty and splendor. It is no wonder, then, that the physical environment became a support for internal spiritual development. This is most evident in the tradition of Dzogchen, where gazing into the sky has long been used to facilitate experiencing the vast and luminous nature of mind and meditation retreat in remote mountainous areas is emphasized.

More than one thousand years ago, Guru Padmasambhava recognized that certain areas of the Himalayan region were highly conducive to realization. He practiced extensively at some of these places, such as the Maratika cave in eastern Nepal, where he attained immortality by accomplishing the realization of Amitayus — the buddha of infinite life. He discovered others while traveling to Tibet, and wrote about them in his hidden terma texts to encourage future devotees to practice at these powerful places, such as Yolmo in northern Nepal.

The Yolmo Valley has many different aspects that are beneficial to practitioners. Ian Baker writes:

…Chatral Rinpoche said that specific [places] in Yolmo are conducive to particular kinds of practice. Places with water falls inspire reflection on impermanence. Places with steep cliffs where the rocks are dark and jagged are good for meditating on wrathful deities. Places with rolling hills and flowering meadows support meditation on peaceful deities….Chatral Rinpoche clarified that the beyul [hidden lands] that Padmasambhava established in Tibet are not literal arcades, but paradises for Buddhist practice, with multiple dimensions corresponding to increasingly subtle levels of perception. Beyond Yolmo’s visible terrain of mountains, streams, and forests, he said, lies an inner level, corresponding to the flow of intangible energies in the physical body. Deeper still, the subtle elements animating the environment merge with the elements present within the practitioner — the secret level. Finally, at the beyul’s innermost level — yangsang — lies a paradisiacal, or unitary dimension revealed through an auspicious conjunction of person, place, and time….Chatral Rinpoche contended that yangsang is not merely a metaphor for the enlightened state, but an ever-present, if hidden, reality.

Chatral Rinpoche has been guiding disciples in Yolmo for several decades, many whom engage in the traditional three-year, three-month retreat. Rinpoche wrote the following poem about Yolmo:

The mountains rise like spiked weapons towards the sun.
The mountains that lie in shadow spread like flames.
In this snow-encircled. broad sandy plain,
Padmasambhava and an assembly of realized beings,
Thinking of those in later generations,
Hid innumerable profound Dharma treasures.

All around an in every place, fragrances fill the air,
Plantains and other edible plants
Bloom in abundance without being sown,
Amiable birds, waterfowl, and wood pigeons
Empty the mind of weariness.
Inner understanding and virtues naturally increase,
Benefitting the activity of path, view, and meditation.

For the practitioner of rushen and chid
There is no better place than this!
This strife-free hidden-land of Padmasambhava
Is no different than the eight great charnel grounds of India.
Surrounded by moats of water and walls of earth and rock,
Graced perpetually by clouds, mist, and rain,
[The valley] is naturally sealed [from the outer world],
If from among hundreds there are a few
Endeavoring to practice Dharma from their hearts,
I say, “Come to this place for the attainment of Buddhahood in this life!”
Practitioners of inner yogas remove obscuring conditions here.
May there be spontaneous and auspicious benefit for oneself and others.

The Maratika cave is one of the most sacred sites in the world to devotees of Padmasambhava, for it is here that he achieved immortality while accomplishing Amitayus practices with his consort Mandarava. It is the power place that those in Chatral Rinpoche’s tradition go when engaging in longevity practices. Perhaps Chatral Rinpoche’s own longevity (being healthy and active in his 90s) is a result of the time he spent practicing in Maratika.

Rinpoche wrote “The Melodious Tambura of Joy” as a guide for those who are unfamiliar with the Maratika cave and who might one day have the opportunity to practice at this powerful place.

The Melodious Tambura of Joy

A Guide to the Supreme Holy Place of Immortal Life,

the Rocky Cave of Maratika

Homage to the guru, yidam and dakinis!
To the essence of all appearances, Padma Amitayus,
To the embodiment of emptiness, the great mother, clothed in white
To the three-root long-life deities, the mudra of non-duality,
I bow down with devotion and beseech you to bestow the empowerment of immortal life.

North of Bodhgaya–the center of the universe–within a rocky mountain covered with trees and bushes, is the widely renowned wondrous holy place called Haleshi, which I will now describe, so listen for a moment with joy.

Outwardly, it is the blissful play of Shiva and Umadevi. Inwardly, it is the palace of Chakrasamvara. Secretly, it is the celestial mansion of deities of immortal life and most secretly, it is the Pureland of Great Bliss, the absolute realm of Akanishta.

In the past, when the Vidhyadhara Pema Thödrengtsal and his enchanting divine consort Mandarava engaged in the secret practice of directly entering [the mandala] at this place, the empowerment of immortal life was bestowed upon them by Amitayus, the buddha of infinite life. Attaining the body that is without birth or death, decrepitude or disintegration, Guru Rinpoche even now dwells in the southwest, subduing rakshas, continuously sending forth emanation after emanation in whatever way necessary to benefit beings in cyclic existence.

Later, from between the eyes of Songtsen Gampo–who was Avalokiteshvara in person–the noble monk Akarma was emanated. When the noble monk Akarma was erecting a statue of the eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara in Jokhang, he went in search of special substances to make it with and relics to put inside. He miraculously arrived at Maratika and at that time saw the faces of many deities. He called it the Practice Cave “Mandala of Glorious Qualities” and uttered many other praises. This provides the source and proof of Maratika’s greatness.

When the heretical teacher Shankaracharya caused much harm to the Buddhist doctrine in India and Nepal, many old sacred sites and holy objects were destroyed, scattered and lost. After that, all his followers took them over as places to worship Shiva.

At the present time, people make special offerings of bell and cymbal music, tridents, one hundred or one thousand butter lamps, incense, flowers, and the three white offerings. But not one person offers live sacrifice or red offerings. Their pujas, performed with the slow and fast playing of drums, cymbals, white conches, and many types of instruments of the blowing and twirling variety, cause the sounds of ur-ur, chem-chem, and so forth to resound in the cave.

They continuously make offering and praises to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and other worldly deities. Adhering to their ancient traditions, they differentiate between superior and inferior castes from brahmin to butcher, and there are those who are allowed and those who are not allowed to enter the cave. Some of the inferior castes may only sit at the entrance of the cave.

Especially during the tenth of the month, the waxing and waning stages of the moon and other excellent days, I have seen brahmin priests inside the cave with mandalas of colored sand and huge fire ceremonies.

As all individuals have their own perception, it is not right to harbor wrong views and speak maligning words. One should maintain pure vision, rejoice, and give praise–thus making a good connection. To slander other people or their deities is the basis for misfortune.

To arouse interest and develop faith in outsiders–Buddhists and ordinary people–and to dispel arguments about this holy place at the same time, I began an explanation of the history of Maratika.

EMA! Having mentioned some of the qualities of this holy place, which are clearly evident even to ordinary people, there can hardly be room for disagreement. In addition, it is said in the commentaries, with good reason, that even the words of a child–if authentic and well-spoken–should suffice in describing such a place.

On seeing this place, boundless wonder arises. Through merely hearing the name, the seed of liberation is planted. By recalling it, accidental death is prevented. Through making prostrations, circumambulations and offerings, great accumulation of merit is accomplished.

The sky around it forms a vast eight-spoked wheel. The ground is shaped like an eight-petalled lotus with the middle swelling up like the flower’s pistol. The landscape being wide and open, the sun remains for a long time and weather is temperate. In the front, a stream gushes forth. The center of the holy place is a huge self-existing assembly hall, high and spacious with room for one thousand people. There is a single skylight in the center shaped like a round wheel.

Outside, various shrubs and trees grow out of the craggy rocks. Inside the cave, innumerable images of statues, seed-syllables and hand implements of the peaceful and wrathful deities abound. The unique characteristic of this holy place is the many stone lingam (stalagmites) ranging in size from six feet to six inches. Naturally formed, they are white, smooth, shiny and resplendent.

During auspicious times, nectar collects like moist dew and drips down. There are many crevice-like holes through which one can test one’s positive or negative karma to see whether one is headed for a birth in the lower realms or to the higher realms and the path of liberation.

Below this holy place is a cave whose entrance faces to the southwest. The mouth of the cave is not so big, but once inside it opens up and is very wide and spacious, with enough room to fit a hundred people. There are many symbols of the body, speech and mind of the enlightened ones as well as hand and foot imprints, a white conch and many other self-arisen things. When those of fortunate karma arrive there, dew-like nectar seeps out. Straight above, unobstructed, is a high vaulted skylight, making it renowned as a training place for the practice of transferring one’s consciousness to a Pureland.

In the spacious expanse of the main cave are hosts of bats who you can’t see but who ceaselessly make the sound of the mantra of long life (one hears the sounds of tsey and bhrum).

For all tantric practitioners who have entered the path, it is a very good place for the practice of visualizing a luminous wheel of deities and mantras.

This text, which mentions only a drop from the ocean of good qualities of this holy place, was composed with the thought of benefitting others. Like a wish-fulfilling gem or an excellent vase, may it unfailingly bring all our wishes to fruition.

Having been introduced to this sacred place, it is certain that we Dharma brothers and sisters who follow Guru Padmasambhava will accumulate merit and purify obscurations by engaging in the recitation of mantras, the offering of tormas, the performing of fire ceremonies and especially the practices of longevity here.

By the merit of composing this,
May all beings under the sky be saved from untimely death and present obstacles
And ultimately, having attained the level of the protector Amitayus,
Lead all beings to that state.

By the blessing power of truth
And the wondrous compassion of the buddhas and bodhisattvas,
Removing all harmful and disadvantageous circumstances without exception,
May we reside in continuous glory
And may each day and night be auspicious.

My daughter Saraswasti Devi, bestowing offerings of a stainless scarf and writing paper, requested me to write a praise of this holy place. Therefore, I, the old vagabond father Sangye Dorje, wrote this in the Fire Tiger Year on an excellent day of the tenth month, between sessions, at the supreme holy place of Maratika, which puts an end to death. SHUBHAM.