The Eight Great Stupas

Category: Chorten

The chorten (མཆོད་རྟེན་) monument is perhaps the most ubiquitous religious architecture of Bhutan. They dot the Bhutanese landscape giving people spiritual solace and the natural environment a special cultural and spiritual presence and power. As the representation of the Buddha’s mind or spirit (statues represent the body and holy books represent the speech), the chorten is also one of the most important shrines in the Buddhist tradition. Chorten literally means an object or support (རྟེན་) of worship or offering (མཆོད་) and is a translation of the Sanskrit terms stūpa and caitya. It refers to a wide range of religious monuments with different shapes, sizes and purposes.
The earliest Buddhist chortens are said to have been built during the life of the Buddha as monuments containing the remains of the enlightened saints who passed into nirvāṇā. In the centuries after the Buddha, the culture of building and worshipping chortens expanded. The remains of the Buddha are said to have been divided into eight portions and enshrined in eight chortens in different parts of north India. The eight main events in the Buddha’s life from birth to his death are also memorialized through eight different kinds of chortens which are today known as desheg chorten gye (བདེ་གཤེགས་མཆོད་རྟེན་བརྒྱད་) or eight stūpas of the Buddha.
1. Lotus Blossom Stupa (པད་སྤུངས་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

Also known as "Stupa of Heaped Lotuses" or "Birth of the Sugata Stupa," this stupa refers to the birth of Gautama Buddha. "At birth Buddha took seven steps in each of the four directions"(East, South, West and North). In each direction lotuses sprang up, symbolizing the brahmavihāras: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. The base of this stupa is circular and has four steps, and it is decorated with lotus-petal designs. Occasionally, seven heaped lotus steps are constructed. These refer to the seven first steps of the Buddha.
2. Enlightenment Stupa (བྱང་ཆུབ་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

Also known as the "Stupa of the Conquest of Mara", this stupa symbolizes the 35-year-old Buddha's attainment of enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, where he conquered worldly temptations and attacks, manifesting in the form of Mara.
3. Stupa of Many Doors (བཀྲིས་སྒོ་མང་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

This stupa is also known as the "Stupa of Many Gates". After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha taught his first students in a deer park near Sarnath. The series of doors on each side of the steps represents the first teachings: the Four Noble Truths, the Six Pāramitās, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Twelve Nidānas.
4. Stupa of Descent from the God Realm (ལྷ་བབ་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

At 42 years of age, Buddha spent a summer retreat in the Tuṣita Heaven where his mother had taken rebirth. In order to repay her kindness he taught the dharma to her rebirth. Local inhabitants built a stupa in Sankassa in order to commemorate this event. This type of stupa is characterized by having a central projection at each side containing a triple ladder or steps.
5. Stupa of Great Miracles (ཆོ་འཕྲུལ་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

Also known as the "Stupa of Conquest of the Tirthikas", this stupa refers to various miracles performed by the Buddha when he was 50 years old. Legend claims that he overpowered maras and heretics by engaging them in intellectual arguments and also by performing miracles. This stupa was raised by the Lichavi kingdom to commemorate the event.
6. Stupa of Reconciliation ( དབྱེན་ཟླུམ་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

This stupa commemorates the Buddha's resolution of a dispute among the sangha. A stupa in this design was built in the kingdom of Magadha, where the reconciliation occurred. It has four octagonal steps with equal sides.
7. Stupa of Complete Victory (རྣམ་རྒྱལ་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

This stupa commemorates Buddha's successful prolonging of his life by three months. It has only three steps, which are circular and unadorned.
8. Stupa of Nirvana (མྱང་འདས་མཆོད་རྟེན་)

This stupa refers to the death of the Buddha when he was 80 years old. It symbolizes his complete absorption into the highest state of mind. It is bell-shaped and usually unornamented.

Source:  Bhutan History FB 

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