great chorten (Skt: chaitya or stupa) of Bodhanath, the largest in
Nepal, in a photograph by Bill Wassman.
The Great Stupa (Tib. Jarung Kashor) is five km. to the
north-east of Kathmandu. It is surrounded by many gompas and an
arcade of shops. Since the hippie influx, tourism has brought new
opportunities to the area and there are Tibetan, Tamang, Sherpa and Newari
people living there.
Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche (on
the cremation of Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche):
"As the numerous stupas throughout the country of Nepal attest, in the
past many great masters have come here over the millennia. Although in the
last couple of centuries not very many masters have lived here, and so, the
'string of the Dharma' has become very thin, still, Buddhism in Nepal has
remained without vanishing. I feel one of the reasons for the unbroken
continuity of Buddhism is that, thanks to the three main stupas - - those in
Boudhanath, Swayambhu and Namo Buddha, people regard the teachings of the
Buddha as something special: they have continued to circumambulate these
stupas respectfully, and maintain the notion that the Three Jewels are special
objects of veneration which you can supplicate."
This stupa is the largest Buddhist structure in Nepal, and has been a power
place and an important site of pilgrimage since its construction. On their
way north out of the Valley, caravans of salt traders, monks, lamas and others
made an obligatory stop here to perform protection and prosperity rituals.
Nepalese historians trace the construction of the Stupa to the early reign of
Manadeva who ruled Nepal in the fifth century CE.
According to Neaplese folklore, during the reign of King Vrishadev there was
a severe draught in the land. When he consulted his astrologers, they
advised the king to locate a man with the 32 auspicious marks and sacrifice him to propitiate the rain
gods. He then summoned his son, Manadeva, telling him to rise at dawn and sever the head of a
person he would find sleeping at a certain place.
Manadev did as he was told, and immediately rain began to fall.
As in many tales of this nature, he was horrified to discover he had slain his own father.
In his misery, the prince prayed to the goddess in the form of Vajrayogini (in
Nepal, her name is pronounced Bajra- . ) Releasing a bird, she
commanded him to build a stupa at the spot where it would land. This is
the site of the Great Stupa.
The Widow's Endowment
Another legend has it that land for the stupa was elicited as a boon from the king of
Nepal by the devout widow Jadzimo (says a Nepali source,) or Kangma, in Tibetan. He
had promised as much land as the hide of a buffalo. She had it cut in such
a way that in one continuous strip it formed the circumference of an enormous
One of her sons is believed to be Tibetan King Trisong Detseun, reborn.
The widow, said to be an incarnation of a daughter of Indra, was inspired to
use the profits from her poultry business for the benefit of all sentient beings
and so, determined to build a receptacle for the nature of all the buddhas.
The construction of the Great Stupa was begun by the woman's four sons, with
the help of an elephant and a donkey. Despite various adversities, for
four years they laboured until construction reached the beginning of the
By that time the poultry woman, who was old and dying, called her four sons
and made them promise to fulfill her life's purpose. They worked on the
stupa for three more years so that in all, it required seven years to
Any negative occurrences that have beset the stupa are seen as a fulfillment
of Guru Padmasambhava's prophecies concerning the Kaliyuga.
In the early 19th century, the King of Nepal officially declared that the Bazra
lamas or Chini [Chinese] lama lineage would be the officiating religious
body at the Great Stupa. This may have been an early attempt to alleviate
the conflict that exists between local Tamang landlords and Tibetan monks.
In the 1960's many Tibetans seeking refuge from Chinese aggression settled
around the stupa and opened factories and shops there. In 1969, the pinnacle of the Stupa was struck by lightning and
destroyed. In 1996, the old Guru Rinpoche Gompa, which had stood as one of
the oldest temples of the local Tamang and Newari community, was severely
The Padmasambhava Connection
The Legend of the Great Stupa of Boudhanath is a Padmasambhava
treasure text revealed by Lhatsun Ngonmo that was hidden again, to be
rediscovered by Ngakchang Sakya Zangpo in the 16th century. The
extracts here are from the introduction and translation by Keith Dowman
(Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973.)
The book contains two termas about Guru Padmasambhava: The Legend of
the Great Stupa and The Life Story of the Lotus Born Guru.
Termas are understood as an infusion of teachings that are essential especially
in dissolute times such as these, so that the Buddha-dharma remains fresh, and
its relevancy clear.
The Fourth Chapter of The Legend of the Great Stupa:
"The Portents of the Ruin of the Great Stupa in the Middle of the
"Again King Trison Detsen spoke to the Lotus Born Guru, "Great Guru,
in the kaliyuga, the age of decadence and corruption, when the Voice of Buddha
is a mere echo, will this Great Stupa, this Wish Fulfilling Gem, be destroyed or
damaged? Will it decay? And if it is neglected or damaged what will be the
portent of its ruin? What vice will corrupt this area of the transitory
world? When the signs and omens are seen, what must be done?"
Guru Rinpoche replied, "Listen, Great King. The real perfection of this
Great Stupa is indestructible, inviolate and incorruptible: it is inseparable
from the Body of Infinite Simplicity of all the Buddhas. But the phenomenal
fabric of the Great Stupa is perishable, a transitory form in a changing world,
and it can be damaged by the four elements. The damage will be repaired by the
incarnations of the Lords of the Three Families - Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and
Vajrapani - and the Wrathful Bhrikutis and Tara Devi.
"As the kaliyuga progresses towards the final
conflagration, life expectancy of man decreases and the weight of darkness
becomes more intense, but there remain restraints on the downward path when the
Voice of Buddha is heard and the Path of Dharma followed. Towards the end of the
era, when man's lifespan has been reduced from sixty to fifty years and there
has been no respite in man's increasing egoism, these conditions will prevail,
portending ruin to the Great Stupa: householders fill the monasteries and there
is fighting before the altar; the temples are used as slaughterhouses; the
ascetics of the caves return to the cultivated valleys and the yogins become
traders; thieves own the wealth and cattle; monks become householders, while
priests and spiritual leaders turn to robbery, brigandage and thievery. Disorder
becomes chaos, which generates panic raging like wildfire. Corrupt and selfish
men become leaders, while abbots turned army officers lead their monks as
soldiers; and nuns put their own bastards to death. Sons see their estates and
inheritances stolen from them. Mean and vulgar demagogues become local
bosses. Young girls instruct the young in schools. The belch of the Bon Magician
resounds in the yogin's hermitage and the wealth of the sanctuaries is looted;
the scriptures of the Tathagatas, the images of the Buddhas, the sacred icons,
the scroll paintings and the stupas will be desecrated, stolen and bartered at
the market price, their true worth forgotten; the temples become dung-smeared
cow sheds and stables.
"When religious duties are forgotten, spirits of darkness previously
controlled by ritual power are unloosed, and frenziedly govern the mind of
whatever being they possess. Spirits of vindictive power possess monks; spirits
of egoistic wickedness possess the mantradhara or magician; spirits of disease
possess the Bon Priest; enchanting spirits causing disease possess men;
grasping, quarreling spirits possess women; spirits of wantonness possess
maidens; spirits of depravity possess nuns; spirits of rebellion and malice
possess children; every man, woman and child in the country becomes
possessed by uncontrollable forces of darkness. The signs of these times are new
and fantastical modes of dressing - traditional styles forgotten; the monks wear
fancy robes and the nuns dress up before a mirror. Every man must carry a sword
to protect himself and each man guard his food from poison. Abbots and Masters
poison their pupils' minds and hearts; the executive and legislature disagree;
men become lewd and licentious; women become unchaste; monks ignore their
discipline and moral code; and the mantradharas break their covenant. As the
frenzy of malicious, selfish, vindictive and ruthless spirits grows, paranoid
rumor increases and ornament and clothing fashions change more frequently.
"Drunkards preach the Path to Liberation; the advice of sycophants is
followed; fraudulent teachers give false initiations; guileful impostors claim
psychic powers; loquacity and eloquence pass as wisdom. The arrogant elevate
profanity; the proletariat rules the kingdom; kings become paupers; the butcher
and murderer become leaders of men; unscrupulous self-seekers rise to high
position. The Masters of the High Tantras stray like dogs in the streets and
their faithless, errant students roam like lions in the jungle. Embodiments of
malice and selfishness become revered teachers, while the achievements of
tantric adepts are reviled, the guidance of the Secret Guru execrated, the
precepts of the Buddha ignored and the advice of yogins and sages unsought.
Robes become worn by fools and villains while monks wear foreign dress - even
murderers wear the sacred robe. Men resort to maledictory enchantment learning
mantra for selfish ends; monks prepare poisonous potions for blackmail,
extortion and profit. False doctrines are devised from the Buddhas' Word and the
teachers' interpretations become self-vindications. Many treacherous paths,
previously uncharted, are followed; many iniquitous practices spread; behavior
becomes tolerated which was previously anathema; ideals are established contrary
to tradition; and all good customs and habits are rejected and many despicable
innovations corrupt. The wealth of the monasteries is plundered and spent upon
gluttony by those under vow; following errant paths men become trapped by their
own mean actions; the avaricious and spurious protectors of the pure teaching no
longer fulfill their functions.
"The celestial order, disrupted, loosens plague, famine and war to
terrorize terrestrial life. The planets run wild, and the stars fall out of
their constellations; great burning stars appear bringing unprecedented
disaster. Rain no longer falls in season, but out of season the valleys are
flooded. Famine, frost and hail govern many unproductive years. Rapacious female
demons (Mamo) and the twelve guardian protectresses of the Dharma (Tenma),
unpropitiated and enraged, release diseases, horrible epidemics and plagues,
which spread like wildfire, striking men and cattle. Earthquakes bring sudden
floods, while fire, storm and tornadoes destroy temples, stupas and cities in an
instant. At this time the Great Stupa itself falls in ruins. During this pall of
darkness the Wheel of Dharma at Vajrasana (Bodh Gaya) ceases to turn; the storm
of war rages in Nepal for many years; India is stricken with famine; the
Kathmandu Valley is inflicted with plague; earthquakes decimate the people of
Upper Ngari in Western Tibet; plague destroys the people of Central Tibet; the
Kyi Valley District of Lhasa subsides; the peaks of the High Himalayas in the
borderland of Mon fall into the valleys. Three strong forts are built on the
Five Peaked Mountain; yogins assemble in the Valley of the Bear's Lair on Mon;
two suns rise in Kham to the east; the Chinese Emperor dies suddenly; four
armies descend on Central Tibet from the borders; the Muslim Turks conquer
India; the Garlok army suppresses the Dharma in Kashmir; the Mongols conquer
Tibet; the Jang army enters Kham; the Protectors' Temple, Rasa Trulnang (The
Jokhang) in Lhasa is threatened; the famous temple of Samye is desecrated; the
stupas of Bhutan tilt and the Wheel of Dharma malfunctions.
"The great monasteries of the country become deserted and the belch of the
Bon Priest resounds in quiet hermitages; the wise and simple leaders of the
monasteries have been poisoned so that the lineal explanations and practices are
fragmented or lost; the holders of the lineal traditions meet sudden
death. Impostors and frauds cheat the people and black spectres haunt the
land. The knot in the silken thread binding demonic forces in divine bondage is
untied and the cord of faith keeping the human mind harmonious is severed. The
king's law is broken and the strength of communal unity lost; the people's
traditions are rejected and the sea of contentment dries up; personal morality
is forgotten and the cloak of modesty thrown away. Virtue is impotent and
humiliated and led by coarse, immodest and fearful rulers. Abbots, teachers and
professors become army officers, while the ignorant guide religious aspirants,
explain the doctrine and give initiation. Aspirants speak with self-defensive
abuse, while butchers and wild elephants lead men. The passes, valleys and
narrow paths are terrorized by shameless brigands; fearful, lawless and
leaderless, the people fight amongst themselves, each man acting out of
self-interest. Tibet becomes corrupt and defiled. These are the conditions
prevailing during the middle of the kali-yuga when the duration of man's life is
fifty years: these are the portents of the destruction of the Great Stupa.
"These signs and sufferings shall awaken the mind of a man sickened by the
human condition. Favoured in his actions and governed by sympathy and compassion
towards suffering beings, he shall dedicate himself to the restoration of the
Great Stupa. He shall aspire to the highest human achievement and fulfil his
wish to re-establish perfection."
After Guru Rinpoche had spoken, Trison Detsen and his attendants were stunned
and disheartened. Then recovering his senses, Padma Khungtsen, the spiritual
leader of Gos, arose and prostrated himself one hundred times before Guru
Rinpoche and then addressed him. "Great Guru, let me be reborn to restore
the Great Stupa when it is in ruins during the decadence and corruption of the
kaliyuga, when man's life is short."
Guru Rinpoche granted this prayer. King Trison Detsen asked to be reborn as an
assistant to restore the Great Stupa and his attendants prayed that they too
should be born to assist in the restoration."
SAMAYA GYA GYA GYA -- THE THREEFOLD BOND IS SEALED
The Third Chapter of the Self-Liberating Life Story of the Lotus Born
Guru of Orgyen Which is a Wish-Fulfilling Tree: "The
Preservation of the Doctrine in India and the Decoration of the
Provinces with Dharma."
"I, Padma, accomplished my meditation in the Eight Great Cemeteries and
Charnel Grounds of India and other sacred places. After I had controlled the
power of evil by detachment, my practice culminated in the revelation of
auspicious signs of achievement.
When fear of the Black Tirthikas arose in Vajrasana, India's most holy place, I,
Padma, vanquished their contentiousness with my magical power. The five hundred
scholars of Vajrasana requested me to become their master and teacher and the
Buddhas' Doctrine was preserved there for one hundred years while the great
scholar Vimalamitra remained as my representative.
Then, I, Padma, journeyed to Zahor. Misunderstood by the King of Zahor, I was to
be burnt alive, but upon unleashing my magical power, I transformed the fire
which was to consume me into a lake which was called Rewalsar [tso pad ma]. The
country of Zahor became studded with yogins and the Buddhas' Doctrine remained
there for two hundred years.
From Zahor, I traveled to the Cave of Maratika in Nepal to practice the Sadhana
of Eternal Life. Amitayus [tse dpag med] came to me in a vision and presented me
with the one hundred and eight ritual texts which vouchsafe immortality.
I came to the Pure Land of the Akanistha heaven [hod min stug po bkod pa] and to
the Pure Lands of the Five Buddha Families. I requested Tantra from the Sugatas
and conferred with the Buddhas of Incarnate Compassion who taught me that my own
mind was the only Buddha to discover.
In the highest cave of meditation in Yangleysho, I began the process of becoming
aware of the Sublime Heruka Reality of Mind [dpal chen yang dag he ru ka] in
order to obtain the relative powers of affection and ultimate compassion of the
Mahamudra, but the suffering of the people of India and Nepal became such an
obstacle to the consummation of my meditation that I begged my Gurus to bestow
upon me the means of allaying the peoples' sorrow. The text of the Purba
Vitotama, which one man could barely carry, was sent to me. Immediately after it
came to Nepal, the obstacles to my Sadhana's progress were removed and I
attained the relative and ultimate compassion of the Mahamudra.
When I, Padma, was meditating on the mountain of Yah, conflict with the
Tirthikas arose in Vajrasana and the five-hundred scholars were advised by the
Dakinis to ask me to return. The Indian King Suryasingha sent some disciples to
me with a message and, returning to Vajrasana, I subjected the Tirthikas.
Then, I, Padma, went with the Eight Vidyadharas [slob dpon brgyad] to the
cemetery called Cool Garden [bsil bai tsal] and we meditated. At midnight on the
seventh day of concentration, a Great Stupa radiating bliss was spontaneously
generated. Meditating upon the Stupa, we saw it blaze and sparkle with light.
The Dakini Senge Dongma personally bestowed upon me a treasure chest and the
initial instructions upon the Unity of the Sugatas [bde gshegs hdus pa]. Each of
the Eight Vidyadharas received precepts and empowerment according to
requirement. Hence the Buddha dharma was preserved in Vajrasana for
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