Chortens, Pagodas and Stupas
April 26, 2007 11:15 PM   Subscribe

The stupa (aka the chorten or the pagoda) is Buddhism's universal piece of symbolic architecture. Borobodur in Java is probably the most famous, while Burma's Shwedagon Pagoda is the largest, and the Kyaik-htiyo Pagoda on the Golden Rock may be the most precarious. They're common across the Himalayas, and sometimes hidden in caves.
posted by homunculus (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The caves are wondrous.
posted by jouke at 11:53 PM on April 26, 2007

Been to Borobodur, Shwedagon, and the Golden Rock, but discounting Borobodur, Bodhnath in Kathmandu is probably my favorite. (discounting Borobodur because it's just too stupendous to compare -- as is its Hindu neighbour, Prambanan)

homonculus, can you clear something up for me? A long while back, we noted the monks pouring what we were told was yak milk over Bodhnath early in the morning in big sweeping arcs. (note the stains left in any picture) We were also told they were writing "om" doing this. Is this true? I can find no confirmation online.
posted by dreamsign at 11:56 PM on April 26, 2007

I have no idea. Sorry.

But thanks for the Bodhnath pics!
posted by homunculus at 12:04 AM on April 27, 2007

Sorry, yak butter (the stuff of the infamous Tibetan yak butter tea) not yak milk. You can see the stains very clearly in pictures like this one.

No worries. If I do find out sometime during the lifetime of the thread, I'll report back.
posted by dreamsign at 12:51 AM on April 27, 2007

The stupas at Odiyan in Caifornia and Shambhala Mountain in Colorado look nice.

I prefer the somewhat unorthodox Brurmese style, championed by Sayagyi U Ba Khin, of building individual meditation cells into the pagoda itself. Seem more consistent with their aims.
posted by homunculus at 1:34 AM on April 27, 2007

Following the way is easiest in the pagoda, harder in the street, hardest in the home.
posted by jfuller at 4:05 AM on April 27, 2007

Yup, Homunculus, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado is nice. A bit western (Buddha covered in gold paint/leaf, very flashy and modern) but the two-story high Buddha inside definitely humbles one. I lived there for a summer on work-study and my job was to clean various rooms and prayer halls. I often cleaned the Great Stupa.
posted by sneakin at 4:43 AM on April 27, 2007

Those arcs are made with saffron and water. On festival days you can purchase a bag of saffron to be dumped into the containers to renew the arcs on the upper cupola of the stupa.
posted by AArtaud at 5:08 AM on April 27, 2007

The designs are supposed to be the petals of a lotus.
posted by AArtaud at 5:17 AM on April 27, 2007

I lived in Boudha for a year so I was always asking and poking around on dus chen or holy days.
posted by AArtaud at 5:18 AM on April 27, 2007

Thanks AArtaud. I could never figure how it could be possibly be yak butter and not have the stupa stink to high heaven.
posted by dreamsign at 5:35 AM on April 27, 2007

Jesus, you've made 3 comments since Sept 1995 and those are all of them.

Thanks for joining in!
posted by dreamsign at 5:37 AM on April 27, 2007

I drank myself into a stupa once.

posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:24 AM on April 27, 2007

flapjax - your groany pun once reminded me we joked about doing a Buddhist version of UK kid's cartoon Chorlton and the Wheelies, as chorten and the dharma wheelies.
There's various chorten dotted around Beijing, thanks to the Manchu Qing dynasty mostly I believe, with the most prominent being in Beihai Park where it looks quite splendid by the lake.
posted by Abiezer at 7:44 AM on April 27, 2007

homunculus, I love you. Your posts are always interesting and I usually learn all kinds of unexpected things from them, across a wide, intriguing range of topics. Your presence in MetaFilter is wonderful.

Enjoying your post and this juicy thread, full of additional cool links. The link about the cave at Tashi Kabum, is fascinating. Similar in style to the art at Göreme, painted by the monks and mystics there in the amazing cave dwellings in Cappadocia. Didn't know the etymology of the word for pagoda was "a 17th C. European corruption of dagoba, the Sinhalese (or, Sri Lankan) word derived from Skt. dhatu-garbha meaning repository."

Touching photograph of well fed but mangy temple dogs having a full tummied snooze in the dust.

What I like about Buddhism is some of the core philosophy. Not the Zen variety so much but more the Vipassana and Madhyamika kind. Most of what is around that is, imo, mostly ritualistic claptrap, cultic bs, idol worshipping, hierarchical, typical religious power mongering and misogyny, not to mention staggering superstitious/fearful/obsessive weirdness.

That said, when people really get into anything, there is usually a lot of creative expression connected with that passion and some of that is authentically connected with a sense of awakening, deep understanding of self and other.

Cultural expression is a communal creativity, shared on a big scale. Some of the stupas/chortens/pagodas seem more an architectural expression of that, than something philosophically deeper. Still beautiful and meaningful in their way. There are also quietly meaningful places, often with little razzmatazz.

Rajgir, Vulture's Peak, where Shakyamuni supposedly taught the Lotus Sutra has a stupa, which seems to me to be an example of religious architecture that is just traditional eye candy . Wish I'd visited Borobudur when I travelled through Indonesia. Java is one place I'd love to explore.

Boudha is definitely my fave stupa. Those marvelous eyes! Swayambhu Stupa has even better eyes but those stairs and the rascally monkeys en route, oof.

There's Sphola Stupa on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Seems like they could do with a little Vipassana meditation in that neck of the woods.
posted by nickyskye at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2007

dreamsign: I've made more comments than that, but not many!
posted by AArtaud at 1:42 PM on April 27, 2007

IHNJ, IJLS "prang."
posted by jdfalk at 9:01 PM on April 27, 2007

homunculus, I love you.

Awww, shucks!

posted by homunculus at 10:19 PM on April 27, 2007

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