The (not so) Great Stupa


On Sunday, I visited the Great Stupa at the Shambhala Center near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, with my friend Kim. I'm not sure what I expected, but I was very disturbed by the experience. I have visited many other religious sites, Buddhist, Christian, and otherwise - never have I come away with so little sense of the sacred or the holy. I am disturbed still.

The shape and structure of the building is ancient, but there are modern elements that clash awkwardly; like these doors...

I think the smoked glass and brass fittings just scream "Welcome to the First National Bank of Buddha."

I also found the windows very distracting.

(Click on this one for a better view)
The rest of the structure is very ornate, but the windows are the sort of boring industrial glass you expect on a high-rise. It seems like poor planning - so much time and energy went into the design of the thing, the least they could have done was find windows to match the feel of the building.

Kim pointed out, and rightly so, that a much more sacred feeling could be found by turning your back on the stupa altogether and looking at the trees and hills surrounding it. The immediate setting is beautiful, rugged, and quite tranquil. I really wish there had been some attempt to incorporate natural materials or colors into the design. Instead, the exterior of the building is apparently shaped concrete. There is virtually nothing that could be less spiritual and more jarring to the senses than a great hunk of cotton candy-colored concrete in the midst of the Colorado Rockies.

The whole experience felt very much like a trip to "Epcot Tibet." It reminded me of the little fiberglass cottages around the Matterhorn ride - there was that kind of artificialness to it all, and I couldn't help thinking (as I always do when confronted with gigantic religious expenditures) how many people they could have fed and clothed and educated with all that money.

I realize that this is the resting place of Chogyam Trungpa's skull relic, and as a very important and influential teacher here in the West, he needed/wanted/deserved a burial monument (maybe)... but I just can't get past the idea that the Buddha wouldn't want a 20-foot statue of himself inside a 108-foot structure to be that monument. I'm certainly in no place to speak for the Buddha, but he insisted that his students keep sight of his humanity. ONLY a human can be a Buddha. He was NOT a god, and as such, he has no need of worship. I know that stupas and statues and the rest are supposed to be indicative of remembrance and respect, not worship, but that line has gotten very blurred.

Cancel my sepulchre - the Black Pope will be planted in a plain pine box...

11 comments:

La Petite Fleur (AKA Tessa) said...

this makes me so sad - i have seen beautiful buddhist architecture and almost invaribly it blends beautifully with its surroundings - this doesn't have anything natural about it - maybe some good can be found in that it helps remind us how things should be by not being that.

justgina said...

I think it looks kinda like a fancy ginger bread house. If you broke a piece off, it would taste like... well...really old sugar.

Raksha said...

Yick! You're right, it's very Disney-esque.

Big Gay Jim said...

I'm resisting the urge to co-opt an animatronic theme song: "Heeee's the Buddha, after aaaaall; Heeee's the Buddha after aaaaall...And he's soooooo diiiii-vine." It's kinda like Duff World.

Brian said...

Pine boxes are good but, I want my last rights/burial/whatever to involve illegal amounts of flammable or explosive material.

Dr. Smith

ZEUS said...

ooh.. did you have the tour guide Buddha come through and mechanically tell you why everything was the way it was? That is a particularly uplifting and not at all boring speech. (to be read with extreme sarcasm)

Some of the other sites around the Stupa were truly moving for this dirt worshiper, however. I think that is because several of them were hard to find and yet we still did, sans map.

His Sinfulness said...

"It looks like a concrete monster ate a big bag of Skittles and then took a dump on the mountainside..."

Clayton said...

It might actually look better after a few hundred years of aging.

His Sinfulness said...

I thought that age would help too, but they are quite adamant about keeping it painted and polished. There was a lot of information at the site about the maintenance schedule - they intend for it to look like this forever...

Mark Travis said...

The buddhists are planning for something forever. Right. Maybe they should re-check some of their sacred texts. Ya know, change being the only constant and all.

His Sinfulness said...

I misspoke when I said "forever" - to be fair to the Shambhala folks, their printed information says that they planned for the stupa to last "a thousand years."

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