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What are Stupas?

Scattered across Asia are tens of thousands of stupas. Stupas are dome-shaped structures of varying sizes that are usually said to contain some relic of Buddha. Some are as simple as a mound of mud, while others are elaborate ornate buildings. Most are some form of stone statuary or monument.

When Buddha died, his remains were cremated and divided among eight of his most advanced students, who buried them in stupas. Hundreds of years later, the emperor Ashoka, who we will discuss later, had several thousand new stupas built, and supposedly split up the ashes from the original eight stupas among all of the new ones. Today, they can be found everywhere in the East, and during my recent stay in Japan, I saw dozens of them, in all levels of detail.

As stated above, a stupa can be a simple pile of mud, but generally, there are five parts to one; a square base, a hemispheric dome, a spire, a crescent moon and a circular disc.

‚ÄúA stupa is a place where all the Buddhas are abiding. Those beings who don’t have the karma actually to see Buddha need the holy objects of body, speech and mind – statues, scriptures, stupas – as a field for accumulating merit.‚Äù – Guhyasamaja Root Text

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