Announcing the Stupa Temple of Peace
Saga Dawa - Virupa Retreat Centre.
By Elise-Maree Holford.
On the auspicious occasion of Saka Dawa, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and the passing into mahaparinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha, The Tibetan Buddhist Society of Canberra also announced a wonderful new project: a new temple, being built in Canberra. Called the Stupa Temple of Peace (STOP), Committee Member Elise-Maree Holford has written an account of the day, describing why everyone travelled, gathered and cooked delicious food that day: to be present for the official unveiling of the society’s new temple.
The daylight shone bright through the wintery haze at Virupa retreat centre, as the early morning fog was lifted by the bright sun of the mild morning. As lunch time approached, sun high in the sky, participants of the Annual Ngondro retreat (myself and about 20 others) busily helped prepare for the oncoming celebrations. At 2pm, we were joined by old friends of the society, members of the Canberra Tibetan Community and members of the public, travelling from near and far to help us celebrate an important announcement for our society.
The Gonpa swelled to maximum capacity as we all sat eagerly anticipating the exciting news. We all noticed a large box, covered by a cloth, in the middle of the room. Many of us sat and wondered, 'what was in the box?'. The ceremony began with a special puja, or offering ceremony, called the 16 Arhat Puja. These offerings were heartfeltly chanted, with prays for purification and blessings, by everyone present.
After this special practice, the group was addressed by the Tibetan Buddhist Society President Lydia Trajkoska. Having warmly thanked everyone for attending, Lidija began by outlining the history of the society, starting from the first 'seed thought' by His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche requesting Lama Choedak Rinpoche to build a temple in the Australia, to his many visits to Australia, to the present day's unveiling. It was lovely to hear the journey of the society and we all felt very connected to its future.
Then the dedicated project manager Jampal introduced the architect Alvyn and the building manager Lance. The three of these skilled workers each gave a brief description of their role and how the project was coming along. Jampal began by describing the building: the layout is a two story traditional Tibetan style Temple that will be the first of its kind to be built in Canberra. The ground floor opens to a warm welcoming reception area including a shop and the Gonpa for Buddhist practice, leading out to a large library adjoining a beautiful sunny reading room. The Temple will also feature a commercial kitchen that will cater for retreats and other special events that could also serve as a vegetarian cafe. The top floor will house residents and visiting teachers. Building will start in September 2017, with a planned completion date of November 2018.
Jampal then told us the cost: a staggering 2.5 million dollars! He also was confident that the society could could fund this amount by generous donations from the Buddhist community and the general public.
Then, Lama Choedak Rinpoche enthusiastically spoke of the benefits of this project saying that "the temple is a purpose-built Buddhist place of worship, meditation and inspiration in the ACT, dedicated to all the people of Canberra and Australia" . He informed us that the STOP will be offering various mindfulness in everyday life educational programs so will benefit the whole community. In addition, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's representative in Australia, Lhakpa Tshoko, who is a prominent figure in the local Tibetan community was not planning to speak but felt compelled to inject his heartfelt gratitude on behalf of all Tibetan people for this project.
With a mock drum roll Lama Choedak Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's representative unveiled what was hidden under the veil... a scale model of our new temple! This discovery was met with sighs, cheers and applause. It even has lights on the inside! We have attached a photo for you. We couldn't believe our eyes!
The model was carried into the reception area of the main building, where it was prominently put on display for all to view. Then, a prayer flag raising ceremony was performed at the back of the retreat centre. Dusting off the ritual white flour thrown to bless the prayer flags, we excitedly rotated around the model getting up close and personal with the magnificent view of what this sacred place would look like. I was lucky enough to talk with Alvyn the architect and received a vivid commentary. He spoke with such passion just like a proud parent. This was definitely an added treat.
Being the first fundraising event, Rachel and I set up to handle the donations that people wanted to give, and they began to pour in. Due to the kind support and generosity of those in attendance we helped raise over $5,000! All this was shared with a scrumptious afternoon supper and warm chai tea. Everyone felt excited about the project, full of good food and blessed with happy company.
Some of you might be asking yourself: "what is a Stupa?" Much of Tibetan Buddhist architecture is centred on the Stupa which in its form symbolizes the enlightened body and mind of the Buddha and is used to store relics from important teachers. The Stupa planned for our Canberra temple will house some precious relics of His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche.
A stupa consists of 5 parts that represent the 5 elements. The base is square which represents the earth element as a symbol of stability that cultivates the feeling of enduring confidence. On top of the base sits a dome representing water as a symbol of equanimity that cultivates the feeling of emotional balance. On that is a cone representing fire as a symbol of radiant brightness that cultivates the feeling of increased conscious awareness. On the tip of the cone is a crescent representing air as a symbol of insightfulness that cultivates the feeling of wise intelligent views. Finally, inside the crescent is a flame representing ether or space as a symbol of emptiness that cultivates the feeling of liberated freedom that leads to enlightenment. The tapering of the flame to a point can also be said to represent consciousness as a sixth element that further represents light or enlightenment that cultivates a feeling of connecting to all that is. The stupa presents these elements of the body in order of the process of dissolution at death.
As I write I am reminded of the famous quote from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it they (he) will come". As such, it is my wish that many are drawn to the Stupa Temple of Peace through the field of dreams to wake up and STOP various causes of social problems such as violence, drugs, alcoholism, mental illness, religious extremism and cultural alienation. Helping to create peace in the community, peace in the home, peace in the workplace, peace in the streets, peace in the body, peace in the speech, peace in the mind, peace in the heart of all things, spreading the peace in all directions to the four corners of the earth beyond the moon the sun and the universe!
I dedicate this with the intention of peace for all beings.