Temples Talk: The Symbolic Meaning of Thai Chedis

Stupas are universal throughout Asia. They are said to represent the burial mound the historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, ordered his disciples to erect when he died. Chedis have a variety of names depending on the country. In Thailand, stupas are called Chedis: stupa, (India), dagoba (Sri Lanka), chorten (Tibet), chedi or pagoda (Burma), t’ap (Korea), ta (China), tarp (Vietnam), thaat (Laos), sotoba (Japan), chandi (Java). The architecture of the stupas throughout Asia also differ, but they are essentially developed from ancient burial mounds. They existed in India long before Buddha Gautama and can be found through various parts of the world including Europe and the Americas. What they all have in common however, is the meaning; stupas represents the path to enlightenment and the potential for us to awaken to our true nature. Buddhist legend states it was Siddhartha Gautama that changed the structure of ancient burial mounds. Texts from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra reveal that on his deathbed, the historical Buddha demonstrated how burial mounds should appear by folding his outer robe into a square, plumping it up into a dome and placing his begging bowl over it. The shape of the Stupa reflects a seated Buddha in meditation, although some are so stylised it’s difficult to detect this specific meaning. The structure is divided into three parts; the base is the throne, where a meditator sits. In the centre is the bulging dome which reflects the Buddha’s body, and the base of the spire, the harmika, is the Buddha’s head. In the foreword of the book, Buddhist Stupas in Asia: The Shape of Perfection, Professor Robert Thurman explains: “Stupas… demonstrate the triumph of enlightenment’s wisdom over suffering’s ignorance. They are memorials… to the possibility of freedom from suffering for all beings. They signal the triumphal reality of a nature that enables beings to evolve to experience the ultimate fulfilment of perfect bliss, beyond death and unsatisfying life. Stupas stand as eloquent testimony to the higher purpose of life, beyond competing or struggling, getting or spending. Consciously or subliminally, they help turn people’s minds away from their frustrating obsessions and towards their own higher potential.” Why Are Chedis Stacked in Layers? Not all stupas are the same. However, the three principle elements are always present; the square foundation (throne), the dome (body), the harmika (head). Most stupas I saw in South-East Asia also have a spiral topped by a parasol. The basic structure of the stupa reveals the path the enlightenment in accordance with Siddhartha’s teachings. One has to go a little deeper than standard Buddhist literature to understand the true meanings; the true teachings are ethical, practical and metaphysical. The square foundation of a stupa typically has three steps, traditionally representing the three refuges of Buddha (enlightenment), Dharma (teaching) and Sangha (practice). Through these three jewels we learn to rid ourselves of the ten non-virtues: • Killing • Stealing • Sexual Misconduct • Lying • Harsh words • Slander • Gossip • Coveting • Cruelty • Wrong View However, when you remove religious dogma and apply rational sense in the form of hermetic alchemy, the three steps essentially reflect thoughts, emotions and actions. It is the quality or the weakness in how we think, feel and behave that essentially shapes our character, our view of the world and ultimately how we experience life. The four steps between the foundation throne and the dome are where the legs of the meditator would sit. The steps represent the four ‘dwellings of Brahma’ given in the Mettanisamsa Sutta. These four qualities are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity are said to dissolve the

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