An ancient and important sacred structure used in all Buddhist cultures, the stupa is the quintessential symbol of enlightenment. It is believed that, by communicating to subtle levels of consciousness, stupas call forth the potential for awakening that all beings have locked within them.

“Stupa” is a Sanskrit word meaning “pile” or “heap.” Constructed according to descriptions given in sacred texts, a stupa’s central form includes a base and three steps, the rounded dome, and the surmounting parasol. Often, many additional elements are added, such as gateways, paths, and additional bases, but “stupa” generally refers only to the central form.

Most stupas contain relics of the Buddha or other holy beings, while others may hold statues, paintings, mantras, or prayers that represent the body, speech, and heart of the Buddha. These sacred objects empower the stupa with the enlightened compassion of the Buddha and other great teachers.

The mandala serves as a blueprint for a stupa’s foundation, symmetry, and orientation, forging a connection between the inner realm of experience and the outer physical cosmos. “Focused by the stupa, the mandala’s universal principles of harmony and balance attract the heart and mind of living beings and bring them home to the quiet center from which flows all enlightened qualities” (Tarthang Tulku, xxi).

For more information about stupas, please see:

Tulku, Tarthang, and Elizabeth Cook. “The Stupa: Sacred Symbol of Enlightenment.” Crystal Mirror Series. Ed. Tarthang Tulku. Vol. 12. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1997.


Small stupas created by Tibetan artist Andy Weber of England are available for sale through the Tibetan Aid Project’s online gift store.


Beyond the beliefs of any religion, there is the truth of the human spirit.

Beyond the power of nations, there is the power of the human heart.

-- Tarthang Tulku