- Topics & Settings
The expected completion for the stupa is 2017 or 2018. The stupa is mainly used for boja (enjoyment and celebration in Pali) and people pray there in order to pay respect to the Buddha and their ancestors.
The stupa is a pyramidal structure with a carved and decorated exterior built to house several relics of the Buddha brought from Sri Lanka. The building will also contain 5000 statues of the Buddha, symbolizing 5000 years of Buddhism. The first 1000 of these were consecrated and installed for Visakha Puja in 2016. As of May 2016 most of the structural construction and interiors are finished, leaving only exterior decoration and installation of the Buddhas incomplete. In July 2016, the construction continued and I witnessed three Cambodian men turning concrete in the hot sun under the supervision of a monk. As of October of 2017, only 200 of the Buddha statues remain to be sold, and all of the sold statues were neatly placed on pyramidal stands, lit up by the same multicolor LED lights that pervade the rest of the stupa.
The completed stupa will have a base covering 3600 square feet, a height of 100 feet, and three levels: a top level for holy relics and a middle level for the Shakyamuni Buddha sculptures and 5000 golden Buddha statues. The stupa relics include two “very small” bones of the Buddha and some bones of two of his initial disciples, "a special gift" from Sri Lanka received in 2009 by the temple. The relics are stored at the top of the stupa. Vicheth Chum says there are probably other relics in the U.S. but not very many. The statues represent the 5000 years of Buddhism the Buddha predicted. The Buddha described his teachings disappearing five thousand years from his passing, corresponding approximately to the year 4600 CE. At this time, knowledge of dharma will be lost as well. There will be no more followers of Buddha or monks, no need from them since “everyone will know the way” (Vicheth).
The stupa relics include two “very small” bones of the Buddha, "a special gift" from Sri Lanka received in 2009 by the temple.
The upper level of the stupa contains a reclining Buddha, representing the historical Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the Nirvana. On the ceiling there are multicolored LED lights representing the enlightenment while many of the 5000 miniature Buddha statues adorn the ledges on the wall. The wall is cut out to make an octagon out of rectangles and is quite geometrically intricate.
During Khmer New Years 2016, in the upper level of the stupa, a woman in white was lighting small candles and putting them at the base of the Buddha (must have been at least 100 candles). Additionally, many people were kneeling down in front of Buddha to pray and give monetary offering to the woman in white in exchange for a candle.
On a hot day in July 2016, a bilingal Cambodian family of 3 entered the upper level of the stupa and the mother told her three year old daughter to kneel down and pray to the reclining Buddha. The mother proceeded to take out her smartphone and snap a picture of her daughter praying.
The lower level of the stupa houses statues of four Buddhas from different eras (not just the Shakyamuni/Gautama Buddha), each with a distinct mudra. A mudra is a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger-postures, used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves. The center mudra is Dhyana (meditation), the left one is Dharmachakra (teaching), and the one on the right is Abhaya (no fear). The mudra not pictured is Bhumisparsha (earth touching). According to a volunteer, there is music playing constantly in the lower level of the stupa, whether there are people in the space or not.
The four mudras in the stupa are:
1) Dhyana: Meditation Mudra or Contemplation Mudra, symbolizes the triumph of enlightenment over the world of illusions
2) Dharmachakra, Teaching or Turning the Wheel of Law Mudra. This gesture was used by Shaka Nyorai (the Historical Buddha) when preaching his first sermon after reaching enlightenment. It refers especially to the teaching of the Dharma (law) and the preaching of the Buddha.
3) Abhaya, No fear mudra. Abhaya is translated from Sanskrit as fearlessness. Mudra of protection, peace and deep inner security.
4) Bhumisparsha: Earth Touching or Calling the Earth to Witness mudra which symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree.
On the floor in front of the 4 large Buddha statues is a block of green foam with holes for sticking incense into. None of the times I've been in the stupa has any incense been lit.