What Is a Stupa?

An ancient form of sacred Buddhist architecture, the stupa is oriented to create a perfection of internal symmetry, such that it amplifies and broadcasts virtue that removes obstacles, subdues negative forces, and reaps benefit.

A stupa is first constructed in the inner realms, through the prayers and blessings of a lama and his or her lineage, before its outer form can take shape. As it arises, it is filled with innumerable ritual objects blessed through ceremony, including the relics of great realized masters, rolled mantras, small clay representations of the different forms of the Buddha called tsa tsas, along with other precious worldly treasures.


The outer form of a stupa represents a meditating Buddha, seated in the lotus position and crowned. Each of the five basic geometric shapes in the stupa corresponds to the five elements, and represents an attribute of an awakened being. The square base represents earth and equanimity; the round dome, victory and indestructibility; the triangular spire, fire and compassion; the semicircular umbrella, wind and all-accomplishing action; the jewel-shaped drop, space and all-pervading awareness.