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In many of her talks about the Aryaloka stupa project, Viriyagita, has shared a video about the building and dedication of the stupa at the New Zealand retreat center, Sudarshanaloka, I think this must be the most dramatically situated of the four existing Dhardo Rinpoche stupas at Triratna centers around the world, and I found the video to be quite inspiring. However, it left me curious about how the building of a stupa might actually affect the spiritual life of a sangha. What can we expect from having a stupa at Aryaloka?
To pursue this question, I decided to Skype with Malini in New Zealand. She met Dhardo Rinpoche and has written movingly about her experience with the stupa in the volume of remembrances of him. Originally from the UK, Malini has lived near Sudarshanaloka for twenty-five years.
She shared the experience of her first solitary retreat there. When the stupa was first built there were no retreat huts, so one could only do a solitary retreat in a small van with no heat. Malini felt challenged by the rough conditions. When she walked up the steep hill to the stupa, she told me, it was a struggle to get there. “But when I did, I felt I saw Dhardo’s eyes looking down, saying ‘Yes this is life, this is samsara.’ I felt his compassion and could just get on with my practice.”
“Having the stupa has shifted the energy of the place,” Malini told me. “It made it feel like the Dharma is being spread there in a way it wasn’t before.” Every retreat at Sudarshanaloka includes some ritual around the stupa. On one level, Malini said, the stupa is a reminder of impermanence, because it holds Dhardo’s ashes. “On another level it’s a symbol of an enlightened mind, something beyond the mundane – not a practical item, but a symbol.”
Having Dhardo’s ashes is special. Malini was fortunate enough to have met him, but others who visit Sudarshanaloka feel a strong resonance with him through the stupa. Malini says that many visitors come specifically to spend time at the stupa. “People just love going there. All the chanting, reflection and meditation that have happened there have built up an energy, she said. “It just feels special being with the stupa.” Clearly, bringing this presence to Aryaloka will be a profound event for our community.