I visited the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion again, after a few months away - it is a utopian project of Buddhist architecture underway in the Victorian hinterlands near Bendigo Australia; a futuristic yet ancient structure, extraordinary in its conceptual ambition and also grounded in community. I’m always bowled over at the growth of this project. Now in March 2019, we see a second structure happening, a large cone sitting on scaffolding - the workmen tell me it will be the top crowning piece, or “parasol” that is being built at ground level and will be hoisted up by crane and formally installed in September. There is also excitement over an anticipated visit by Lama Zopa, the spiritual head of this branch of Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism, who will be in residence at the Stupa during part of next year for extended teachings. Walking around the grounds on a dry, bright day, I see new things cropping up: an elephant statue underway, the external bronze prayer wheels gradually being decorated by hand in red and gold, and inside the shrine, behind a safety barricade, a new white Buddha sculpture in two halves ready to be joined. There is soft meditation music of the light pop variety playing inside the Stupa shrine even as it is looking very much “under construction” with a stark modernist cement feel. The cavernous space resembles a theatre backstage when it is not filled with worshipping communities. I love the cement factory-like vibe when it is empty— I appreciate its emptiness equally with its more elaborate fullness when decorative traditional Buddhist art and colours are unfurled during times of ceremony. The Stupa is a quintessentially creative space— always finished, always unfinished, and always evolving. A place of joy and a palpable sense of purpose. It is close to nature, rocks and sand and scrub trees. Clearly the main focus at the moment is the structural work assembling its crowning spire … I am really anticipating the unveiling/installation in September.
NOTE: A stupa, from what I understand, is a physical manifestation of the “Mind of the Buddha” and can be anything from a tiny conical shape to an earthen mound or large building full of holy relics. Merely to imagine a Stupa is, in some sense, to receive the wisdom and blessings of the Buddha.
photos by Catherine Schieve on Thursday 14 March, 2019
Construction of the crowning “Parasol” underway; this will be hoisted to the top of the Stupa to form its pointed spire and dramatically increase the height of the building:
The interior…. also under construction:
… and let’s not forget the small earthy things, the toys and Kitsch!