Gem of Wisdom for Daily Reflection: 

An Introduction To HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche’s Reliquary Stupa At Namdroling Monastery

After the mahaparinirvana of His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche in March 2009, the faculties of Namdroling Monastery seek advice from Kyabjé Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche with regard to the type of activities that would be conducive to find the reincarnation of HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche. Among the instructions that were given was to enshrine HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche’s cremated remains in reliquary stupas to be built at Namdroling Monastery in India, in Bodhgaya and at the Palyul Mother Monastery in Tibet. Soon after the cremation ceremony of HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche’s holy body was completed in May 2013, construction of reliquary stupas commenced at Namdroling Monastery, Ngagyur Tsogyal Shedrub Nunnery, Bodhgaya, Varanasi and in Tibet.

It was decided that the reliquary stupa to be constructed at Namdroling Monastery would be a Stupa With Many Auspicious Doors (Tashi Gomang Chorten) which was first built by the disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha at Sarnath in Varanasi to commemorate the first ever teaching given at the deer park. This reliquary stupa would be invited into the shrine hall at the ground level of the Copper-Coloured Mountain of Glory Temple (Zangdokpalri).

The exterior of the reliquary stupa

The reliquary stupa was to be fashioned from a blend of gold and silver, set on a lion-throne, surrounded by the statues of the eight manifestions of Guru Padmasambhava - Guru Tsokyé Dorje, the Lake-born Vajra; Guru Shakya Sengé, the Lion of the Shakyas; Guru Nyima Özer, the Rays of the Sun; Guru Padmasambhava, the Lotus-born; Guru Loden Choksé, the Seeker of Supreme Wisdom; Guru Pema Gyalpo, the Lotus King; Guru Sengé Dradrok, The Lion's Roar; and Guru Dorje Drolö, the Wrathful Vajra.

Supporting the structure of the stupa are eight lions, interspersed with sixteen offering goddesses, each holding a different sense-offering standing on a lotus, around a base adorned with lotus petals. The pillars between the lions and the offering goddesses, the borders and the next two levels are all adorned with fine carving of the classical norzin patra design featuring jewels surrounded by flowers. These three levels symbols the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Above these three levels is the main level that is adorned with the fine carving of the eight auspicious symbols of parasol, golden fishes, wish-fulfilling vase, lotus blossom, right-coiling conch, endless knot, victory banner, and dharma wheel.

The base and the four levels beneath the reliquary stupa are engraved and fashioned out of agar-wood. The carving of the main surface and the border of the lowest step (sazin) of the stupa are inlaid with coral and turquoise.

The lower part of the lion-throne slightly higher than the statues of the eight manifestions of Guru Padmasambhava, are the engraved images of elephants in the east, horse in the south, peacock in the west, shang shang bird (mythical part human part eagle beings) in the north, and lion in the centre. Together, they conjure the appearance as if the lion-throne is being held aloft by them. The carving are adorned with coral and turquoise.

The surface of the dongchen - the chamber at the base of the stupa - displays fine carving of norzin patra design embellished with coral and turquoise.

The next level above are the four steps which symbolise the four immeasurables of loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity. The surface of these four steps and the bumden - the slightly raised level under the vase-dome (bumpa) of the stupa - are ornamented by silver and gold reliefs, while the borders of the steps are embellished with coral and turquoise.

Atop of the bumden which is encircled by carving of lotus petals, is the vase-dome (bumpa) which is adorned with pendants and garlands, symbolise the seven factors leading to enlightenment - that of mindfulness, discernment of phenomena, diligence, altruistic joy, pliancy, samadhi, and equanimity. The four sides of the bumpa are made of Nepalese refined bronze embellished further by the inlaid of diamond, dzi beads, coral and turquoise.

The four sides of the harmika, adorned with ornaments of coral and turquoise, symbolise the noble eightfold paths - that of the right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The thirteen tapering rings of the spire painted with liquid gold, symbolise the thirteen arya bodhisattva bhumins leading to enlightenment.

The crown ornament fashioned from a blend of gold and copper, is emblazoned with the seed syllables engraved in Ranjana (Lantsa) script of the five buddha families: Om, Hum, Tram, Hrih, Ah of the five male buddhas, and Mum, Lam, Mam, Pam, Tam of the five female buddhas.

The parasol of the stupa, adorned with tassels and flowers, represents the compassion of the Buddha. On top of this are the symbols of the sun and the moon. The sun disc which is fashioned out of gold and copper, symbolises the skilful means of the Buddha’s compassion. The moon disc which is fashioned out of silver, symbolises the wisdom of the Buddha.

The crown jewel of the stupa which is fashioned out of gold and copper, symbolises the ultimate enlightenment of the Buddha.

Adorning the ceiling above the stupa is the mandala of Lama Rigzin Dupa (Gathering of the Pure-Mind Awareness Holders of Vidyadharas) that was drawn with liquid gold. It is encircled by the Tibetan phrase ‘Drubwang Pema Norbu Khyenno’ which means ‘Drubwang Pema Norbu, care for me’. Two sets of sixteen offering goddesses, holding the eight auspicious symbols, eight in each direction, adorned the four sides of the wall adjacent to the ceiling.

The interior of the reliquary stupa

The base (sazin) of the reliquary stupa enshrined a bodhisattva’s naga vase, which contains sacred medicinal pills (mendrub), and a stone from the Qihai Lake in Xining, China, wrapped by the sacred incantations of the nagas (lu); sand and five precious substances of gold, silver, coral pearl and turquoise from the Turquoise Lake, Manasarovar (Mapham Yutso) which sources its water from the Kailash Glaciers; sand from the Burning Lake (Mebar Tsho) of Bumthang in Bhutan;  in addition to a variety of soil, water, brocades, clothes and six medicinal ingredients (yellow myrobalan, beleric myrobalan, emblic myrobalan, bamboo manna, musk, and dried elephant bile) from great holy places.

Beneath the base of the lion-throne are the syllable chakra wheels of Lord Ganesha (Tsok Dak) known for the removal of obstacles, and the nine male and female yaksas who are at the service of Vaishravana (Nam Tö Sé) - chief of the four great guardian kings and protector of the Celestial Heavens of the Thirty-Three. In addition, there are a variety of soil, water, and the aforementioned items of five precious substances and six medicinal ingredients.

In the eastern section of the chamber (dongchen) at the base of the stupa are a vase of the White Parasol Deity, Sitatapatra (Dukkarmo) and the life-force chakra wheels of Sitatapatra.  In addition, there are the five pure essence of cow (milk, mucus, saliva, urine and manure), saffron, turmeric, the three white food substances (milk, curd and butter), and six medicinal ingredients.

In the southern section of the dongchen are a vase of Manjushri (Jampalyang) and the life-force chakra wheels of Manjushri. In addition, there are mustard seeds, medical herbs, five precious substances and six medicinal ingredients.

In the western section of the dongchen are a vase of the Goddess of Wealth, Arya Vasundhara (Phagpa Vasudha) and the life-force chakra wheels of Arya Vasundhara. In addition, there are saffron, red sandalwood, symbols of prosperity, foods, cloths, bilva fruit, and six medicinal ingredients.

In the northern section of the dongchen are a vase of Tara Kurukulla (Rikchema) known to magnetise people and wealth, and the life-force chakra wheels of Tara Kurukulla. In addition, there are red and white essence from the secret places, a magnet, the elephant trunk-like flower, vermillion, sindoor, white incense, honey, symbols of foods, cloths, bilva fruit, and six medicinal ingredients.

In the southeastern section of the dongchen are a vase of Tara Vasudha (Norjinma) known to dispel poverty and grant good fortune, and the life-force chakra wheels of Tara Vasudha. In addition, there are moon-stone, sun-stone, camphor, medicinal substance obtained from the musk deer, a right-coiling conch, and six medicinal ingredients.

In the southwestern section of the dongchen are a vase of Amitayus (Tsepakmé) known to dispel poverty and grant good fortune, and the life-force chakra wheels of Amitayus. In addition, there are durva grass, symbols of foods, and six medicinal ingredients.

In the northwestern section of the dongchen are a vase of Dhvajagran (Gyaltshen Tsemo) and the life-force chakra wheels of Dhvajagran. In addition, there are frankincense, medical herbs, iron meteorite, dried elephant bile, and six medicinal ingredients.

In the northeastern section of the dongchen are a vase of White Tara (Drolkar) bearing a wish-fulfilling wheel and the life-force chakra wheels of Dhvajagran. In addition, there are a variety of sand, water and wood; relics of the Buddha; a silver mirror with a syllable Hrih on it; a vase which represents the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space; along with gold, natural crystal, rock salt, sun-stone, and five silk scarfs (khata) in the colour of white, yellow, red, green and blue.

At the centre of the dongchen are a vase of Guru Padmasambhava in the form of the Wealth Deity, a statue of Guru Padmasambhava, a sacred shell of the deities, a sacred moon-gem of the naga, a sacred turquoise of the humans, a sacred cube-shape stone from the yaksas, and cowrie shells with mantra written on them, along with the six medicinal ingredients. In addition there are a vase of Vajrakilaya (Dorje Phurba) and the life-force chakra wheels of Vajrakilaya, a kila (phurba) made of white sandalwood with dharanis and prayers written on it, as well as a variety of soil, water, fruits, medicinal herbs, grains, edibles, fine silk and incense.

Inside the four immeasurables section of the stupa are the mandalas of Usnisa Vilmala (Immaculate Crown) and Kirana Vilmala (Spotless Ray).

The mandalas of Usnisa Vilmala

Around the mandalas of Usnisa Vilmala are two circular arrangement of seven types of offerings in each of the four sectors of east, south, west and north. The seven offerings are:

  • drinking water which contains champak, white talispatra flower, white sesame seeds, white barley, popped rice, kusha grass, perfume and cheese;
  • bathing water which contains talispatra, sapwood of white willow, peach, neem, and white sandalwood;
  • flowers;
  • incense;
  • butter lamp;
  • scented water which contains rock salt, saffron, camphor, clove, nutmeg, and white sandalwood;
  • food offerings and various flowers in between the offerings.

There are also four incense bowls in the four intermediate points; four right-coiling conches filled with scented substances in the four directions; a chhattra (parasol) in the east, dhvaja (victory banner) in the south, pataka (flag) in the west, and muku (diadem) in the north.

In front of these are the remains of the knee from the knee replacement surgery of His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche in the USA, as well as the remains of His Holiness’s heart, tongue and eye (thug jag chen sum) from the cremation. Also there, is a golden amulet which contains His Holiness‘s bone relics.

The mandalas of Kirana Vilmala

The mandalas of Kirana Vilmala contains the following items:

  • four right-coiling conches filled with fragrant water are placed at the meridian points;
  • three water-offering bowls filled with white sandalwood, aloeswood and himalayan juniper are placed in the eastern section of the mandala;
  • right-coiling conches filled with the five fragrance of sandalwood, deer musk, nutmeg, saffron, and camphor and two offering bowls filled with flower and rice are placed in the southern section of the mandala;
  • a silver vase filled with a mixture of black sesames, peas, red seed beans, and the three white food (milk, curd and butter); an offering bowl filled with ninety-nine different seeds; and a right-coiling conch filled with three white food are placed in the western section of the mandala;
  • food offerings, a silver vase filled with the five fragrance, and two offering bowls filled with flower and incense are placed in the northern section of the mandala;
  • a right-coiling conch filled with the five fragrance are placed in the northwestern section of the mandala in front of a statue of Lord Ganesha made from white sandalwood, with a butter lamp atop of the crown. The statue is surrounded by two sets of offering bowls containing drinking water, scented water, a flower, incense, an edible, a pastry, fruit, a white bean, cheese and a butter lamp, arranged from the direction of southwest to the west.

Offerings similar to the aforementioned items are placed likewise in the east, south and north. Four right-coiling conches filled with various offerings are placed in the four directions; white, red, black, and yellow victory banners are placed in the east, south, west, north respectively; reddish-yellow, smoky-coloured, multi-coloured, and yellowish-green victory banners are placed in the southeast, southwest, northwest, and northeast respectively; and four incense bowls filled with sandalwood, aloeswood, and fir tree are placed in the four corners of the mandala.

The vase-dome (bumper) of the stupa enshrined an axis pole made from white sandalwood is known as the tree of life force (sog shing). It has a small All-Victorious Stupa (Namgyal Chorten) made of red sandalwood at the apex, and a vajra (dorje) at the bottom.  In front of this sog shing is a bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha offered by Kyabjé Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche. A bronze statue of Vajradhara is placed on the right, and a sacred bronzed Kadam Stupa along with a medium size right-coiling conch are at the back.

The sog shing is wrapped by the robe of Jowo Shakyamuni, the most revered statue of the Buddha in Tibet. There is the syllable Ham facing downwards drawn on its front side at the top, below this are written with liquid gold in Ranjana (Lantsa) script the names of the lineage masters of the Dzogchen, the syllables of the five buddha families, and the syllables of the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities at the corresponding chakra of the crown, throat, heart, navel and the secret place:

  • A Om syllable followed by om vidya svaha at the crown chakra.
  • An Ah syllable followed by thirty consonants and sixteen vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet at the throat chakra.
  • A Hum syllable followed by om vajra ayuse svaha at the heart chakra, followed by dharanis of the sog shing and the tutelary deities of the stupa.
  • A Sva syllable at the navel chakra, followed by the dharanis of Usnisa Vilmala and Kirana Vilmala, secret relics, and Jangchub Gyenbumin the east, south, west and north respectively. The dharanis of the Essence of Dependent Origination and verses of Seven Universal Buddhas of Vipasyin, Sikhin, Visvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kasypa and Shakyamuni.
  • A Ha syllable at the secret place chakra, followed by om supratisthavajra ye svaha.

List of other blessed substances attached to the sog shing are as follows:

  • A large jewel-like relic of the Buddha inside the vase of the All Victorious Stupa at the apex.
  • More than one thousand relics of the Buddha at the level of the forehead.
  • A piece of the hat and a piece of bone of Terton Ratna Lingpa.
  • A piece of bone of the Omniscient Jigme Lingpa.
  • A piece of bone of Dungtso Repa Ngapa.
  • A piece of bone of Migyur Dorje.
  • A piece of heart of Chandraprabha Kumara - a previous incarnation of Gampopa.
  • A piece of a hat of Mingling Terdag Lingpa.
  • A piece of skull of Rigzin Kunzang Sherab.
  • A piece of the brain of Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche.
  • Sacred mendrub for majestic body.
  • Sacred mendrub for divine speech.
  • Five major relics of the Buddha inside a crystal vase, heart-relics to generate great bliss, and ambrosia-like mendrub accomplished by Guru Padmasambhava and his twenty-five disciples.
  • Ambrosia mendrub accomplished by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa.
  • Ambrosia mendrub accomplished by HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and HH Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche.
  • A piece of bone of Khendrub Karma Tashi.
  • Teeth of HH Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche.
  • A collection of sacred pills.
  • Relics and attire of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and other eminent master at the level of the navel.
  • Activity relics at the level of the secret place.
  • The three wheel for stabilising the sog shing, liberation upon touching and seeing.
  • The moon and the sun discs at the apex of the reliquary stupa contain wheel of Sitatapatra (Dukkarmo) and that of liberation upon seeing; sacred pills collected from the Buddha’s relics, and the dharani of the Essence of Dependent Origination.

Other dharanis

The main dharanis, printed by the million on long paper strips, hand-rolled, and placed inside the reliquary stupa are:

  • The five great dharanis of Mahashasrapramardana, Mahamayuri, Pratisara, Mahasitavana and Mahamantranudhari.
  • The two immaculates of Usnisa Vilmala and Kirana Vilmala.
  • The Essence of Dependent Origination.
  • The dharanis of Rigpa Phugron, Amitayus, Hayagriva, the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, Shakyamuni Buddha.

All of these dharanis are inserted at their respective places at the level of the crown, throat, heart, navel and secret place, with lotus dharani of the reliquary stupa. The dharanis of Jambhala and other protector deities are also placed within.

The team behind the construction of the reliquary stupa

Venerable Gen Ngawang is the architect behind the construction of the Golden Temple and the Zangdog Palri Temple at Namdroling Monastery. His expertise in the construction of stupas, statues, mandalas and other sacred structures was highly valued by His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche. He was the one appointed to design the reliquary stupa in accordance to the guidelines of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

Venerable Tulku Rigzin Pema who is particularly learned in the preparation of stupa was responsible for the placement of mantras and dharanis inside the reliquary stupa in accordance to the guidelines first codified by Acharya Nagarjuna.

Chogtrul Mugsang Kuchen Rinpoche was the one who has overseen the entire project of the reliquary stupa. From offering his input to the early design of the stupa, sourcing of holy relics and precious items for consecration, right to the placing of sacred mantra and dharanis in the reliquary stupa, he worked tirelessly to ensure this monumental project has come to a successful completion. Throughout this project, he was supported by the ordained sangha of Namdroling Monastery in their homage to honour the memory of His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche.

This teaching entitled ‘An Introduction To HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche’s Reliquary Stupa At Namdroling Monastery’ is presented here by Tenzin Gyalpo Drakpa Gyaltsen Dondrup Dorje as his homage to all the Buddhas of the three times in ten directions.