I. Origin of the Buddhist stūpa. 

Wherever Buddhism has flourished it has left its visible traces in form of monuments which have their origin in the tumuli of prehistoric times. These tumuli were massive structures in form of hemispheres, cones, pyramids and similar plain stereometrical bodies which contained the remains of heroes, saints, kings or other great personalities.

In India the more or less hemispheric form, as we know it from the first Buddhist stūpas or caītyas (p. 95 Figs. 1, 3), has been the prevalent type of such monuments. That they were erected for great rulers (cakkavattḯ) in pre-Buddhistic times according to the oldest Aryan tradition—perhaps in connection with the prehistoric nordic Kurgans—is to be seen from Dḯgha Nikāya XVI, 5, where the Buddha mentions in his conversation with Ānanda that “at the four cross roads they erect a cairn to the king of kings.”

The Buddha proclaims that the same honour should be given to the Awakened Ones and to their true disciples.

“As they treat the remains of a king of kings, so, Ānanda, should they treat the remains of the Tathāgata. At the four cross roads a cairn should be erected to the Tathāgata. And whosoever shall there place garlands or perfumes, or paints, or make salutation there or become in its presence calm in heart that shall long be to them for a profit and a joy.

The men, Ānanda, worthy of a cairn, are four in number. Which are the four?

A Tathāgata, an Able Awakened One, is worthy of a cairn. One awakened for himself alone (Pacceka-Buddha) is worthy of a cairn, a true hearer of the Tathāgata is worthy.

And on account of what circumstance, Ānanda, is a Tathāgata, an Able Awakened One (or ‘a Pacceka Buddha, ’ etc.) worthy of a cairn?

At the thought, Ānanda, ‘This is the cairn of that Able Awakened One’ (or ‘This is the cairn of that Pacceka Buddha’ etc), the hearts of many shall be made calm and happy; and since they had calmed and satisfied their hearts, they will be reborn after death, when the body has dissolved, in the happy realms of heaven. It is on account of this circumstance, Ānanda, that a Tathāgata, an Able Awakened One (or a Pacceka Buddha, etc., ) is worthy of a cairn.” (Transl. by Rhys Davids in Vol. II., Dialogues of the Buddha.)

In this way the Buddha gives a new meaning to the stūpas. They are no longer intended to be the abodes of souls or spirits or mere receptacles of magic substances as in prehistoric times, but memorials which should remind later generations of the great pioneers of humanity and inspire them to follow their example, to encourage them in their own struggle for liberation and to make their hearts “calm and happy”.

Thus the caītya is elevated from the service of the dead to the service of the living. Its meaning does not remain in cantered in the particular relics, or the particular personality to whom those remains belonged, but in that higher actuality which was realized by the Holy Ones. The Buddha does not say ‘a stūpa should be erected for me or for my disciples’ but ‘for the Awakened Ones and their disciples’.

Thus the stūpas did not become objects of hero worship but symbols of nibbāna, of illumination.

In this connection it may be mentioned that some of the old stūpas were covered from top to bottom with small triangular recesses for oil lamps, so that the whole monument could be illuminated and appeared as one huge radiating dome of light.

The universality of the principle of enlightenment (bodhi) and the boundlessness of the Enlightened One who has surpassed the limits of individuality, who is deep and immeasurable like the ocean;—this universality is expressed in the cosmic symbolism of the stūpa. Its main element, the cupola, in fact, imitates the infinite dome of the all embracing sky which includes both, destruction and creation, death and rebirth. The early Buddhists expressed these principles by com­paring the cupola of the stūpa to the water bubble and the egg (aṇḍa) as the symbol of latent creative power (as such ‘aṇḍa’ was also a synonym for the universe in the oldest Indian mythology), while the kiosk or altar-like structure (harmikā) which rose on the summit of the cupola (p. 95), symbolised the sanctuary enthroned above the world, beyond death and rebirth. Nepalese stūpas, which in many respects have preserved archaic features, decorate the harmikā with painted human eyes, thus suggesting a human figure in the posture of meditation hidden in the stūpa: the crossed legs in the base, the body up to the shoulders in the hemisphere; the head in the harmikā. This also corresponds to the psycho-physiological doctrine of the cakras or centres of psychic force, which are located one above the other in the human body and through which consciousness develops in ascending order: from the experience of material sense-objects through that of the immaterial worlds of pure mental objects, up to the supramundane consciousness (lokuttara-cittaṁ) of enlightenment which has its base-in the crown cakra of the head (sahasrara cakra). The latter would correspond to the harmikā.

The symbolism proceeds in two lines, the cosmic and the psychic; they find their synthesis in the psycho-cosmic image of Man, in which the physical elements and laws of nature and their spiritual counterparts, the different world planes (loka) and their corresponding stages of consciousness (lokiya cittāni) as well as that what transcends them (lokuttara-cittaṁ) have their place. That such ideas go back to the earliest periods of Indian history can be seen from representations of the Jain world system in the shape of a human figure.

The altar-shaped harmikā on the summit of the cupola was crowned by one or more honorific umbrellas of stone and served, in accordance with its symbolical importance, as a receptacle of relics; in pre-Buddhistic times these were buried most probably in or under the massive and more or less flattened stone hemisphere or its (round) terrace-like base if such a one existed. The resemblance of the harmikā to a sacrificial altar is perhaps not unintentional, because the Holy One, instead of sacrificing other beings, sacrifices himself to the world. As the Buddha teaches:There is only one sacrifice which is of real value, the sacrifice of our own desires, our own “self”.1 The ultimate form of such a sacrifice is that of a Bodhisattva who renounces even nirvāṇa until he has helped his fellow-beings to find the path of liberation.

From the standpoint of the sacrificial alter also, the later idea, which compares the harmikā with the element of fire, gets a new significance. Even the eyes on the harmikā of Nepalese stūpas fit into this symbolism, because according to the Tantras, fire (agni) corresponds to the eye (faculty of vision, also of inner vision).

The stūpas were surrounded by great stone fences (vedikā) originally made of wood, as their architectural character indicates, separating the sacred place from the profane world. Most of them were decorated with auspicious signs in order to ward off evil influences and to prepare the minds of the worshippers before entering the sanctuary. Four beautifully carved gates, (toraṇa), the climax of the decorations of the fence, opened towards the four quarters of the world, emphasizing the universal spirit of the Buddha Dharma, which invites all beings with the call: ‘come and see!’ The inner space, between the fence and the stūpa, and the circular terrace (medhi) at the basis of the cupola were used as pradakśinā patha for ritualistic circumambulation in the direction of the sun’s course. The orientation of the gates equally corresponds to the sun’s course, to sunrise, zenith, sunset and nadir. As the sun illuminates the physical world, so does the Buddha illuminate the spiritual world. The eastern toraṇa represents his birth (buddha-jati), the southern his enlightenment (sambodhi), the western his ‘setting in motion the wheel of the Law’ (dhammacakkapavattana) or the proclamation of his doctrine, and the northern his final liberation (parinibbāna).

The entrances were built in such a way that they appear in the ground-plan as the four arms of a svastika (p. 95, Fig. 2), which has its centre in the relic shrine on the top of the hemisphere in other words: in place of the cosmic centre, which according to ancient Indian ideas, was mount Meru with the tree of divine life and of knowledge (in Buddhism the Bodhi tree), there stood the Buddha, the Fully Enlightened One, who realized that knowledge in his own life.

II. Stages in the development of the stūpa in India and Ceylon.

It is interesting to see how closely the architectural development follows the spiritual growth of the Buddha Dharma. The early schools of Buddhism are mainly realistic. They are still under the influence of the historical personality of the Buddha. The fact that he lived in this world, as a human being and attained his aim in this earthly life, is still in the foreground and urges them to imitate his career. Their mind is directed on the practical fulfilment of his precepts and the monastic rules as given by his first disciples. The Vinaya stands in the centre of their attention; to them the life here is more important than the life to come, the empirical world more actual than the worlds beyond, the objects of perception have comparatively more reality than the perceiving subject: concentration and pacification of the mind are the highest virtues.

The original elements of the stūpa speak the same language if we analyse them from the psychological point of view. The ground-plan and starting principle of the stūpa is the circle, the symbol of concentration. As a three-dimensional form the stūpa is essentially a hemisphere; it represents the principle of concentration in a higher dimension which does not only co-ordinate the forces of one plane but creates an equilibrium of all the forces concerned, a complete relaxation of tension, the harmony of coming to rest within oneself. Every point of the surface is equally related to the centre, gets its meaning and its importance from there, immune against external influences or disturbances, combining concentration and restfulness.

The earliest stūpas did not attain the shape of a perfect hemisphere but rather of a spheric calotte (p.95, Fig.I) which, together with the cubic harmikā structure on its crown, produced an earth-drawn effect. The cube by virtue of its own inherent principle of resistance, inertia or heaviness deprives the spheric contour of its abstract or transcendental effect, just as the early Buddhists rejected transcendental problems and metaphysical speculations, contenting themselves with the empirical world. But this was not a narrow or materialistic contentment. According to the Buddha’s teaching, the empirical world does not denote a constant factor but something that grows and expands its limits according to the growth of our mind and experience so that even what we call metaphysical may come into the range of the physical and empirical. The higher jhānas for instance, and the worlds corresponding to them are transcendental only to those who have not experienced them. For the Buddha they are part of the empirical world. His anti-metaphysical attitude is not a negation of higher realities but, quite on the contrary, an affirmation of the possibility to attain them, which would be precluded if people would content themselves with intellectual definitions and speculations.

This also shows the limits of rationalism, which has been declared the main feature of the early Buddhists by misinterpretation of their realistic and empiric tendencies. They accepted ‘ratio’ as a means of expression or an approach to the Dharma but never as the ultimate principle for the attainment of enlightenment.

This we have to keep in mind if we call the archaic type of stūpas realistic, empirical or earth-drawn: specially the last term is well to be distinguished from earth-bound. All these terms are to be regarded as synonyms of experience, as opposed to speculation, transcendentalism, philosophic idealism, etc. The architectural relationship to the earth corresponds exactly to the spiritual connection of the Buddhist with the earth as the foundation of his experience, as the firm ground on which, ever conscious, the structure of his life and thought is erected.

While in other religions heaven or the life to come form the centre of gravity, Buddhism has re-installed the life here in its legitimate rights. Man creates his own hells and his own heavens. Why then to wait? Why should one not begin right now to bring down the heaven into this life here? Thus the true Buddhist stands with both his feet firmly planted on the earth, without a glance towards heavenly rewards and delights, solely bent upon liberation.

The bhūmisparsa-mudrā, the gesture of touching the ground which has become one of the characteristic features of Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha (and this not without reason) is the iconographical counterpart of the archaic (‘historical’) type of the stūpa and the most perfect expression of ‘this-sidedness’ or earthliness in a new and higher sense.

Those schools which centered round the tradition of the historical Buddha naturally preserved the archaic type of the stūpa; not only on account of their conservativism, but mainly because this type of architecture was the most adequate expression of their mentality and their religious ideal.

It is not surprising that Ceylon as the country of Vinaya and as the home of one of the orthodox schools of early Buddhism has almost perfectly preserved the original shape of the stūpa. The monumental dāgobas of Anuradhapura for instance (pp. 96, 97), which were built in the period between the third century B.C. and the third century A.D., and even those of Polonnaruva, which are as late as the twelfth century A.D., (p. 98, Fig. I) do not essentially differ from their Indian prototypes, in Sanchi and Barhut. The cupola has retained its dominating importance in the shape of a plain hemisphere: the harmikā in some cases is even decorated in the old Indian fashion, imitating the structure of a railing (vedikā), which originally surrounded the altar-like relic shrine. But the honorific umbrellas on top of it have changed into a more architectural form. They appear as an elongated cone with a number of horizontal notches, or rings, progressively diminishing towards the summit

It seems that the idea of the honorific umbrellas, which were held parallel one above the other as the insignia of royalty, had been fused with the idea of the tree of life on the summit of mount Meru or the tree of enlightenment which stands in the corresponding centre of the Buddhist world. In fact, the latter idea seems to have overgrown finally the first one, for in later times the honorific umbrella was actually fixed above the cone, thus showing that the cone was not regarded as a set of umbrellas. Furthermore it is explained in later scriptures that the different strata of the cone correspond to certain psychic faculties or stages of consciousness on the way to enlightenment and to their respective world-planes. This goes well with the symbol of the world-tree on the axis of the universe, representing the higher worlds which spread one above the other in innumerable planes beyond the summit of the sacred Meru like the branches of a gigantic tree.

The relation between the hemisphere and the socle has become closer. The substructure is no longer sharply separated from the cupola so as to form a terrace for circumambulation, but it is composed of several (generally three) projecting rings each a little narrower than the lower one. In this way the continuity of the general outline of the stūpa is not all at once interrupted, but the dynamic power of the main curve is gradually broken in the ‘cascades’ of the socle and finally arrested in the basic step. The basis has lost its independent importance and has become part of the greater body of the dome.

Railings (vedikā) of the Sanchi type have not been preserved in Ceylon, though there was a kind of an enclosure or demarcation of the sacred place around the monument serving as circumambulatory path (pradakṣinā patha). The oldest stūpa of Ceylon, the Thūparāma dāgoba, which goes back to the times of Asoka (272-232 B.C. ) has its pradakṣinā patha on an elevated round platform which, together with the monument seems to have been protected by a roof. There are still two concentric rows of stone pillars, the inner ones higher than the outer ones, so that there can be hardly any doubt about their function. Even nowadays we can find ‘roofed’ dāgobas in Ceylon, for instance at Danbadeniya (westward from Polgahawela) and Gadaladeniya near Kandy. But in all these cases the dāgobas are of small dimensions. The Thūpārāma dāgoba too, according to the proportions of the stone pillars, must have been much smaller originally, and we can not take its present shape as representative of the oldest stūpa architecture in Ceylon.

The platforms of the other old stūpas at Anuradhapura, like Mirisveti, Ruvanveli, Jetavana, Abhayagiri etc. (which are to be dated from the second to the first century B.C.) were quadrangular, the sides corresponding to the four chief points of the compass as in the case of the toraṇas. But in place of the latter there were four small shrines or altars annexed to the base of the dāgoba. These shrines are also to be found at the main dāgobas of Polonnaruva.

The modern Sinhalese dāgoba (p. 98, Fig.2) on the whole remains true to the ori­ginal character of its predecessors. The several elements of the structure, however, enter into more intimate relations with one another and merge into one organized whole. The hemisphere grows into a bell and acts as a mediator between the base and the crowning structure so that these parts enter into closer relation with its plastic body.

This fusion of architectural elements coincides with the progressive organisation of the Buddhist doctrine and its tradition, in a solid system which is worked out in commentaries and subcommentaries, leaving no gap unfilled. The old teaching has been preserved carefully, but new layers of thought and explanatory work, not excluding scholastic speculation, have crystallised around the kernel and have given it a smoother, well organized surface, rich in details but simplified as a whole.

STŪPAS OF SANCHI, Figure on JISOA., Vol II/2 pp. 95
THŪPĀRĀMA DĀGOBA, ANURADHAPURA. (Third Century B.C.), Figure on JISOA., Vol II/2 pp. 96
RUVANVELI DĀGOBA, ANURADHAPURA (IInd—Ind Century B.C.), Figure on JISOA., Vol II/2 pp. 97

III. Proportions of the dāgoba.

“Thūpesu tramā kṛata pañca-bhāgam/Guṇaṁ pamāṁrh tribhāga-tuṇgam/Ghaṇṭākāra-ghaṭākāram/Bubbulākāra-dhānyakam/Padmā-kārāmbala-saṭvidham./Thūpsu tāram kṛta-pañca-bhāgam/Guṇṁ pamāṇaṁ catuvisa-bhāgam/Trimāla-pañcārdhaka-garbbham aṣṭam/Catus-surākoṣṭha-yugarddha-yugmam/Sasṭānta-kuntam puṇarddha-chatram/Vadanti cātaḥ munihiḥ purāṇaiḥ.”

Figure on JISOA., Vol II/2 pp. 99

According to these verses which are quoted by H. Parker, Ancient Ceylon p. 336, one has to divide the width of the stūpa into five parts. Three of them represent the height of the cupola, which has six types: bell-shape, waterpot-shape, bubble-shape, heap-of-paddy-shape, lotus-shape and Nelli-fruit-shape. The height of the dāgoba is divided into 24 parts: five and a half of them are counted for the three basal rings or “garlands” (trimāla), eight for the cupola (garbbha, lit. “womb”), a couple and a half for the quadrangular enclosure (catussurākoṣṭha), i.e. the harmikā, two for the base of the spire, the last six for the spire, and again half a unit for the umbrella. In Parker’s opinion one and a half parts should be counted for the base of the spire, because summing up all the other items, including half a unit for the chatra only, one and a half parts remain. But the verse simply mentions a ‘pair’ (yugmam) at this place and the term sasṭānta, the “last six” indicates that the half unit for the umbrella is an additional one (the word ‘puṇa’ itself emphasises the additional character). The modern practice supports my view, as it counts two parts for the base of the spire, leaving out the umbrella, which shows that the chatra was not regarded an essential part of the dāgoba.

The main proportions of the dāgoba can be expressed in the following way: The height of the cupola, which is three-fifth of the diameter of its groundplan, represents one-third of the height of the entire building, and is equal to the height of the spire (including its base) and to the height of the threefold base (trimāla) plus that of the harmikā.

As these proportions generally do not agree with those of the archaic Ceylonese dāgobas, the rules of the verses quoted above cannot go back to pre-Christian times, but according to Parker there are sufficient reasons to say that they are not later than the fifth century A.D.

Nevertheless there is a fundamental principle which reveals itself as well in the original proportions of the stūpa as in the later measurements. As we can see from our summary, the key-number in the vertical composition of the dāgoba is three. This is not a mere accident but it is characteristic even of the earliest Buddhist monu­ments. Besides the three main parts of the stūpa, namely basis, cupola and kiosk, of which the cupola was three times the height of the basis,—the railing as well as the toraṇas were formed by three bars, or architraves, of purely symbolical meaning, corresponding to the Buddhist trinity: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.

The three is characteristic for the dimension of space, the four characterises the extension on the plane, the second dimension. It appears in the ground-plans as the four gates, four main places of worship, four-cornered platforms, four staircases, finally as four- or eight-cornered substructures.

If we see the Buddha-Dharma as a spiritual building, we can find a similar tendency: to develop at the same time in two directions or dimensions which penetrate each other. The one may be called the individual one, the other the universal one. Their relationship is like that of plane to space. The individual one corresponds to the plane, the universal one to space.

The individual principle is bound up with morality and ethics. It is the foundation, the spiritual ground-plan on which the ‘vertical’ development into the next higher dimension, the universal aspect of the Dharma is based. Just as the four is the prominent principle in the architectural ground-plans of Buddhist monuments, this number prevails also among the ethical categories or individual aspects and conditions of truth in the Buddhist doctrine: as for instance, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the four foundations of mindfulness (sati-paṭṇhāna), the four great efforts (sammappadhāna), the four fundamental (or sublime) medita­tions (appamaññāya: ‘illimitable’ state of mind), the four trances (jhāna: 4 in rūpa, 4 in arūpa), the four psychic powers (iddhipāda), etc.

The universal aspect of the Dharma which I compared to the dimension of space, is expressed by categories in which the number three prevails in the same sense as in the vertical development or composition of Buddhist architecture. There are, for instance, three universal planes or conditions of conscious existence: kāmaloka, rūpaloka and arūpaloka; three principles of life or universal characteristics (lakkhana): anicca, dukkha, anattā; three fundamental motives (hetu): lobha, dosa, moha (and their opposites); three principles of action (in the broadest sense): kamma, vipāka, kriyā; three principles of existence: paṭisandhi, bhavaṅga, cuti. Just as the third dimension can not exist without the second, or an elevation apart from its ground-plan so are all these categories inseparable from the individual and yet they go beyond it. They are universal in the sense of inherent principles or laws. Though being part of our subjective experience they belong to the ‘objective side’ of life, i.e., they exist wherever life exists, while the other categories, which I called individual and ethical, are to be acquired or perceived by the individual as they do not exist in it automatically. It is only from this point of view that a distinction between ‘individual’ and ‘universal’ can be made here, but not in the sense of mutual exclusiveness. In a more general sense any state of mind which overcomes the limits of individuality may be called universal, as for instance the ‘appamaññāya’s, but it is neither a constant factor of consciousness nor a universal function or principle of life.

IV. Symbolical terminology of the main elements of the dāgoba.

Not only the proportions but also the names of the different parts of the dāgoba as preserved by the Sinhalese tradition (cf. Parker, Ancient Ceylon) are of some interest to us. The decorative function to which the threefold terrace has been reduced is indicated in the Sinhalese term tun-māl pesāva or pesāvalallu, ‘the three-story ornaments’ or ‘ornamental bangles’. The bell-shaped cupola is called gaeba, generally translated as ‘chamber’. The same word is used for the holy of holies. But it means much more than that, being connected with one of the most significant term s of Indian architecture. The holy of holies, the shrine or sanctuary of Hindu temples is called garbha-gṛha, lit. womb. The sanctuary, be it the cella of a temple or the relic chamber of a stūpa, is regarded as a centre of creative forces, which like those of the motherly womb generate and transform the seeds of the past into the life-forms of the future. The same function is represented by the egg (aṇḍa), and it is not difficult to understand that both terms, aṇḍa and (dhātu-)garbha could be applied simultaneously to the stūpa-dome.

This indicates that the stūpa is the continuation of an age-old tradition which has its roots in the telluric symbolism of prehistoric, matriarchal religions, in which the creative force of the earth (soil) as the mother of all visible life was worshipped in caves or subterranean sanctuaries or dark temple chambers. The early Buddhist cave temple (caītya-halls) may be reminiscences of these chthonic cults2 in which the motherhood of matter and the mysteries of life and creation were the centre of religious attention.

The ‘dynamic materialism’ of Sāṁkhya with its philosophy of Prakṛti and the ‘biological materialism’ of the Jains—in which even mental properties were reduced to substances which ‘flow’ into the soul, substances which can be mixed and separated and which act upon each other like chemical fluids or elements, are the religious and philosophical followers of the telluric tendencies or the earliest religions of humanity. Matter was regarded a living reality—not something mechanical or opposed to spiritual forces or to consciousness. It was not by accident that the temples and monuments of old were· built of huge blocks of stone, each of which was in proportion to the weight of the entire structure and represented a definite fraction of the whole. It was not in vain that immense masses of stone were piled one upon the other, and that walls were constructed of an almost unbelievable thickness, regard less of the labour required and of mere utility or expediency; for in those days, men still knew the value of solid masses.

The historical an philosophical neighbourhood of Sāṃkhya and Jainism agrees with the realistic attitude, the this-sided-ness of Buddhism and its appreciation of the cosmic qualities of matter, in the sense of being the basic state and the most fundamental function in the development of the world. The ‘materia’ itself contains this meaning: denoting that which is the mother of all phenomena, of all things. It is latent energy, life at rest, but full of hidden activity (like the egg, which is taken as a simile of creation). It is magic substance, endowed with the memory of the past (seed) and charged with potential forces which though continuously radiating and influencing the surroundings are capable to convert themselves into visible life and activity.

Matter is not only the exponent of physical forces, as apparent in the laws of gravitation, resistance, continuity, cohesion, indestructibility (though it may change its form or even its state of aggregation) and in its conformity to certain laws of growth or crystallisation—but also an accumulator of spiritual forces, which are not fundamentally different from those of matter but only intensified to a higher potentiality and transformed into a higher dimension which includes the visible and the invisible, matter and space, the unconscious (i.e., that which is not yet conscious) and the conscious. There is no essential difference between matter and mind, between the outer and the inner world, between the movement of the wind and the movement of breath.

This attitude was not only preserved by the Buddhist doctrine, but it had been,  facilitated and developed by the idea that the elements of mind and matter are in constant flux and correlation. In the sixth chapter of Abhidhammattha-Sangaha (a compendium of the Theravāda Abhidhamma) for instance, we see that among the eleven qualities or principles of rūpa, the material as well as the immaterial elements are enumerated. Throughout the history of Buddhist philosophy and psychology we find the statements of definite relations between elements, forms, colours, sense organs, sensations, states and properties of consciousness, world-planes, stages of meditation, etc.

If we can see matter from this point of view, we shall also be able to grasp the real meaning of relics and sacred objects like amulets, etc.. Both are saturated with spiritual influences—the former by the nature of their own past, the latter by an intentional concentration of conscious forces upon them through the elaborate execution of their shape. In both cases it is the action that matters, the act of shaping, the concentration of consciousness, of intention, of will-power, in which life is focussed on a particular unit of matter. The amulet is, so to say: an imitation of a materialized life process. It is an abridged growth, artificial process of reshaping certain life forms or potential moments of consciousness in the condensed form of symbols.

This applies exactly to the stūpa, which is not only a centre of accumulated forces by virtue of the relics, but just as well, and later on mainly, by virtue of its own symbolical composition, which reflects and reconstructs the eternal properties of the Enlightened Ones and the essence of their life. Though these eternal properties manifest themselves individually in ever new incarnations, they are supra-personal and reflect the cosmic order. For this reason the cosmic symbolism of the pre­-Buddhistic tumulus could serve the Buddhists as a starting point for their religious architecture and thus preserve one of the most venerable monuments of pre-historic civilisation.

“In the stūpa one of the oldest and most profound cosmic symbols has been preserved for us, a symbol that humanity has created in its remotest past and in its sacred awe before the wonders of the creative power of the world. Without Buddhism this symbol might have never come down to us.” (E. Diez).

Originally the term dhātu-garbha referred only to the harmikā, which actually contained the relics (dhātu) and preserved them as precious seeds for the future of humanity. Later on the aṇḍa became identified with the dhātu-garbha; in fact the dome, on account of successive enlargements grew in many cases beyond (above) the original relic chamber, thus including it and taking over its function, also in the material sense: finally the whole-monument was called dhātu-garbha, Sinhalese dāgoba, in Burma and the neighbouring countries, pagoda. That this name does really justice to the fundamental character of these monuments becomes clear if we take into account all their symbolical elements: the latent creative power of the egg, in which life is condensed into the smallest unit, the womb in which these powers are transformed and developed, the sacrificial altar which effects a similar transformation through the purifying force of the fire, and the dhātus, the ‘magic elements’, which were not only purified by the fire of the pyre, but through the fire of self-denial,  in which the Holy One consumed himself during his life-time, nay, during innumerable lifes.

And as the Phoenix rises from the ashes so the tree of life and enlightenment grows out of the ashes of the sacrificial altar (harmikā; Sinhalese: hataraes kotuva, the four-sided or square enclosure), which crowns the dome, the monumental world-egg and the womb of a new world which has been fecundated by the seeds of a glorious past, receiving the dhātus, the potential elements for the spiritual rebirth of the world. The spire (Sinhalese: kota) of the dāgoba represents this tree of life with its higher worlds, which are realized in profound meditation on the way to enlightenment. Thus the spiritual rebirth of the world starts in the mind of man and the tree of life grows out of his own heart, the centre of his being, the axis of his own world.. And while he experiences the different world-planes, the tree of life sprouts and develops within him and spreads its branches in ever new infinities; in fact, he himself turns into a tree of life, into a tree of enlightenment.

A lonely wanderer on a similar path, Angelus Silesius, has expressed this expe­rience in the following verse:

Shall the life tree free thee from death and strife,
Thyself must tum divine a tree of life.” 3

The Sinhalese term for the stem of the spire, devata kotuva, ‘the enclosure of gods’, is closely connected with the mythical mount Meru with its tree of divine world-planes, inhabited by hierarchies of gods. How strong this tradition has been and how great its influence on the imagination of later generations, even in the remotest places of Indian colonisation, like the Sunda Islands to the east of Java, is shown by the fact that on the island of Lombok in the park of Cakranagara there are pagodas with nine-and eleven-storied roofs and these pagodas are called Meru. But they are not at all dāgobas or stūpas, as they are without the main body, i.e. the dome and its basal terraces. They consist only in the hypertrophic spire of the dāgoba, which has been separated and developed independently as a representation of mount Meru in the shape of the cosmic tree with nine or eleven world-planes.

V. Pre-buddhistic origins of stūpa symbolism4

In Mahāyāna Buddhism the transcendental symbolism of the crown­ing parts of the stūpa got a new impetus. Their structure became more and more elaborate and extensive and the number of stories steadily increased from five to seven, to nine, to eleven, and finally to thirteen Bhūmīs. The general outline of the stūpa was no longer dominated by the dome but determined by an upward movement which raised and multiplied the substructure, narrowed the dome, enlarged the Harmikā and elongated the spire. The direction of the religious outlook had turned from a completed past to the growing future, from the ideal of an accomplished Buddha to that of a becoming one, from the world as it is to the world as it should be and as it had been dreamt of in the vision of mount Meru’s supramundane realms. In this vision the religious aspirations of the Buddhists and the followers of the Vedas met; on this ground only their compromise was possible. We are therefore justified in thinking that it was not a mere accident that at the time when Mahāyāna was in its bloom, at about the fifth century, a type of religious architecture came into existence which realized the spiritual and structural tendency of this vision (which was embodied in the crowning parts of the stūpa) in a parallel but otherwise independent form, developing into what is known to us as the Śikhara type of temple.

The earliest stages of this type are still wrapped in darkness. It seems that they did not originate before the Gupta period. The earliest example dating from the fifth century is a votive Śikhara temple found at Samath.

The village hut itself is the prototype of these shrines. And as the hut serves the earthly life, the shrine serves the cult of life-giving and life­-preserving forces (generally personified in the sun-god). It stood in the shadow of the sacred tree and was surrounded by a fence as a demarcation of the sacred place. The ground-plan of the shrine, like that of the altar, was almost square and the roof high, either on account of the fire or in order to distinguish it from ordinary huts. The development of pyramidal and conical forms (as in the case of the spire of the stūpa) was more or less pre-conditioned.

The temples were erected within the village, while the tumuli which served the cult of the dead were built outside their walls. The Buddhist stūpa which combined the elements of the village sanctuary with that of the ancient tumulus recognized in its form that life and death are only the two sides or poles of the one reality of the world, complementing and conditioning each other, as the co-existent principles of Viṣṇu and Śiva.5

To think them separate is illusion and only as long as the veil of Maya has not been lifted, the worship of these two forces proceeds separately, some­ times even as two different forms of religion. But once it has been understood that the plant cannot be born to the light before the seed has perished in the dark womb of the earth, that the egg must break in order to give life to a new being, that transformation is that which conditions life, “that we are living our death and dying our life”—if this has been understood, then the great synthesis takes place, and the foundation of a world-religion is established. Existence is constant transformation, i.e. it combines the elements of stability and change. Transformation without constancy, law, or rhythm is destruction. Constancy without transformation means eternal death. He who wants to ‘preserve’ his life will lose it. He who does not find his inner law (dharma) will perish. The principle of ‘Śiva’ without the regulating force of ‘Viṣṇu’ is destruction. The principle of ‘Viṣṇu’ without the creative dynamics of ‘Śiva’ is stagnation. The same holds good for all the other pairs of opposites under which the universe appears to us. Their mutual relations and their interpenetration in every stage of existence are illustrated by the architectural composition and development of the stūpa and the ideas connected with it.

The hemisphere stands for the dark and motherly forces of the earth, the transforming power of death (and rebirth), the concentration of yoga and asceticism (ascetics and yogins always preferred cemeteries).

The cone as well as the similar pyramidal forms, characterised by one­ pointedness and vertical direction stand for the forces of the sun: light and life, represented by the fire-altar (harmikā) and the tree (spire). The tree later on includes all the other symbols representing the universe (mount Meru). The sun and the stars are its fruits, and its branches the different world-planes. Tree worship has been preserved in Buddhism until the present day, the worship of light in that of Āmitābha (the Buddha of infinite light, the sun-Buddha, who emanates innumerable ‘enlightened beings’, the worship of life in that of Āmitāyus (who is only another form of Āmitābha). The idea of the Ādibuddha and his emanations shows that with the advent of Mahāyāna the symbols of the solar cult came again to the foreground.

VI. Relations between stūpa and Hindu-architecture

With the revival of Brāhmaṇīsm Śiva became the exponent of all those principles that were connected with the hemisphere of the stūpa while Viṣṇu continued the tradition of sun worship as represented in the conical or pyramidal spire.

Stūpi principle in Vimāna-architecture: Outline of the Dharmarāja ratha in Mavalipuram as an example of the Vimāna-type of temples, in which the cupola (stūpi) or pavilion-principle governs the system, and in which each unit expresses centralisation. In the general composition the horizontal character is stronger than the upward movement.Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 27

Śiva is called the yogin among the gods; he unites in himself asce­ticism and ecstasy, concentration and acti­vity; he is the liberator, the destroyer of the world of illusion, the transformer, the creative principle. (līṅgam), the potential force of the womb (therefore moon and water are his attributes).

Viṣṇu represents the law, the direction in movement, the sun that rotates and moves in its prescribed course; he is the preserver of life, the protector of the world, the illumina­tor, who rides in his sun car (vimāna) from horizon to horizon, the loving friend and helper of all creatures (cf. avatārs). His main attribute is the wheel of the law (dharmacakra).

Architectural and symbolical relations between the Śikhara and the crowning part of the stūpa: Simplified elevation of an Orissa Śikhara (fig. 3) with its five Bhūmis, comparable to the Rūpaloka-bhūmis of the Bud hist psychocosmos, repreented by the spire of a stūpa with tentative reconstruction of an Āmalaka-kalaśa-termination (Fig. 21. Fig. I shows a slmilar termination of a modern Nepalese stūpa. The combination of Āmalaka and Tripatadhāra (Fig. 5) has been preserved in the termination of the Tibetan stūpa (mchorten) (Fig. 6). Tripatadhāra is here replaced by an honorific umbrella from which most probably it has been derived. The shape of the Tripatadhāra is exactly the same as that of the original honorific umbrella (Fig. 4 and upper part of Fig. 5).Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 28

The south of India is mainly Śivaitic and has preserved the dome as the crowning part of the temple. Up to the present day the technical term for this dome or cupola is “stūpi” (see drawing on p. 27 — Figure 1). The north, however, which is more inclined towards Viṣṇuism, prefers the Śikhara (see drawings, below, — Figure 2). This fact proves, that psychologically and symbolically the cupola is closer related to the principle of Śiva, the Śikhara to that of Viṣṇu.

The crowning spire of a stûpa with its Bhūmis or strata of world planes, in this respect corresponds to the Śikhara. In the Orissa temples (Figure 3) it is divided into five Bhūmis, which are sub-divided again into smaller strata (just as the Bhūmis in the psycho-cosmic world system of Buddhism: there are, for instance, five Rūpaloka-bhūmis, each of them subdivided into three and more classes). The Bhūmis culminate in the Vedikā, the sacred quadrangular enclosure (Sinh. “hataraes kotuva, ” corresponding to the Harmikā and the Vedic altar), which is crowned by the Āmalaka or Āmalasāra, the ‘pure kernel’, upon which the Āmṛtakalasa, the vessel with the water of immortality—which is also the attribute of Buddha Amitāyus is placed. According to the Divyāvadāna the primitive Caītya ended in a kind of pot, which was called Kalasa (Tucci, “lndo­-Tibetica” I, p. 47, nI).

There can be no doubt about the symbolical relationship between the Mahāyāna-Buddha Āmitābha, the Buddha of infinite light (and life, in his aspect of Amitāyus) and Viṣṇu, the sun-god. Both of them are supposed to incarnate their love and compassion in the form of helpers and teachers of humanity: as Bodhisattvas and avatārs. Both of them have the wheel of the law as their attribute. The Dharmacakra is also ascribed to the historical Buddha Śākyamuni. But it was only used to represent him in his Viṣṇutic aspect, as the establisher of the Dharma, in the act of setting in motion the wheel of the law at h is first sermon at Sarnāth. The other great events of his life, his enlightenment and his Parinirvāṇa, were hinted at by the tree of enlightenment and the Caītya. This means that the historical Buddha cannot be connected exclusively with either the Viṣṇutic or the Śivaitic aspect. He represents the one or the other according to the period of his life. The orthodox school has never given any attribute to their Buddha image because their worship was centred on the one historical Buddha and even when his predecessors were depicted he could easily be recognized by his position. Later on, when other Buddhas were introduced by the Mahāyānists, Śākyamuni was characterised by the alms-bowl, the symbol of the ascetic, which shows that his quality of a yogin, his Śivaitic aspect, was felt as his main characteristic by the followers of Mahāyāna. And in fact the orthodox schools themselves emphasised strongly the ascetic side of Buddhism (vinaya) and in their architecture the tumulus or dome shape of the stūpa prevailed. The followers of the Mahāyāna on the other hand tried to avoid the exclusiveness of asceticism by taking the whole world into their scheme of salvation and emphasised the Viṣṇutic qualities of the Buddha which transcend the historical personality and remain a permanent source of light to the world. Thus the solar symbolism of the world tree came again into prominence, while the hemisphere of the stūpa became one element among others and the vertical development of the monument proceeded further.

VII. Fundamental form-principles

Before we continue our description it may be useful to summarize the main ideas suggested by the two fundamental form-principles, hemisphere and cone: the former standing for centralisation, the latter for vertical direction and one­ pointedness, which may also be represented by tapering pyramids with square or polygonal base.



lunar worship

solar worship



symbols: moon, taurus, Triśūla, yoni-lingam

symbols: sun, disc, wheel, lotus, tree

night (unity of interpenetration)

day (unfoldment, differentiation)

cult of the dead

cult of life


village sanctuary

hemisphere of the stūpa

conical or pyramidal spire

cupola, pavilions, barrel-vaulted roofs

pyramidal and conical towers with square and polygonal bases

horizontal development

vertical development



inner activity

outer activity

inner transformation

inner stability

asceticism (hermit life)

worldly or practical morality (family life)

revolution (parāvṛtti)






help from within

help from without


deliverance by grace

belief in the divine quality of man Śiva, the yogin

belief in the human quality of god Viṣṇu, the solar god

the transformer

the preserver

creative (potential)

stimulative (growth)

becoming and dissolving


freedom (nirvāṇa)

Law (karma)

these two categories of principles complement each other and were never completely separated, as the history of religion and religious architecture shows. There was, on the contrary, a constant tendency towards fusion which succeeded more or less in the periods of highest religious culture and experience. But the equation Śiva-Viṣṇu was never completely solved, because there is an irrational residue beyond expression and calculation which has its root in the fact that the world cannot be divided into equal halves, because there is a third principle which takes part in the other two. In this way there are no complete contrasts—even in opposites there is something in common—and on the other hand that is no absolute identity between anything existing in the world.

The third great principle which partly overlaps the other two is the Brahmā principle. Its main features are those of extension, unfoldment, birth, manifestation, materialisation, universal expansion. In its expansive character it is not determined by one direction like the principle, but acts in all detections simultaneously. Its stereometrical equivalent is the cube.

We have not yet spoken of this fundamental form, because it has been combined with both the other principles of architecture and has no deciding influence on our classification. Just as in Hindu religion, Brahma is supposed to inherent in the aspects of Śiva and Viṣṇu, and is not considered and worshipped separately, so the principle of Brahma, of materialisation, is immanent in the other two principles, in so far as they take material shape, come into appearance and unfold themselves.

The Buddhist starts from the experience of the world of sense perception and frees himself from its overpowering diversity and its unsatiable thirst of becoming by analysing its elements and reducing them to their fundamental laws. He thus overcomes the Brahma aspect of the world by the Viṣṇu aspect of the law (‘dharma’ in its noumenal character, ‘karma’ in its phenomenal appearance, in its rela­tion to action). This struggle is the foundation of the Buddha-sāsanā, represented in the basis of the stūpa, the mass of which is reduced step by step, from its greatest unfoldment to its greatest concentration. The personality of the seeker of truth, however, with progressive understanding loses the narrowness of particularity. He becomes the embodiment of the ineluctable law, of the living and yet so rigid proce­dure of the world. And so the new aim presents itself, not only as freedom from the limitations of personality and the impulses that form and maintain it, but equally as freedom from the law of the world, which is the world itself; for the world does not possess this law as something additional but consists in this con­formity to law, i.e., in action and reaction (karma-law-cosmos-world). In this sense the Enlightened One is able to overcome the world within his own being by the annihilation of karmic tendencies (saṃskāra) and the chain of dependent origination (pratityasamutpāda) by which nirvāṇa is realized. This is the last step from the principle of Viṣṇu to the principle of Śiva—as symbolized in the stūpa’s hemisphere—the deliverance from the formed, to the un-formed: the ultimate transition from law to freedom. While the first stage seeks freedom in the ‘cosmos’, the deliverance from becoming into being and from the undirected and indiscriminate thirst for existence, the ‘chaos’, to the consciously directed existence, the last stage seeks freedom from the ‘cosmos’. The term cosmos as used here, denotes the experience of the world under the aspect of the law. Buddhism itself also belongs to the ‘cosmos’, that is, as far as its mental form is concerned. Only in meditation, with attainment of the Arūpaloka stages, does the breaking loose from the ‘cosmos’ begin, and nirvāṇa lies beyond these.

But in order to be freed from the ‘cosmos’—the ultimate object of suffering in the stage of the highest, most refined consciousness—one must be capable of ex­periencing it, must really experience it. One must first have found one’s way to freedom in the law before one can attain to freedom from the law, that is to freedom final and complete.

The Parinirvarāṇa of the Buddha becomes the starting point for his followers and for the future world, to go his way again, on the basis of his Noble Eightfold Path, into which he condensed his experience. This new basis is represented by the Harmikā from which the tree of life rises as a symbol of future attainments, fulfilling the sacrifice and the message of the past. The spire shows again the gradual reduction of the world (cosmos) until it reaches the point of complete unity which transcends all ‘cosmic’ experience and realizes the perfect Śūnyatā or metaphysical emptiness. The cone is crowned with a ball 6 (kaeraella) or similar forms of the Śivaitic principle.

It goes without saying that the formal and symbolical development in conformity with the principles of Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva took place automatically, i.e., in accordance with the inner necessities of the human psyche, without being conscious to the originators of those monuments, —at least not in the earlier periods. later on, specially among Indian Buddhist architects, these principles may have become known to those who were initiated into the esoteric meaning of architectural forms and metaphysical symbolism.

In the Manasara the four-sided pillar is called Brahmakānda, the eight-sided ne Viṣṇukāṇḍa, the round column Candrakāṇḍa (candra, the moon: symbol of Śiva). This harmonizes well with our respective classifications of the main elements of the stūpa (though we arrived at our conclusions in a different and safer way): the Brahma character of the square platform and (later on) the square terraces of the base; the Śivaitic character of the dome; the Viṣṇutic character of the Harmikā which, as we shall see later on, was identi­fied with the Eightfold Path. But we have to keep in mind that in architecture the ground-plans of the different parts are not alone decisive, but there is also their development in the third dimension and the relations among themselves, which are deter­mined by their architectural composition and modify their meaning. The cubical Harmikā, for instance, which starts already from the principle of Śiva (hemisphere) cannot have the same symbolical value as a cubical element in the actual basis of the monument. The basal terraces grow narrower with every step, which means that the Brahma principle decreases and gives room to another. The vertical and one­ pointed tendency itself is a feature of the Viṣṇutic principle. In the ground-plan the hemisphere and the cone show the same shape, which means that also symboli­cally they have something in common, namely the Śivaitic principle; but in the third dimension the cone is quite different from the hemisphere, expressing a one-pointed vertical movement, which means that the Viṣṇutic principle is combined with it. In this sense we can say that the cone itself represents the Viṣṇutic character and that the shape of its ground-plan only modifies it towards the principles of Brahma or Śiva.

In later Buddhist symbolism the four-sided pillar is associated with the Buddha, the eight-sided with the Sangha, the sixteen-sided one or the round column with the Dharma. Buddha has been put in the place of Brahma, because he is the originator, the creator of the Buddhist religion, the Saṅgha is compared with Viṣṇu, as the preserver of this doctrine, and the Dharma is compared with Śiva, because it is not the world-preserving law of god Viṣṇu but the law that proclaims the impermanence, the suffering and the non-substantiality of the world.

This transformed terminology is of no importance as far as our architectural definitions go and is interesting only in so far as it shows that god Viṣṇu’s Dharma is not to be considered an equivalent of the term Dharma as used in Buddhism.

VIII. Scholastic symbolism

Scholastic symbolism though it had its origin in the philosophy and psy­chology of orthodox schools existed side by side with the symbolism of later periods.7

The extension of the name Mahāyāna was, and is, of a vague and fluid kind. Those to whom it was applied formed no closed unit. And this is true of m of the so-called ‘sects’. They frequently overlapped in their heretical views.”8

This overlapping can be observed also with regard to the symbolism of the stūpa and there to an even greater extent, as architecture is more apt to express fundamental ideas than small dogmatical differences. These fundamental ideas were those of the Abhidhamma which contains the philosophical and psychological foundation common to all schools of Buddhism, whether realistic or idealistic, empirical or metaphysical, objectivistic or subjectivistic, etc.

In this way we find in the Tibetan Tanjur a description and explanation of the stūpa (mc’od rten)9 in terms of the orthodox Abhidhamma, which throws a new fight on the ideas that were connected with the stūpa even in pre-Mahāyāna times.

As we have seen in the case of the Ceylonese Dāgobas the socle of the stūpa which was formerly of a low cylindrical shape had been divided into three steps to which later on a new basis was added, while the three concentric steps slowly merged into the cupola in the form of ‘ornamental bangles’.

A similar process took place in the development of the Indian stūpa: the cylindric socle was first raised and later on subdivided into a number of steps, but instead of losing its independence it gained in importance by taking in the railings and Toraṇas. The railings became decorative elements of the surface of the elevated substructure and in place of the Toraṇas there were staircases leading from the four quarters of the universe to the terrace on top of the socle.

These staircases which emphasised the universal character of the monument were apparently fore-runners of the square basal structures, which led up to the cupola in several steps. This change coincided with the advent of Mahāyāna Buddhism and was, it seems, equally accepted by all Indian schools of Buddhism just as the universal attitude itself of the Mahāyāna.

Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 36

The symbolical meaning of the different parts of the stūpa according to the description of the Tanjur is as follows (cf. scheme, in elevation on p. 36, and in horizontal projection on p. 40):

I. The first step of the four-sided basal structure, i.e., the foundation of the whole building corresponds to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (cattāri satipaṭṭhānāni), namely:

(1) mindfulness as regards the body (kāyānupassanā satipaṭṭhānaṃ); (2) mindfulness as regards sensation (vedanānupassanā satip.); (3) mindfulness as regards the mind (cittāinupassanā satip.); (4) mindfulness as regards the phenomena (dhammānupassanā s.).

II. The second step of the four-sided basal structure corres­ponds to the Four Efforts (cattri sammappadhānāni):

(1) the effort to destroy the evil wilch has arisen (uppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ pahānāya vāyāmo); (2) the effort to prevent the evil which has not yet arisen (anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ anuppādāya vāyāmo); (3) the effort to produce the good which has not yet arisen (anuppannānaṃ kusalānalṃ uppādāya vāyāmo); (4) the effort to cultivate the good that has arisan (uppannānaṃ kusalānalṃ bhḯyobha vāyā vāyāmo).

III. The third step of the four-sided basal structure corresponds to the Four Psychic Powers (cattāro iddhipādā):

(1) the desire to act (chandiddhipādo); (2) energy (viriyiddhipādo); (B) thought (cittiddipādo); (4) investigation (vḯmaṃsiddhipādo).

IV. The fourth step or the top of the four-sided basal structure corresponds to the Five Faculties (pañcindriyāni):

(1) the faculty of faith (saddhindriyaṃ); (2) the faculty of energy (viriyindriyaṃ); (3) the faculty of mindfulness (satindriyaṃ); (4) the faculty of concentration (samādhindriyaṃ); (5) the faculty of reason (pañāindriyaṃ).

V. The circular basis of the cupola corresponds to the Five Forces (pañca balāni) which are of the same kind as the Faculties, namely the forces of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and reason. These two groups represent the passive (latent) and the active side of the same properties and they can be regarded practically as one category. The same holds good of their architectural counterparts: they were originally one element, the mediator between the cubic substructure and the hemisphere, and were split into two according to the usual tendency of later periods to subdivide or to multiply the original elements.

Obviously only the three fourfold categories were to represent originally the cubic basal structure and in fact the older types of square-terraced stūpas show only three steps, as we can see from the usual Ceylonese, Nepalese and Burmese Dāgobas and from certain Tibetan Chortens which represent replicas of ancient Indian Stūpas. A good example of the latter kind is a Chorten built by one of the kings of Western Tibet at Shen in the Upper Indus Valley (Plate V).

VI. The cupola (aṇḍa) represents the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (satta bojjhaṅgā):

(1) mindfulness (satisambojjhaṅgo); (2) discerning the truth (dhammavicāya sambojjhaṅgo); (3) energy (viriya sambojjhaṅgo); (4) rapture (pḯti sambojjhaṅgo); (5)serenity (passaddhi sambojjhaṅgo); (6) concentration (samādhi sambojjhaṅgo): equanimity (upekkhā sambojjhaṅgo).

VII. The Harmikā corresponds to the Eightfold Path (aṭṭha maggaṅgāni):

(1) right views (sammā diṭṭhi); (2) right aspirations (sammā saṃkappo); (3) right speech (sammā vācā); (4) right action (sammā kammanto); (5) right livelihood (sammā ajḯvo); (6) right effort (sammā vāyāmo); (7) right mindfulness (sammā sati); right concentration (sammā samādhi).

VIII. The stem of the tree of lif e corresponds to the Tenfold Knowledge (ñāṇaṃ):

(1) knowledge of the law; (2) knowledge of other persons’ thoughts; (3) knowledge of relations; (4) empirical knowledge; (5) knowledge of suffering; (6) knowledge of the cause of suffering; (7) knowledge of the annihilation of suffering; (8) knowledge of the way that leads to the annihilation of suffering; (8) knowledge of the things connected with despair; (10) knowledge of the non-production of things.

Up to the Harmikā or the seventh element in the construction of the stūpa, the Tanjur follows word by word the enumerations of the Pāli-Abhidhamma as found for instance in the third paragraph of the seventh chapter (Samuccaya-Saṅgaha) of Anuruddha’s Abhidhammattha-Saṅgaha. Though this work cannot have been written before the eighth century A.D., it is exclusively compiled ftom the canonical Abhidhamma books and if we see a Tibetan text like the one mentioned based on a parallel Sanskrit version which does not only have the same subject-matter but even the same arrangement down to the smallest details like the order in which the respective terms follow each other, we witness the faithfulness of tradition and the accuracy of Indian and Tibetan compilers and translators. While Thera Anuruddha was compiling his Abhidhammattha-Saṅgaha in Ceylon, thousands of miles away in Tibet pious monks were translating Sanskrit texts into their own language. And though both drew their knowledge from a source that lay at least thousand years back, their results were in almost perfect accordance! Where however certain differences occur, they cannot be attributed to misunderstandings but to later additions which are necessary expressions of a historical development.

In our particular case for instance, it is characteristic that the categories representing the stūpa up to the Harmikā are identical with those of the orthodox canon while those which correspond to the tree of life show certain deviations. This indicates that the development of the more elaborate shape and symbolism of the crowning parts of the stūpa (htḯ) took place in later periods and under the influence of post-canonical ideas closely connected with the growth of Mahāyāna.

The deviations of the post-canonical categories can be seen by a compari­son with the corresponding group, as found in the Pali canon (Dḯgha-Nikāya Ill, 33):

(1) dhamme ñāṇaṃ; (2) anvaye ñāṇaṃ; (3) paricchede ñāṇaṃ; (4) sammuti ñāṇaṃ; (5) dukkhe ñāṇaṃ; (6) dukkha-samudaye ñāṇaṃ; (7) dukkha-nirodhe ñāṇaṃ; (8) magge ñāṇaṃ.

The last two items of the Tibetan classification are not contained in this group, though they may be found in other combinations (for instance as anuloma and paṭiloma paṭiccasamuppāda). More typical deviations are to be found in the next group, representing

IX. the thirteen discs or layers of the tree of life which correspond to the mystical powers of the Buddha. Ten of them are mentioned in Aṅguttara-Nikāya, Dasaka-Nipata xxii.

The 13 mystical powers according to the Tanjur:

(1) The mystical power, consisting in the knowledge of the places which are suitable for the preaching and the activity of the Buddha; (2) the knowledge of the ripening of the different kinds of karma; (3) the knowledge of all the (states of) meditations, liberations, ecstasies, and unions with higher spheres: (4) the knowledge of the superior and inferior faculties; (5) the knowledge of the different inclinations of other beings; (6) the knowledge of the different spheres of existence; (7) the knowledge of those ways which lead to any desired end; (8) the knowledge and recollection of former existences; (9) the knowledge of the time of death and of rebirth; (10) the destruction of evil forces; (11 to I3) the three foundations of the particular mindfulness of the Buddhas (āveṇikasmṛtyupasthāna).

The 10 powers (dasa-tathāgata balāni) according to Aṅguttara-Nikāya:

(1) The Enlightened one perceives what is possible as possible, what is impossible as impossible in accordance with reality; (2) he perceives the results of actions done in the past, the present, and the future according to circumstances and causes, etc.; (3) he perceives every result, etc.; (4) he perceives the world with its different elements, etc.; (5) he perceives the inclinations of other beings, etc.; (6) he perceives the superior or inferior faculties of other beings, etc.; (7) he perceives the purity or impurity of the states of trance and of liberation, of concentration and its attainments, etc.; (8) he remembers innumerable former existences, etc.; (9) he perceives with the celestial eye, the purified, the supra-human how the beings re-appear according to their deeds, etc.; (10) by conquering his passions he has attained, perceived and realized by himself the passionless liberation of heart and mind, etc..

At first sight this scholastic symbolism will appear rather arbitrary, but if we examine it more carefully we flnd that it is consistent with the constructive principles of the stūpa and their ideology. It represents the way to enlightenment, revealing the psychological structure of the Buddha-Dharma and the qualities of the Enlightened One in whom the Dharma is realized. The stūpa, accordingly, is as much a memorial for the Buddhas and saints of the past as a guide to the enlightenment of every individual and a pledge for the Buddhas to come.

Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 40

As the stūpa consists of three main elements, socle, hemisphere and crowning parts, the spiritual development also proceeds in a threefold way. The first part (foundation) contains the preparatory, the second one (hemisphere) the essential conditions or psychic elements of enlightenment, the third one (Harmikā and tree of life) consists in its realisation. Each of these main parts has again three subdivisions.

The first, preparatory step is mental and analytical. Just as the foundation of the monument rests on the natural ground, the foundation of the spiritual building of Buddhism rests on the experience and analysis of nature as far as it is accessible in the psycho-physical constitution of man.

The second preparatory step is moral: morality based on the insight into the nature of life.

The third preparatory step intensifies the mental and moral achievements and, converts them into a psychic dynamism which arouses those latent forces which are the essential conditions or elements of enlightenment.

These elements form the static axis of the Buddhist system and occupy the central part of the stūpa: the hemisphere, its basis and the uppermost terrace on which it rests. The fact that the latter represents the same five psychic elements as the circular basis of the hemisphere justifies its combination with the central group, though from the standpoint of architecture it forms only the link between the original substructure and the hemisphere.

Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 40 - facing

The first step of the upper triad (the Harmikā) corresponds to the three steps of the substructure: it starts with right views and aspirations (sammā diṭṇhi and sammā saṃpkappo) which are the outcome of the analytic knowledge (pañṛa) prepared in the flrst step; it continues with right speech, right action, and right livelihood (sammā vācā, s. kammanto, s. ajḯvo), which is the fulfllment of morality (sḯlaṃ); it culminates in right energy, concentration and meditation (sammā vāyāmo, s. sati, s. samādhi) in which the dynamic forces of psyche reach their greatest potentiality.

Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 41

Knowledge, morality, and concentration (paññā, sḯlaṃ, samādhi) are; the pillars of the Buddha-sāsāna. Morality has no meaning or value without knowledge. There­fore knowledge is placed before morality. Concentration on the other hand without morality is like a house without foundation. Morality is the discipline in the outer life on which concentration the discipline of the inner life, is built up. Morality thus has to precede concentration. Concentration again is of no value in itself; it is an instru­ment for the attainment of insight (vipassanā) and wisdom (paññā), which in its turn produces a higher form of morality and concentration until by this spiral-like progression (in which the same elements re-appear on each higher stage in greater intensity) Bodhi or enlightenment is attained. On the first step Paññā is not more than an in­tellectual attitude, based on investigation and reflection (vitakkavicārṇa). On the corresponding step of the higher triad it is wisdom based on the experience of meditation (inner vision) and in the last two stages it is enlightenment as the true nature of a Tathāgata. These two highest stages (represented by the stem and the 13 Bhūmis of the tree of life) correspond to the factors of, enlightenment (bojjhaṅgā) and to those faculties and forces which form their basis.

Figure on JISOA., Vol IV/1 pp. 42

The parallelism is also obvious in the architectural forms and in the numerical composition of their elements. The ground-plans of substructure, intermediate part, hemisphere, Harmikā, stem and cone of the tree of life are: square, circle, circle, square, circle, circle. Their further relations may be seen from the drawing on p.42 and the following table:

The fundamental functions are expressed by even numbers, the essential by odd numbers, and the mediating by even numbers (10) composed of odd halves. The intermediate parts belong essentially to the next higher elements, i.e., to the main parts of the stūpa (hemisphere and cone: stūpa and Śikhara principle). This is proved by the fact that the hemisphere includes nearly all the elements of the prece­ding two steps, namely Viriyaṃ, Sati, Samādhi and Paññā (in form of dhammavicāyaṃ) and the cone contains similar elements as the stem, namely different aspects of Paññā. In the stem they are more fundamental and general, and in the cone more differentiated and specialised.

The symbolism of numbers is well developed in Buddhist philosophy, art and architecture. The following example may suffice to give an idea of the numerical relationship between the scholastic stūpa and the co-existing psycho­-cosmology. Within the three worlds (ti-loka) or main forms of consciousness (cittāni), Kāma-, Rūpa-, and Arūpa-loka, there are fifteen word-planes (six in kāma-, five in rūpa-, four in arūpa-loka), thirty classes of beings (ten in kāma-, sixteen in rūpa-, four in arūpa-loka, according to their states of consciousness), and there are sixty elements of spiritual development, as represented by the stūpa. In figures10:


3 =

3 = (key-number)

= 60/20



15 =

5 x 3

= 60/4



30 =

5 x (3 + 3)

= 60 /2



60 =

5 x (3 + 3 + 3 + 3)

= 60


These sixty elements constitute a continuous way ascending through the three worlds and its different states of existence in the form of a spiral, spiritual Pradakṣinā. This idea has been materialized most perfectly in the great terrace-stūpa of Barabuḍur. Though this monument belongs to the later Mahāyāna period (VIIIth century) it can be seen from the drawing on p. 41 that the actual ground-plan of Barabuḍur fits exactly on the spiritual ground-plan of the orthodox stūpa as explained by scholastic symbolism. Barabuḍur has the unbroken tradition of a millennium, and instead of more or less justified specula­tions which have been made about its symbolism, we are now in a position to know at least the fundamental ideas which were accepted by the Buddhists of all schools and which hold good even for the Burmese and Siamese pagodas of later periods, in which Mahāyāna and Theravada meet in a new synthesis.

  • 1. In the Kūṭadanta Sutta, Dḯghanikaya I, 5, the Buddha discusses the value of sacrifice with a Brahmin who holds the view that there can not be religion without sacrifice. The Buddha does not deny this, but while rejecting the bloody Brahmanical sacrifices he shows in their place a number of higher sacrifices, each better than the previous one, and finally he explains the best and highest of all, the sacrifice of one’s own selfish passions श्रासव )in the attainment of sainthood. “This, O Brahmin, is a sacrifice less difficult and less troublesome, of greater fruit and greater advantage than the previous sacrifices. And there is no sacrifice man can celebrate, O Brahmin, higher and sweeter than this.”
  • 2. E. Diez, Die Kunst lndiens, emphasises this idea (p. 182 f.), which, I think, holds good specially for the earliest cave-temples, though I am quite conscious of the fact that also other reasons came in, for instance the necessity for those who wanted to lead a life of meditation, to retire into the loneliest and most undisturbed places. The Buddha himself recommended caves for this purpose.
  • 3. Soll dich des Lebens Baum
             befrein von Todsbtchwerden,
    So masst du selbst in Gott
             ein Baum des Lebens werden.”
           ’Cherubinischer Wandersmann” II, verse 230.( First Edition 1675).
  • 4.   See J.I.S.O.A., Vol II, pp. 87-105.
  • 5. It must be understood, however, that while considering the principles of Śiva and Viṣṇu we are not so much concerned with the historical aspect of architecture but with the basic tendencies of their inherent symbolism.
  • 6. Perhaps derieved from the kalaśa
  • 7. The division of Mahāyāna and Hinayāna has probably never been so strict as some scholars believe and if we like to use these terms we should be conscious of their limited historical meaning. They originated at Kanṣika’s famous council, where a discussion se about die ideals of Buddhism. According to the Tripiṭaka, liberation can be attained in three ways: by that of an Arahan, by that of a Paccekabuddha, and by that of a Sammāsambuddha. While the Sammāsambuddha does not enter Parinibbāna before having taught to the world the Dhamma which he has found through his own efforts in innumerable existences, the Pacceka-buddha and the Arahan are realizing this Dhamma (the former independ ently, the latter under the guidance of a Sammāsambuddha) in the shortest possible way, without possessing or cultivating the faculties of a world teacher.

           It seems that originally the Arahan, the Paccekabuddha and the Sammāsambuddha were merely classified as three types of men, while in Kanṣika’s time they were conceived as ideals, and from this point of view there could be no doubt that the ideal of a Perfect Enlightened One was the highest. It is not probable that any Buddhist school rejected this ideal, but there may have been individuals who preferred the shorter way of an Arahan either because they found it more congenial to their own temperament and character or because they thought that there was little chance of ever attaining the highest ideal. Thus in each school of Buddhism there must have been followers of the greater (mahāyāna) as well as of the lesser (hinayāna) ideal.

           In fact even nowadays it is a custom in the southern countries of Buddhism, that all those who are earnestly interested in their religion choose one of these ideals, and most of them decide for the ideal of Buddhahood, the Bodhisattvamārga. The Mahāyāna ideal is recognized and followed even in the countries of so-called Hinayāna Buddhism and the terms Hinayāna and Mahāyāna should not be used as distinctive characteristics of two separate groups or schools of Buddhism but only in the sense of individual ideals or in the strictly historical sense of the two parties at Kanṣika’s council at which, by the way, the Theravādins, though they were later on wrongly identified with Hinayānists, were not present, while from those who were present only the followers of the exclusive Mahāyāna ideal have survived. The different schools should be called by the names they give to themselves, and as there are non who call their school Hinayāna this term may be dropped altogether.

           The fact that the Theravādins did not enter into the discussion about these two ideals is not only asserted by the impartial attitude of the Pāli Tipiṭaka which leaves the choice to the individual, but also by the Kathāvatthu, the latest book of the Abhidhamma, dealing with the points of controversy with regard to the early eighteen schools of Buddhism, among which neither the term Mahāyāna nor Hinayāna occurs.

           Where among all these schools does the rise of Mahāyānism come in? The Chinese pilgrims speak of Mahāyānists and Hinayānists, of Mahaṁsākas, Mahāsāṅghikas, Sarvāstivādins and Sammitiyas, of Sthaviras, Lokottara­vādins, of the Pubbasela and Aparasela Viharas. The date assigned to Fa-Hian is about A.D. 400. The commentary, as we have it, written either by Buddhaghoṣa, or, possibly, by ‘one of his school’ is probably half a century later. Why are these well-known divisions in the Buddhist world omitted by the latter writer?

           One thing seems fairly clear in this yet unsolved problem, namely that Fa-Hian and Yuan-Chwang whose chronicles brought the distinction into prominence have given the Chinese versions of the names Mahāyāna and Hinayāna to institutions which they recognized as such, either by first-hand observation or by hearsay, institution; which in Buddhaghoṣa’s school were known under quite different designations.

  • 8. C.A.F. Rhys Davids, “Points of Controversy” (Kathā-Vatthu). pp. XLV-XLVI.
  • 9. Cf. Tucci: lndo-Tibetica l; “Mc’od rren e Ts’a rs’a nel Tibet lndiano ed Occidentale”.
  • 10. CF. part III, proportions of the Dāgoba: The universal aspect of the Dharma which I compared to the dimension of space, is expressed by categories in which the number three prevails in the same sense as in the vertical development or composition of Buddhist architecture.