Sunday, April 25, 2010

Marble Stupas

 “Even one who dreams of a stupa like that, or sees it from afar, or hears the sound  of its bells or hears of it being built, will have all their karma, such as that of the five  limitless actions, and all their obscurations purified; they will be continually protected and cared for by the tathagatas; they will attain the totally genuine path to unsurpassable, true perfect enlightenment.

Following our Long, Long Stupa Story, we received a number of inquiries from people wanting to know more about the marble stupas we mentioned. They are quite beautiful, you know? Above is Sogyal Rinpoche's white marble stupa installation at Lerab Ling, in France, done in 2006. If I am not mistaken, this was one of the first to be done with the modular marble construction method. 

The people who deserve credit for this like to be known as Dharma Sanctuary, and work with an associated operation Clear Light Fields. Maybe I have that backwards, but you get the idea. If you want an absolutely fascinating look at how marble stupa construction has evolved, be sure to visit their pages. They have provided a wealth of authoritative information to inspire stupa builders everywhere, and they are foremost in the field. If you want to buy a marble stupa, and you want it done right the first time, these are the people to see.

Dharma Sanctuary, in turn, buys their stupas from Trieu Viet Co., Ltd., 515 Le Van Hien Street, Ngu Hanh Son District, Da Nang. The factotum, Le Cong Huan, in Da Nang, knows more about the practical aspects of manufacturing marble stupas to hard tolerances than anybody else in South East Asia.

They are not cheap. To give you an idea of what is involved, consider the following:
The small size is $10,000 each.  The larger is $72,000  the intermediate sizes which are 7'6" tall, and 10 feet tall are $25,000 and $45,000 respectively.  All the hollow chambers with dividing slabs are included, as are the bronze crowns which are gold plated. You would need to order the tsok shing separately. As an example, for the larger size they are $3200.  There is a freight charge of $2500 for a set of eight small or a single large. Then there are some custom broker, freight forwarder fees, (nominal, like a few hundred)  Of course you will have transport cost from Long Beach to your location. You would need a small crane present to unload.
The Vietnamese stupas are the highest possible quality products of their type, and if you fancy going this route, I feel very confident you will get what you pay for.

In my own case, because of my preference for the roughly three foot scale, I was faced with an unusual set of problems. It seems a paradox, but as a manufacturing and engineering issue, it is actually more difficult to produce a stupa at that scale than at the larger sizes. The components tend to shatter out on the pointing machines. They have to be worked very slowly, and they are more difficult to polish.

The best indigenous marble in Viet-Nam is now strictly controlled for environmental reasons, so even getting the material presents a problem. Normally, they drag Guanxi white marble down from China, which adds to the cost.

The folks at Dharma Sanctuary could not help. They work at the 5', 7'6", 10' and 15' scale, but do not offer any solution at 3' scale. Just as an aside, this is because they are operating to the definitive proportions according to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. When we spoke to Viet-Nam directly, they were willing to try, but made no guarantees. They also wanted $2,500 a pop for the Guanxi white.

Well, so much for the Smaller Dragon.

The Larger Dragon has a history of doing the impossible with marble that runs back well over 1,000 years. In Viet-Nam, the marble carving industry at Da Nang was driven by two factors: proximity to raw material, and proximity to the center of imperial demand, at Hue, to the north. In Beijing, that equation became simplified. They were at the center of imperial demand, and they didn't care how far they had to move raw material. Logistics did not matter to them.

So, when I turned to Beijing, they were able to provide exactly what I wanted in Guanxi white, at a fraction of the cost Viet-Nam was quoting. You will, at this point, ask me, "Well, who did you use," and the answer is, there are over 100 shops in China that have made or are currently making marble stupas for domestic consumption, so the best thing to do is just go there and look around. The Chinese manufacturers are so adept, they will actually farm out pieces to a number of different shops.

There is a caveat. With Dharma Sanctuary, or directly with the Vietnamese manufacturer (if you are ordering outside the United States) you can write a check, sit back, and forget about it. With China, as anybody who does business there knows only too well, you better have a QC person right on the spot to keep down the mischief. This is true no matter if you buy marble, shoes, pottery, or what have you.

The stupas I like have six (or more) components, so you fill them in stages. They are drilled for the tsokshing. If you have all the tsa tsa, zung, and so forth ready and waiting, these stupas can go together with lightning speed. They do not come with umbrellas (crowns), and for those, you have to go to Lhasa, on Copper Street, where they have been making them for centuries.

Logistics is the next issue. You see above, where they are quoting $2,500 for a set of eight 5' stupas from Viet-Nam? Plus fees, fees, fees? From China, using indigenous resources and a little networking, you can move that same weight for around $700, DDP to the door, end of story. Tell you the truth, even UPS can work a few miracles in that regard.

Poured or injected concrete stupas are fine, but much more expensive in the long run. I do not think they will last as long as marble stupas. Guanxi white marble surfaces start to show age at around 300 years. We know this because the Chinese have detailed observations of the material going back centuries. So, around 300 years from now you might have to seal the surfaces with epoxy, or whatever they have 300 years from now, to cut down abrasion from wind-blown particles, pollution etching, and who knows what else.

These stupas are heavy, so a main issue is the foundation. You cannot just set them on the ground. As seen in the photo, above, Sogyal Rinpoche and the Rigpa sangha went with reinforced concrete block. This, of course, is on a traditionally prepared base. Under most circumstances, the soil would have to be removed to at least waist level, sifted back in to remove impurities, and rammed down. You could then proceed as tradition demands, up the point of a master foundation, with the rebar coming up and through the block. The alternative is to pour solid reinforced concrete into forms, but that raises costs tremendously. Concrete blocks are $0.97 each almost everywhere.

I have done a study of how stupas fail. I find that the first failure is usually the spire. Normally, the last thing to fail is the foundation. However, when I examined photos of the stupas destroyed in the recent earthquake, I saw they were failing at the base. A number of these stupas were situated for geomantic purposes, so one imagines they were built to take a punch. If you live in an earthquake zone, you might want to take reinforced, impregnated concrete into consideration. The people who can help you there are the people who build communications towers, such as cell tower sites. They have all the engineering data you need.

There have now been enough stupas built in the United States, using various approaches, that we are beginning to develop a corpus of lessons learned. A few of the poured concrete types are beginning to develop problems, and some are beginning to fail. I am not an engineer, but I talked to some engineers who told me this is because poured concrete is not the best way to build stupas. This runs contrary to assumption, but this is what they said.

One of the interesting lessons learned from the recent earthquake was the older stupas tended to  survive and stay intact, whereas the newer stupas failed. The older stupas did not employ concrete. The newer stupas do employ concrete. We'll see how that develops.

Well, I hope this helps you. I am not in the business of selling stupas, so this is about as far as we can go.

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3 reader comments:

GK Sandoval said...

A spiritual aspect one has to consider is the karma of the builders, including their merit stream. It would stand to reason that the stupas built by attained people would last well beyond their years and survive intact.

My guess would be the older stupas were built from bricks that have a certain degree of give to them. I would think that the concrete solid forms would snap, even though there is some 'flex' to concrete. A sympathic vibration can also shatter stone quite easily.

Even a ruined stupa is operational. One even earns merit by repairing damaged stupas:

“If a person, without extra effort, applies a glob of mud to the damaged wall of a stupa or uses a fist-sized stone to support a leaning stupa, because of this virtuous act, his fortune will increase and his lifespan will be lengthened. After death, he will be reborn as a Wheel-Turning King." -Sutra of the Whole-Body Relic Treasure Chest Seal Dharani

I think any stupa manifesting in the world is a beneficial thing.

Machines for Manufacturing said...

Looking great. Fantastic work is done on these marble stupas. Thanks for sharing the pics.


The Whole-Body Relic Treasure Chest Seal DhAraNI

The Heart Secret of All TathAgatas

नमस्त्र्यध्विकानां। सर्व तथागतानां। ओं भुविभवनवरे वचरि वचतै। सुरु सुरु। धर धर। सर्व तथागत धातु धरे पद्मं भवति। जय वरे मुद्रे स्मर तथागत धर्मचक्र प्रवर्तन। वज्रे बोधिमण्डालङ्कारालङ्कृते। सर्व तथागताधिष्ठिते। बोधय बोधय। बोधि बोधि। बुध्य बुध्य। सम्बोधनि सम्बोधय। चल चल चलन्तु। सर्व-आवरणानि। सर्व पाप विगते। हुरु हुरु। सर्व शोक विगते। सर्व तथागत हृदय वज्रिणि। सम्भार सम्भार। सर्व तथागत गुह्य धारणी मुद्रे। भूते सुभूते। सर्व तथागताधिष्ठित धातु गर्भे स्वाहा। समयाधिष्ठिते स्वाहा। सर्व तथागत हृदय धातु मुद्रे स्वाहा। सुप्रतिष्ठित स्तूपे तथागताधिष्ठिते हुरु हुरु हूं हूं स्वाहा। ओं सर्व तथागतोष्णीष धातु मुद्राणि। सर्व तथागत सधातु विभूषिताधिष्ठिते हूं हूं स्वाहा॥

The Whole-Body Relic Treasure Chest Seal Dhāraṇī
The Heart Secret of All Tathāgatas
Sanskrit title: āryasarvatathāgatādhishthānahridaya guhyadhātukaranda nāmadhāranī mahāyānasūtra

namas tryadhvikānāṁ sarva tathāgatānāṁ | oṁ bhuvi-bhavana-vare | vacana-vacati suru suru dhara dhara | sarva tathāgata dhātu dhare | padmaṁ bhavati jaya vare mudre | smara tathāgata dharma-cakra pravartana vajre bodhimaṇḍālaṁkārālaṁkṛte | sarva tathāgatādhiṣṭhite | bodhaya bodhaya bodhi bodhi | budhya budhya saṁbodhani saṁbodhaya | cala cala calantu | sarvāvaraṇāni sarva pāpa vigate | huru huru sarva śoka vigate | sarva tathāgata hṛdaya vajriṇi | saṁbhāra saṁbhāra | sarva tathāgata guhya dhāraṇī-mudre | bhūte subhūte | sarva tathāgatādhiṣṭhita dhātu garbhe svāhā | samayādhiṣṭhite svāhā | sarva tathāgata hṛdaya dhātu mudre svāhā | supratiṣṭhita stūpe tathāgatādhiṣṭhite huru huru hūṁ hūṁ svāhā | oṁ sarva tathāgatoṣṇīṣa dhātu mudrāṇi | sarva tathāgata sadhātu vibhūṣitādhiṣṭhite hūṁ hūṁ svāhā ||

Compound words and their components are given below:

tryadhvikānāṁ = tri-adhvikānāṁ
bodhimaṇḍālaṁkārālaṁkṛte = bodhimaṇḍa-alaṁkāra-alaṁkṛte
tathāgatādhiṣṭhita = tathāgata-adhiṣṭhita
sarvāvaraṇāni = sarva-āvaraṇāni
samayādhiṣṭhite = samaya-adhiṣṭhite
tathāgatoṣṇīṣa = tathāgata-uṣṇīṣa
vibhūṣitādhiṣṭhite = vibhūṣita-adhiṣṭhite