An interview of Lama Rangbar Nyimai Özer by Crazy Cloud
Crazy Cloud (CC): Lama Rangbar, could you explain how the Maha Bodhivastu Stupa project came about?
Lama Rangbar (LR): I moved to Nepal in 1990 because I saw some great challenges facing my own American society. I felt that the Asian world might well hold answers for me that my own culture did not. Back in 1985 or so, I had a vision of the collapse of the World Trade Center during the time period that I used to commute through its lower sections. They say that what goes up must come down. I say, what goes up fast, must come down fast. I felt I just didn’t want to be commuting through its bowels when that collapsed. I moved to Asia when my teacher, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s holy relic body was taken to Nepal to be placed in a stupa in Tusal Boudha. At that time (1987), I decided to return to Nepal and ended up staying in Nepal for over 20 years. Most people know me in connection with Lotus Energy, Safa (clean electric) Tempos and the REVA electric cars. But the underlying reason for me to be in Nepal was Buddha Dharma.
After studying Dharma since I was 18 years old and after having stayed in Nepal for over 20 years, I felt it was time for me to either move back to the USA for some time or forget about my home land. But I didn’t just want to come back to the USA with no plan and so I thought good and hard about what I would do in the USA that would truly be of benefit to Americans and the world.
One day as I was going around Boudhanath stupa with a Bhutanese Lama friend of mine, we looked up at the stupa and it came over me in a big way…. the stupa seemed to be talking and saying: “You should build a Boudhanath stupa in the USA”. It made all the sense in the world since there were already so many Lamas teaching Dharma but not one single focal point or project that could bring everyone together in the name of interdependence and universal peace. It should be understood that Buddha Dharma has been arriving in and transplanting itself into American cultural soil for several decades now.
What I have seen is that what has actually arrived has not really taken root deeply in people’s minds or understanding or way of life. The religion or intellectual philosophy seems to have arrived but the integration into our culture and community behavior as a support has not occurred fully. Our understanding of Sangha is very limited and it is my belief that it is this jewel we refer to as “the Sangha” which is MOST important today in America and the entire world. Buddha is always present and so is the Dharma, but those who practice together, those who see unity among diversity, who understand the true strength in our common awakened nature, those are the true practitioners that can work for others as a true example. Making a Boudhanath stupa with its calm wisdom eyes is surely a root cause for the development of Sangha as well as Buddha, Dharma and the ultimate collective awakening of humanity.
I knew that such an endeavor was going to be a very long road, a serious project and that it could be fraught with obstacles if we were not clear within. We therefore took serious consultation with several of the highest Nyingma Lamas including Yangsi Dudjom Rinpoche, Kyabje Chadral Rinpoche, Kyabje Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, and Kyabje Trulshig Rinpoche all who looked into the matter and unanimously gave the approval and deepest encouragement for the project.
I moved my family to the USA and started the process of outreach about the project and looking for a suitable location. It is during this search for land that many prophecies became evident about our project. To begin with, I had to look deep inside to see what a Stupa actually was. I had to feel it within me and not just have the words or intellectual explanations. For example, many people in Nepal circumambulate Boudhanath stupa. They make prayers to it and feel it is a holly object of veneration and feel good about it. But what is the essence?
CC) Why do people build stupas? What is the meaning of the symbol and what are its benefits to the builders and those who circumambulate it?
LR) What I came to learn about stupas also came about during the fundraising period, which is ongoing. When accepting donations for an altruistic project such as a stupa, I had to really feel the reason and what the benefits are for people giving their support to this.
What I discovered was that the process of everyone coming together in the name of an altruistic activity was itself one of the first strengths or powers of a stupa. That they are built with the divine aspect or energy of humans, which in by another name is Tathaghata Gharba or Buddha Nature. Stupas are called Chorten in Tibetan, which means, “support of offerings” and therefore allow supporters to perform pure actions of body speech and mind thereby accumulating vast storehouses of merit and wisdom. Stupas are also called “Thug Ten” or Heart support and this refers to stupas being the manifestation or representation of Buddha’s Dharmakaya heart-mind.
By having such a pure manifestation in front of us, the root causes of all the accumulations are present. Just folding one’s hands in respect in front of a stupa accumulate vast merit, also walking around it, making offerings of prayer flags or coats of paint, or incense etc. Even when someone who is not religiously inclined simply sees such a stupa, their hearts can be opened and their minds totally turned into virtuous directions. That is why they call the sacred proportions “liberation upon sight.” Being the same size as Boudhanath in Nepal, this stupa will surely be the largest in the USA. As such, it will eventually attract millions of people who can make connection with its blessing stream, intentionally or unintentionally.
Making a stupa can also push back times of war, plague and famine while also stabilizing the manifesting power of the five emanated elements: water, earth, fire, wind and space. How? By eliminating the root of power of the 5 poisons of mind, which diminish the luster of the 5 wisdoms, which are in turn the base of the stability of the 5 elements.
CC) Can you explain the historical significance of Boudhanath stupa?
LR) When we look into the history of Boudhanath stupa there is a famous story of its origination. A poultry farmer lady who was an incarnation of the goddess White Tara, and her sons wished to make a stupa, an expression of divinity for all to worship. She requested the King of the time to grant a portion of land and he agreed to give her what could be covered by a single buffalo skin. The woman was resourceful and cut the skin into a string and was able to encompass a large piece of land thereby demarcating the area the King should offer to the project. When the townspeople saw the size of the stupa she intended to make, they asked the king not to allow it, feeling that if a poor low-caste poultry farmer would do such a huge work for Dharma then even more would be expected from them. The King refused to change his mind saying: “Ja Rung Ka Shore” “I have spoken and it will be done”. Hence the name of Boudhanath is Ja Rung Ka Shore in Tibetan.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Boudhanath’s history is what happened as a result of the building of the stupa. From the power of the merit of making the stupa driven by the aspirations of those who made it, the entire Buddhist history of Tibet unfolded from that commencement cause. Guru Rinpoche, King Trisong Deutsen, the Vajra master Santarakshita were all reincarnations of the sons who built the original Boudhanath stupa.
In short, Boudhanath is a perfect example of how all aspirations for Dharma can be realized by making stupas and aspiration prayers. One can also understand the value of Boudhanath for Nepal. Even on an outer level, hundreds of thousands of tourists come to Nepal to see it and pray to it and an entire unique cultural community revolves around it day and night. On an inner level, people’s minds are calmed and they find relief from various afflictions, mental and physical as well. On a secret level, the inexpressible teachings of Lord Buddha permeate the entire country as a result of the stupa’s presence.
CC) Why has it been decided to build the stupa similar in style to Boudhanath stupa?
LR) The history and power of the Boudhanath stupa reveals the reason why we have chosen to make a Boudhanath stupa in America. Although there may be some slight variations on the configuration and ornamentation, the precedent set by Boudhanath brings with it great historic and cultural significance. On the one hand, having a Boudhanath stupa in America will bring much benefit to everyone including the local populations of Nepalese, Tibetans, Bhutanese and other Himalayan Buddhists. The project instantly becomes a special friendship bridge between Nepal, the USA and China and becomes the root cause for a great transformation to occur in the USA away from strict materialism towards a more community-based focus or behavior. This transformation is greatly needed at this time in our history.
CC) Are there any implications for Nepal in this project?
LR) Oh yes, one hundred percent. Since Boudhanath is certainly one of the most well known features of Nepal all over the world, the form of it being made in the USA means that our two countries, Nepal and the USA will have a special cultural friendship bridge. Moreover, the local Nepalese, Tibetan, Bhutanese and others who live in the USA will now have a place to come where they can really feel more at home. As it is in Nepal, the Maha Bodhivastu Stupa in America should easily become a special gathering place for everyone and Nepalese culture via its architecture and people here, can become a kind of medicine for the people of the USA.
CC) What major challenges are you facing in this work?
LR) Interestingly enough, since stupas are not part of mainstream American thinking, it takes time to convey the benefits of it in western terms. Once they understand these benefits they also need to understand how their contributions benefit them individually. These factors combined with the economic difficulties of the times make it seem somewhat challenging. However, the idea once conveyed is widely accepted.
We feel that even though the stupa is based on Buddhist behavior and tradition, it is for all people, all religions, all belief systems and non-beliefs. In essence, we can all relate to a structure which symbolizes the unity of our entire humanity towards peace and altruism. By everyone all over the world giving some support, we can easily understand how coming together to do make this positive symbol is itself a form of enlightened activity and we understand how it becomes an empowerment for all people across the globe. This is truly a remedy for the troubles of our times.
CC) What are the reactions of people you come in contact with regarding this project?
LR) They say when we undertake a project for Dharma, due to the fact that major attitudes and karmic propensities will change, there is always inertia and even resistance. When I first introduced solar electricity to Nepal in 1990 for village electrification, the entire Nepal parliament said it was too expensive and could never become a useful technology for villagers.
Several hundred years ago, we all “knew” the world was flat. In fact, you could be killed for saying it was round. Imagine what we will know in a few years from now? But the short answer is that people have resistance to all kinds of change. And so, decline and decay tend to rule. Making something positive meets with both resistance as well as immense joy once even small accomplishments are made. This is exactly why this stupa is much needed and most welcome.
In particular, many prophecies were issued by a high oracle concerning the establishment of a Boudhanath Stupa in the “western paradise” (America). The prophecies state how the life force of war and famine and disease will be cut down and a long period of prosperity will be ushered in by this stupa.
It is my sincere hope that everyone from all over the world participates in the creation of this stupa. This is not MY stupa, it is OUR stupa, all of us. I hope that many Nepalese from all circles try to make contact with us and add their excellent community energy to making this happen with the greatest of joy. Don’t forget, there are many thousands of Nepalese living in America who miss the chance to come together in a pure social way that is lacking in the USA. This Stupa offers a great opportunity to Nepalese from all over to come together and add their cultural richness to guide and revitalize Western America with the wisdom breath of the east.
From my perspective, America has long been a country that people from all over the world look to as an example of fairness, innovation, and freedom to pursue happiness and individual emancipation. But our way of behavior of late may sometimes be the cause of regret. America must re-establish its altruism and its original spirit of inclusiveness for all. This stupa can help that happen. America may not be perfect but it certainly is a great country. Nobody benefits from a declining America, and this stupa can help us resurrect the true spirit of America that has as its main core the wish for safety and happiness for all beings on the planet. This in turn gives hope to literally billions of people from all over the world. Yes, we can as humans come together and do something positive. We have power as a species, we are not victims we are co-creative designers! Please join in the work!