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The Swayambhunath Stupa

Swayambhunath Stupa (Tib. Phakpa Shingkün, wyl. 'phags pa shing kun) - One of the most sacred stupas in Nepal, it is located on top of a hill in the west of the Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhunath is known to Tibetans as Pakpa Shingkun.

The main stupa

Swayambhu means self arisen. This particular stupa complex was built, according to different traditions, either around a small crystal stupa that was self-arisen on top of this hill, or a lotus flower naturally radiating light. The Swayambhunath Hill which, according to Trulshik Rinpoche, has been blessed by thousands of Buddhas and will be blessed by all the Buddhas of this kalpa, is often considered the most sacred spot in the whole of the Kathmandu Valley. According to the Seventh Dalai Lama, this very stupa is the source of all the happiness in the world.

According to the traditional accounts the stupa was in the middle of a vast lake when Mañjushri and two friends saw it on their way from Wu Tai Chan in China to Nepal. He found the stupa so incredible that he wondered how to make it possible for pilgrims to be able to walk to the stupa for their devotional practices. So he cut the mountain with his sword and the water poured out for four days and four nights. The Madara Lake (Wyl. mtsho ral gri) in Chobar in the South-East of Kathmandu on the way to Pharping.

There is a prophecy that says when two fangs come to eat the stupa at Swayambhunath, it will mark the beginning of the decline of Buddhism in Nepal. The fourth Khamtrul Rinpoche (Khamtrul Chökyi Nyima 1730-1780) said in his Pilgrim Guide to the Kathmandu Valley (Wyl. kham sprul gnas yig) that they correspond to the two Hindu temples, which are on either side of the main staircase and look like fangs. They were built a few hundred years ago. A couple of years ago the northern one collapsed, and Buddhists were happy, hoping they wouldn’t rebuild it. But the government decided to rebuilt it. The stupa is surrounded by a number of temples.

According to the Pema Kathang, Guru Rinpoche hid many termas in Swayambunath. This is also the place where Marpa Lotsawa first heard of the name of Naropa and stayed for three years “to get used to the heat”, according to the instruction of his Newari master. It is also said that Thangtong Gyalpo traveled to the stupa in one instant with his magical power. Five days later a rich person made large offerings to him, which he used to whitewash the stupa.

Tibetans circumambulate the stupa itself (nangkhor) or the whole hill (pharkhor). They call it pakpa shing kun (Wyl. Phags pa shing kun), “Sublime Trees of all Sorts”. All authorities do not agree on the origin of the term. The most current says that, one time Nagarjuna cut off his hair and scattered it about, praying, “May all kinds of trees grow on this sublime Stupa!” And after many species of tree had grown tall around the Stupa.

The immediate vicinity of the stupa

Vajradhatu mandala

At the head of the stairs is an impressive gilt vajra borne on top of a smooth base of gilt copper, representing the Dharmadhatu, in the form of the mandala of Mañjushri. It was placed by the Nepali king Pratapmalla also responsible for the two fang-like shrines.

Hariti—the Protectress of Children

Right behind the main stupa, opposite the main stairway, is the main temple of Hariti, the main Protectress of children. And as soon as a child is born, he is brought here. And that's why usually there are huge queues at this place early in the morning.

When the Buddha met her she was eating her children. The Buddha asked to stop doing this, but she replied, “If I don’t eat my own children, what else am I going to eat?” The Buddha then said that all his followers will now leave her the fist portion of their meal.

People are usually very suspicious of this place. There are many legend, according to one account, there was a time when everything was going wrong in Nepal and they found that this temple was damaged. But people couldn't work with it to fix it. So they called the then Shamar Rinpoche, who always had a very strong connection with Swayambhu. He broke it down and rebuilt it, because he was the only one who could actually split it.

About this temple, Khamtrul Rinpoche was writing in the 18th century: “I have noticed that Tibetans consider her as of minor importance because she is a yakshi. Whereas they do visit the shrine, they do so while disparaging her and without presenting her with due homage or offerings. This is really a stupid way to act, the kind of behavior from people who have heard few teachings.”

He explains, “Generally speaking she us indeed not an object of refuge that is equal in importance to the sacred representations of buddhas, bodhisattvas, lamas, yidams and so on . Yet, neither is she in any way similar to the worship of minor spirits such as local deities of the region, or of a particular place. Among the powerful gos intent on positive activity after they had come into the presence of the Buddha and seen his face, and who are worthy of homage, some became of major imortance, even though in the Dharma scriptures such as Vinaya they are not specifically refered to or associated with technical terms such as “Dharmapala” and “guardian deities”; whereas in actual meaning they do function as guardioan deities (in these accounts). It is for this reason that the Buddha in person has said, “Those who vow to take me as their teacher should offer a first piece of each meal to the Yakshi Hariti.”

He adds, “Hence we should understand the matter as follows. Having met face to face with the Buddha, she became guardian of his teaching and as such became as worthy of homage as the sacred Dharma itself. This it is while mentally recollecting these excellent qualities of her, as explained in there , that with great respect and with a pure mind we should offer her homage.”

So she was given the charge of protecting the Swayambhu stupa, and according to the accounts, when the two fang-like temple where build, the image clearly produced many miraculous interventions to show her displeasure.

Buddha Statue

Behind the Swayambhunath stupa itself is an image of a standing Shakyamuni Buddha made of black stone. The Fourth Khamtrul Rinpoche, when he came here in the 1700s, said that of all the power spots in the Kathmandu valley, this was one of the most special.

Small Stupas and images

There are many statues of deities and stupas of mixed hindu and buddhist content, of all dimensions. Most of these were sponsored by numerous kings, brahmins, wealthy householders and other devotees from the city of Kathmandu, since the earliest times till the present day.

Further away on the hill

Vasubandhu Stupa

The great master Vasubandhu, came here and spent quite some time in Swayambhu. Once he was sitting at the exact place where his stupa is now, he looked over the fields down the hill and he saw a monk who had taken off his robe and wrapped it around his head to keep the sun off his head and was plowing the field. Vasubandhu said, "Well, if this is the state of the Dharma, then there’s no point in me hanging around," and he recited the dharani, or the long mantra, of Ushnishavijaya backwards, then his head split and he passed away. His body was placed inside this reliquary stupa.

Chakrasamvara Mandala

Down on the right from the main stupa is a building which houses--and also quite a lot under ground--a huge three-dimensional mandala of Chakrasamavara. There are five layers, according to the five kayas. Behind the door, there’s a little courtyard where people place offerings and so on. There are murals inside, which are centuries old and have been preserved quite well. Inside there are several doors going down into this huge mandala complex of Chakrasamvara. It is said to be the Chakrasamvara power spot in the Kathmandu valley.

Once there was a king of Nepal who wanted to become the grand Maharaja of all Asia. So he came here to acquire some powers. He went in, didn't reappear for a number of days. When he came up he was completely insane. When the inside is opened, the outside door is locked and people would usually rattle around and be ushered away. Only Newari vajra masters can go into the inner chambers.

Manjushri Hill

The Nagarjuna Hill is the place where the first Newari vajracharias received their respective empowerments for the first time in the whole of Nepal. The reason it is called Mañjushri Hill, is not so clear. Some think it might be because the first empowerment given here was the Mañjushri Nama-sangiti, given its popularity and prevalence throughout the valley.