Chad is an avid traveler who loves to share his tips and experiences to help others get the most out of their travels.
While on a weekend trip to Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, I was lucky enough to have been shown the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. The stupa is an ornate Buddhist monument on the grounds of the Shambhala Mountain Center, a 600-acre Buddhist retreat and place of learning. According to literature at the mountain center, stupas promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health, and peace.
Stupa - "A Buddhist commemorative monument usually housing sacred relics associated with the Buddha or other saintly persons." - Britannica.com
I had never been to a stupa before, so I was excited to explore the Shambhala Mountain Center and Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. After driving about five miles down a dirt road through the mountains, the Shambhala sign marks the entrance to the retreat. Soon after turning into the mountain center, the golden top of the impressive stupa comes into view.
"Downtown" is just a short walk from the parking area. "Downtown" is not exactly a town; just a few buildings. There, visitors will find a meal tent (where vegan and non-vegan meals are served), a book store, and a gift shop.
The Trail to the Stupa
The stupa is a short walk, half-mile or so, from downtown. An easy dirt trail meanders through a field and then into a stand of aspen trees. It follows a creek and crosses a bridge as it leads to the stupa. During our walk to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, Buddhist prayer flags waved in the breeze along the path. We spotted lots of birds, wildflowers, and a deer along the way.
A small monument, which resembles a stone bird bath, stands in the middle of the path just before reaching the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. The shrine was covered with items left by travelers. We noticed a mask, jewelry, a dream catcher, change, and candles among the offerings. I've tried to do a little research into the "bird bath," but haven't figured out what it is yet.
I first took a walk around the stupa before going in. At 108 feet tall, the stupa is intricately decorated, and every detail holds special symbolism. A small cabin sits on a hill by the stupa. There you can learn about the construction of the stupa as well as what each part symbolizes.
Inside the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya
Visitors to the shrine must remove their footwear before entering. I removed my shoes and placed them in one of the little cubicles outside the front door. Inside the stupa, the focal point is a huge golden statue of Buddha. Chairs and prayer pillows are arranged in a semi-circle in front of the statue. Binoculars are available to view the elaborate designs on the ceiling.
Objects are placed along the walls commemorating different people. In one area, pictures of the Dalai Lama along with a news article from the Denver Post were displayed. The article told of the Dalai Lama's visit to Denver and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya.
Back outside, on the far side of the stupa is a circle of stone benches among aspens. A wooden Torii Gate, a structure symbolizing the separation between the obscene and sacred worlds, stands in a field beyond the benches. A small parking area is located at this spot for visitors who are unable to walk the trail to the stupa.
We spent a couple of hours that day walking around the grounds, relaxing, and learning about the stupa before heading home.
The Shambhala Mountain Center website says that the area is occasionally closed to day visitors due to special programs. If you're going out of your way to visit the stupa, I definitely recommend checking first to make sure it's open.
Have you ever been to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya? Have you been to a stupa somewhere else, perhaps in another country? Do you know what the "bird bath" is? Let me know in the comments.