The Legend of the Great Stupa

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The Great StupaThe Great Stupa is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist legend. It teaches that the world's only hope for overcoming increasing chaos is to learn to tame the animal passions using the spiritual path of tantra, or “controlled indulgence.” (Making love without conventional climax.)

The Great Stupa itself is both a three-dimensional Tibetan religious monument, supposedly constructed by people who were pure of faith in a past age, and a physical symbol of the non-physical essence of Buddhahood. (See above photo of the Great Stupa.) The legend tells the story of a brigand turned holy man. However, from a sacred sexuality perspective, that's not its most interesting feature.

According to the legend, time moves through aeons, or ages. The current aeon, the last of three, is known as the “Fortunate Aeon.” That is both good news and bad news. It's good news because one-thousand Buddhas are predicted to incarnate during this aeon to liberate those imprisoned in sensuality.

The bad news is that we're in the final era of that aeon, the Kaliyuga.1The Kaliyuga is the time just prior to the destruction of the world. It is characterized by: unchecked lust, vicious and selfish living, materialistic philosophies and belief in the inevitability of a general meltdown. 7 deadly sinsThe:

poisonous passions, particularly lust, avarice, acquisitiveness, jealousy and envy, cause loss of concentration. Mind screams away from its peaceful center in search of the objects of its desire or retreats from objects which repel it. Finally, the pace of life increases as the length of life diminishes.2

According to the legend, the pure teaching can no longer be heard. However, the Buddha Gautama came 2500 years ago to teach a doctrine to carry mankind through the initial stages of the Kaliyuga.

The vibration of the Kaliyuga is predicted to become so low that it will damage the Great Stupa itself. A modern commentator points out that in 1969 the pinnacle of the Stupa was destroyed by lightning, and the son of the abbot of a nearby monastery was arrested for selling ritual artifacts stolen from temples. Chinese aggression against Tibet is seen as a further sign of how low mankind has sunk.

Tantra to the rescue

The legend predicts that unless the teachings of tantra are heard and practiced, the destruction of the Great Stupa's outer form is inevitable. Hope lies in the incarnation of tantra teachers – Bodhisattvas who have accumulated enough merit in previous lifetimes to have the courage to tame mankind's overstimulated and inflamed animal senses. (Bodhisattvas are enlightened being who, out of compassion, relief for those burning with lustforgo nirvana in order to save others.)

Among them will be a Tulku, or enlightened man, who will also be a Tantrika, an adept of tantra. He will understand the essential purity in every experience. He will be able to alter his vibration, enabling him to placate, instruct, subdue and otherwise exemplify mastery over the dark forces motivating the human mind. He will know exactly what must be renounced and what must be developed, and he will be fearless in demonstrating the ways in which the human body may be used to create life, light and love.

The Three Paths to Enlightenment

The legend explains that there are three paths to enlightenment. The first two paths are the Mahayana and the Hinayana. The Mahayana is the neutralization of passion through selfless service and dedication to releasing all life from the bonds of emotional distortion and limited vision. It is open to a wide range of personalities. In contrast, the Hinayana is not suited to all personalities. Yet it is characterized as safe, sure and slow, and prescribes total rejection and renunciation of passion.

vajradharaHowever, one's best chance for freeing oneself from the chaos of the Kaliyuga is to learn to tame the passions using the principle of "controlled indulgence," or Vajrayana, the third path. The Vajrayana, which is the path of understanding passion by the homeopathic method of using sexual desire carefully, is open to all. It is a means of overcoming man's impulsive nature.

The Vajrayana (sex without conventional orgasm) is said to be the fastest, yet most dangerous, path. Perhaps it is considered dangerous because it has the greatest potential for throwing lovers back into the uncontrolled passions of the Kaliyuga. In any case, the legend suggests that other two paths to enlightenment (service and celibate devotion) apparently won't get the job done during the chaos of the Kaliyuga - even though they are excellent, beneficial disciplines.

According to The Legend of the Great Stupa sexual desire is both close to the heart of our worst problems...and also our most effective solution when wisely employed. (For more, visit our Sources page.)


This article is based on the commentary to the text of the legend prepared by Keith Dowman and published by the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center. The actual text of the the legend is here.

  • 1. Each aeon has three yugas, or eras. The first era was characterized by purity, with no depletion of the perfection of Buddhahood. Man's lifespan was 84,000 years. The second era was characterized by an 8,000-year lifespan, and spiritual growth began to require discipline.
  • 2. The Legend of the Great Stupa, commentary by Keith Dowman, Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center, p. 11



A reader informs me of the following:

Re: Vajrayna and sexual activity. To clarify, I was not saying you erred in your understanding of energy cultivation through sex as a practice.

The reference from The Great Stupa is very interesting first because it is so short and because of what follows it. The translator Keith Dowman is saying that 'The Vajranaya prescribes the understanding of passion by the homeopathic method of controlled indulgence.' It does not say that the Vajranaya IS the understanding of passion... This distinction is extremely important. It is not accurate to equate the Vajranaya path is a lifestyle of controlled sexual activity.

The quote from the Dalai Lama

[NOTE: Here are the remarks he is refering to:

the Dalai Lama himself teaches that “the best opportunity for further [spiritual] development is during sexual intercourse” without seminal emission:

The reference here is to the experience of entering into union with a consort of the opposite sex, by means of which the elements at the crown are melted.
He explains that the penis is utilized, but the energy movement taking place is fully controlled and is never let out. It is eventually returned to other parts of the body. The principle of controlling the sexual energy applies to women, too. He notes that because of the need for avoiding orgasm, “there is a kind of special connection with celibacy.”


as you know is from the Manjusrimukhagama. In this section are described techniques of dissolving and withdrawing the gross mind. The 1) the wind (breath), 2) 4 types of 'bliss' (sleep, sneezing, fainting, climax), 3) state of non-conceptuality. And immediately below this there is a reference to the Kalachakra as 'this tantra'. So there is not just left and right tantra but many tantras. Which begs the question also what is a tantra? And it really is the following paragraph that shows how the only intersection of ectasy and monastic Vajranaya occurs. That is in conceptualizing the desire and feeling we would normally have with a partner (while ALONE) can result in that 3rd state of non-conceptuality where bodhichitta melts into the body. And this union, or tantra, melting of energies into one, is the core of most if not all forms of Vajranaya tantra I am aware of.

So my interest (and at worst concern) is that your article makes it sound like Vajranaya was the path of sexuality activity, which it is not. However in the sect to which the Dalai Lama belongs absolute celibacy is a hard rule. The conveyance of Vajranaya today through Tibetan Buddhism is tangential to the activity you describe. But there is more back in the Great Stupa from the earlier paragraph that is important to this discussion. Below the section you quoted is a reference to the Tulku (aka tantrika) who will return. (This may be a reference to Maitreya the future buddha.) And what follows is my speculation alone and don't quote me on this as being part of Vajranaya.

My sense is that these concepts of melding energies were carried in a number of containers down through time including Vajranaya, Sufism, and other forms of Yoga. Specifically regarding Tibetan Buddhism the vehicle for the teachings has become quite rigid, formalized, and highly conceptualized.

I do agree with the view that the manifestation or personification of the Great Stupa will be aware of the Vajranaya and practice forms of it and other tantras/yogas but will come from outside the established structures of any organized religion or spiritual path. There is even a wider view that embraces an interpretation that the tulku and Maitreya are not one individual but many. And yes, this tulku, having the ability to see through each experience and manifestation to it's pure nature will be experienced in the type of controlled sexual activity you mention in your article.

[MR: So it seems we ultimately have very similar interpretations of the importance of this sexual practice. I have also asked him what he makes of the experience of this woman - which suggests that the Tibetan Buddhists do not treat this male-female union simply as a visualization opportunity:]]

Thank you Marnia for that post!

Absolutely fascinating, I will be researching that. Just a note about the comparisons between the different 'vehicles' they are depicted really depends on who is doing the depicting. Mahayanists (in my experience) tend to place Mahayana above Hinayana, Theravadins will of course refer to the evidence of the Pali Tipitaka as being the most accurate historical record of what the Buddha actually taught, and therefore since this 'Hinayana' sect bases its teaching on the Pali sources, will claim with some justification as espousing the path closest to what Buddha actually taught; and of course Vajrayana makes the claims you stated above. (By the way, Theravada ('way of the elders') sounds a lot better than 'Hinayana' ('the low path') doesn't it...then again, 'Hinayana' as a term was not coined by those it is describing!

Whew what a sectarian mess...just as well ALL of the above paths are good vehicles for enlightenment, and so we don't need to worry.

I would like to also point out that in Theravada (to which 'Hinayana' refers), passion is not rejected, but 'seen through with wisdom'. It is the Pali Tipitaka from which I draw most, but not all, of the inspiration for my own practice, and none of my teachers have ever encouraged me to 'fight' passion or to 'reject' it, but rather to see through it with wisdom. We can feel everything, truly and deeply, without having to act on it. In this sense there is less between the three 'vehicles' outlined above in actuality. They are all, in essence, about letting go.

from where I am ...

right now...I find it really hard to believe that they are not indulging in any sexual relationship....of course this is coming from a man who cannot help but have sex with digital images once he spends a few hours on the my opinion means nought....still....out in the desert with a "blonde bombshell of a goddess" and no temptations at all and living habits that would make any minor stirring of lust cascade into uncontrollable force, as moving away from her is ruled out....too good to be true....

but I really hope its possible and its feels good to hope that there is a possibility beyond succumbing to the urges of the evolutionary instincts....

I know it sounds unbelievable,

but much of the planet's libido at the moment is...well...artificially enhanced by constant orgasm. So what seems "normal" - while the natural consequence of over stimulation - is not what you'd be feeling if things weren't out of control.

All this is a long way of saying that the purpose of balance is to free you from constant uncomfortable urges to orgasm. Not because orgasm is bad, but because constant, uncomfortable cravings for ANYTHING are distracting, debilitating and downright annoying.

Just hold the possibility in mind that how you are feeling now is not how you will be feeling when back in balance. The right amount of lust (mutual magnetism) can be uplifting. Wink


Buddha said that finding a real spiritual teacher is like one in a million or something. I dont doubt it. My experience with ashrams taught me to fear gurus even in legitimate spiritual traditions. As much narcissism and dysfunction I found in these places, I also met some of the most genuine people that have changed my life for the better, though they werent gurus, but troubled spiritual seekers like myself at the time.

you echo my thoughts..

the cynicism that fills me whenever I see the "latest" guru and his ways is unsettling...I guess that is precisely why I appreciate so preaching and no narcissism.....

There are two types of 'guru'

One is a guide who has to be chosen with extreme care and after much testing before a commitment is made. We could call that type the 'initiating guru'.

The other type of 'guru' can be anyone who teaches us and helps us to grow spiritually. That could be one's parent, other relative, friend, local grocer, even a stranger who left an impression on us...

While, all going well, we only need take one initiating guru per lifetime, we could have hundreds of 'instructing gurus' along life's journey. For example, Marnia is a guide for us in understanding how to transmute our sex life into something higher. In that sense she is an instructing guru for many. We can all be guru to each other in our better moments!

Just a useful distinction I learned when I was into Vedic spirituality, still useful I feel...:)

agree partly...

with the distinctions...I mean yes there are (or should be) two types of gurus...just that predominantly I gravitate towards instructing gurus ..and tend to pick and choose to learn a lot from a lot of people..even seemingly polar opposites....but....I tend to believe that the only one capable of being an initiating guru would be god almighty....all the rest are capable of mistakes intentional or otherwise I havent had the good fortune of meeting anyone whom I could trust completely as an initiating guru...maybe thats my destiny or what?


Here's my thought...

I think the goal is for each of us to get our OWN antenna up. However, if we want genuinely helpful insight, we also have to keep our "reception" clear by keeping our reward circuitry in balance. No guru can do that for us indefinitely. It's an inside job.

I guess language is a problem here

the idea of 'instructing guru' (or 'shiksha guru' in sanskrit) is more akin to any teacher we have and is not invested with any of the solemnity of the 'initiating guru' ('diksha guru').

My mistake if I have just created more confusion.

I was looking at that first

I was looking at that first one as you have to be open cause you never know when and insight you need may come your way. That anyone and everyone has a chance of "giving" you this insight. So be open for them at all time.

or am I off ?