Column: A stupa in the mountains


One of the most impressive Buddhist structures in the United States is in the picturesque foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about 45 miles northwest of Fort Collins, Colo.

In 1959, a 21-year-old Buddhist named Chögyam Trungpa fled Tibet and eventually ended up in the United States, where he became famous for his Shambhala Vision, in which people of any religion can seek enlightenment. In 1974, he founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., the first accredited Buddhist university in the United States.  He gained a large number of devotees, including beat poet Allen Ginsburg. Before he died in 1987, Chögyam Trungpa founded a number of meditation centers, including one on 552 acres near Red Feather Lakes, Colo., now known as the Shambhala Mountain Center. 

Upon Chögyam Trungpa’s death at age 48, his followers decided to honor his memory with a stupa, a mound-like structure originally designed to hold relics of the Buddha. The result was a 108-foot-tall stupa that has become the centerpiece of the Shambhala Mountain Center. The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya Which Liberates Upon Seeing was consecrated in 2001 after 14 years of construction, at a cost of $2.7 million. The overall shape of the three-level stupa, formed from concrete reportedly designed to last 1,000 years, suggests a crowned Buddha, meditating while sitting on a throne. Unlike most stupas, the lower section, which includes a 20-foot-tall statue of a seated Buddha, is open to the public. At the heart of the golden statue is the entire skull and part of the spine of Chögyam Trungpa, who was cremated. Upper sections, closed to the public, contain other representations of the Buddha and remains of important Buddhist teachers. The Shambhala Mountain Center, which includes about 35,000 square feet of space for lodging, eating and meditation, is a popular location for spiritual retreats.