The Shambhala Mountain Center is located high in the mountains above Fort Collins, Colorado. At its heart is the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya.
Founded in 1971 by the Tibetan monk Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the 600-acre site hosts retreats, classes, and programs led by some of the world’s leading Buddhist teachers. Seekers of all faiths are welcome.
When Bob and I inquired about visiting its major monument, a magnificent stupa decorated with gold leaf and brilliant colors, we were told that while one could drive to the shrine, it was much better to approach it on foot. The recommendation was a good one, for walking the mile-and-a-half, winding trail marked with prayer flags turned our visit into a mini-pilgrimage.
The stupa itself is a remarkable piece of architecture. Nestled in a mountain valley and surrounded by pine forests, it rises to a height of 108 feet and is formed from concrete that is built to last for a thousand years. Its exterior and interior are filled with exquisite paintings, decorations, and symbolic features.
The shrine is known as the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. In Buddhism, stupas are landmarks designed to promote harmony and confer blessings. Traditionally, pilgrims walk the perimeter of a stupa in a clockwise fashion, an action said to confer merit. The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is unusual in that it is open to all pilgrims (at least its lowest floor—the two upper levels are reserved for authorized students).
The stupa itself conveys a symbolic message, for its shape represents the Buddha seated in meditation. His crown is the top spire; his head the square at the spire’s base, his body is the vase shape; his legs are the four steps of the lower terrace; and the base is his throne.
To me the most stunning part of the stupa was the large, golden statue of the Buddha that sits in its main room, a figure surrounded by smaller altars containing relics and sacred objects. The overall effect is one of truly sacred space, hushed and filled with layer upon layer of symbolic meaning.
Such an amazing thing to find such a place in the middle of the Colorado mountains! This migration of religious traditions to places far from their original homeland can be a very good thing. The seeds of the Tibetan diaspora bear fruit in unexpected and marvelous ways.
For more information see Shambhala Mountain Center.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.