A long pause, as we took a break and sat a short Vipassana course. During our course, we meditated inside the pagoda where the Buddha relics were kept for many years. Subsequently we visited Global Vipassana pagoda where we had the opportunity to meditate inside the main dome for one hour under the Buddha Dhaatu.

Pujya Guruji graciously has given extensive explanation about the crowning architecture of the pagodas found at various centers which are modeled after those found in Myanmar. Introduced to provide a vivid reminder to meditators of the debt of gratitude that we  owe to Myanmar for preserving the technique of Vipassana over the millennia.

To a meditator this unique architecture is not only Ornamental but is purposeful. It not only commemorates the historical Buddha but it serves as a reminder of what all Buddhas teach namely the Dhamma

Let’s look more closely at its architectural elements that support this idea

From its broad base the pagoda moves elegantly upward in an increasingly refined way culminating at the top in a single pointed diamond. In the same way, progress on the path of Dhamma is accomplished by the gradual elimination of impurities starting with the gross ones and then removing more and more subtle ones. With the removal of the subtlest impurity the path culminates in the realization of the ultimate truth, the end of suffering.

This broad base of the pagoda, (1. pan tin khone) can be taken for the stage most of humanity occupies namely that of suffering, i.e. Dukkha resulting from ignorance.

Moving upward the next three sections, (2. pyit sayan) represent the cause of this suffering: craving, aversion and ignorance.

At the next section the octagonal terraces (3. shi-hmyount) represent a person’s beginning steps on the eightfold path and the preliminary understanding of the true nature of these three causes of suffering. Here one begins to appreciate that there is a way out of this suffering.

The next stage, (4. khaung laung mhout) is a very prominent part of the pagoda shape. At this stage a person is actively engaged in the way out of suffering. Commonly referred to as the bell, this shape is perhaps better taken as an inverted alms bowl, the baik mhout. This is a potent symbol. A bhikkhu’s very life depends on the alms bowl. To turn it over and refuse alms food for whatever reason is a very serious rejection. Here the shape of the overturned bowl represents the stage of Dhamma practice where one now refuses to continue with the mind unrestrained and creating new suffering, i.e.creating new sakhāra. Instead by Vipassana practice one now attempts to change the old habit of blind reaction to pleasant and unpleasant experiences. To accomplish this the meditator puts forth effort and strives for the constant and thorough understanding of impermanence at the level of bodily sensations, i.e. sampajanna. Represented by the inverted alms bowl at this stage the meditator is taking determined steps to come out of abject craving and aversion.

Girdling the inverted alms bowl, baik mhout, are three bands (5. kha-sie) that represent the fundamentals of this new path, namely sīla, samādhi, and panna. These bands and the upturned bowl represent setting out on the path with a strong foundation.

Sīla, samādhi, and panna are the underpinning for the next higher stage, (6. phoung yit) where 7 rings represent the 7 stages of purification, satta vissudhi. This section represents 7 graduated stages of Vipassana practice culminating in the total purification of mind.

Moving upward the next element is the lotus section divided in two sections, (7. kyar mhout) and (9. kyar lan). Represented by the lower stage, kyar mhout, one is still capable of creating new sakhāra but in the upper one, kyar lan this is no longer possible. Thus the important transition point represented here as a necklace of orbs, (8. kye lone) is the nibbanic experience, gotrabu nana, the transcending of mind and matter. Following the initial experience of nibbāna, sotapatti, the meditator returns to the sensual field but is no longer able to create any sakhāra sufficiently strong to result in rebirth in a lower plane. Like the lotus which flowers in fetid water but sits above it the Vipassana yogi at this stage remains still tethered to the world but now decidedly apart from it.

Next we come to the prominent curved cylindrical form known as the banana bud (10. hnget pyaw bu). A banana tree can give fruit only once. This section represents the stage where the meditator has passed through higher stages of development and has reached the point where all sakhāra have been burned off. He/she has now reached the summit, the stage of arahant where no new birth is possible in any plane of existence

This crown of human experience is shown reverence by (11. hti taw), the ornamental umbrella and atop the entire edifice sits (12. sein bu thaw) the diamond bud signifying total eradication of all defilements, full enlightenment, the ultimate goal of the purification process.