Bordubudur Stupa Indonesia, 4 Levels to the final truth

Kala Gateway, near the top of Borobudur Stupa.
  • Article gives details of the 4 levels to the Truth in Borubudur Stupa.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, magnificent Buddhist monuments were constructed in Java.


The Borobudur Stupa was built by the Sailendra kings in this period. It is one of the world’s most magnificent Buddhist monuments. It is the tallest stupa standing in the world. There are many thousands of feet of very fine relief, which we see as we climb upwards and go around the stupa. 


The bottom level presents the life of passions in the world: the Kamadhatu. The next level presents the law of action and reward: the Karmadhatu. Rising upwards, numerous reliefs depict the Rupadhatu, the life and stories of the Buddha. He is the Rupa, the personification of the potential for enlightenment within us.


Finally, we go upward still, through the gateway of Kala, or Time. You would see the face made on the top of the gateway, from which emerge the forms of the world, for all the ephemeral shapes of the material world, exist only in Time.


Leaving behind Time itself, we approach the final truth, the arupadhatu, that which is without form. Here, at the final point of the ascent, it is the stupa itself which is before us. Here, we may meditate undisturbed by the shapes of the transitory material world. 


Climbing up to the summit of the stupa, the devotee leaves behind the maya, or illusions of the world. He has left behind the noise and confusion of life: of Kama, Karma and finally even Rupa.


We are reminded of the Chitrasutra, the oldest-known treatise on art-making, which was composed out of ongoing traditions in about the 5th century. It states that the best way to imagine the eternal is as formless, without shape, without touch, color, sound or smell.  It also says that the way to visualize the truth, is with the eyes closed in meditation.   


The great stupa is planned as a mandala, which provides a graded path for the ascent towards the final truth. This is in the tradition of the Yogatantra, which was developed by Buddhist thinkers like Asanga and Vasubandhu, from the 4th century onwards. Mandalas began to appear in Buddhist art from the 5th century onwards, as we see in the Kanheri Caves of Western India.

Borobudur has two other beautiful Buddhist temples of the 8th and 9th centuries: the Powon Temple and the Mendut Temple. The nearby city of Yogyacarta has many magnificent Buddhist and Hindu temples, which were made in the reign of the Sailendra Kings. These have the same high quality of art which is seen in the Borobudur Stupa. This region is one of the finest heritage zones of the world.


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