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May 4, 2016 - Comments Off on I’m With Stupa

I’m With Stupa


Hi friends! First, a quick update on the woodpecker situation from last time. Couple weeks ago I started noticing brown dust around my sink. I was confused for a few days, because I would clean it up and then it would reappear whenever I came back at night. The amount kept increasing until finally I looked up and realized the color matched the ceiling. Surprise! Carpenter ants, or termites. Either way, prime woodpecker food. AKA the circle of life with a touch of karma biting me directly in the ass. My current plan is to hope both parties find my taste in music a repellant and just leave, because tenting my cabin to spray is a whole thing I don't want to deal with at the moment. Besides, sawdust in your toothpaste is basically the Tom's of Maine brand promise.

A quick search also just turned up that Tom's of Maine is a subsidiary of Colgate-Palmolive. Are not even our ineffective hippy deodorants and chalky flavorless toothpastes safe from corporate takeover?

Recently I've been spending a few hours each day working on several components of Ratna Ling's ever-expanding longevity stupa garden. And by that I mean my lovely Latvian coworker Andi assigns me some piece I can't mess up too badly by being inept with most tools.

Quick explainer from an ignorant person!

As I understand it in Buddhist tradition stupas are sacred monuments and are generally considered places of meditation (and maybe worship, but Buddhists tend to shy away from religion-y words). They have different meanings based on the location and can be dedicated to specific deities or represent different theories. I've heard it described as a sitting Buddha with the base representing the folded legs, the head toward the top with enlightenment representations above that - but I've also seen examples where different elements are represented by the different segments, earth, fire, air, etc. I'm still learning, so if this is woefully inaccurate forgive me and also get off your high horse.

/explainer from ignorant person!

One might put the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns in the base of it, but the stupas we're making use what are called 'empowerments'. These are sacred Tibetan texts printed by DP's friends next door at the Yeshe De Text Preservation Project that don't make the grade to be shipped over to India. When you're printing (I think actually literally) tons of books the machines make some mistakes and you end up with incomplete, misprinted or torn books.

This is a quick video about the World Peace Ceremony in Bodhgaya the Yeshe De folks work for:

Because these texts are sacred, tradition warrants you either burn them or use them for something. Can't throw 'em out. So empowerments are a good way to use them - by placing these incomplete yet still theoretically energetic and powerful books into the base of the stupa it transfers some of that energy into the monument and is also a good recycle/reuse method.

Plus in 200 years after the Trump supporters have wiped out North America someone could find this stupa, bust it open and find some sweet, sweet Buddhist knowledge. Assuming they knew Tibetan and weren't a zombie, or knew someone who knew Tibetan or were a zombie who knew Tibetan.

The process isn't too complex, we use these heavy rubber molds and pour cement into them, and then spend an ungodly amount of time patching and sanding them until the pieces are totally smooth or until Andi runs out of patience after I've managed to make it uneven for the 13th time in a row.

The stupa proving grounds, rubber molds are the white things.

The cement mixing requires sustained focus and repetitive strenuous energy. The first day I didn't wear any protective gear like a macho dumbass and was coughing and itchy for days afterward. I used my bare hands to pull the cement out of the mixer at one point, which even at the time I realized was incredibly stupid and yet somehow, I powered through my internal voice of reason.


It's hot, loud, and heavy work - each cement bag weighs sixty pounds and you could go through 80-90 of those in one day sometimes. I prefer not to count the number of times I ripped, dropped, or spilled a bag while hauling it over the lip of the mixer. Thankfully I usually had two spry younglings to help me haul the buckets out and manage the load. My main task was to make sure the consistency was correct. Too little water in the mixer and it's clumpy and you can't get the nice little pebbles on top, everyone gets bad karma and you lose. Too much water in the mixer and the concrete cracks once it dries, everyone gets worse karma and you still lose.

The patching and sanding is much more meditative and artisanal work. I hesitate to call it craftsmanship because that's something skilled people do, but I think just "ship" would cover it without being overblown. The concrete molds have been used a few times and are by no means perfect, so they come out with a ton of tiny holes, like sacred swiss cheese. You have to patch all those holes with magic patching dust that mixes with water. Add it to the list of things I know how to use but have no idea how they actually work. I just assume it's some kind of magic, like electricity and combustion engines.

Ardex, great for patching not so great for cereal topping.

It's really interesting to work with focus and attention in relation to both activities. The patchwork, sanding and chiseling is more aesthetically gratifying because it's pretty to look at almost immediately, and getting nice smooth surfaces just feels nice. It's all very delicate, precious and careful work. It's detail-oriented to the max, almost maddening in scope and equally fulfilling at the end.


But the cement mixing process feels like... a process. You get to wear crazy rubber gloves, a respirator and do your best backcountry meth-cooker impression, ruin some clothes, sweat a bunch and at the end you get a giant heavy chunk of nicely shaped spiritually charged rock. It's the far more metal of the two experiences.

Pictured: spry young Belgian imported worker.

It's been wonderful to work outside after spending most of the past three decades staring a computer monitor. Seriously when I die I feel like a majority of my life review will be loading screens. Northern California weather is unbelievable too. It just goes from pleasantly cool to pleasantly sunny and back to pleasantly cool again.

We should be finishing these over the next couple of weeks and I'll post some photos once we're all done! Ciao.