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The Adversary in the Cosmic Stupa

Shanti Stupa, Ladakh, India
Shanti Stupa, Ladakh, India
Kumar Vikranth, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From ancient times, stupas (Sanskrit: स्तूप, = ’heap’) have played a prominent role in Buddhist ritual and devotional practice. Stupas, which are rounded earthen hemispheres or domes, contain relics such as bones of revered monks and nuns. They also contain a trodden path around the dome so pilgrims can walk around and meditate (pradakhshina). As Buddhism spread across Asia, the original stupa structure was modified to become chortens in Tibet, pagodas in East Asia, and chaityas in Southeast Asia. Though the structure evolved, the basic layout consists of an earthen dome, a square base, a central spire, and the aforementioned surrounding path for devotees to circle the stupa.

This basic structure mirrors that of the cosmos described in the Creation account of the Bible. We saw that this account records how the Creator God created humans ‘in the image of God’. This explains why we all possess an innate artistic, moral, and relational nature. The account then describes how God arranged the world into a Stupa-like structure, with earth as the central rounded dome. 

After the creation of earth, the account states that:

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden…

Genesis 2:8

And shortly after states:

…In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:9

The garden corresponds to the stupa square base. The tree of life in the center of the garden corresponds to the central spire of a stupa. The heavens with the stars corresponds to the outer trodden path. The stars comprising the zodiac traverse the night sky like pilgrims performing pradakhshina around the stupa of the earth’s dome.

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Joos van Winghe, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stupas contain the bones and ashes of deceased monks, but in this Cosmic Stupa:

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

The bones of the first human came alive into the image of God

A Holy Cosmos

Stupas are holy sites for veneration. The cosmos, in its initial creation, was also completely holy. In fact, the Hebrew Bible states:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. 

Genesis 1:31

The Spirit World

Buddhist cosmology proposes a formless or non-physical realm (called ‘Arupa Brahma’, ‘Deva-gati’ or Ārūpyadhātu) above the physical realm. In this non-physical plane dwell devas and asuras. The ancient Hebrew Scriptures concur, and in fact, the Bible states that this is where the Creator God dwells.  

The Bible says that God also created great and powerful spirits, often called angels, in this spiritual plane. Extremely powerful and intelligent, the Bible describes these spirits like this:

Arupa Brahma

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.

Psalm 103:20-21

God created many of these angelic spirits. One man who received a glimpse of these spirits described their number as follows:

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.

Revelation 5:11

With the Chief Angel

God created the angel spirits to serve Himself in the created world with their power. God created an especially brilliant and powerful spirit to oversee the myriad of spirit angels. He was called ‘The Shining One’, or Lucifer, because of the shining light coming from him.  You can think of him as the chief deva in deva-gati. The Bible describes what happened to this angelic leader:

12 You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;
    every precious stone adorned you:
    carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
    topaz, onyx and jasper,
    lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
    Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
    on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
    for so I ordained you.
    You were on the holy mount of God;
    you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.

Ezekiel 28:12-15
Lucifer (Known as Mara in Buddhism)
Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

God charged this Chief Spirit:

13 You said in your heart,
   “I will ascend to the heavens;
    I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
    I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
    to the depths of the pit.

Isaiah 14:13–15

17 Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
    and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendor.
    So I threw you to the earth;
    I made a spectacle of you before kings.

Ezekiel 28:17
Lucifer (Known as Mara in Buddhism)
Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lucifer decided to no longer serve the Creator God, but thought instead that he should and would be God himself. So he became God’s Adversary, plotting to destroy the very good cosmos and ruin God’s image built into man. The Bible states that many of the other angelic spirits followed him in his rebellion. In this way they became demons or asuras, now evil but still retaining their beauty, splendor, and power. In his cunning wisdom Lucifer knew that he could destroy the perfection of the cosmos if he could tempt man into disobedience. The Hebrew Scriptures name this spirit now as Satan or Devil, but he is known by many other names. Mara, the spirit of death roaming the world who tempted Gautama Buddha as he meditated is another common name. 

How he would go about bringing the downfall of the whole cosmos, hurling death, and samsara throughout the cosmos; We see next.

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