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Jan 28, 2010

Global Pagoda: the First Phase Ends, the Dhamma Journey Continues...

by A Senior Vipassana Teacher

Sukho buddhānam uppado
Sukhā saddhammadesanā.
Sukhā sanghassa sāmaggī
Samaggānam tapo sukho.

- Dhammapada 194

Happy is the arising of the Buddhas in the world.
Happy is the teaching of pure Dhamma.
Happy is the coming together of meditators
Happiness is meditating together.


Nearly 10,000 meditators practicing Vipassana together is a rare Dhamma event. Even more so is nearly 10,000 Vipassana practioners in a Dhamma pagoda, under the relics of a sammasambuddha. The Global Pagoda that has enabled such beneficial gatherings is a rarity. Such a monument does not exist anywhere else in the world, and has not existed before in human history.

At the apparent level, over three million tonnes of basalt and Jodhpur stones fill the historic structure and foundation of the 325-feet high Global Pagoda. At the actual level, each of the voluntarily donated stones is filled with deep gratitude - gratitude to Dhamma, the sammasambuddhas leading up to Gotama the Buddha, the Sangha, and the chain of teachers leading up to Sayagyi U Ba Khin and Sayagyi U Satya Narayan Goenka.

From its foundation ceremony in 1997, completion in 2008 as the largest hollow stone dome in the world, to its inauguration by the President of India on February 8, 2009, the Global Pagoda has reached the first milestone in its destiny to serve all beings.

"No force on earth can stop this Pagoda from being completed," Goenkaji had declared over ten years ago at the Global Pagoda site. His compassionate Dhamma prophecy has inevitably come true, while being an inspiring guidance. The next phase of the journey begins to share the priceless benefits of Vipassana.

The next Global Pagoda phase continues with gratitude to Burma, the land of Dhamma where Goenkaji took his human birth in Mandalay and Dhamma birth in Rangoon by learning Vipassana from Sayagyi U Ba Khin. The Global Pagoda in Mumbai connects the Dhamma history of Vipassana returning to India, the land of its origin, when Goenkaji arrived from Burma and began teaching Vipassana in Bombay in 1969.

As in the initial phase, Burma continues beings deeply involved in the Global Pagoda: including donating teak wood for flooring and doors of the main and two small pagodas, special marble for the pathways, a ‘Burma Guest house’ to house 75 visitors, and the be-jeweled umbrella atop the Pagoda.

From the project phase, the Global Pagoda has moved into the developmental phase to serve each of the thousands of visitors now arriving every week. Pure drinking water, clean toilet facilities, landscaping and gardening works are underway. Parks, roads and water lines are being laid.

Besides the main pagoda, two small pagodas 60-feet high (the height of the Dhamma Giri pagoda) are being constructed. One small pagoda is complete, the other half completed. The smaller South Pagoda will house 108 meditation cells and the central cell for Goenkaji and Mataji. These cells are ready, and will be functional within two months.

A 70-feet parikrama, or circular pathway around a Dhamma pagoda, is being surfaced with a special marble stone donated from Burma. This marble changes in temperature - turning cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather - to ensure the comfort of visitors walking barefeet in the parikrama.

While Gotama the Buddha’s relics are enshrined atop the Global Pagoda, the basement celebrates his life. A vast, information gallery houses the world's largest collection of paintings accurately depicting some important events in the Buddha's life. These intricate paintings were created by distinguished artists in Burma, Thailand and India.

A splendorous 'Burma Gate' is being constructed at the outer entrance to the Global Pagoda. Besides the ‘Burma Guest House’, similar accommodation facilities could soon be built. 1.5 million-litres rainwater harvesting tanks are already functioning, and additional 600,000-litres under ground tanks are being added.

Since October 2007, the Dhamma Pattana meditation centre has been functioning adjacent to the Global Pagoda. The twice-monthly 10-day Vipassana courses conducted here for business executives and government officials are fully booked weeks in advance. Since 2008, Goenkaji and Mataji have also been sitting their annual 15-day Teacher's Self Course in Dhamma Pattana.

A replica of the Asoka Pillar stands to the east of main Pagoda. The four lions in Emperor Asoka's emblem, that is also India's national emblem, depict how the Buddha's rational, non-sectarian teaching of Dhamma resoundingly reaches out in all four directions of the world as a lion’s roar. The Dhamma wheel in the Asoka emblem, and in the heart of India's national flag, depicts the wheel of Dhamma rotating to liberate suffering beings from the wheel of misery.

As a lighthouse of liberation from misery, the Global Pagoda now shines forth in the morning and evening rays of the sun with the gold paint (donated from Thailand), just like the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, on which the Global Pagoda is modeled.

The journey to this present moment in the Global Pagoda was through many hurdles, financial, technical and legal challenges. The problems were multiplied with no knowledge or prior reference for a project of this magnitude.

When the Global Pagoda project was born, the biggest stone dome worldwide was India’s dormant Bijapur dome 130 ft. diameter high. The 280-feet diameter, 90-feet high Global Pagoda dome is over twice its size - and with no supporting pillars. Top architecture experts had declared this impossible.

An Indian Institute of Technology study (IIT, Mumbai), a technical team and Gujarat-based architect Chandubhai Sampura started the project. Sampura devised an interlocking system with grooves cut in the stones, whereby each stone supported the weight of the pillar-less dome.

While thousands of Vipassana students inside the Global Padoga dome support each other by meditating together, the thousands of stones over them support each other in an inter-locking system. The architectural wonder has been achieved of the stones - each weighing nearly a tonne and the 4-tonne central locking stone - seemingly floating in the air unsupported by any pillar.

The first phase of the Global Pagoda involved other unprecedented logistics: a foundation 24-feet deep with a 20-feet wide wall; 2.5 million tonnes of Jodhpur stone whose source is 1,200 kms away from the project site; 3,000 truck loads of sand and 90 million man hours.

If conventional construction methods were used to carry and lift the millions of tonnes of stones, it might have taken a generation to complete the Global Pagoda. But an alert meditator discovered an abandoned three-storey high construction crane. It was refurbished at a cost of a few hundred thousand rupees, and served to complete the first phase.

Other problems were resolved in time. Litigation by a few environmental activists (the Mumbai High Court declared that the Global Pagoda conforms to all laws), echo problems in the sound system of the main dome, ventilation for thousands inside the Dhamma Hall, lighting of the pagoda were among challenges that were successfully faced.

Vipassana students in Burma have a conviction that an opportunity to be involved in a Dhamma project of this magnitude, such as the Global Pagoda, comes once in a million years.

For this rare opportunity to serve, we express deep gratitude to the Buddha, the lineage of Vipassana teachers and Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Our gratitude particularly goes to our most compassionate Dhamma father Goenkaji from whom we received the priceless path of real happiness. All the merits earned belong to him and Mataji.

But most of all, one expresses deepest gratitude to Dhamma, the omnipresent law of cause and effect that brought the Global Pagoda and each of us to this moment in time.

May all beings be happy, be liberated from all suffering.

(This article has been written on behalf of all Dhamma brothers and sisters serving in the Global Vipassana Foundation.)
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* Directions to reach the Global Pagoda

* Vipassana meditation courses worldwide, course venues, online application for beginners' 10-day residential Vipassana courses
* Global Pagoda Developmental Projects - Phase Two