O n July 6, 2014, the foundation plate of the Wat Marp Jan Chedi was laid at the center of the new construction site to the chanting of over one hundred monks and a thousand laypeople. Requiring over five years to build, the Chedi will serve as a monument where faithful may come to pay homage to enshrined relics of the Buddha and the ideal of enlightenment they represent. The stupa will rise forty-five meters above the ground and fuse architectural styles from Thai, Sri Lankan, and Chinese traditions, serving as a symbol of the unity of the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism.  Wat Marp Jan hopes that such a monument will encourage all Buddhists to look towards their shared goal of enlightenment in an age of materialism and contention.

Purpose

The Buddha counted paying respects to the wise as one of life’s greatest blessings and encouraged his followers to build monuments in remembrance of the awakened.  Usually housing relics of enlightened beings, Chedis allow faithful to pay homage to great teachers and the ideal of awakening they represent, even when living masters are rare. The Wat Marp Jan Chedi will enshrine the relics of the Buddha, his enlightened disciples, and renowned teachers of the past century, encouraging those who visit the monastery to recollect the shared human potential for enlightenment.

Design

In the recent years of globalization, the Southern Theravada tradition of Buddhism prevalent in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and elsewhere has come into increasing contact with the Northern Mahayana school found in Tibet, China, and Japan. The conversation between the two branches sometimes stresses their differences and overlooks aspects of the path shared by both.  Ajahn Anan teaches that the two Buddhist schools support each other in preserving the path, like two wings working together to keep a bird aloft. The self-enlightened Buddhas who have attained the fruition of the Bodhisattva path—emphasized in Mahayana—require their disciples who have also attained freedom from suffering—the goal emphasized in Theravada—to pass on the teaching once it has been established.  By combining architectural styles from Northern and Southern traditions, the Wat Marp Jan Chedi recollects their shared aspects and mutually supportive roles.

The design of the Chedi fuses three distinct architectural styles:

  1. Base: the traditional rounded Thai style
  2. Middle: the Chedi Sri Lankan style
  3. Top: the eight-sided Chinese style

These distinct styles are drawn from the three Chedis enshrining the Buddha’s tooth relics:

  1. The Chedi at the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Monastery in Candy, Sri Lanka
  2. The Chedi at Wat Ling Gwang in China
  3. The Chedi from the upper levels of Buddhist cosmology

In today’s era of materialism, expressions of unity serve to strengthen the resolve of those practicing the spiritual path. The unique architecture of the Chedi symbolizes the unity of Buddhist traditions and encourages faithful of all denominations to recollect their shared teacher, history, and goal of enlightenment.

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