In a quiet corner of Myers Flat near the town of Bendigo, about 160 kilometers northwest of Melbourne, Australia, construction is ongoing on one of the largest Buddhist structures in the Western world: the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion.
Modeled after the 15th century Gyantse Stupa in Tibet, the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is 50 by 50 meters at its base, and when completed will measure almost 50 meters in height. Its entrance is guarded by two marble Tibetan snow lions, painted in vibrant red, yellow, and green, and the pagoda itself is surrounded by dozens of prayer wheels. Inside the main hall stands one its most prized possessions; a four-tonne representation of the Buddha carved from a single block of jade. Named the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace, the seated Buddha statue is hailed as the largest jade Buddha in the world.
The stupa is surrounded by landscaped parks and gardens, filled with gifts from benefactors and well-wishers of other faiths, and bodhi trees that come from cuttings of a Bodhi tree gifted by the Dalai Lama, which can be traced back to the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya.
Originally the vision of Lama Thubten Yeshe, who was inspired by a visit to the region in 1983, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who suggested to model the Australian stupa after the Great Stupa of Gyantse after Lama Yeshe’s passing, the construction of the Great Stupa is the result of a A$20 million (US$14 million) project by a group of Buddhist devotees led by Ian Green, the Australian director of the Foundation for the Promotion of the Mahayana Tradition, a global organization founded by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa and focused on promoting the teachings of the Mahayana tradition.
Construction of the stupa began in 2003, and while the stupa’s circular terrace is expected to be completed and lifted onto the top of the existing structure later this year, construction of the stupa is expected to continue for another 150 years.
Once the work on the exterior is finished, it will contain one of the largest collections of sacred Buddhist relics, drawn from Burmese, Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan traditions. The stupa will also house a library with works on Buddhism, other religions, and contemplative philosophies and sciences, as suggested by the Dalai Lama.
As with the design of the stupa, the Jade Buddha is modeled after a historical Buddha statue: the Buddha in the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya. It was carved by Thai master carvers out of a single 18-tonne block of gem-quality nephrite jade, dubbed “Polar Pride,” which was discovered in 2000 in the Canadian province of British Columbia. When Green saw the Polar Pride in Vancouver in 2003, his spiritual master Lama Zopa Rinpoche encouraged him to acquire the rock and “turn it into a holy object that would illuminate the world.” (Nikkei Asia Review)
The Jade Buddha was blessed by the Dalai Lama during his visit to Australia in 2009, and after a nine-year tour of 20 countries, the statue arrived in Bendigo in May 2018 to take its place on an alabaster throne in the Great Hall of the stupa.
Although the stupa has yet to be completed, its draws about 30,000 visitors each year, making it one of the more popular tourist destinations in the region once known for its gold rush. The stupa is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from China, India, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Australian and other Western devotees, but according to Green, the majority of the visitors are non-Buddhists who come to see how the work is progressing, to learn more about the project, and to admire the 2.5-meter jade Buddha.
Great Stupa brings Buddhism to Australia’s bush (Nikkei Asian Review)
The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion
Bendigo welcomes striking four-tonne jade Buddha after epic global journey (ABC News)
The Great Bendigo Stupa (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Foundation for the Promotion of the Mahayana Tradition