One of the most celestial nights of the year for me is the full moon in May when the Maui Dharma Center celebrates the birth and enlightenment of the Buddha, whose message was of compassion and the existence of an unchangeable inner reality beyond all suffering.
On that night, the great Lha Bab Peace Stupa at 81 Baldwin Ave. in Paia is lit with "a hundred thousand lights" of all shapes, colors and sizes, lovingly arranged, shining onto the island prayers for nonviolence and world peace. You can see it from Kahului, a radiant symbol of enlightened thought, said to relieve afflictions and disease.
I love it. There's something about that white "dharma tower" that makes me happy - its solid presence a beacon of stability and wisdom in a progressively chaotic world. Whenever I'm down, a walk around it does me good.
Stupas are representations of the form of an enlightened body - "a very precious and important object, very holy." They are designed with infinite precision after the Buddha's actual instructions, which he demonstrated to his followers by folding his robe and overturning his begging bowl. Every aspect represents his highest teachings.
By situating the Maui stupa next to the street (with lots of rebar in the foundation to withstand the stress), Lama Gyaltsen took a lesson from his teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, who founded the Maui Dhama Center almost 40 years ago. He built a stupa in northern India next to a busy highway on the road to Pakistan, traversed by businessmen and military personnel, not in a peaceful meditation garden as his followers implored him to do.
The point is to benefit everyone. Said Lama Gyaltsen, "This is for the world, for all sentient beings, to bring in peace, compassion and harmony."
The Paia stupa took four years to create, and literally millions of prayers and sacred objects are contained within it.
Volunteers worked for months fashioning nearly 100,000 tsatsas, miniature representations of Buddha, sculpted in a mold and painted gold, which were placed within the stupa, along with volumes of the Buddhist sutras and thousands of statues of the deities and great masters of the lineages.
At one event, stairs were built to the rounded "bhumpa," the heart or womb of the stupa, and members of the community filed up slowly to offer items precious to them. At some point in the process, according to the lama, even the Paia police lent a hand.
A gold ornament made in Lhasa, Tibet, of 13 golden "wheels," signifying stages of realization, sits on the stupa's top. In an alcove at the base, decorated with beautiful Maui-style paintings of Shakyamuni Buddha and forms of the goddess Tara, rests a magnificent copper prayer wheel made in Nepal.
In relief on the wheel are the syllables Om Mani Padme Hung, the mantra of Chenrezig, the Buddhist god of compassion, and within the wheel are 900 pounds of paper sheets imprinted with the mantra.
There are so many that to spin the wheel once is to invoke 800 million mantras, which people are always invited to do. "Believer or not," says Lama Gyaltsen, "just send your love to the world."
The stupa was consecrated in 2007 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama - usually featured in programs at enormous venues - consented to visit the tiny dharma center in Paia.
What a sublime day that was, despite the heavy security, the place suffused with joy at the presence of the kind and humble bespectacled man dressed in burgundy robes considered the incarnation of Chenrezig himself. His blessing suffused the stupa with a special magnetism, which everyone is invited to experience.
On Saturday, one can attend the dharma center's formal 6:30 p.m. program or come later that night or a few following evenings to regard the stupa, or circumambulate it in an auspicious clockwise fashion.
On those nights when the stupa is lit, I feel a thrill when the full moon rises above the clouds and bathes it with unearthly silver beams, light to light.
"May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness;
May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering;
May they never be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering;
And may they dwell in the great equanimity that is free from attachment and diversion."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.