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Stupas (탑)

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Stupas and Seungtaps (Monks’ Stupa)

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A stupa is a structure constructed originally to enshrine the Buddha's relics or keepsakes. In Sanskrit, “stupa” means the Buddha's grave. According to the Parinirvana Sutra, after the Buddha's nirvana, the kings of eight countries divided the Buddha’s relics among themselves and each of them built a stupa to enshrine them. However, as time went by, stupas gradually lost their original function and instead became magnificent adornment of the temple. In East Asia, they gradually came to be called "pagodas” rather than “stupas.” The contents enshrined inside also began to include statues of the Buddha and sutras instead of his relics. When venerating a stupa or pagoda, one should offer a half-bow with palms together, circumambulate it three times or more clockwise while maintaining joined palms, and then offer a half-bow again.

A stupa is a grave which enshrines the Buddha’s relics, but a “seungtap” (monks’ stupa) is a grave which enshrines the relics or remains of an eminent monk. A stupa is situated in the center of a temple compound, but a seungtap is placed on the outskirts of a temple. A seungtap is usually accompanied by a monument listing the great monk's deeds, making them a valuable resource on the history of the era.

- excerpt from Buddhist English (Elementary 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism


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