Touching the Sacred at the Amitabha Stupa in Sedona, AZ
I believe it should be a requirement that if you come to Sedona, AZ, you have to visit the Amitabha Stupa before leaving. No matter what your faith, religion, or beliefs in a higher power may or may not be, this is a place to reconnect with yourself and others, and it is a sight to be seen, and felt.
Visiting the Amitabha Stupa also offers a rare educational opportunity for adults and children alike, exploring the goodwill and tidings of Eastern culture in an unlikely place - the middle of the American Southwest.
What Is A Stupa?
A stupa is one of the oldest forms of sacred architecture on earth. There are hundreds located around the world but, they are mostly found in the East in places like India, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka. They are quite rare in the West – in fact, only a handful of stupas exist in the U.S.
Stupas have been built as far back as 2600 years ago, each one created with great purpose, intention and reverence, usually with the intent to promote prosperity, avert war, or end famine. They are meant to bring blessings to whoever comes near them.
It is suggested to circumambulate the stupa three times, generating wishes and prayers for the world as you move, step by step. It is also said, that by doing so, one will be blessed, maybe even healed.
“The Buddha said whoever sees a Dharmakaya Stupa will be liberated by the sight of it. Feeling the breeze nearby the stupa liberates one by its touch. The sound of the tinkling bells hanging on the stupa liberates by their sound. Thus, having seen or experienced this stupa, by thinking of one’s experience of it, one is liberated through recollection.”
- His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Experiencing the Amitabha Stupa
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, Spiritual Director of Kunzan Palyul Choling, the small Buddhist community behind the building of the Amitabha Stupa, chose to build the Amitabha Stupa in Sedona because of Sedona’s powerful mystical energies.
Since it’s inception in 2004, visitors from around the world traveling to Sedona, now make a stop to this 36-foot tall stupa, a must-see on their list of things to do.
Located in the heart of West Sedona, off the beaten path, just beyond a residential neighborhood, the stupa sits on fourteen-acres of land that are considered auspiciously sacred. It is perfectly juxtaposed between Chimney Rock and one of Sedona's most massive mountains, Thunder Mountain.
A cool, light breeze, whips kite-like strings of prayer flags strung from the tips of the stupa down to the earth in all four directions. A giant, golden-hued Buddha sits peacefully up on a small hill overlooking it. Across from it’s a face is a quaint, covered sitting area for reflection and meditation.
On any given day, dozens of trekkers make the short hike up a narrow red-dirt path, past strings of prayer flags, mini-Buddhas, and a second, smaller stupa built in 2009, to meet this sacred Sedona landmark. They come for prayer, meditation, healing, to give offerings, to pause and reflect, or simply, to observe this rare vision.
What To Do At a Stupa?
It’s up to you. Sit in stillness. Walk around it. Meditate. Pray. Lay offerings at the altar. Bring your kids, and make it an cultural educational opportunity. Bring your pets, so they can blessed, too. Or, simply come and witness this rare landmark in the southwest landscape.
The Amitabha Stupa – An Educational Opportunity for Children
I have enjoyed taking both of my children, ages 4 and 2, to this stupa many times. Each time, I’ve taken the opportunity to educate my 4-year-old daughter on Eastern culture, Buddhist traditions, and principles that unite people of all beliefs and cultures - compassion, goodwill, and peace.
Each visit, we stop to read the signs highlighting the intensive building process that resulted in this monumental erection. On our last trip, I explained to my daughter how the stupa is filled with thousands of printed rolls containing prayers.
My daughter’s eyes filled in wonder at this thought. She whipped around and ran up to the stupa, squealing, “Can we feel them in there?!”
My 2-year-old son, meanwhile, was picking up every single colored glass stone he could find on the ground – they are spread like jewels adorning the feet of the stupa. He treasured each one as a rare find. His educational experience at the stupa was purely experiential!
A Gem for the Southwest
The Amitabha Stupa is a sacred gem for the southwest, adding mysticism, blessings, and power, to an already sacred spiritual place. It is easy to reach, a short trek to the actual stupa from the parking area (handicap access also available) and open to all, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. I highly recommend you add it to your personal “must-see” list when visiting Sedona or Northern Arizona.
Find out more about the Amitabha Stupa here, including information on the book, “The Story of the Amitabha Stupa” which outlines in stunning photography, exactly how the stupa was constructed. The in-depth, awe-inspiring construction of a stupa has never been documented in modern times until now. You can also follow the stupa on Facebook (facebook.com/AmitabhaStupa).
Megan Aronson is the Tourism, Travel and Toddlers Editor for Sedona, Arizona; Breckenridge, Colorado and beyond
All photos courtesy and copyright Megan Aronson