The Purkhang at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

The Purkhang

For Chögyam Trungpa

In the upper meadows of Karmê Chöling is the Purkhang.
This is the structure that was used in the cremation of Chögyam Trungpa, founder of Karme Choling and Shambhala Buddhism. The Purkhang continues to act as a memorial to Chogyam Trungpa. His students and others regularly make the trek to pay homage to their teacher, circumambulate the Purkhang, and be inspired.

Chögyam Trungpa's Funeral

Chogyam Trungpa's funeral procession at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

The funeral for Chögyam Trungpa was on May 26, 1987, more than a month after his death on April 4. Much planning, including the building of the Purkhang was done in that time. Over 5,000 people attended the funeral including Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa’s wife Lady Diana, his son the (current) Sakyong, the Vajra Regent and many more students, teachers and dignitaries.

On the day of the funeral the procession moved up the hill to the Purkhang to the sound of Tibetan horns and a bagpipe. Chogyam Trungpa’s body was placed inside the Purkhang, wrapped in cloth and katas and seated upright in meditation posture. People paid their final respects through practices and leaving katas at the base of the Purkhang.

What is a Purkhang?

A purkhang is a ritual crematorium. It is similar in shape to a stupa and is sometimes referred to as a cremation stupa. It plays a central role in the funeral rituals performed for the deceased.

Both a stupa and purkhang have a large round central area which is hollow. In a stupa this cavity would be smaller and filled with sacred artifacts, relics, and other items. The central area in a purkhang however, is much larger as it’s meant to accommodate the body during cremation.

Inside, the purkhang is set up as a cremation furnace. It is lined with firebrick. Grates are set up horizontally for the body to rest on. Below these grates at the base of the purkhang, the fire is built through four square openings, one on each side. Flames and fire rise up through an opening at the top. In the case of the purkhang at Karmê Chöling, these openings have been sealed shut and the contents emptied from the inner chamber.

What is the Symbolism of a Purkhang?

Incorporated into the symbolism of the purkhang is the Buddha, the elements, as well as the path to enlightenment.

The jewel, sun and moon representing the Space element of the Purkhang.

1. Jewel - Subtle body or enlightenment
2. Sun - wisdom & the feminie
3. Moon - compassion & the masculine

Wind element represented in the Purkhang at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

4. Parasol -Compassionate protection

Fire element represented in the Purkhang at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

5. 13 Disks - Crown
6. Harmika - Head

Water element represented in the Purkhang at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

7. Bumpa - Torso

Earth element represented in the Purkhang at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont

8. Steps - Throne and legs.

The Future of the Purkhang

Purkhangs are not meant to be permanent structures.
They represent impermanence and death. Normally, they are either manually taken down or allowed to disintegrate on their own.

By 1998 the Purkhang was beginning to crumble.
The director of Karmê Chöling at that time, Suzann Duquette, asked a sangha member, Raven Fennell, to take on its repair. Raven, who had experience working with plaster, took on the task and the Purkhang went through a major restoration in 1999. Raven continues to return each year to care for the Purkhang, repainting and maintaining it. Watch the video below where she talks about the funeral and her reparation work.

Karmê Chöling has plans to build a permanent monument.
This will be a stupa for Chögyam Trungpa.
See our page on the Stupa Site.

The Purkhang maintenance and upkeep by Raven Fennell at Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center, Vermont
About Karme Choling Meditation Retreat Center in Vermont

A little about Karmê Chöling …

Karmê Chöling is a Buddhist meditation retreat center founded by Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan lineage holder. Established in 1971, it is one of the oldest retreat centers in the US. It has become part of a global movement and community of meditators working together to build enlightened society.

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