Benefits of Circumambulation

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bodhgaya, India (Archive #1171)

In this teaching, Lama Zopa Rinpoche reads his own translation of verses from a sutra found in the Kangyur, the Tibetan Buddhist canon. Rinpoche also gives a commentary on the verses, which outline the extensive benefits of circumambulating stupas.

Excerpted from a teaching given at Root Institute, Bodhgaya, India, on December 19, 1999. First edit by Root Institute, editor unknown; second edit by Sandra Smith, August 2019.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kadampa stupa, USA, August 2016. Photo: Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

I am going to read the translation that I did of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s explanation to Sharipu. From among the disciples and the two heart disciples of Buddha, the arhats Sharipu and Maudgalyayana, Sharipu is the most excellent in wisdom, so Buddha explained the extensive benefits of circumambulation to his disciple Sharipu.

Sometimes you might think after hearing the benefits, “Oh, this is so mundane.” You might think these benefits are so mundane, so ordinary, but you have to understand, the Buddha is so skillful. The Buddha explained not only the benefits of realizations, of enlightenment, but also many common ordinary benefits, things that ordinary people need or desire. The Buddha explained the benefits according to the desires of ordinary people, what they would like to succeed in. Circumambulation and such practices definitely bring those results, that happiness. The Buddha related to ordinary people and their desires, to inspire them to collect virtue with holy objects, to do prostrations, to do circumambulations and also to make offerings.

This is from sutra verses [in the Kangyur] regarding circumambulating stupas.

“Sharipu, the one having great wisdom, requested the founder, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, ‘Whatever the ripening aspects are from circumambulating the stupas, you, the pure guide, the sublime one in the world of the great eon, please teach me.’” Sharipu made this request.

“The founder, the fully enlightened being who is supreme among two-legged beings advised,

“I will reveal just a part of the qualities of circumambulating stupas. As a result of circumambulating stupas, devas, nagas, yakshas, smell-eaters, asuras, garudas, and other types of non-human beings, the different types of spirits, will all make offerings to you. After having achieved the freedom that is difficult to find, by having circumambulated stupas even for just one second, you will abandon the eight states that don’t have freedom to practice Dharma.”

These are: being born as a hell being, a preta (hungry ghost), an animal, a barbarian or a long-life god; being born at a time when no buddha has descended; holding heretical views or having defective faculties. These are the eight states where there’s no freedom to practice Dharma. Even when you circumambulate for just one second, even one second of circumambulation frees you from the eight states that have no freedom, that don’t give any freedom to practice Dharma. That means every second that you circumambulate, the effect you achieve is unbelievable.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will always have a good memory.” So those who think, “I have a bad memory or I am losing my memory,” need to do a lot of circumambulations, day and night.

“You will always have a good memory, you will have wisdom and you will have a beautiful color.” This means you don’t need to paint [your face] all the time; you will have a naturally beautiful color, so there will be no need to carry all the boxes [of make-up], or go to the shop [to buy more.]

“You will have a beautiful color. You will be wise, and you will receive offerings all the time.” You will receive chocolates, milkshakes, ice cream, coffee, biscuits or chai, anyway, you will receive offerings. “You will be wise and you will receive offerings all the time.” This also means you can make offerings to others.

You have to look at it this way: these practices—prostrations, making offerings to holy objects, circumambulation—fulfill your wishes for happiness, all your needs to practice Dharma and all your needs to help others, all your needs to serve the teaching of the Buddha. Everything comes naturally, without effort, the more you do these practices. The sutra talks in detail about how you’ll get these benefits, but the general thing is that all these practices fulfill all your wishes up to enlightenment. Not only all the things that are mentioned here—you’ll get this, you’ll get that—but most important, realizations from guru devotion, realizations of the graduated path of the lower capable being, the graduated path of the middle capable being, renunciation, bodhicitta, emptiness and then the two stages of tantra.

Offering one seed of rice, one tiny flower or one stick of incense to a statue of the Buddha, whether it’s big or small, or to a picture of the Buddha, if the motivation is bodhicitta, or if it’s done with renunciation of samsara or right view, then no question it’s Dharma. However, even if the motivation is non-virtuous, only having attachment clinging to the happiness of this life, for a long life, to be healthy, to have power, success in business, wealth, all these things for yourself, because of the power of the holy object—not because of your motivation but because of the power of the holy object—this one grain of rice offered to a statue or picture of Buddha, or to a visualized Buddha, immediately becomes a cause of enlightenment.

You have to understand this becomes the cause to achieve the infinite, inconceivable skies of qualities of the Buddha’s holy body, the Buddha’s holy speech and the Buddha’s holy mind. Not only that, you have to understand this becomes the cause for us to achieve enlightenment. That means it becomes the cause to achieve the realizations, the cause of enlightenment: the path, from guru devotion, renunciation of samsara, the graduated path of the lower capable being, the middle capable being, the higher capable being, bodhicitta, right view, and then all the bodhisattva paths, the six paramitas and the ten paramitas. It becomes the cause of achieving the five paths and ten bhumis and then, on the basis of the three principal aspects of the path, the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra.

So this offering of one tiny flower or one grain of rice to a statue or image of the Buddha or to a visualized Buddha becomes the cause for us to achieve enlightenment. Without actualizing the path we cannot achieve enlightenment, no way. You have to understand this one tiny offering becomes the cause to achieve the whole path from guru devotion up to enlightenment, even if the offering is made with a totally negative mind. Due to the power of the holy object, not because of our motivation but the power of the holy object, it becomes virtue, the cause of enlightenment. It becomes the cause to achieve liberation from samsara and not only that, the cause to achieve good rebirths, deva or human rebirths, for many hundreds or thousands of lifetimes, because karma is expandable. Therefore, from one cause, from one good karma of offering to the Buddha, we experience the result for many hundreds of lifetimes, thousands of lifetimes.

The result of the karma of making offerings is not only experienced in the next lives, we don’t have to wait until the next life. Because the karma is very powerful we start to experience the result even in this life. As I normally say, all the success of this life, health, long life, prosperity, all the needs of this life for our own practice or to help others, all this has to come from good karma. We collect so much merit from these practices, so by the way, it takes care of all the things that we need in this life. All our difficulties and health problems— sicknesses and life danger—come from negative karma. These practices purify negative karma by the way, even if we are not thinking of the benefits for this life. Even if we don’t motivate like that, these practices take care of this life by the way, so we don’t have to experience the obstacles or at least they become smaller.

I think a common world view is that by doing business we develop. That’s the common idea, the common method, but there are many problems in that method, it’s not very reliable. First of all, for the action of business to become virtue, the motivation has to become virtue, we have to put a lot of effort so our motivation becomes virtuous. For a business to become Dharma, the motivation has to become Dharma. There are many obstacles in business and the benefit, the profit that we achieve is not fixed, not definite—sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less, and even if we are able to make sales it is not profitable.

However, the benefit of doing these preliminary practices—circumambulations, prostrations, offerings, the various practices that the Buddha taught as a means to purify the mind of negative karma and defilements and to collect merit—the benefit is always the same. The skies of benefit, the inconceivable merit or benefit, is always the same. There is no deflation and inflation. It’s not like the value of gold or the dollar and so forth, which goes up and down; it’s not like the value of material things, which goes up and down.

The benefit of every single one of these practices is inconceivable; the resultant happiness is inconceivable, and it’s always the same. Due to the power of the object, of the Buddha, it’s always the same. Due to things being empty of existing from their own side, dependent arising, it’s always the same. The Buddha’s power never decreases, the Buddha’s compassion toward sentient beings never decreases, the Buddha’s qualities never decrease, they are always the same, having infinite qualities and never decreasing. Therefore, all these practices that we do—circumambulation, prostrations, offering—even to a statue or a painting of Buddha, the benefit is always infinite. Always.

The reason there’s so much success in the projects so far, according to my experience—being able to serve many monasteries, many, many thousands of monks, being able to serve food, to build monasteries and so forth, all these various projects that enable us to benefit more and more—is mainly from the practice of offerings. It came from those good karmas, from these practices. That’s according to my experience, my own experiential proof of how these practices work in life, how they are so effective, how these practices are a reliable method, that’s proven according to my experience. From the little practice I did, the result that came is being able to offer some service to the teaching of the Buddha, to the sentient beings, to the Sangha.

All this is due to the kindness of the Buddha; even in our case, even in my case it is due to the kindness of Buddha, due to Buddha’s compassion. All this happened due to Buddha’s compassion. Buddha has achieved inconceivable qualities and each time we make offerings, do circumambulation or prostrations to Buddha, the reason why each of these practices has infinite merit, why we achieve inconceivable benefit, including the highest, enlightenment and temporary benefit; ultimate happiness and temporary happiness; is because Buddha has inconceivable qualities, because the Buddha has developed compassion for all of us sentient beings. Compassion inspired the Buddha to achieve all these inconceivable qualities. So all this, even what the organization can do or whatever service we are able to offer, is due to Buddha’s compassion.

I used the example of offering, but it’s the same for every circumambulation, every prostration to a holy object, a statue or picture of Buddha. There are all these benefits, as in the example I gave of offering one flower or stick of incense or one grain of rice to a statue or picture of Buddha. All those things that I explained, for example, one circumambulation of one holy object, it’s the same.

As I mentioned before, it’s good to remember, when we make offerings or do circumambulation or prostrations, don’t simply think that it becomes the cause of enlightenment, but within that, remember that it means from guru devotion up to enlightenment; it becomes the cause to achieve all these realizations, besides all other temporary happiness. There is an inconceivable amount of temporary happiness and all this ultimate benefit, as it becomes the cause to achieve all these realizations of the whole path to enlightenment. Therefore we can see how every single offering is so important; we can feel every single practice of offering, prostration or circumambulation is so important.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, devas as well as human beings will achieve long life, and you will achieve great fame. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be born in a pure generation of race, line, faultless breed, in this world, the land of Dzambuling, and you will have wisdom. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be good-hearted, of beautiful color, learned, with your mind abiding in the state of happiness. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will become wealthy, having much wealth; you will not be miserly but you will be brave in giving, making charity. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be attractive and enchanting, and whoever sees you will be happy.”

So if we want to make other people, if we want anybody who sees us to feel happy with us, then circumambulate all day and night. There are some people who everybody likes, the whole world gets attracted to that person, but I don’t think it’s so much to do with their body; I don’t think the body is the main reason for that. The person created the cause in the past for that to happen, so everybody is attracted to that person and naturally likes them. It’s not so much their body, it’s the cause that they created in the past; that’s what makes other people attracted to them. You have to understand that. It comes from these practices, it’s due to the power of the holy objects. It’s nothing particularly to do with the shape of the person’s body, maybe it can be ugly shape, but somehow people get drawn to that person. It’s the cause, the karma that the person created in the past, circumambulations and so forth, due to the holy objects. If you analyze, that is how it happens.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be attractive and enchanting and whoever sees you will be happy. You will always be able to enjoy extensive enjoyments.”

So that means you can have a lot of coffee, chocolate drink, milkshakes, a lot of chai.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas you will see all causative phenomena as empty.” This is a very important point. “Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will see all causative phenomena as empty. You won’t become ignorant in Dharma, and you will quickly achieve the state of joy.” The first bhumi [the path of seeing], Extremely Joyful, happy, the first bhumi. There are ten bhumis to achieve enlightenment.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas you will be born of a supreme being’s caste, generation, of faultless breed. You will always be surrounded by women; your wishes will always be fulfilled.”

Remember, I already announced at the beginning, it’s not the Buddha telling lies, circumambulation does have all these benefits, but because ordinary people usually mostly desire temporary happiness, not ultimate happiness and as circumambulation does have those benefits, Buddha emphasized what ordinary people like. Then as they circumambulate it brings them to enlightenment, even though their motivation is for these [worldly] things. Gradually, doing that circumambulation brings the realizations of the path, it brings enlightenment, so that is the Buddha’s skillful means.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be born a great Brahmin, of high caste.” I think Buddha explained this because in India there are a lot of castes, and also circumambulation does have those benefits, so the reason might be that; it does have those benefits.

“You will have morality and will always hear the teachings. You will have secret mantra, having scriptural understanding and realizations of tantras. Having circumambulated holy stupas you will be born in a great family, of a high class. You will be wealthy and have many possessions, animals, crops.” Crops, not corpse.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will be born lord of the world in the land of Dzambuling; a Dharma king in control of all the empty land of the whole earth. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will become a wheel-turning king, having the seven precious jewels, and you will turn the wheel according to Dharma.” Wheel-turning king means the most powerful king of this world; no other king can compete with a wheel-turning king, they are the most powerful and most wealthy. There are kings who have control over one continent, two continents, three continents or four continents, then there is the king who controls the deva realm. It seems there is a wheel-turning king when human beings have an inconceivable length of life. When humans live for 80,000 years a wheel-turning king appears.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you can transfer your consciousness from this world and go to an upper realm.” That means the pure land of a buddha, like the pure land of Amitabha, Vajrayogini or Kalachakra. Circumambulating holy objects also helps with the practice of powa, so when you die you can transfer your consciousness easily to the pure land.

“Your mind will be happy to meet Buddhadharma. You will have yoga realizations such as guru yoga in particular, and clear light and illusory body. You will have great psychic powers.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, after transferring your consciousness from the deva realm and reincarnating in the human realm, you will enter the womb without ignorance. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you won’t be defiled by the stains of the womb. You will become like a pure wish-granting jewel that will be cleaned with three means. You will be able to be born from the mother’s womb with a very clear memory, remembering so much of your past lives.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas you will abide blissfully in the mother’s womb. You will be born blissfully and will drink milk blissfully. Having circumambulated holy stupas you will be cared for not only by your father but also by many surrounding servants who will look after you, and your mother will serve you all the time. Having circumambulated holy stupas you will be loved by your relatives and especially loved by your parents.”

So if you want to be loved by your parents then you need to circumambulate stupas. Especially those who blame their parents, who are angry with their parents, not feeling loved, they need to purify, they need to circumambulate stupas.

“After birth, your wealth is increased. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will not be harmed by the flesh-eaters. You will enjoy the enjoyments without problems.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you won’t become blind or experience arthritis.” So if you have arthritis problems, it’s very good to circumambulate as much as possible. “You won’t become blind or experience arthritis for a hundred eons.” For a hundred eons you won’t become blind and you won’t experience arthritis.

“And your body will be pure. Having circumambulated holy stupas, your eyes will be completely pure, clairvoyant, fine and horizontal, dark.” It says “beautiful” according to [Eastern] interpretation. “Enchanting and you will achieve the deva’s eye clairvoyance.” Deva’s eye clairvoyance, I think, is being able to see where you will be born; after the death seeing where you will be reincarnated, those things. That kind of clairvoyance.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will have a healthy body, a stable mind and stable perseverance. You will show or have round shoulders.” I mean, the head will have a nice shape and the body will have a nice shape, not ugly. I think it’s describing a nicely shaped body, what we see in the world.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will have perfect power, a perfect face, body, form. You will have all the limbs well-adorned with good signs.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will become the lord enriched with power in the realm of the Thirty-Three,” those deva realms. “You will become a great and powerful deva having great psychic powers, in the realm of Indra.

“Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will be born the king of devas, who are devoid of fighting. You will have control over those deva realms. Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will become the controller of the deva realm of Brahma. Ten million devas will make offerings to you.

“Having circumambulated holy stupas, you will have wisdom for a thousand times ten million eons, as well as for a hundred times ten billion eons. And you will always receive offerings. If you circumambulate a holy stupa, for a thousand times ten million eons you will have a clean body, clean garments and white Dharma, virtue.

“Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will achieve perfect power, perfect perseverance, no laziness, and will achieve realizations of the path to enlightenment very easily. Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will have stable perseverance and power, stable flexibility, you will receive no harm and will quickly achieve success.

“Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will have an enchanting sweet tone of voice and clear, high and beautiful sound, and you will experience no harm and no sicknesses.”

People are attracted to the sound, the voice of singers and so forth, so there’s a cause for that, such as offering a bell. The person will become very famous, and many millions of people will be attracted to the singer’s voice. So like this, circumambulating holy objects or offering a bell to the holy object, stupa or statue of Buddha and so forth, will become a cause of that.

“You will experience no harm and no sicknesses. Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will go quickly to a place where there are teachings of the Buddha, where most will achieve higher rebirth. You will achieve the four mindfulnesses and the four limitless thoughts, and you will also achieve the power of psychic limbs,” so these are realizations, the four psychic limbs, part of the realization of the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment. If you are able to have those limbs of psychic power, with that you are able to subdue the mind of other sentient beings in that way. By showing the miracle powers to those who cannot be subdued just by teachings, you can subdue their mind and bring them into Dharma. Buddha did this during the fifteen days of the Tibetan New Year; he showed miracle powers for the benefit of sentient beings, in order to liberate different sentient beings.

“Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will actualize the four noble truths of the arya being and you will achieve the limbs of enlightenment. You will achieve the six clairvoyances and no falls (delusion).”

The sixth of the clairvoyant powers, the clairvoyance of having ceased delusion, the disturbing thoughts, both the gross and subtle defilements, that type of clairvoyance is the omniscient mind which only Buddha has.

It is said the five other clairvoyance powers are more general, and Hindus also have these: clairvoyance of miracle power; clairvoyance of the deva’s ear, by which you can hear teachings being given in different pure lands by buddhas, you can hear and then you can reveal them to other sentient beings; clairvoyance remembering one’s own and others’ past karma.

By knowing others’ past karma and describing it to them you can explain Dharma in a way that fits their mind. Also explaining their past karmas can give them faith in karma; with your clairvoyance you can give them faith in karma. So you can benefit others in this way. Also, clairvoyance of being able to read other people’s minds means you can benefit others in this way so they make less mistakes. You can benefit others or teach Dharma according to their mental state, like that. By being able to read other sentient beings’ minds you know what fits with their mind and what doesn’t fit with their mind. Then, the clairvoyance of the deva’s eye means being able to see when death will occur, when death will happen, and where birth will be taken, what kind of birth will be taken, and in this way you can also help other sentient beings. It is said in the text that even Hindus can achieve these other five, except for the last [sixth] one, which involves ceasing delusions.

Therefore if we are able to achieve these clairvoyant powers faster, that we can benefit other sentient beings in a much better way.

“You will achieve the six clairvoyances and no falls.” “Falls” means delusions. “You will abandon all delusions. You will become an arhat, having great psychic power. Having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will abandon attachment and hatred, you will abandon all surrounding beings and you will achieve the state of a self-conqueror, a solitary realizer, and you will achieve enlightenment. By having circumambulated a holy stupa, you will become a tathagata, adorned with the holy signs, having a golden holy body.”