Builders' Intent

The Intent of the Builders of the Ceremonial Structures at the Sacred Sites

Certain elements found in sacred structures - the building materials, the sacred geometry of the construction, and the use of light, color, and sound - contribute directly to generating energy fields at the holy places. These elements and others also contribute indirectly to sacred site energy fields by acting as carriers and focalizers of human intention. The element of human intention is of enormous importance in explaining miraculous phenomena at sacred sites. Intention allows and establishes an individual's spiritual connection with the power and magic of the divine. The same intention ushers divine energy into the structures' design, construction, and decoration at the holy places.

For example, the planning, creation, and installation of a stained glass window can be examined on two levels. One level concerns the cutting and positioning of various shaped pieces of glass according to the ancient canons of sacred geometry and the combining of multiple colors according to their specific vibrations and psychospiritual effects. On another level, we can regard the stained glass window as an expression of the artist's spiritual intention.

Through sacred art and architecture, people can physically express their love of the divine and their exaltation of the world's beauty. A stained glass window, whatever the religion from which it is issued, is an artistic artifact, a symbol of a spiritual ideal, and a physical and living memory of the spiritual intention of the individual who created the glass. Besides its visual beauty, any piece of sacred art functions as a container and conduit of spiritual power. It follows, therefore, that monumental holy structures, such as stone rings, pyramids, mosques, and medieval cathedrals, are repositories of the spiritual intentions of the hundreds or thousands of people who contributed to their creation.

What is being suggested here is that the power of a sacred structure is in part caused by the passion and religious devotion of the people who originally designed, built, and embellished the structure. As the energy of light leaves its traces upon photographic emulsion and as the energy of sound leaves its imprints upon recording tape, so does the significance of human intention leave its traces upon physical space. The power of human intention thus creates part of the power of a place. And that power is permanent. It saturates and surrounds the holy places. It reaches out across the centuries, evoking in the hearts of pilgrims visiting today the same love and exaltation that inspired the original builders of the shrines.

This saturation of a place with the power of human intention begins with a site's initial discovery and dedication. Consider the invocation spoken by Kukai, an eighth-century Japanese Buddhist monk, at the consecration of Mount Koya as a monastery site:

I hereby address respectfully all the Buddhas of the ten directions, the deities of the great mandalas of the two realms, the divinities of the five classes, the deities of Heaven and Earth of this country, all the demons inhabiting this very mountain, spirits of earth, water, fire, air, and ether....The Emperor granted this space which was deemed correct after careful divination at the four directions. Consequently a temple shall be built on this parcel granted by his Majesty....All spirits and demons, retire! Withdraw seven leagues from this center, in all directions, zenith and nadir included! All good demons and spirits who can draw some benefit from the Law, reside here as it pleases you. May this center for practice be patronized by the venerable spirits of all Emperors and Empresses of this country, as well as by all divinities of Heaven and Earth. All the spirits of the dead, protect this space day and night, and help fulfill this wish. (20)

After the consecration of the undeveloped site come the various stages of the ceremonial structures' design, construction, and dedication. In building sacred structures, as opposed to secular, each step is usually preceded, accompanied, and followed by ritual. Often highly elaborate and time-consuming, these rituals infuse the entire process of temple construction with an aura of holiness. The ancient Agama texts of India, for example, prescribe in minute detail the ceremonial selection of appropriate temple locations, the auspiciousness of particular astrological periods for the construction of temples, the special requirements for the preparation of the architects and builders, the molding of idols, the mode of their installation and the psychic and spiritual rituals necessary to imbue the icons with divine energy. As with the creation of stained glass windows, each of these activities may be understood to have two functions: the actual performance of physical actions necessary to the construction of a holy place and the progressive charging or empowerment of that sacred place with the spirituality and intention of those persons participating in its construction.

One scholar of Hindu temples explains…

The infusion of power in the idol is a very complex process involving many rituals of Yogic significance which activate the psychic and spiritual energy of those who participate in the function. Through these processes the spiritual energies in man are activated and infused in the idol. These powers are personified as the deity. Thus, for all practical purposes, the deity assumes a subtle personality. ...Applying psychic and spiritual means, a Thanthri, an expert in this field, draws from the infinite resource of Brahman certain aspects and bestows them on a conceived deity, physically represented by an idol. And when a devotee concentrates his mind on the deity the same spiritual resources in him are activated which help him to solve his physical, cultural, and spiritual problems....The ancient explorers found that through special psychic and spiritual rites such idols could be made powerful to help activate the divine depths in man. Thus a consecrated idol becomes both a language that explains the deeper spiritual facts and a spiritual dynamo that activates the dormant divinity in man. (21)

We have discussed the intent of the builders of the structures at the sacred sites. Now, we will broaden and redefine the meaning of this phrase, "the builders of the structures." A sacred place is not only that primary ceremonial structure that is the focus of pilgrimage visitation. A sacred site is also all those other structures, including buildings, institutions, local traditions, and beliefs that contribute to and are formed by the ongoing pilgrimage to the sacred site. The structure of a holy place is built not only by the actual architects and artisans. It is also produced by the millions of pilgrims who have traveled to the shrine and the hundreds or thousands of lay people and religious persons who live and work near it. Every person who visits a pilgrimage center in some way contributes to the structure of the site. Some make material contributions such as buildings, temples, dedicatory monuments, rock cairns, or other physical objects. Others, knowingly or unknowingly, bring some indefinable spiritual energy that adds to the already existing energy field of human intention. Each of these, the visible and invisible, is a conduit for infusing intention into geographical space.

As an example of this idea, let us consider Mt. Sinai, an important sacred mountain in the Old Testament, about which is written…

The pilgrim's approach to the holy sites of Sinai was constrained and guided by a series of mutually reinforcing and visual markers. Even before the pilgrim reached the monastery, his or her expectations would have been molded by scripture and by the oral or written accounts of other pious travelers. On actually reaching the monastery, and in ascending the mountain, the pilgrim would have been deluged by a plethora of material symbols, indicating the presence of and path to the holy. ...Archaeology has confirmed the impression given by the written sources of a sacred topography mapped onto the terrain by the monks and pilgrims throughout the landscape around the monastery. A number of small monasteries, chapels, and hermits' cells, as well as a dense network of paths were constructed around the Sinai mountains probably before the Arab conquest in the seventh century AD. More significantly for pilgrimage, a series of prayer niches were built along the path which led up from the monastery to the peak of Mt. Sinai. These marked significant spots where the pilgrim might glimpse a view of the distant mountain (their goal).... All such material marks on the local landscape not only recorded where believers had been, but also indicated a succession of mini-goals for pilgrims on their way to the summit of Sinai. (22)

What is notable from this passage is that the abundance of built material artifacts at Mt. Sinai is predominantly the work of the larger community of "site builders" rather than the small community of temple architects and craftsmen. All these minor and unknown builders brought intention and spiritual consciousness to the sacred site, thus contributing to the power of place.