For those who want something really special, I recommend visiting the Zalaszántó Stupa, where they can find peace and quiet in the depths of the forest.
“Radiate this Peace Stupa from here from the Human Rights Park, all-pervading peace-loving thinking to the whole world!” – excerpt from the memorial plaque of the Peace Stupa in Zalaszántó.
It is an indisputable fact that Budapest ranks high in the list of Hungary’s tourist destinations. However, if you want something a little different, if you are attracted by other beauties of nature and culture, it is worth crossing the borders of the capital.
The diverse Hungarian countryside hides hidden treasures, and there are plenty of wonders beyond Lake Balaton that you must see. This is exactly what Peace Stupa in Zalaszántó is, one of the largest Buddhist shrines in Europe.
Enter the island of peace!
Road to the Zalaszántó Peace Stupa
Calm is such a frequently used word in the marketing vocabulary of Hungarian wellness hotels and other tourist facilities, but it has nothing to do with its true meaning.
The ad texts roar in large letters that you will find “complete peace” and “true recharge.” Yet peace does not begin with bubbling pools, chattering guests, or even a massage room.
Peace is just a few kilometers from the bustling, fabulous Lake Balaton. A completely different world, as if you were crossing a fairytale gate into a space dominated by harmony.
You should start your tour early in the morning to avoid the crowds coming off of the tourist buses. The village through which you reach the road to the Peace Stupa is an experience in itself.
Houses are scattered among the hills, cats lazily lounging and residents cycling in a “hurry” for their business: you can meet all the tiny beauties of the Hungarian countryside.
It is as if they rolled back a bit of time and removed concepts from the dictionary like “hurry up” or “nervousness.”
In the distance, in sunny weather, the golden ornament of the stupa shines, like a jewel tucked between trees.
A road that tests a person or a car
GPS diverts drivers from the concrete road to a lower quality forest road. It’s worth slowing down here, which your car will surely be grateful for. After a few minutes, you can get to the lower car park.
From here you can go further by car, which will take you to the upper car park, but the road will be steeper and harder to walk. In my opinion, it is not worth walking the road unless you can stand the ascent or you like to hike in the woods.
On the pleasant ascent, under the shade of the trees, you can slowly tune in to the ethereal serenity that the place exudes.
Of course, the real world comes in here, too. At the upper parking lot, a foreign ice cream and hot-dog vendor overwhelms the overall picture; the souvenir-vendor lady is lovely, although her slightly frightening tone of voice shocks the transcendence for a moment. But only until she pushes the incense into your hand.
You pretty slowly realize that the lady doesn’t want to sell you cheap bazaar merchandise, she is just preparing you with her pushing kindness for what awaits you at the Zalaszántó Stupa and how to light the incense at the altar.
By the time you fully realize what you’re hearing, you’ll be on your way and she will be already dealing with the next transcendence. Even if you are tempted for a moment to leave the tour from here, I would urgently talk you out of it. Rather, continue the tour and later find out why you should keep your forints.
The magnitude of tranquility
The Zalaszántó Peace Stupa is only a few minutes’ walk from the upper car park. Although you may have read a good many times that it is one of the greatest Buddhist shrines on the old continent, it only makes sense when it emerges from behind the poisoned green trees in all its splendor.
The word ‘beautiful’ is too little to describe all the experience that at that moment is trying to infiltrate your brain dulled by the worries and rubbish of everyday life.
First, the cheerfully fluttering, colorful Tibetan flags get your attention for a moment, then the monumental size and dazzling whiteness of the stupa completely takes control of your senses.
Its golden top is just the cherry on top, a mesmerizing gem that you have a hard time taking your eyes off of. If you arrive in the morning, you can still enjoy the elemental peace and quiet without the tourist crowds.
The Peace Stupa in Zalaszántó dignifiedly preserves peace over the landscape and proclaims harmony.
What is a Stupa?
Stupas (which in Sanskrit means ‘heaps’) are ancient Buddhist structures that were originally earth mounds hiding the relics of Buddha. According to the legend, after his death, Buddha was cremated and his ashes placed in eight stupas, which were later excavated by Emperor Ashoka and scattered in the thousands of shrines he built.
With a height of 30 meters and a crossing of 24 meters, the Peace Stupa of Zalaszántó has established itself among the largest Buddhist shrines in Europe. By throning at the top of the 316-meter-high Kovácsi hill, it makes the not-so-small stupa even more impressive.
The shape of the stupas is still reminiscent of mounds of earth, but modern shrines preserve not only relics but also images, statues, and sacred writings of Buddha.
The Zalaszántó Stupa consecrated by the Dalai Lama
The construction of the Peace Stupa was urged on by a Korean Buddhist monk Bop Jon during the regime change in 1990. The sanctuary is meant to symbolize peace, happiness, and harmony in a recovering Hungary.
The mayor of Zalaszántó back then, Zoltán Huszti, supported the initiative and allowed the construction of an Asian religious shrine.
The 40 million HUF which were required for the construction of the stupa was mainly covered by donations from South Korea and European countries neighboring Hungary. Construction lasted from March to September 1992.
Inside the stupa, in addition to the teachings of Buddha, the only original Buddha relics in Europe and a 24-meter-high tree of life were erected. In the center of the shrine, a Buddha statue from South Korea also got a place.
Thanks to the cleverly prepared diplomacy, the Dalai Lama who was exiled from Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, dedicated the stupa and the surrounding forest as part of a huge ceremony on June 17, 1993.
In 2014, a meditation house that anyone can visit was added to the Human Rights Park next to the stupa.
In harmony with yourself
The snow-white, stepped-pedestal building of the Peace Stupa in Zalaszántó is not accidentally in the shape of a regular circle: it serves for the ritual procession. As a sign of respect, it is important that the stupa falls to your right as you move around it.
But you don’t have to worry if you forget the procedure. In front of the building, in addition to the history of the stupa described in three languages, you will find detailed “instructions” on how to walk around the sanctuary, what meditative words to repeat, and what to think about to achieve complete tranquility.
Contributing to the sublime experience is the fact that the construction of the stupa was preceded by the ceremony by which the soul of the Earth was found, thus designating its exact location.
So close to the altar of peace, whether you are a spiritual character or just looking for the tranquility of nature, the harmony that floods the place will inevitably seep into you. Prayer flags fluttering in the wind, the rustling of trees, and the sweet smell of incense give an insight into how holy people retreating to the Himalayas can live.
The monks who “guard” the area around the sanctuary contribute even more to the experience. Their smiles bathed in happiness and harmony will sweep over you, and slowly you will discover the small pleasures of life, such as the music that fills the space or the play of the tiny birds among the canopies.
All levels of the stupa are available, so you can walk around any of them. On the wall you will find so-called prayer mills in which thousands of mantras are hidden.
They are believed to help accumulate good karma as well as cleanse from negative effects. You can learn about their use from the boards next to the stupa: how to rotate them and pray during their operation.
A gilded Buddha statue enclosed in glass on the top floor overlooks the distance. Is he looking for world peace in the distance, or is he just contemplating the beauty of life? In front of the statue, on a stone altar, you can see the gifts offered: incense, flowers, and fruits.
Stop for a while and breathe in the scent of the incense! Feel the blessed peace that permeates the stupa and its surroundings, let go of the “big” worries of your life for a moment, and rethink: are those things really worries?
Light your own incense burner on the altar and with the smoke release your negative thoughts into the sparkling sky!
A pinch of Tibet: Meditation house on the hill
After walking around the stupa, if you are looking for an additional spiritual experience, you should not miss the meditation house. The site of the Milarepa Meditation Center was consecrated in 2011, and the house itself was inaugurated in 2014 in a ceremonial setting.
A pinch of Tibet moved into the forest of Zalaszántó. At first glance, it looks more like a traditional Japanese house, but as soon as you enter you will find yourself in the magical world of Tibetan shrines. The silence immediately settles onto you and invites you to join those who want to deepen their souls.
Entry is strictly silent and without shoes, in socks or barefoot.
At the door, a sign warns that neither alcohol nor meat should be consumed around the meditation house and all visitors should refrain from disturbing the meditators. Looking around, I couldn’t even imagine who would want to break this etheric silence.
The walls of the meditation house show rich, magnificent paintings. You can learn about the life story of Buddha if you move in a clockwise direction.
The paintings under the upper windows, the so-called tanks depict great Buddhist teachers. The meditation house is often home to retreats, Buddhist initiation ceremonies, and joint meditations.
Several times in a year, it welcomes with open arms teachers from Asia who pass on Buddhist teachings to those who are receptive to it.
The Milarepa Center places great emphasis on fostering cross-border relationships and building a Buddhist community. The monks living here are receptive, and they welcome everyone to their joint meditations.
The incense burners traverse every nook and cranny of the house of prayer, and the room is bathed in red-orange twilight. Everything is in perfect harmony with the message of the religion of peace.
A Buddha statue placed at the end of the room takes care of the peace of the house, looking at the meditators as a protector of them.
According to the teachings of Buddhism, Buddha asked all his followers not to accept the words as inscriptions engraved in stones, but rather for everyone to read afterwards what was taught in the teaching and to take a stand from their own point of view.
Because of this, the loose belief system also became increasingly popular and its tolerance soon spread throughout Europe.
Buddhism can help you to understand the meaning of life and discuss why injustice and inequality exist on Earth. It paves the way for pure happiness, building a new approach and practices in the lives of followers.
Make yourself comfortable on one of the prayer rugs! Let the incense dull your senses and start paying attention to the long-lost silence inside you!
In the meditation house, you can discover hidden sources of tranquility that are buried under the rush of everyday life, sources which you would not have a chance to discover in the metropolitan noise. Let this be your moment to start discovering the peace that lies within you!
After silence, it is difficult to return to the “real world” again. After a little more than an hour of the program, you will look at the world through a new window. It’s just in time that we manage to immerse ourselves in the charm of the place, as the organized tourist buses arrive early in the morning.
Surprise yourself with something in the gift shop
Before you go any further, you’ll want a lasting memory of the Zalaszántó Stupa; I recommend that you look for the ideal gift in the gift shop belonging to the meditation house!
Because unlike the shops in the parking lot, whatever little things you buy here are spent entirely on maintaining and developing the house of prayer.
Plus, you don’t have to choose from crappy fridge magnets here: instead meditation books, handmade statues, pots, clothes, delicious teas, and fragrant incense await visitors.
The Human Rights Park
It would be a sin to miss the nearly ten acres of beautiful forest surrounding the stupa and meditation house, the Human Rights Park.
The wonderful environment carefully surrounds the Buddhist pilgrimage site, and the tiny leaves of the trees seem to whisper many mantras and prayers.
Between the branches, traditional Tibetan prayer flags swing, taking on the following five colors, in strict order, from left to right: blue, white, red, green, and yellow.
Each color has its symbolism:
- blue symbolizes the sky,
- white symbolizes the air,
- red symbolizes fire,
- green symbolizes water,
- and yellow symbolizes the earth.
It is believed that the flags scatter the blessings and mantras written on them into the wind so that everyone can get their messages.
You must treat them with respect, so you must not tear them down or throw them on the ground! Their hanging should be carefully considered, as a prayer flag posted during an unfortunate astrological position can also bring bad luck.
According to Tibetans, the most perfect time to hang the flag is on a sunny morning after a windy day.
Passing under the prayer flags playing in the wind, you can find piles of stones stacked on top of each other at the edge of the forest. The construction of stone towers, which has enjoyed great popularity in recent years, has also reached the area around the stupa.
It is believed that during the construction of a stone tower, one can enter into a deep meditative state. However, signs placed by Bakonyerdő (Bakony forest) staff warn why the construction of stone towers is not in the right place here.
Although they acknowledge that stones have energy, it is only where nature has “put” them; by moving them, we disrupt the order of nature. So before you start to build your own “memorial tower,” take this advice!
You may be ruining the home of a living thing, or you may be disturbing the chakras of the mountain with it. Rather, take some beautiful pictures of the snow-white structure of the stupa and the playfully swirling prayer flags against the dark green backdrop of the forest. That memory will be unique and only yours!
Zalaszántó Stupa – Summary
You can see that more than just Budapest and the Danube Bend offer unparalleled experiences. For hidden treasures, it is worth traveling further into the fabulous Hungarian countryside, between the mountains surrounding Lake Balaton.
In this majestic landscape rises the Peace Stupa of Zalaszántó, which with its special and spiritual atmosphere draws even the laity to peace, too. Find your own peace in this special place!
8353 Zalaszántó, Világosvár 13.
It’s free to visit!
The Peace Stupa of Zalaszántó can be visited any time of the year!
Meditation house: Open every day from 10:00 to 16:00.