Buddha’s Relics

A pair of articles published recently by the Chinese Cultural Relics journal reports the discovery of an ancient box that may have contained remains of the historical Buddha.   Most experts believe Gautama Siddhartha Shakyamuni lived and died approximately 2500 years ago.

Did this once contain Buddha’s remains? [Getty]
The box is made of sandalwood, gold, and silver.  Archaeologists believe that the box many contain a skull bone of the Buddha.  In addition to the box, a collection of 260 6ft high statues were also uncovered.

The inscription on the box states that two monks collected the Buddha’s cremated remains over a span of 20 years and buried them in the temple in 1013 CE:

“The monks Yunjiang and Zhiming of the Lotus School, who belonged to the Manjusri Temple of the Longxing Monastery in Jingzhou Prefecture, gathered more than 2,000 pieces of [the cremated remains of the Buddha] as well as the Buddha’s teeth and bones, and buried them in the Manjusri Hall of this temple.

” In order to promote Buddhism, they wanted to collect relics of the Buddha.  To reach this goal, both of them practiced the instruction of Buddhism during every moment of their lives for more than 20 years.”

That, to me, is the most interesting part of the story, that the two monks used their search for the Buddha’s relics as a way to practice, and promote Buddha-dharma.   The reference in the inscription to the “Lotus School” leads me to believe the two monks probably belonged to the T’ien-t’ai sect, which was widely known as the Lotus School.  However, online research of Manjusri Temple and Longxing Monastery did not reveal what sect to which the monastery, built in 586 CE, belonged.

Buddha’s relics are called sarira (“body” or “relics”).  I remember reading years ago how the Buddha expressly forbade his disciples to collect and worship his relics, and yet, there is an early sutta in which he gives precise instructions on how veneration of his relics should be carried out.

According to legend, the Buddha’s remains were to go only to his family, the Shakya clan.  But six other clans and a king also wanted the relics.  To avoid fighting, the relics were divided into ten portions, “eight from the body relics, one from the ashes of Buddha’s cremation pyre and one from the pot used to divide the relics, which he kept for himself.”

I doubt anyone will ever be able to confirm that the relics are the Buddha’s, but then I don’t know much about this kind of stuff.  But I have seen a relic of the Buddha myself.  Or what is purportedly a Buddha relic.  Here in Southern California, in the museum at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights,  a teeny tiny fragment of the Buddha’s bone is on display.  I mean it is so tiny that you have to look it using a special magnifying viewer, and even then, it’s underwhelming.  And of course, there are “relics” all over Asia.  Check out Wikipedia’s page on Relics Associated with the Buddha .

Now, those of us who practice Buddha-dharma should know we do not need to go anywhere to find a relic of Buddha.

All sentient beings have been endowed with the true mind of original enlightenment. From the beginningless beginning this mind has been constant, Pure, luminous, and unobscured; it has always been characterized by bright cognition; it is called the Buddha Nature or the Womb of the Awakened.

From the beginningless beginning the delusions of human beings has obscured it so that they have not been aware of it. Because they recognize in themselves only the ordinary person’s characteristics.

–  Tsung-mi (780-841)

On one hand, we are ordinary.  On the other hand, we are not.  This other hand is the hand that is the flesh and bone of Buddha.  We are the Buddha’s true relics.  When we open our box and unpack ourselves, we find the Buddha, his teachings and practice living within us.


Afghan Buddhist Site + Heart Sutra Video Links

Here’s one of the untold stories around the current situation in Afghanistan. You probably remember when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues at Bamiyam – well, more historic Buddhist relics in that country are now being threatened.

Archaeologists recently uncovered the remains of a Buddhist temple at a place called Mes Aynak, southwest of Kabul. Apparently the temple (some reports describe it as a monastery) has existed on the spot for 2000 years. According to the Guardian.uk, “Archaeologists describe it as a site of global historic importance and have in recent months been uncovering intricately constructed mound-like structures called stupas – with vaulted corridor and painted statues, including a magnificent reclining Buddha.”

Only there is a problem. The relics sit on top of one of the world’s largest known reserves of copper ore. Some 240 million tons of copper ore, it’s estimated. China’s state owned mining company, MCG, won the rights to mine Mes Aynak with a bid of $3.5 billion in 2007.

The Chinese government is no friend to Buddhism. In the past they have shown about as much regard for the preservation of historic Buddhist relics as the Taliban did. And this is a really big deal: MGC stands to make at least $42 billion from the project while the Afghan government should receive about $500 million a year in royalties plus another $1 billion a year in spinoff benefits to the country’s economy over the expected 25-year life of the mine, so reports the Guardian.

Naturally there are fears that the Buddhist site will not survive. The same goes for 12 other Buddhist sites in the area. One of the archaeologists, Abdul Khalid, was quoted as saying, “It is very shameful for the Afghan government to let the Chinese come here and destroy our history. People around the world only hear of the war in Afghanistan but they do not know that we have the best of things from our forefathers.”

I thought I would share some other versions of the Heart Sutra that I’ve found on YouTube.

The first the Heart Sutra in song, by the gifted Chinese actor and singer, Fay Wong (shown above in a still from Chungking Express). This is a live performance from thef the Famen Temple Ceremony in 2009 .

This clip is rather long, but worth it, for the chanting is just beautiful: Chinese Buddhist nuns reciting a portion of their Evening Ceremony.

Nice Tibetan chanting of the sutra here.

This one is very cool, although you’ll probably need to turn the volume up: An Austrian Buddhist chanting the Hannya Shingyo on a mountaintop.

An American Buddhist monk gave me a tape of this one years ago. The tape had no label, so I have absolutely no idea who the artist(s) is and I’d love to find out. This YouTube video is with Spanish titles, so it’s no help to me in that department. The audio is not the best quality and it’s also missing the Pink Floyd-like beginning, but you can still dig it: Gate Gate Paragate Parasam Gate Bodhi Svaha.