Sacred Buddhist relics

By MAJORIE CHIEW, The Star, March 29, 2005

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia -- Why do people come from far and wide to view relics which are nothing more than the remnants of spiritual masters? Indeed why do they circumambulate these relics in a ritual to pay homage to them?

To the Buddhists, the relics of spiritual masters are holy. If they are relics of Buddha or his well-known disciples, they are even more precious and rare.

<< Relics of Geshe Lama Konchog, a great 20th-century yogi who was born near Lhasa, Tibet.

The Buddhists believe that these relics provide an opportunity to make a spiritual connection with Buddha. Viewing these sacred relics can inspire them to develop loving kindness and contribute to peace in the world.

It is said that when a spiritual master is cremated, beautiful pearl-like crystals are found among his ashes. Tibetans call these crystals ?ringsel? and believe they hold the living essence of the spiritual master. The pearl-like deposits are a manifestation of the master?s inner purity.

?Relics come from masters who have devoted their whole life to spiritual practices that are dedicated to the welfare of all. Every part of their body ? and even their relics ? carry a positive energy to inspire goodness and reduce negativity. These relics are precious,? says Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of Federation of Preservation of Mahayana Traditions (FPMT), a Buddhist organisation founded by Tibetan monks Lama Thubten Yeshe and his main disciple, Lama Zopa, in 1975.

Lama Zopa has a rare collection of Buddhist relics which he offers for exhibitions around the world. The Maitreya Project Heart Shrine relics which have been collected by Lama Zopa have been displayed at temples and meditation centres.

The Heart Shrine Relic Tour, an exhibition of ancient and sacred Buddhist relics, will be held at the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur from April 2 to 6. The relics were first exhibited in Malaysia in 2000.

The relic tour is part of the Maitreya Project awareness campaign. It is held in association with the Great Refuge and Maitreya Tour, with retreat and teachings by Lama Zopa (April 2 to 18). The tour is organised by the Losang Dragpa Buddhist Society (LDC), the local chapter of the FPMT organisation. 

The Maitreya Buddha or Buddha of Loving Kindness is the largest symbol of loving kindness in the world. At 152m (50 storeys) high, the bronze statue is an architectural wonder of the 21st century. Designed to last some 1,000 years, the project is solely dependent on donations.

The Maitreya Project was conceived by Lama Yeshe, who had devoted his life to making Buddhism accessible to lay people through FPMT organisations around the world. After his passing in 1984, his main disciple, Lama Zopa, carried on his master?s noble causes.

To-date, this relic tour has traversed four continents and touched the lives of two million visitors. The relic tour is expected to end in 2008, after which the relics will be placed in the Heart Shrine of the Maitreya Buddha statue that will be constructed in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India.

It took a year to organise this relic tour to Malaysia, says M. Jayabalan, LDC?s director. 

?We?re fortunate to have the relics exhibited for the second time because relics are very powerful objects. As Buddhists, we believe that in order to get purification or merits, we need to make offerings. With relics, by just looking at them or prostrating before them, we can gain merits and purification.?

Relics from the First Karmapa, the spiritual >>
leader of the Kagyu tradition.

Although Jayabalan has not seen the Heart Shrine relics, he has viewed other relics of spiritual masters.

?In the presence of the relics, I felt zapped with energy when the relics were placed on the crown of my head (for blessings),? he says. ?I felt as if a waterfall was cascading on me and I felt the energy of a force field.

?This is probably the last time these relics will be in Malaysia before they are enshrined in the Heart Shrine of the Maitreya Buddha.?

Lama Zopa?s collection is extraordinary because there are many relics of Buddha and his well-known disciples ? Maudgalyayana, Ananda and Sariputra ? as well as relics of saints and spiritual masters from the Chinese, Indian and Tibetan traditions.

Buddhist masters of different traditions from Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Tibet and Taiwan have also donated relics. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, donated the relics of Shakyamuni Buddha (the Buddha). Some relics were salvaged from statues in Tibet where they had been enshrined for thousands of years before the Communist occupation in 1959.

Among the relics that will be displayed are those of: 

Kasyapa Buddha: The third Buddha of 1,000 Buddhas, he preceded Shakyamuni Buddha or the Buddha. 

A fragment of his tooth was originally enshrined in a statue of Gyalwa Ensapa in a monastery in Tibet. The statue was destroyed during Communist China?s invasion of Tibet, but a Tibetan family secretly salvaged the tooth relic. A Tibetan monk of the Sakya tradition bought the relic and split it into three parts: one part was offered to Sakya Trizin, another to Chobgye Trichen and the third part to Lama Zopa. Three smaller relics spontaneously manifested themselves during the Heart Shrine Relic Tour and this was considered an auspicious sign.

Buddha Shakyamuni: At 80, in Kushinagar, Buddha gave his final teaching on the importance of meditating on impermanence.

<< The tooth fragment of Kasyapa Buddha, who preceded Shakyamuni Buddha.

Buddha?s blood relics came from the Meiktila Relic Museum in Myanmar and were offered by the abbot who manages the museum. Buddha?s head relics and some ?very white relics? were offered to Lama Zopa by his student, Wu Wen Yuen.

Maudgyayana, Shariputra and Ananda: Heart disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Maudgalyayana and Sariputra achieved enlightenment before Buddha?s passing away into nirvana. Maudgalyayana was famous as Buddha?s disciple who had great powers of clairvoyance. Sariputra is remembered as the disciple who asked the most questions about emptiness, thus inspiring Buddha?s Perfection of Wisdom discourses. These teachings describe the true nature of reality.

Ananda was Buddha?s cousin and served as his personal attendant for 25 years. He attained enlightenment after the passing of Buddha.

Their relics were offered to Lama Zopa by Wu.

Bodhisattva Chophak: Well known for his great guru devotion. 

When he found his guru inside a temple, he did not enter the temple but swept and cleaned outside the temple out of respect for his guru.

His tooth relic came from the Dhikhlo Monastery in Tibet and was offered by Thogne Zey.

Yeshe Tsogyel: 9th century Tibetan princess and great meditation master.

Relics associated with her are fragments of two letters (one on paper and another smaller one on banana leaf) written by her to guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Buddhism in Tibet.

Lama Atisha: a prince in Bengal, in eastern India. He was the most learned scholar at the renowned Nalanda Monastery in India. At the request of King Yeshe Od, the King of Tibet, and out of compassion for the Tibetan people, Atisha travelled from India to Tibet, to pass on Buddha?s teachings to the Tibetans.

The 1,000-year-old metal stupa containing Lama Atisha?s relics was given to Lama Atisha?s heart disciple, Dharma translator Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo who translated the Buddhist teachings from Sanskrit into the Tibetan language. 

# The Heart Shrine Relic Tour exhibition will be held at the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur from April 2 to 6, 10am to 10pm. Admission is free. For enquiries, call Losang Dragpa Buddhist Society (03-20938189) or visit the