Relics of the Buddha reach journey's end


Bangkok, Thailand -- The international tour of the relics of the Buddha finished last month at Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province with a jubilant crowd of thousands paying homage to the sacred objects at the end of Buddhist Lent.

The arrival of the relics of the Buddha in Venezuela attracts a legion of worshippers of all races and religions.
Thailand was the last country the relics of the Buddha visited. Thai and foreign Buddhists recently joined together to pay homage to the sacred relics at Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province.
The arrival of the relics of Buddha _ assembled from three countries, Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka _ brought rejoicing to many Thai Buddhists, since the chance to pay respect to the sacred relics is rare.

The journey of the relics of Buddha took about five years to complete, starting in Norway in 2000 and ending in Thailand last month. Accompanied by the Memorial Stupa, the relics of Buddha have visited 30 countries around the world including the US, Venezuela, Mongolia, China, Germany, Tanzania and Brazil.

"The arrival of the relics of Buddha attracts large audiences and many worshippers, regardless of race or religion. The five-year pilgrimage has been an immense achievement. I feel very grateful to all the people who helped accomplish this most noble mission," said Siam Saenkhat, who now lives in Norway after spending several years in monkhood and studying dhamma in Sri Lanka.

According to Siam, at the end of the long journey the relics of the Buddha will go to the United Nations Headquarters in New York and be housed there permanently to celebrate the UN's international recognition of the Day of Vesak (which marks the birth of the Buddha, his attainment of enlightenment and his passing away).

In Argentina, several large private companies sponsored the event, and the relics of the Buddha were brought to many organisations including the national bank, an electricity generating station and the national university.

Lama Gangchen, the founder of the World Peace Foundation, leads the aboriginal people of Venezuela in a prayer for peace, harmony and non-violence for the world by a major tributary of the Amazon river so the water will _ metaphorically _ spread the message as it flows downstream.
Siam Saenkhat was appointed by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand in 2000 to carry the relics of the Buddha around the world for people to pay homage to the Lord Buddha. His task finished last month.
"The representatives of these organisations told me that they have long been focusing on material and technological development, and now it's time for them to pay serious attention to spiritual development. They want to return part of their profit to society by supporting the event. Christians, including priests and bishops, also took part in the religious activity. That's very impressive," recalled Siam.

The highlight of the event occurred at the origin of one of the Amazon's major tributaries as Lama Gangchen, the founder of the World Peace Foundation, led aboriginal people and other attendants in prayer for peace, harmony and non-violence throughout the world. The Memorial Stupa and the relics of the Buddha were brought to the site too.

After finishing the world tour the relics of the Buddha arrived in Thailand at Phra Pathom Chedi on October 28, which was the end of the Buddhist Lent.

Monks, lamas and spiritual leaders from different countries also attended the sacred ceremony.

"It's an auspicious time to welcome the relics of the Buddha and also the foreign monks and lamas. It is our eternal duty to help support Buddhism and disseminate Buddha's teachings. This special gathering also provides us with a good chance to offer hospitality and strengthen our relationships even though we live so far apart," said Phratheppariyatmuni, the abbot of Wat Phra Prathom Chedi.

Monk Walpola Kalayanatissa from the Zurich Buddhist Vihara, who serves as the clergy custodian of the Memorial Stupa and the relics of the Buddha, reminds us that it is not enough to merely study dhamma.

"You have to put it into real practice. Certainly, you can gain wisdom and freedom [from suffering] through habitual practice. In fact, Lord Buddha can't directly help us to purify our mind. He only shows us the way to a peaceful path. His teachings are just like the light of candles that can lead you to the light in your life," he said.

The 12 pieces making up the collection of the relics of Buddha were eventually contained in the Memorial Stupa which was sealed permanently under the supervision of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand on November 1 at Wat Bovornnives Vihara in Bangkok.

"His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch turns 92 this year. Although he is unhealthy he still attended the closing ceremony of the Memorial Stupa. He paid homage to the Memorial Stupa with a flower garland after the relics of the Buddha were completely sealed inside. It was truly moving," recalled Siam.

Siam's task is now complete: It is now the responsibility of the governmental sector to discharge his duty by taking the Memorial Stupa to the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

According to Siam, some 1,500 Buddhist organisations in the US plan to celebrate the UN's recognition on Vesak Day in 2005.

In an effort to keep the memory of his five-year pilgrimage alive, Siam is currently working on a book featuring the visit of the relics and the Memorial Stupa to 30 countries. The book will include highlights of events from each country.

Although Siam has successfully completed his long-term mission, he well realises that his journey has no end.

"I am a follower of Lord Buddha, and I would like to disseminate his teachings as best as I can," said Siam smiling.

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