Buddhist "relics"?

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nichirenista
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Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:53 am

I hesitate to start this thread because I don't mean to seem disrespectful, much less sacrilegious. So, let me state upfront that this is an honest, sincere question….

http://www.maitreyarelictour.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I attended the loving kindness tour a few days ago, which is a part of the Maitreya Project through the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. I was completely caught off guard. When I saw the word "relic" in their advertisements, I thought in terms of archaeology. I didn't know about the concept of "relics" in the Tibetan tradition. I came to feel that these are relics in the same way that the bread was the body of Jesus in my Catholic childhood. Symbolically.

To be honest I'm almost at a loss here. I will refrain from posting my more blunt thoughts on the topic, for fear of offending some people. But I suppose my questions would be as follows: 1. What is the general consensus of the relics on this tour? Do people actually believe that they have relics from the historical Buddha? (It would seem to me that something that rare and valuable would be displayed at the Smithsonian behind lock and key, under video surveillance, and under the careful watch of a security guard nearby. Not casually displayed at the local Masonic Temple, where any average Joe from off the street could wander in and then place the relics of the historical Buddha on his head!) 2. Have such relics ever been verified by any scientist?

I'll be a little more blunt, though hopefully tactful and not disrespectful. Truth is that it was a very disillusioned and disappointing display for me. I guess I would like to know that there are other Buddhists out there who don't believe in this either….

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Jul 14, 2014 11:24 am

It is the case that the worship of relics has been a part of Buddhism since very ancient times. If you look into the archeology you will find that a great deal of the sacred architecture and iconography is based around relic worship. The Stupa itself was designed to house a portion of the relics and every Stupa, no matter where in the world, is supposed to house a relic of the Buddha. The building of the Stupa and the situation of the relics in it, is the basis for the customary blessing ceremony when the construction is finished. There is a story in the tradition that at some point the total number of relics was miraculously expanded by 84,000 times. The number itself has iconographical significance.

I think it is perfectly understandable to question the literal truth of such claims. However, I think some cultural sensitivity is required, as the custodians of such traditions believe themselves to be safeguarding it as a matter of sacred trust. I think some of them understand it in a symbolic sense, whilst others don't (and I also think there are more and less traditionalist views about such things within Buddhism itself). I don't think it is necessary to believe in the historical veracity of such displays, but I can't see a lot of purpose in trying to 'de-bunk' them, either. It is simply another aspect of an ancient culture.
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Malcolm » Mon Jul 14, 2014 1:14 pm

The term is "sharira". The Buddha's remains from his cremation were divided into eight parts and placed in Stupas.

Buddhist masters have been producing shariraṃ in all traditions for centuries. The understanding of shariraṃ is highly developed in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the Dzogchen teachings, where many different kinds of shariraṃ from different parts of the body, indicating different levels of practice are detailed by the Buddha in texts such as the Brilliant Relics Tantra and so on. For example, in the Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra, Buddha states:
  • After my nirvana
    in order to generate the devotion of migrating beings
    place the relics in a statue.
    Place these major classes of relics
    in statues of my form.
The Buddha teaches in the Bhadrakalpika-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
  • Making a small offering to the relics of the Sugata in nirvana has limitless qualities.
Kuśalamūla-paridhara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
  • The transformation of his relics,
    is just like my nirvana,
    the relics of the Sugata sNying po Tshogs,
    those will transform.
The Arya-sarvadharmaguṇavyūharāja-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra:
  • At a place of stupa containing relics or a temple, make offerings with incense, scents, various flowers and various pennants.
nichirenista wrote:I hesitate to start this thread because I don't mean to seem disrespectful, much less sacrilegious. So, let me state upfront that this is an honest, sincere question….

http://www.maitreyarelictour.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I attended the loving kindness tour a few days ago, which is a part of the Maitreya Project through the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. I was completely caught off guard. When I saw the word "relic" in their advertisements, I thought in terms of archaeology. I didn't know about the concept of "relics" in the Tibetan tradition. I came to feel that these are relics in the same way that the bread was the body of Jesus in my Catholic childhood. Symbolically.

To be honest I'm almost at a loss here. I will refrain from posting my more blunt thoughts on the topic, for fear of offending some people. But I suppose my questions would be as follows: 1. What is the general consensus of the relics on this tour? Do people actually believe that they have relics from the historical Buddha? (It would seem to me that something that rare and valuable would be displayed at the Smithsonian behind lock and key, under video surveillance, and under the careful watch of a security guard nearby. Not casually displayed at the local Masonic Temple, where any average Joe from off the street could wander in and then place the relics of the historical Buddha on his head!) 2. Have such relics ever been verified by any scientist?

I'll be a little more blunt, though hopefully tactful and not disrespectful. Truth is that it was a very disillusioned and disappointing display for me. I guess I would like to know that there are other Buddhists out there who don't believe in this either….
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by pemachophel » Mon Jul 14, 2014 4:30 pm

Some people ask, how can there be so many sharira/ringsel from the Buddha? But sharira/ringsel tend to multiply spontaneously, especially in the presence of great faith. Lama Norsuk, a great Dzogchen practitioner in Kham Who died several years ago, gave off sharira even while alive. There were so many, they had to be swept up every day. Even His comb gave off sharira. I've seen photos of this. Lama Norsuk once gave one of His students one of His teeth. He told the student that, although his realization was quite good, his faith still needed improvement. (As an aside, it's taken me several years to even begin to understand this statement.) The student reported that the tooth continually gave off sharira. (I assume this resulted in an increase in the student's faith. I know it would mine. I have one of Lama Norsuk's sharira and it is enshrined in a stupa on my altar.) Personally, I have been at a puja (in the U.S.) where sharira materialized around the shrine-room during the puja. Also, sharira are not just a part of Mahayana or Vajrayana Buddhism. They are also produced by Theravadin saints and sages and can be found in Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia. (I don't know about Shri Lanka, but I assume so.) The ones I have in my possession from Theravadin sources are physically very similar to ones I've seen/have from Tibetan Buddhist Masters.

In Tibetan Buddhism, other things may spontaneously materialize as well, including dud-tsi men-drub (amrit) and liquid nectar. Of course, dud-tsi men-drub includes sharira from the Buddha as well as other Buddhist saints and sages. Liquid nectar materialized in the mandala at a drub-chen I attended a couple of years ago, and the bags of dud-tsi at a recent men-drub drubchen I attended noticeably swelled and plumped up after about seven days (out of 10) of continuous 24/7 mantra recitation. There are also self-manifesting images and mantra which appear out of rock. For instance, there is a famous self-appearing Tara and self-appearing Ganesh in a temple in Pharping/Yangleshod, Nepal. These have appeared in the last 30 years or so and continually become more distinct and highly relieved year by year.

So my friend, Nicherenista, I hope you will keep an open mind. Personally, I believe you received very powerful blessings from attending the FPMT relic show which will have a major impact on many lives to come. How wonderful! I rejoice in your great merit. I pray that your own personal practice becomes so strong and highly realized that you yourself produce a bushel of sharira when you die.

Good luck and best wishes. :namaste:
Pema Chophel པདྨ་ཆོས་འཕེལ

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by DGA » Mon Jul 14, 2014 4:38 pm

Thus have I heard:

In Korean temples of a certain tradition (can't remember which one, sorry), when great masters pass away, the sharira are disposed of ritually. Why? Because the last thing you need is to have partisans of different temples bickering over the number, size, shape &c of the late master's relics. Evidently this persists to the present.

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:37 pm

Thanks for the responses everyone. I will be a little more clear here: I have been aware for some time that Buddhism started as a "relic religion." But that doesn't mean that some people will claim to have relics that aren't authentic. I'm not "bickering" in a religious sense. I practice Nichiren Buddhism where this isn't even a part of my practice, so I'm not drawn into a sectarian argument here. I'm speaking from a scientific, historical, archeological perspective. I simply find it implausible that scholars aren't sure which century the Buddha lived in, what language he spoke, and yet a group of monks claim to have his relics on display in the local Masonic temple.

It IS possible for religion and science to meet. Science has been used to identify historical and religious sites in Buddhism. All I'm asking is if science has been used to verify if these relics are actually those of the historical Buddha who existed in India/Nepal 2500 years ago.

And I reject the concept that I need to be more "culturally sensitive" here. I myself am "a white ethnic," only one generation away from "the old country"; my grandfather was born in a foreign country and spoke no English. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and was raised on stories of miracles being performed by weeping statues of Mary. The Tibetan relics tour seems to be the Buddhist counterpart to weeping Mary statues.

I was also raised on the concept that the bread during communion was changed to the body of Christ. I'm sure a scientist would say otherwise. And I'm pretty sure I know what a scientist would say about the relic tour. I reject the concept that science is "culturally insensitive."
Last edited by nichirenista on Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by DGA » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:52 pm

It's not necessary to go so far back. I was born in 1976; there have been yogins who have attained rainbow body in my lifetime (in fact since I've graduated high school). Contemporary masters in many traditions leave relics and auspicious signs behind. I've been told this is true among Nichiren traditions (it was a Nichiren-shu priest who told me this) as well. I've also read accounts of relics being found in the cremated remains of accomplished Sri Lankan masters.

There's nothing supernatural about this. We're talking about the nature of mind here.

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:02 pm

pemachophel wrote:Some people ask, how can there be so many sharira/ringsel from the Buddha? But sharira/ringsel tend to multiply spontaneously, especially in the presence of great faith.

So my friend, Nicherenista, I hope you will keep an open mind. Personally, I believe you received very powerful blessings from attending the FPMT relic show which will have a major impact on many lives to come. How wonderful! I rejoice in your great merit. I pray that your own personal practice becomes so strong and highly realized that you yourself produce a bushel of sharira when you die.

Good luck and best wishes. :namaste:

Wow. People believe the relics multiply on their own? Makes me wonder … why on earth does anyone argue whether or not Buddhism is a religion? With a belief system like that, this is clearly a religion.

I don't feel I received any blessings from the relics. What I received was great disappointment. I had thought that, by and large, Buddhism was far more rational than this.

Years ago, the Venus of Willendorf was on display at the local Museum of Science and Industry. This is an example of science and religion merging. This is a religious item, a "relic" in a sense, that is verified by science to be authentic, tens of thousands of years old. There was talk in the air that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such a valuable item. When I saw it, the burly security guard stood nearby the whole time, making sure no one got too close to the display case. Do you think he asked me to put it on my head? I suppose I had expected similar treatment of something said to be a relic of the historical Buddha. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I don't feel I received any blessing from this display. What I received was great disappoint and a sense that perhaps Buddhism isn't as rational as I'd thought it is, and maybe it's time to look elsewhere….

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:15 pm

Jikan wrote:It's not necessary to go so far back. I was born in 1976; there have been yogins who have attained rainbow body in my lifetime (in fact since I've graduated high school). Contemporary masters in many traditions leave relics and auspicious signs behind. I've been told this is true among Nichiren traditions (it was a Nichiren-shu priest who told me this) as well. I've also read accounts of relics being found in the cremated remains of accomplished Sri Lankan masters.

There's nothing supernatural about this. We're talking about the nature of mind here.

You were born a year after me….

What attracted me to Nichiren Buddhism was the chanting, and I've read that scientific studies have revealed that chanting (no matter the religion) is good for mental health because the rhythm of chanting corresponds with that of the pulse of brain activity. I'd never heard anything about relics in the Nichiren tradition, and I don't find such a thing conducive to my own practice.

I'm reminded of a lecture I attended by Dr. Leaky years ago. People asked him about his opinions on the scientific verifiably of certain religious tropics. He wouldn't respond to questions about religion because he said they often exist in different realms. I took that to be his polite way of saying that religious claims often don't stand up to science, but he didn't want to say so outright for fear of sounding insensitive….

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:25 pm

I'm not seeking to "debunk" any of this. I'm seeking to categorize it. The Relic Tour has more in common with the Roman Catholic services I attended as a child, than it does with the display of the Venus of Willendorf at the local Museum of Science and Industry.

I suppose what I'm ultimately trying to do is define the term "relic."

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by DGA » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:39 pm

nichirenista wrote:
Wow. People believe the relics multiply on their own? Makes me wonder … why on earth does anyone argue whether or not Buddhism is a religion? With a belief system like that, this is clearly a religion.

I don't feel I received any blessings from the relics. What I received was great disappointment. I had thought that, by and large, Buddhism was far more rational than this.
.
Yes, Buddhism's a religion. This whole board is about religion. Chanting the translated title of a book? That's a religious practice. If memory serves, Nichiren had a lot more to say about faith than he did about rationality as we understand it today. I'm skeptical Nichiren would accept contemporary reason as a benchmark for evaluating any Buddhist practice or institution.

So much of what we get out of Buddhist practices such as honoring sharira or chanting various formulae comes from our attitude toward it. An attitude of devotion and faith brings its benefits (cf the story of the dog's tooth). If you have a poor attitude, you'll get disappointing results.

Related:

http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... 73#p244782" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by DGA » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:43 pm

nichirenista wrote:I'm not seeking to "debunk" any of this. I'm seeking to categorize it. The Relic Tour has more in common with the Roman Catholic services I attended as a child, than it does with the display of the Venus of Willendorf at the local Museum of Science and Industry.

I suppose what I'm ultimately trying to do is define the term "relic."
That's a useful comparison: as evidenced by the relic tour, Buddhism is more like a contemporary religious phenomenon than it is like an artifact of an ancient culture. It's a living transmission.

As for a definition of "relic," Malcolm's post just about sums it up:

http://dharmawheel.net/posting.php?mode ... 7#pr246318" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:01 pm

Science speaks for itself. A relic either is or isn't literally from the historical Buddha. My attitude is not the deciding factor. No religious faith on my part was necessary in appraising the historical verifiability of the Venus of Willendorf.

I'm not Nichiren Daishonin and this isn't the 1200s. Heck, I'm not even Japanese. I'm a "white ethnic" raised in the Roman Catholic Church in the Unites States of America -- where one of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of expression. My reasons for chanting are different from Nichiren's (I like the scientific view), and I'm aware that he believed things that I don't. I find his beliefs and history to be beneficial to study -- but from a historical, scholarly standpoint.

I suppose what I'm saying is that mythology is different from science, and I wish the advertisement for this event would have made it clear that this event was within the realm of "Buddhist mythology." But I think I have to accept that maybe it wasn't advertised that way because some people believe it is scientifically, literally true that the relics are from the historical Buddha.
Jikan wrote:
nichirenista wrote:
Wow. People believe the relics multiply on their own? Makes me wonder … why on earth does anyone argue whether or not Buddhism is a religion? With a belief system like that, this is clearly a religion.

I don't feel I received any blessings from the relics. What I received was great disappointment. I had thought that, by and large, Buddhism was far more rational than this.
.
Yes, Buddhism's a religion. This whole board is about religion. Chanting the translated title of a book? That's a religious practice. If memory serves, Nichiren had a lot more to say about faith than he did about rationality as we understand it today. I'm skeptical Nichiren would accept contemporary reason as a benchmark for evaluating any Buddhist practice or institution.

So much of what we get out of Buddhist practices such as honoring sharira or chanting various formulae comes from our attitude toward it. An attitude of devotion and faith brings its benefits (cf the story of the dog's tooth). If you have a poor attitude, you'll get disappointing results.

Related:

http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... 73#p244782" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Malcolm » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:07 pm

nichirenista wrote:Science speaks for itself. A relic either is or isn't literally from the historical Buddha. My attitude is not the deciding factor. No religious faith on my part was necessary in appraising the historical verifiability of the Venus of Willendorf.

I'm not Nichiren Daishonin and this isn't the 1200s. Heck, I'm not even Japanese. I'm a "white ethnic" raised in the Roman Catholic Church in the Unites States of America -- where one of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of expression. My reasons for chanting are different from Nichiren's (I like the scientific view), and I'm aware that he believed things that I don't. I find his beliefs and history to be beneficial to study -- but from a historical, scholarly standpoint.

I suppose what I'm saying is that mythology is different from science, and I wish the advertisement for this event would have made it clear that this event was within the realm of "Buddhist mythology." But I think I have to accept that maybe it wasn't advertised that way because some people believe it is scientifically, literally true that the relics are from the historical Buddha.

Doesn't sound to me like there is much Buddhadharma in your Buddhism, but rather, a whole lot of materialism.
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Mkoll » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:22 pm

nichirenista wrote:I don't feel I received any blessing from this display. What I received was great disappoint and a sense that perhaps Buddhism isn't as rational as I'd thought it is, and maybe it's time to look elsewhere….
If your faith is shaken by stories about relics and people's worshiping of them, I think that faith is something to look into. What forms the basis and foundation of your faith and how is it so easily shaken by such tales? [NB, rhetorical question]
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:30 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Doesn't sound to me like there is much Buddhadharma in your Buddhism, but rather, a whole lot of materialism.

Ironic that I'm the one who was accused of being insensitive.

I leave you to bask in your spiritual superiority to me….

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:35 pm

Mkoll wrote:
nichirenista wrote:I don't feel I received any blessing from this display. What I received was great disappoint and a sense that perhaps Buddhism isn't as rational as I'd thought it is, and maybe it's time to look elsewhere….
If your faith is shaken by stories about relics and people's worshiping of them, I think that faith is something to look into. What forms the basis and foundation of your faith and how is it so easily shaken by such tales? [NB, rhetorical question]

My faith in my own practice wasn't shaken. I don't belong to the Tibetan/Bhutanese tradition. Veneration of relics is not a part of my practice.

What was shaken was my faith in the integrity of certain Buddhist leaders. It's disillusioning for me to see that representatives of other traditions make outrageous claims that almost certainly would not stand up to scientific verification. I'd thought Buddhism was above that.

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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Malcolm » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:37 pm

nichirenista wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Doesn't sound to me like there is much Buddhadharma in your Buddhism, but rather, a whole lot of materialism.

Ironic that I'm the one who was accused of being insensitive.

I leave you to bask in your spiritual superiority to me….

It is not about superiority -- you might as well chant Namo Mickey Mouse, based on your own stated belief I've read that scientific studies have revealed that chanting (no matter the religion) is good for mental health because the rhythm of chanting corresponds with that of the pulse of brain activity. Such ideas really have nothing to do with Buddhadharma.
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Malcolm » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:39 pm

nichirenista wrote:
What was shaken was my faith in the integrity of certain Buddhist leaders. It's disillusioning for me to see that representatives of other traditions make outrageous claims that almost certainly would not stand up to scientific verification. I'd thought Buddhism was above that.
Science takes the vision of ordinary confused human beings as the benchmark for truth claims. Buddhadharma takes the wisdom vision of awakened beings as the bench mark for truth claims.

You have made your choice.
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Re: Buddhist "relics"?

Post by Jesse » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:43 pm

nichirenista wrote:What was shaken was my faith in the integrity of certain Buddhist leaders. It's disillusioning for me to see that representatives of other traditions make outrageous claims that almost certainly would not stand up to scientific verification. I'd thought Buddhism was above that.
Lol. There's lots of things which are true that science can't verify. There's more to reality and life than can be measured, and while it's fine and all that you've chosen logic over dogma, don't go throwing materialistic beliefs like it's the defacto stance of science.
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