Sunday, July 9, 2023

Parting with Buddha's Relics

This Friday, Lama Lakshey Zangpo came to the MDC to pick up a very special relic from my altar. Actually, these relics are really my heart and one of my most precious and prized possessions; these relics are of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. 

First, maybe I can say a bit about what relics are. Relics, or  རིང་བསྲེལ (ring bsrel) or in Sanskrit sharira roughly translates to body, and relics refer to pearls or special objects that are found among the cremated ashes of great Buddhist Masters. Buddha Shakyamuni had instructed his followers to cremate his body and then to distribute the relics among various groups of his lay followers, who were to enshrine them in stupas. These relics can miraculously multiply inside their containers under favorable conditions. Inside, saffron pistils are often put within the glass or gold containers as an offering. The enlightened beings with high realizations establish relics as a means for passing on blessings of their body, speech, and mind.

I want to share a brief story about how the relics came into my possession. In 2006, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent me along with two other monks, one from the Sakya-pa lineage, one from the Nyingma-pa, and me from the Kagyu-pa, to a Theravada Monastery in Burma as a sort of ambassador. Because of issues with visa and other maladies, only I was able to go. At this monastery, which I’ve spoken a bit about before, I spent about 6 months. Actually, no one knew that I was Tibetan as I dressed like monks in their monastery, stayed with them, and followed their traditions. Only after about 4 months, I met a nun from Laos who also spoke Tibetan. With her as a translator, I gave one teaching on the Four Noble Truths. The monks were surprised to learn that the teaching was similar to their own, as in the Pali tradition, the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination are the essence of the Pali tradition, as sometimes other schools of Buddhism regard Tibetan Buddhism as Lamaism, a different tradition
altogether. Later on, I met with the head abbot of the monastery, an elderly man of 96 whom they regarded as an Arahant. He really thought it was nice to have a Tibetan monk stay with them. Later, I went to see him many times. The last day, before I bid farewell, I went to speak with one of his attendants who became my friend and we were quite close. He asked me if there was anything he could give to me on my last day. I always heard that there were relics in Burma. I told him that I am interested in relics. I thought maybe he would bring any sort of relics, but then, amazingly, he gave me 3 relics of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. Afterward, upon my arrival back to India, I met with His Holiness to give a report of my assignment. His Holiness asked me questions about my stay, and was surprised that my intended trip of 1 month became 6 months! I presented His Holiness with one of these relics. He said wow, and touched the relics to his head. He said that he very much believed that it is possible that the Buddha’s relics were in Burma. The second of these relics I presented to Lama Tharchin Rinpoche. With one last relic remaining, I presented to my Dharma brother Anam Thubten for a stupa which he will dedicate in Big Sur, California. As I said, this relic is really my heart and dearest possession, but I felt that I wanted to present them to the right person and to the right place. As in the 23rd verse of the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva:

The practice of all the bodhisattvas is to let go of grasping

When encountering things one finds pleasant or attractive,

Considering them to be like rainbows in the summer skies—

Beautiful in appearance, yet in truth devoid of any substance.

I just wanted to let others know about the history of these relics and where they will be in the future. I am very happy that they will remain here in California with my dear friend for others to visit in the future.

This blog was dictated by Khenpo Karten Rinpoche in the month of July of 2023 to his student, Karma Choeying, on the occasion of parting with the precious Buddha relics from the Manjushri Dharma Center to a stupa in Big Sur, California. 

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