1,000 blessed by Buddhist relics in Sacramento stop
By email@example.com, The Sacramento Bee, July 18, 2011
Nearly 1,000 area residents filed into Sacramento's Spiritual Life Center this weekend to be blessed by Buddha's remains.
The ancient relics, described by one viewer as looking like irregular white tapioca balls with pearly sheens, have been touring the globe to spread enlightenment, love and world peace.
The crystallized relics are believed to have been born from the ashes of Buddha, who was cremated in 483 B.C. in Kushinagar, India, after he died at 80.
Buddhists worldwide believe the relics were deliberately produced by Buddha to manifest his inner purity and to convey compassion and wisdom on all who are exposed to them.
Buddha's remains were displayed in bowls behind glass on a table covered with a golden baby Buddha, a life-size golden Buddha, sacred texts and other spiritual objects. Also on tour are hundreds of other relics – including granulated bone, blood and hair – believed to be the cremains of 34 other Buddhist masters who also achieved enlightenment.
Upon entering the room, visitors bathed in the scent of incense and the sounds of Buddhist songs. Nearly all visitors were moved by the relics, whether or not they believed they were indeed seeing Buddha's remains.
"It's very soothing," said Peggy Bowman, 51, who came from Pollock Pines with her daughter Sarah. "If you look around, there's not a sad person in this place." Bowman said the exhibit helped her "turn my life in a different direction and look at things more half-full instead of half-empty."
The interactive event began with each visitor bathing the golden baby Buddha with three scoops of water from the India's Ganges River, the Chalice Well in England, the Vatican and Tibet's Lake Manasarovar. The holy water, infused with saffron, is believed to spread the essence of Buddha's loving kindness. Each visitor got to take some home in a plastic container.
Visitors also got to ring a bell "to delight your spiritual guide" and spin a prayer wheel clockwise to purify themselves and help end suffering. They could read from a Buddhist text, "the Sutra of Golden Light," to experience comfort, happiness and prosperity.
For many, the most powerful moment came when interfaith ministers gently placed a stupa – a brass and glass vessel – containing some of the relics on each visitor's head as a personal blessing.
"That was really powerful," said Debbie Klein, 46, of Sacramento. "This energy came through the top of my head, and my whole body felt filled with a loving presence. I could feel the compassion."
Klein said the experience gave her some clarity. "A lot of changes are going on in my life, and as I try to make sense of them, this will help me be at peace going into the future."
The relics have been touring the world for 10 years, sponsored by the Maitreya Project, which hopes to raise $19.5 million to build a 500-foot statue of the Maitreya Buddha, or Buddha of Love.
The project, endorsed by the Dalai Lama, is designed to spread peace and harmony by building schools, a hospital, an airport and a pavilion housing thousands of relics and employing more than 4,000 Indian workers.
The relics were brought to Sacramento by the Spiritual Life Center, whose motto is "Many Paths, One God."
The center's senior minister, the Rev. Michael Moran, said the relics get their power from their ability to touch people of all faiths. "That's what transforms me," said Moran.
Sacramento Buddhist teacher Ravi Verma doubts the relics' authenticity and said Buddha himself "was completely against these things … there were no statues of Buddha."
But "people are not going to see them because they're authentic or not; it's something that makes your belief stronger because you are closer to these symbols," Verma said. "Jesus is not in the church, but we go to places of worship because we feel something different there."
Some Christians and Hindus also question the authenticity of their relics, Moran said. The Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the linen cloth placed on Jesus' body, is subject to much debate.
But so many people – millions worldwide – have brought their beliefs to the Buddhist relics that the objects have been infused with power, Moran said. "I get goose bumps when I'm around them," he said.
People of all ages felt the power. Chance Dunbar, a 15-year-old junior at Rio Americano High School, said that as soon as he walked in he could "feel a calming presence."
Dunbar said he was taken by surprise. "I'm not sure the relics are real, and I'm not even too big on prayer or the whole God thing, but I could feel the energy coming off the relics."
When he received the personal blessing on the crown of his head, the minister whispered in his ear, "You are loved."
"It's good to hear positive affirmations no matter who you are," Dunbar said.