Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist Relic Veneration in Asia by David Germano, Kevin Trainor

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By David Germano, Kevin Trainor

Examines the perform of relic veneration in quite a few types of Buddhism.

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The relic chamber is thus transformed into a kind of permanent biographical diorama, or “biorama” if I may be allowed a neologism, and it is into this environment that the relics are then enshrined. ” In other words, what relics ideally embody is the whole of the Buddha’s biographical process that leads from his birth (or former births) through his enlightenment to his parinirvana, that is, from his appearance to his disappearance without remainder. ” Once the relic chamber has been made ready, and the relics to be enshrined in it have been obtained, the casket containing them opens of itself and the relics “come alive”; they rise up into the air and take on the form of the Buddha together with all the bodily signs of the Great Man (maha\purus≥a), and perform various miracles.

PATTERNS OF DISTRIBUTION A. Some years ago, David Sox, an authority on the Shroud of Turin, visited the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. There he was shown a large room which was lined from floor to ceiling with cabinets and shelves loaded with containers of every conceivable size BUDDHIST RELICS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE 41 encasing bone, ashes, clothing and whatnot. They were the relics required in the altars of new churches waiting to be shipped out. 66 Of course, things were not always so centralized.

At about the same time as Paula was in Jerusalem, the Chinese pilgrim Faxian was visiting the so-called Cave of the Buddha’s Shadow, in what is today Afghanistan. The story of the relic in this cave at Nagaraha\ra is intimately connected to the apocryphal tale of the Buddha’s conversion of BUDDHIST RELICS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE 31 the na\ga Gopa\la there. Worried that he might lose his faith once the Buddha who had just tamed him left the area, Gopa\la asked the Blessed One to leave some token of himself right there in his na\ga’s cave, as a safeguard against backsliding.

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