Buddha relics enshrined in the world's highest pagoda

by Deng Shasha, Xinhua, May 9, 2009

XI'AN, China -- A finger bone believed to belong to the founder of Buddhism was enshrined Saturday in a 148-meter-high stupa, the world's highest, in an ancient temple in northwest China's Shaanxi province.

The grand ceremony started at about 10:20 a.m. in the Famen Temple, Fufeng county, where a sarira, thought to be the middle finger of the left hand of Sakyamuni, was found in 1987 in a 1,000-year-old underground hall along with 2,000 ancient relics.

The finger bone sarira, concealed in a golden pagoda-shaped container, was carried by senior monks past 20,000 people gathered to see the ceremony.

The sarira was put into an underground sanctum in the stupa. It would be presented to the public on significant dates or events, said Zeng Qin, vice chairman of the Provincial Buddhist Association.

"The enshrinement of Buddha's finger bone proceeded according to Buddhist rituals," said Xue Cheng, vice chairman of the China Buddhist Association.

According to historical records, the sarira had been kept in the underground sanctum in Famen Temple since 874 in the Tang Dynasty, before it was taken out in 1987.

Since then, the temple, 118 kilometers from the provincial capital of Xi'an, has become a holy place for Buddhists from around the world.

According to the provincial tourism bureau, the temple has received about 10 million visitors over the past 20 years.

It took workers four years to build the 148-meter-high pagoda at a cost of more than 2 billion yuan (293 million U.S. dollars), most of which was donated by enterprises and organizations, said Zeng.

The stupa is shaped to resemble the common Buddhist gesture of putting the palms together with fingers pointing upwards. In the middle of the "palms" is the pagoda that houses the sarira.

Sarira, remains from the cremation of a Buddha or a saintly monk, are regarded as a treasured Buddhist relics.

Ye Xiaowen, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs of China (SARA), extended greetings on behalf of senior state leaders to the temple on the sacred event.