Buddhist relics to visit city

By Bronislaus B. Kush, Worcester Telegram, October 15, 2010

Worcester, MA (USA) -- The life story and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama - a wealthy prince born in northern India sometime between the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. — laid the foundations for the establishment of Buddhism, the world’s fourth largest religion.

After his death, Gautama, who’s revered as the historical Buddha, was cremated.

This weekend, hundreds are expected to visit Worcester to view a precious collection of about 1,000 sacred Buddhist relics, which include pearl-like crystals that were reputedly found among the former royal’s remains.

“We are very happy that the relics are here,” said the Venerable Thich Tri Hoa, the abbess of Linh Son Temple on Ruthven Avenue, where the historical objects will be displayed.

The exhibition will open at 6 p.m. today with a blessing ceremony. During the ritual, the relics will be placed on the crown of the participants’ heads.

The public is also invited to view the relics from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The collection, which will be permanently displayed in a shrine now under construction in Kushinagar, India, is visiting a number of sites around the globe.

It also includes relics of Maudgalyayana, Sariputra, and Ananda, the Buddha’s closest disciples, as well as the remains of spiritual masters from many Buddhist traditions.

Visitors reportedly experience inspiration and healing when in the presence of the relics. Many Buddhists believe the relics embody the Buddha masters’ spiritual compassion and wisdom, and are produced by the masters themselves at their deaths.

“The relics touch and open hearts,” said Jeff Bailey, who is associated with the temple. “The exhibit’s goal is to promote love and kindness.”

The collection also includes a life-size statue of the Maitreya, who according to Buddhist scriptures, will be the next Buddha.

Maitreya is expected to bestow teachings, which will bring love and kindness to the world.

“The arrival of Maitreya is similar to Christ’s second coming in Christian tradition,” explained Mr. Bailey.

He said it’s never been scientifically proven that the remains are of the historical Buddha or of his dearest followers.

“The question has been lost in antiquity. Most Buddhists believe but nobody knows for sure,” he said. “In reality, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is the reason for the visit — to spread love and understanding.”

The Venerable Man Shing said the timing of the visit is important, given all the uncertainties Americans are facing.

She noted that many are out of work and have lost their homes and ways of life.

“Uncertainty is everywhere. Faith in our social institutions is faltering,” said the Venerable Man Shing. “With this social malaise beginning to manifest in an insidious way, it is our hope that these relics and our heartfelt prayers will bring some relief, comfort, inspiration, and life transforming processes in people’s hearts.”

The Venerable Tri Hoa said she expects Buddhists from all over New England to visit. She said the collection’s only other regional stop is Hartford.

The tour is organized by officials with the Maitreya Project, who are constructing the complex in Kushinagar.

In addition to building a religious facility, project officials are also constructing space from which workers will provide spiritual, educational and health care services to residents of that area, considered one of the poorest in India.

They’re also hoping to improve the area’s infrastructure, as well as helping individuals find work.

The temple earlier this year hosted the visit of a $5 million, four-ton translucent jade statue of the Buddha. Officials said that thousands attended that weekend event.