Hundreds view relics of Buddha in Jacksonville

by Shantanudutta, Blogger News Network, December 3, 2006

Jacksonville, FL (USA) -- While thousands of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech faithful watched their teams play at Alltel Stadium on Saturday, the spiritually curious joined hundreds of Buddhists from the region at a Buddhist temple to view, venerate and be blessed by relics of Gautama Buddha.

That’s the historical Buddha, whose remains are on display through Monday in a shrine at the Jacksonville Cambodian Buddhist Society on Clinton Avenue. By 3 p.m. Saturday, about 300 people had come to see the sacred remnants of the sage who founded Buddhism in India around 500 B.C. The relics, along with those of other Buddhist masters dating back centuries, are part of the Heart Shrine Relic Tour that is traveling the nation.

For devout Buddhists, simply being in the presence of the relics has huge spiritual benefits, said Yifang Li, a native of Taiwan and one of two custodians of the remains.

“The Buddha says, ‘when you see my relics you see me, too,’ ” Li said as dozens prayed in front of the display cases containing the remains, which resemble pearls, gems and grains of golden sand.

When Buddhist teachers are cremated, such relics are often found among their ashes and then preserved by their disciples, Li said. After Gautama Buddha’s death, his ashes yielded approximately 84,000 such relics, which have been saved through the ages in temples and shrines around the world.

“And the relics can multiply,” Li said.

Those on display in Jacksonville belong to the Maitreya Project, an international effort to build a 500-foot statue of the Buddha in northern India and, through its relics world tour, promote loving kindness and world peace, Li said.

For Buddhists, seeing the relics would be like Christians seeing those of Jesus Christ, said Michael Turnquist, director of Karma Thegsum Choling Jacksonville, a Tibetan Buddhist center located in Riverside. “It is extraordinarily rare,” Turnquist said.

Jacksonville’s Buddhist population is steadily growing, he said. He couldn’t cite numbers, but said the city now has Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, Tibetan and Japanese Zen Buddhist centers. Worldwide there are an estimated 325 million Buddhists, including 2 million in the United States.

The tour is drawing many non-Buddhists, Li said. Southside resident Linda Wood, a Christian Scientist, said she was fascinated by the ritual and aura surrounding the relics.

She even purchased a gold ring emblazoned with a Tibetan Buddhist prayer. “I find it very insightful,” Wood said. “And it’s for a worthy cause - loving kindness.”

From Jacksonville the relics tour goes to Miami, then to Phoenix.