Ancient Buddhist relics on exhibit in New Orleans (The Associated Press), Dec 11, 2004

NEW ORLEANS, USA -- Sacred Buddhist relics donated from around Asia were on display at a New Orleans religious center, part of a worldwide tour to raise money for a planned $250 million complex of temples and museums in northern India.

The relics include fragments of teeth and bone collected from the ashes of cremated spiritual figures along with crystalline deposits that Buddhists believe are formed as a result of the realization of compassion and wisdom. They were on display Saturday and Sunday at the Van-Hanh Buddhist Center in eastern New Orleans.

Buddhists believe viewing the relics can inspire loving kindness that can lead to world peace.

Thich Tri Hien, a Dallas monk from Texas who officiated at Friday's opening of the exhibit, said about 4,000 people viewed the relics at his temple in June 2003.

The Dalai Lama and Buddhist leaders from countries including Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Tibet and Taiwan donated relics for the seven-year worldwide tour, which will end in 2008.

Buddhists hope to place the relics in the heart of a 500-foot Maitreya Buddha statue in Uttar Pradesh, India. According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya Buddha is the future Buddha who is expected to manifest himself in the world in the future.

Tour organizers hope donations from people viewing the relics will help pay for the statue and a landscaped complex including temples, museums and a public hospital.

The plan, called the Maitreya Project, is designed to provide social programs for the poor, organizers said. The project also provides free education to 500 students in Bodhgaya, India.

The Maitreya Project was conceived by Lama Thubten Yeshe, a Tibetan teacher who devoted his life to making Buddhism available to people worldwide. His main disciple, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, has continued the plan after his death.

"Money is not the important part" of the tour, said Long Huynh, secretary of the Van-Hanh Buddhist Center. "It is that people will open their hearts and create kindness."

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