Buddhist relics on display at Clearwater church

By Elaine Markowitz, St Petersburg Times, October 30, 2008

CLEARWATER, FL (USA) -- Local residents and visitors are in for an enlightening experience.

Beginning Friday, the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater will welcome the Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour, a traveling exhibit of some 1,000 sacred Buddhist relics. The exhibit is open to the public at no charge, although donations are welcomed.

The relics consist of delicate crystals of varying sizes and colors, all found among the cremation ashes of dozens of Buddhist masters buried in India, Korea and other countries of the Far East. Buddhists traditionally believe each crystal embodies the wisdom and compassion of the master and is deliberately produced by the master at his death.

The word Maitreya, meaning "loving kindness" in ancient Sanskrit, seems appropriate to this exhibit, which is meant to inspire peace and kindness in all who view the precious relics.

The visit was organized by Frank Tedesco, who facilitates Buddhist meditation sessions at the host church.

Tedesco, who holds a doctorate in Buddhist studies, said he believes in the power of the crystals to inspire compassion and kindness in the viewers.

By way of example, he spoke of meeting a tour sponsor in Los Angeles in 2001. The woman, he said, lived in an area of the city rife with gangs and drug usage. She introduced the relics for community viewing and watched a change take place.

"The community experienced peace for months after the exhibit left," he said.

Eventually, the relics will be enshrined in a 500-foot high monument to peace in Kushinagar in northern India. The edifice, shaped like the Maitreya Buddha, is expected to take another 10 years or so to finish building.

Tedesco said the finished project will house free spiritual education sessions, health care and other programs to enhance the lives of people in one of the poorest sections of India.

"It will put the teaching of loving kindness into action," he said.

The sponsors of the Clearwater exhibit have similar hopes that visitors not only will learn about the Buddhist masters and the crystals, but also will be inspired to work toward a kinder and more peaceful world.

Fast facts

What: Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour.

When: The church will conduct an interfaith opening ceremony at 7 p.m. Friday. Visitors may view the relics from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 2470 Nursery Road.

Cost: Free but donations are welcome.

For more information: Visit www.maitreyaproject.org or call (727) 531-7704.