Tour of sacred Buddhist relics makes stop at library in Lisle

By Angela Rozas and Manya A. Brachear, Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2005

Exhibit to raise funds to build Buddha statue

Chicago, USA -- A collection of rare, sacred Buddhist relics will be on display in Lisle this weekend as part of an international campaign to build a 500-foot-tall Buddha statue in India by the year 2008.

The relics come in many forms, including teeth and bones, but most are pearl-like crystals of various shades that Buddhists say were formed from the ashes of the Buddhas, including the one known as Shakyamuni, the fourth and historical Buddha who laid down the sutras of the faith.

Believers say viewing the relics gives a feeling of peace and inspiration, clear thought and hope.

"When you're in there, you feel different, especially if you are a Buddhist," said Eugene Gao, 46, of Naperville, who viewed the relics last year when they were displayed in Wheaton. "It is difficult to explain. You feel very peaceful, very quiet. You really think about your life."

Exhibitors hope the show, dubbed the Heart Shrine Relic Tour, will raise money toward a $250 million golden statue of Maitreya, the future and fifth Buddha forecasted in Buddhist texts to reside on Earth someday. Once the statue is in place in northern India, the relics are to be enshrined in its heart.

"Construction of the statue is not the goal--it is the method for achieving the goal," Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of Maitreya Project, said in a statement. "The goal is to benefit as many people as possible for as long as possible."

Raising money for the project is also not the ultimate goal of the tour, added Naperville resident Bert Tan, who will host the project at his Buddhist library this weekend.

"It's purely a very compassionate, mind-driven event to let people see before those artifacts go into the permanent home," he said.

The relics come from a number of sources, including museums and monks who have offered the sacred objects to make the statue a reality. The exhibit also includes holy objects such as a hair from the Dalai Lama.

Buddhists believe the sacred pearls, enclosed in glass cases, formed during cremation as the Buddhas' spiritual realizations of compassion and wisdom took shape around the remains.

The relics encompass the life force the Buddha left behind, said Kevin Trainor, an associate professor at the University of Vermont and author of "Relics, Ritual and Representation in Buddhism."

"Making an offering to a relic of a Buddha is exactly equivalent in terms of merit to offering something to him during his lifetime," Trainor said. "Merit is important for future rebirth and ultimately for attaining the goal [of nirvana]."

Some even believe the relics are alive and can multiply or disappear. A handful of the artifacts in the exhibit are said to have appeared during the tour. Other relics have reportedly traveled on their own or emanated light, Trainor said.

At the opening ceremony for the exhibit Friday, Buddhist monks will place the relics atop visitors' heads to evoke personal blessings--the passage of the master's wisdom and energy into recipients.

"When you go there, you just feel the energy. It's so powerful," said Eleanor Wang, a Mt. Prospect resident who also saw the Wheaton exhibit last year. "You can feel this relaxation, and it's coming from the Buddha's spiritual being."

Buddhists believe the historical Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha in 563 B.C. He attained enlightenment at age 29 and began to teach seven weeks later. He delivered his last teaching, or sutra, at the age of 80 and then passed into nirvana, the end of the Buddhist cycle of birth and death.

His disciples also achieved enlightenment and continued spreading his wisdom after his departure. Their relics, too, are included in the exhibit.

The relics will appear at the Amitabha Buddhist Library, a non-profit organization and library started by Tan and his wife in 2003. Tucked away in a strip mall in Lisle, the library houses a collection of more than 10,000 books, relics and materials on Buddhism, and a meditation room where Buddhists from around the area gather weekly.

He and his wife first started spreading Buddhist message years ago by buying boxes of books about Buddhism and leaving them in public spaces.

"We started this because we wanted to spread the good education and good teachings of Buddha," said Tan.

Inspired by the tour's stop in Wheaton last year, he and his wife offered to house its return at the library. This will be the relics' third visit to the Chicago area.

If you go

Friday's opening ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. The exhibition will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the library, 2753-2755 W. Maple Ave., Lisle. Admission is free, but donations toward the Maitreya Project will be accepted.
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