Heart Shrine Relic Tour to bring Buddhist crystals to Tucson

By Stephanie Innes, Arizona Daily Star, Nov 25, 2007

Tucson, Arizona -- A Tucson exhibit will showcase relics said to date back to Siddhartha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism who lived about 2,500 years ago.

More than 1,000 tiny pearl-like beads, venerated as the cremated remains of Buddha and several of his disciples, will be here as part of the Heart Shrine Relic Tour next month. The exhibit, touring the world since 2001, opens locally Dec. 14.

Buddhists say the crystals, known by the Tibetan term "ringsel," form out of the remains of a cremated person who has achieved spiritual purity, and that being in their presence can result in a spiritual transformation.

Believers say the compassion of the deceased changes into spiritual energy in the form of the ringsel, which take on different shapes, like a heart, lotus flower or shell. In some cases, believers say, they multiply.

There's no scientific study that proves they are real, but the relics have a long history of being passed down from Buddhist masters to students.

"When I hear relic, I think of an artifact like a goblet. So at first I wasn't interested," said Tucsonan Victor Shamas, who saw the relic tour when it was in Phoenix last year.

"The thing about these relics is that they are the essence of these teachers. My experience being in their presence was peace and balance. The experience I had last year was life-changing, inspiring, like nothing else I've ever felt."

Shamas, an author and University of Arizona psychology lecturer, was so moved by the exhibit that he decided to bring it to Tucson. He expects at least 1,000 people will attend the display, at the Downtown-area Anjali Yoga Studio and Day Spa.

The relics appeared in Tucson once before, about six years ago, when Anjali was called the Living Community Center, said Janice Herradora, Anjali's co-founder and director. Several hundred people turned out then, but Herradora thinks there's a bigger audience this time.

The beads will be inside a plexiglass display. "It's almost like a pilgrimage in that you walk around several times and take in the energy," Shamas said. "There will be lots of seating for people just to sit in their presence."
The tour's goal is to promote a message of peace and loving-kindness, a concept Buddhists generally regard as unselfish and all-embracing love.

"These relics are not inanimate objects. There is something going on there that emanates and radiates in a way an ordinary object wouldn't have," said Carmen Straight, relic custodian for the Maitreya Project, which is sponsoring the tour. Straight has been traveling with the exhibit since 2004.

"There was one man in his 70s who came up to me and said all his life he'd been angry, but that after coming to the exhibit he made a vow not to be angry anymore," Straight said.

The relics were salvaged from statues in Tibet destroyed during the invasion by Communist China, and also from museums, monasteries and individuals, including the Dalai Lama, according to the Maitreya Project.
They will eventually be enshrined inside the heart of an enormous, 50-story statue called the Maitreya Buddha, set to be built in Kushinagar, India, for about $200 million.

There is no charge to view the exhibit and it is open to people of all faiths, organizers emphasize. Shamas himself isn't a Buddhist. He describes himself as a "spiritual omnivore," and says there's something in the relic tour for everyone.

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