Rare glimpse of Buddhist relics

By DANIEL MACISAAC, Edmonton Sun, Oct 15, 2007

Edmonton, Canada -- Hundreds of relic hunters descended on an Edmonton temple this weekend for what they described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

No, it had nothing to do with Indiana Jones but rather Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion, and a travelling exhibition called the Heart Shrine Relic Tour - hosted by the Phat Quang Buddhist Temple in southeast Edmonton.

"Buddhists want to see these relics at least once in their lifetime," said Anh Nguyen, a leader at the temple, which is mainly used by Edmonton's Vietnamese community. "So, everyone's happy to have this rare opportunity to view them."

Carmen Straight, a Canadian-born Buddhist, also serves as relic custodian and travels around the world with the exhibition. She explains that the relics come from some of Buddhism's holiest teachers in Asia and fall into three categories: remnants like the hair, bones or blood of the holy men, the clothing or tools they used and, above all, crystal-like beads said to have appeared with the cremation of their bodies.

The relics are contained within glass or brass vessels and were displayed at the temple on a large gold altar.

Straight says one goal of the exhibition is to raise funds for the construction of a Buddhist complex in Kushinagar, in northeast India, featuring a massive, 150-metre-high Buddha statue.

"Visually, we'll have the opportunity to practise love and kindness," Straight said. "But the project is not just the statue. There will be an education program and a medical clinic as well as inter-faith temples."

The exhibition itself also aims to bring together people of different faiths. And the Edmonton stop attracted almost as many non-Buddhists as regular worshippers.

Minh Vo brought his wife and two young daughters to the exhibition, saying: "This experience will enhance my spiritual journey."

Other Buddhists waited for a blessing from a seated monk. Nguyen acted as a greeter for non-Buddhists, leading them into the brightly coloured temple hall.

Linda LeGrow and Beverly Ryland aren't Buddhists but do practise yoga - and described the exhibition as moving.

"I didn't want to leave," LeGrow said.