Buddhist relics drop in, inviting bliss and awe, at the Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour

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Relics are among the most precious objects in the Buddhist world. Mysterious and beautiful, they’re the jewel-like crystals that were found among the cremation ashes of the religion’s masters. In the past, if devotees wanted to view them, they would have to make arduous journeys to the remote monasteries of India or China, hoping that someone would take them to the sacred vaults that contained the holy objects.

But over the past 11 years, the relics of 42 masters, including the 2,600-year-old remains of Buddha himself, have been travelling the world. The Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour has visited 67 countries and drawn 1.6 million viewers, and makes a stop here this weekend. The magnitude of the tour speaks to the way the relics transcend religion and have become a source of fascination for many who have no devotional link to them.

“Last year I went with them to Africa and to the Indian Ocean islands,” explains Dana Lissy, a spokesperson with the Maitreya Project. “The smallest event was in Namibia, with 500 people—Buddhism is all but unknown there. In Mauritius, 10,000 came to see them, though most of the people there still have a connection to India and still have a devotion to these holy objects. We’re drawing more and more from outside the Buddhist faith.”

The crystals themselves, Lissy says, vary in colour and transparency. The Dalai Lama himself has donated some of the relics in the show. To those in the faith, the crystals, which will be displayed under lit Plexiglas, hold soothing and healing qualities. But Lissy explains that feeling goes beyond religious practice or ritual.

“They’re said to hold qualities of the mind of the enlightened being and this is what they actually trigger in us—to awaken these values in us, so that we feel strong love and compassion in our hearts,” says Lissy, who describes the atmosphere at the exhibit as quiet and contemplative. Many people come and meditate at the show for hours, she adds.

The display is free, with donation boxes requesting funding to keep it travelling. Eventually, Maitreya Project International’s intention is to enshrine the relics within a 500-foot-high bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha in Kushinagar in northern India. But Lissy says the worldwide popularity of the tour has altered the plan a bit: “Some will probably be put in the shrine and the rest will continue to travel around the world.”

The Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour stops at Unity of Vancouver (5849 Oak Street) on Saturday and Sunday (July 14 and 15).

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