Saturday, November 25, 2006
With the hopes of funding the creation of a statue in northern India that would end up dwarfing the Statue of Liberty, an unprecedented collection of Buddhist artifacts continue crisscrossing American, Europe, and Asia in three different, but related collections.
The Maitreya Project, the brainchild of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, seeks to build a monument and development dedicated to Buddhism at Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh in northern India. The centerpiece of this massive development will be a 152m (500 ft) bronze statue of the Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of the future.
Buddhist belief says that there have been Buddhas in the distant past and there will be Buddhas in the distant future. The historical Buddha, the one who was born in India about 2500 years ago, is known as Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhist belief says that sometime in the distant future the teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha brought to Earth will fade away. At that point the Maitreya Buddha will be born and gain enlightenment in order to refresh and renew Buddhist teachings.
Along with the statue, the development is also planned to include temples, exhibition halls, parks, a museum, library, and a theater as well as a hospital and educational center.
In order to move forward with this project the Maitreya Project has created collections of artifacts that are touring the world. Once the statue is built these artifacts will be housed in it for viewing.
Buddhist artifacts are usually associated with the body of the person involved. While they can be such things as bone and teeth, usually they are pearl-like objects that are found and collected after the enlightened person is creamated. These pearl-like objects are called ringsel.
There are three collections of artifacts currently touring American, Europe, and East Asia. They include relics from the immediate past Buddha, called Kasyapa, the historical Buddha, five of his original disciples, several Tibetan and Zen masters, and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
Wikinews reporter Richard Kinne spent three days with the relics when the North American tour came to Ithaca, NY a few weeks ago. The relics travel with two caretakers, one of whom is always in close proximity to the relics. Setup for the relics display can take about four hours depending on the venue. Taking it down takes a bit under two hours.
Each morning of the tour the relics are taken out of their padded case and placed in clear plexiglass display cases. The relics are displayed individually in small containers called stupas. Some containers appear very full, while others contian just one very small object. Each evening the process is reversed and the padded case stays with the relic caretakers.
Between the morning and the evening people from all walks of life come to see the relics – believers, people who are curious, academics, Buddhist monks and nuns, both older folks and small children. While the Heart Relic Tour just does deals with displaying the relics, the sponsoring venue can add to the display in various ways such as lectures, meditation classes and demonstrations, or various other rituals.
The tour in North America reaches Jacksonville, FL during the first weekend of December. From there it will go to Miami between the 9th to the 11th, and then to Phoenix, AZ between the 15th to the 17th. In Asia the tour spends time in Malaysia in the first part of December.