After waiting in line for about fifteen minutes, we navigated through a maze of velvet ropes into the dimly lit room at Washington University in St. Louis. In the center of the room stood a large round table. The room was small, the enormous table leaving just enough space for the line of people to snake their way around. On top of the table was a large glass cabinet, like something you would see in a jewelry store. Inside the cabinet sat about twenty three golden jewel encrusted teacups. Each teacup sat in the center of a red and gold saucer. People stopped and stared intently into the cabinet at the teacups. Some bowed their heads and whispered prayers while others supplicated themselves in front of the cabinet, making it a little hard for others to get by because of the space. In the background there was music playing: soft and lilting chords from a sitar. A female voice intoned softly: “An end to all suffering and pain….”
Inside the teacups were what appeared to be small white stones. Some were round, smooth and shiny like pearls, others were ragged around the edges and a little darker in color. A few of the cups contained what appeared to be human bones and a couple had human teeth! Some of the cups had only one object in them while others were almost full. Behind each of the cups was a picture, or in some cases, a drawing of a Buddhist master. There was even one of the historical Buddha himself, Shakyamuni Buddha, with a large cup containing his relics in front of it.
Relics of saints and other holy persons-either their personal belongings or fragments of their bodies that don’t decay-have been treasured for thousands of years. The Heart Shrine relics are the remains of spiritual masters who have reached extraordinary levels of enlightenment during their lifetimes. Due to the purity of their minds small crystalline pearl-like deposits called ringsel appear in their ashes after they are cremated.
We walked around the room for a few more minutes and peered down into the case. Some of the ringsels almost appeared to be glowing faintly. There was definitely a peacefulness and reverence about them.
The relics tour is part of the Maitreya Project. After spending a couple of years touring the world, they will be enshrined in the heart of a magnificent 500 ft. tall bronze statue of the Buddha being built in northern India. “Maitri” is a Sanskrit word meaning love, tolerance, and compassion for others. The statue is being built to last for a thousand years. As well as building the statue, plans call for the total revitalization of the area that it is being built in. This includes a park, community center and library, a school and a hospital in this very poor area of India.
As we left the room and spilled out into the hall, I glanced over at the two uniformed security guards standing by the door. Behind them was a large picture of the face of the bronze Buddha statue. His eyes were closed and he was smiling….a peaceful and gentle smile.
Note: The relics will be in Chicago, Oklahoma, Michigan and Ohio August and September of 2005 For more information and more tour dates visit: www.maitreyaproject.org/relictour