• Relics from Buddhist masters throughout the centuries. At center is a hair from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (b. 1935), which is considered a holy object rather than a relic.

    Photo / Joanne Ciccarello

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  • Venerable G. Kato of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Mass., leads a prayer during the blessing ceremony for the exhibit of Buddhist relics at MIT. Behind him, also from the New England Peace Pagoda, are Brother Tow-Bee (left) and Brother Temm (right). Relics in the touring exhibit will eventually be enshrined in a 500-foot Maitreya Buddha statue being built in Northern India.

    Photo / Joanne Ciccarello

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  • Venerable Thich Thien-Hue, a Vietnamese monk and abbot of the Buddhist Center in Braintree, Mass., blesses Richard J. Barbalace (S.B. 1997), assisted by Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi Shukla, the Buddhist chaplain at MIT. The blessing is being conducted with a relic from Shakyamuni Buddha, founder of Buddhism.

    Photo / Joanne Ciccarello

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Buddhist relics are full of spirit

Buddhist monks from six countries blessed an exhibit of spiritual relics at the Student Center on Wednesday in a quiet ceremony that was high on spirit and low on pomp.

In conjunction with the Dalai Lama's visit to MIT this weekend, the relics--remnants of Buddhist masters' bodies that are gathered by loving disciples, whose fingers carefully comb through the cremation ashes to find bits of bone, teeth and lustrous, crystalline beads--will be displayed through Sunday, Sept. 14 in the West Lounge.

The Heart Shrine relics come from many Buddhist masters, including relics of the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, donated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The tour is organized by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of the Maitreya Project in Kushinagar, India, who plans to build a 500-foot statue of the Maitreya Buddha ("loving-kindness Buddha") in which these relics will be enshrined in 2008.

"Relics come from masters who have devoted their entire lifetime to spiritual practices that are dedicated to the welfare of all. Every part of their body and relics carries positive energy to inspire goodness," said Lama Zopa Rinpoche in a statement on his web site.

Most of the relics in the Student Center have been carefully placed on red velvet in tiny gold urns displayed in glass cases, each with a photo behind it of the monk from whose body it was derived. These are set on a table covered with orange and yellow satin cloths; crystal and glass bowls filled with yellow saffron water, said to promote peace and calm, are dispersed among the relics.

The Buddhist monks, who wore robes of dark brown, orange, yellow or white, removed their shoes outside the West Lounge and entered the room as they arrived. After circling the table that held the relics, and prostrating, kneeling and standing in turn, they sat on the floor and prayed and chanted for about an hour. Monks would take turns leading chants in their own language, in sonorous voices accompanied sometimes by drums. Occasionally, the voice of a woman follower would join that of a monk, the two voices in unison an octave apart. Two of the monks were women, or anis.

Followers entered the room shyly after first removing their footwear and quietly found floor space to join the group. The room slowly filled with people, and with an aura of peace and hope as the chanting continued.

MIT's Buddhist chaplain, Tenzin L. S. Priyadarshi Shukla, a Buddhist monk who is a visiting scholar living in Simmons Hall, will give a talk on the significance of the relics on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in the MIT Chapel.

Topics: Special events and guest speakers


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