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Holy Relics

U Thet Shay, 1998

International Theravada
Buddhist Missionary

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         Assigned to the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University at the most unexpected time, my job often requires me to stay late at office, or sometimes to sleep there. My nights at the office find me fresh and ready in the morning. After paying homage to the Tooth Relic pagoda, just across the road, I would start each day with an hour of meditation. Walking round the pagoda premises at dawn, around the lake, beside groves of young trees, inhaling fresh air, I would be grateful for this unexpected change of my career.

         While the Tooth Relic pagoda was still under construction, my family had donated Holy Relics to be enshrined in the pagoda. Remembering that donation, I would feel peaceful as I stroll in the pagoda compound.

         Having joined the Defence Services Academy at the age of fifteen, I became an officer at twenty - young, boisterous, callous and carefree. Religion would have no special meaning for me. I was a Buddhist only because my ancestors had been, and because my parents had trained me to be one.

         When I became a regimental commanding officer, my little officers, the adjutant, the quartermaster, the intelligence officer, would buy me all sorts of religious books. I was attracted by biographies of Arahats-Venerable monks who, after intense practice, had achieved deliverance. It was interesting to read about their insight-their ability to foresee events, to read people's mind, to mentally contact people thousands of miles away from them, to foretell the exact date and time of their death, etc. Then I encountered the luckiest turn of my entire life. I met a monk who did foresee events, who read people's mind, who could mentally contact us when we were hundreds of miles away from him, and best of all, who taught me practical methods to escape from the samsara filled with suffering, ageing, and death. Since then Buddhism has been everything to me.

         Time and again. I have heard of Buddhism being referred to as a religion where its devotees bow to heaps of bricks in the form of pagodas and statues. Buddhism is taken by most as a blind faith of the underdeveloped orient. A pity they don't know the truth and depth of Buddha's Dhamma, how in Buddhism can one find solid answers and solutions to life's otherwise unexplainable puzzles and unfairness.

         This saying about Buddhists bowing to heaps of bricks dates back to colonial days when members of invading troops and colonial rule, ignorant of Buddhism, took home their assumption after seeing devotees at pagodas.

        A pity again, they don't know of Holy Relics being enshrined in pagodas and statues.

        No matter how rich, how learned one may be, no one can argue that one ends up aged and dead, not to mention incurable diseases, unbearable pain, murders, tortures, having to part from loved ones through death or while living.

         The Lord Buddha left us Holy Relics, as proof that he had been delivered from further sufferings. Arahats too, after practice, leave behind Holy Relics to prove that they too, have, as the Lord Buddha had, escaped from the samsara of birth, ageing, death, pain, sorrow and rebirth.

         When a layman is cremated, it is either burnt to ashes, or if incompletely burnt, it leaves behind skeletal remains.

         But when an Arahat's body is cremated, relics with sizes varying from granules to pebble-like forms, are formed. These relics can never be burnt nor cut down. And, if stored, they sometimes multiply by themselves to varying numbers.

         There have been thousands of Arahats since Buddha's time who left behind holy relics. Every now and then, these days, we hear about holy relics being formed when bodies of Arahats - the real supermen - are cremated.

         In Myanmar, it is well known that the Venerable Mogok Sayadaw, who passed away in 1962, left behind holy relics as well as an eye relic and a tooth relic. An eye, delicate as it is, is one of the first organs that will burn to ashes when cremated. But in Mogok Sayadaw's case, after the body had been totally burnt down, both eye-balls were found to have turned to stone-hard relics, their shape unchanged. Then there was a tooth, a molar, which was found among ashes and relics of various sizes. Some months after the cremation, the molar was found to have stumps growing on all sides.

         Among many other Arahats who had left behind holy relics, there was one in Zee Daw village in Pakokku district who passed away in the early nineties, i.e. about six years ago.

         Not knowing that the Zee Daw Sayadaw had achieved enlightenment, the villagers did not search for relics in the ashes. That night, and in the nights that followed, villagers saw colourful sparks and haloes arising from the cremation site. So, one morning, they searched through the ashes, and found stone-like particles of various sizes. Curious, they took those stones to the village monk who, after careful examination, verified that they were indeed holy relics.

        Only then were the villagers remorse-filled. They were regretful for not having listened more to the Sayadaw's teachings, for not having served the Sayadaw better, for not having stayed closer to him.

         In a world filled with material wealth and scientific developments, I am grateful to have been born in a land filled with the teachings of Buddha, and Sanghas, holy monks who show us ways to escape from worldly sufferings.

        Arriving back at the ITBMU after a refreshing walk at dawn, each day's work await me, starting with dawn offering of breakfast to residing Sanghas But the work comes as a joy to me. I deem it an honour to be given this opportunity to be part of the work force striving to relay to students from various parts of the world, the Teachings of Lord Buddha the most precious gem indescribably and incomparably more valuable than any of the worldly riches.


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