You can’t have a religion without relics (what else would you sell on TV broadcasts?) so this discovery announced by Chinese researchers is a big one … perhaps not in size but definitely in importance. Chinese media has revealed that excavations under the ancient Grand Bao’en Temple in Nanjing have uncovered a piece of the skull of Siddhārtha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Yes, THAT Buddha.
According to a new report in the Chinese Cultural Relics journal, a parietal bone (one of the large pair of bones that sit behind the frontal bone) was found inside a model of a stupa (round-domed Buddhist temple) during a 2007-2010 excavation. For obvious safekeeping, the skull piece was inside a small gold chest ( 8 cm -3.1 in) which was inside a silver casket found inside the temple model (a big 4 ft by 1.5 ft – 117 cm by 45 cm), which itself was inside an iron box that was inside a stone chest (did those Russian doll makers have a hand in this?).
How do the experts know the skull fragment found mixed with other bone fragments belonged tot the real Buddha? There was a note. Written on the inside of the stone outer chest were the words of one Deming, who calls himself “the Master of Perfect Enlightenment, Abbot of Chengtian Monastery [and] the Holder of the Purple Robe.” The note says the bone is one of 84,000 pieces of the remains of the Buddha that were left after his body was cremated in India. That country’s King Ashoka divided them up and sent 19 pieces to China.
Deming’s note says the skull piece was kept in a temple that was destroyed during a war 1400 years ago. Someone saved the relics and, when Emperor Zhenzong rebuilt the temple, the skull and remains of other Buddhist saints were placed in the elaborate set of containers and buried on July 21, 1011 A.D., in “a most solemn and elaborate burial ceremony.” The remains of that temple are where the chest was found in the 2007-2010 excavations.
Shouldn’t this be big news? Apparently it was … in China. A news report from 2012 about a public display of the Buddha’s skull says “tens of thousands of Buddhist devotees will pay homage to the sacred relic.” How many? “… more than 140,000 tickets have been sold out by now, according to the [event organizer].” (See, even Buddhists use relics to raise money!).
Now Chinese Cultural Relics, a research journal as well as a catalog of relics for sale, has let the world know about the finding of what may be a piece of Buddha’s skull. Will it end up in a sacred temple, a museum or some rich person’s collection?
Is it really the skull of the Buddha? That ‘remains’ to be seen.