The Respectful Enshrining of the Buddha’s Relics
A historical context
2550 years ago, the full-moon night of Vesak was gradually coming to an end. Gotama Buddha was lying under twin sal trees near the boundary of the Kushinagar, the capital town of the Mallas. He would attainparinibb±na shortly. At this time, his attendant, Nanda asked him:
Venerable sir, what should we do with the body of the Tathagata (afterparinibbaana)?
The Buddha gave detailed instructions regarding the cremation of his body and gave the following directions about the mortal remains/relics after cremation.
(The relics of) the Tathagata should be enshrined in a stupa at the cross-roads (prominent place) in the capital city.
Where people can offer garlands, perfumes, powders,
and delight and purify the mind with devotion,
which will lead to their benefit and happiness for long.
The Buddha also gave separate instructions for serious meditators such asNanda:
Nanda, you should be concerned about attainment of the supreme truth (arahantship) and,
Devoting yourself to the attaintment of the highest truth, steadfastly practise meditation with diligence.
On learning about theparinibbaana of the Buddha, the rulers of the different kingdoms and republics of northern India laid a claim to his relics so that they could fulfill his final instructions to enshrine his relics in a stupa
The Mallas of Kushinagar;Ajaatasattu, the ruler of Magadha; the Licchavis of Ves±li; the S±kyas of Kapilavatthu; the Buliyas of Allakappa; the Koliyas of Ramag±ma; the brahmins of Veμμhad2pa; and the Mallas of P±v± were all devoted followers of the Buddha and insisted on their right to his sacred relics. Each one wanted to build a grand stupa enshrining these relics
Seeing the situation take a turn for the worse, a wise devotee, Brahmin Dooa, pacified all the claimants. He divided the relics into eight parts and gave one part to each of the rulers so that they could build a stupa enshrining these relics in their respective capital cities.Dooa asked for the vessel in which the relics were kept so that he could build a stupa enshrining it in his village.
Later, the Mauryas ofPippal2vana learned of the Buddha’s parinibb±na. They were devoted to the Buddha and so they arrived to claim their share of the relics. However the relics had already been distributed. Therefore, they had to be satisfied with the residual ashes from the funeral pyre. They built a magnificent stupa upon these ashes in their capital. Thus, immediately after the Buddha’s parinibb±na, ten great stupas were built in his honour.
During his reign, Emperor Asoka obtained the relics from some of these stupas and dividing them into smaller portions, he respectfully enshrined them in innumerable stupas in different towns in his vast empire. The Archaeological Department of the Government of India excavated the ruins of these stupas and obtained relics from some of them. These relics are kept in museums in New Delhi and in other state museums such as Patna museum.
During the lifetime of the Buddha, soon after his enlightenment, Tapussa and Bhallika, two Indian merchants living in Myanmar met the Buddha. The Buddha gave them eight strands of his hair. Taking these strands with them back to their country, they respectfully enshrined them in the Shwe Dagon in Yangon. In accordance with the final instructions of the Buddha, these hair relics are suitably reverenced by the people there.