What the Buddha Wanted Us to Do With His Relics

Around the beginning of the Second Dispensation of the Buddha (which began about fifty years back), the Buddha’s relics are being discovered in an increasing number. Though their importance is realized by the authorities, there is very little knowledge about how the relics should be enshrined and about what the Buddha’s instructions to us about his relics were. Fortunately, the ancient authentic Theravada Pali and Mahayana Agama texts tell us exactly what the Buddha wanted us to do with his relics.

The Mahaaparinibbaana Sutta of the Diighanikaaya text in the original Pali Canon is an authentic original text of Buddha’s words. In this sutta the Buddha has given explicit instructions regarding his relics. Annexure One

Chinese Agamas are the oldest authentic Mahayana Buddhist literature. The first Agama, the Dirgha Agama, contains the Mahaparinirvana Sutra which gives account of the Buddha’s own instructions about his relics. Annexure Two

Both these texts make it clear that the proper places for the relics are stupas (pagodas). Historically, the sacred relics of the Buddha have never been exhibited. They are not meant to be displayed to people as they are not a visual object. They have always been securely enshrined in suitable monuments. That is the reason why such stupas in which the Buddha-relics were enshrined were also called dh?tugabbha (dh?tu=relics, gabbha=interior, womb). For example, the Hair Relics of the Buddha have been enshrined in the Shwe Dagon in Yangon; the Tooth Relic has been enshrined in the stupa in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The word dh±tugabbha became “dagoba” in Sri Lanka. The Westerners couldn’t pronounce it properly. They started calling these structures “pagodas” and thus pagodas became a popular term for stupas.

Emperor Ashoka enshrined the relics in stupas all over India. He never put them up for exhibition but put them securely in stupas. If we go through the history of relics and study all the places where the relics were discovered, it is clear that they were never put up for exhibition but were kept securely in stupas.

The great king of Sri Lanka Devanampiyatissa requested Bhikkhu Sumana to personally go to Pataliputta to seek the relics of the Buddha so that he could build a proper pagoda in Sri Lanka. Bhikkhu Sumana, son of Sanghamitta, brought relics from India. The grand pagodas in Anuradhpura are an eloquent testimony to the tradition of Pagodas to enshrine the relics of the Buddha.

It must be brought to the notice of the relevant authorities that keeping these Sacred Relics in a museum or a temple is not only highly inappropriate but also totally contrary to the honour and dignity accorded by the whole world to this great person of India. It is also against the tradition that is more than twenty-five centuries old, of enshrining the relics in a proper monument to pay respect.

As will be seen from the attached documents from both Theravada and Mahayana traditions, the Buddha himself has given clear instructions that his relics should be enshrined in a stupa located at a prominent place in a big city so that devoted people will express their gratitude to the Buddha by paying respects to his relics and offering flowers. Devotees will benefit by practicing Vipassana meditation in the proximity of these relics. It is clear that museums meant for tourists and sightseers are totally inappropriate and improper for both these purposes--worship and meditation.

The Buddha’s instructions to build pagodas for the relics of his arahat disciples:

The Buddha gave instructions not only about how he wanted his bodily relics to be stored, but also about what should be done with the relics of his arahat disciples.

Daru Ciriya, an ascetic from Mumbai area, went to North India to meet Buddha. He met the Buddha, quickly learned the teaching and became liberated. When Daru Ciriya died, the Buddha declared that he had become an arahat. The Buddha gave instructions to erect a pagoda for his relics.

When Sariputta, the foremost disciple of the Buddha, died, a prominent lay-disciple Anathapindika took possession of Sariputta’s relics. The Buddha gave instructions to Anathapindika to erect pagoda for the relics of the Sariputta.

Pagodas were erected over the relics of the earlier Buddhas, Kakusandha and Konagamana. Emperor Ashoka renovated these. He also erected pillars with edicts at the places of these stupas.

Vedic literature also refers to the tradition of building stupas. Satpath Brahman says that bodily relics of a great person should be kept in a pagoda reverentially to preserve his memories and to show our respect to him.

From the archaeological excavations, it is apparent that even the ancient Sindhu Civilization had a tradition of building round stupa-like structures to honour their dead.


In keeping with the instructions of the Buddha himself and the glorious ancient tradition, the Global Vipassana Foundation is constructing a magnificent 325 foot-tall Pagoda at Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, so that the relics of the Buddha can be suitably enshrined.

The dome of this all-stone structure is guaranteed to last for thousands of years and is already complete. This is the world’s biggest stone dome unsupported by pillars. Genuine relics of the Buddha are already enshrined on top of this dome within a secure stone structure. There is further provision to enshrine Buddha relics on top of the second structural dome so that they remain secure for as long as the structure lasts, ie for thousands of years allowing future generations to pay respect to the relics.

The estimated total cost of this pagoda is 100 crore (22 million USD).

For more information on Global Pagoda see Annexure Three