Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

4. Are Relics Important to Buddhists?

Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

Kevin Trainor [+-]
University of Vermont
TRAINOR KEVIN specializes in South Asian religious traditions. His area of research includes Theravada Buddhist traditions, especially Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Other research interests include gender analysis and ritual studies. He completed an M. Div. degree in Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Ph.D. in Religion at Columbia University; his B.A. in Religion is from Colgate University. His publications include: Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist Relic Veneration in Asia, edited with David Germano (SUNY Press, 2004), Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide (Oxford University Press, 2004), Relics, Ritual , and Representation in Buddhism: Rematerializing the Sri Lankan Theravada Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 1997), “Constructing a Buddhist Ritual Site: Stupa and Monastery Architecture”, in Unseen Presence: The Buddha and Sanchi , edited by Vidya Dehejia (Marg Publications, 1996), “In the Eye of the Beholder: Nonattachment and the Body in Subha’s Verse (Therigatha 71)”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 61 (1993): 57-79, and “When Is a Theft Not a Theft? Relic Theft and the Cult of the Buddha’s Relics in Sri Lanka”, Numen 39, (1992): 1-26.


Given the great diversity of Buddhist traditions, it’s not surprising that the relative importance of relics has varied over time and within different communities of Buddhists. And the term “relic” itself has a range of meanings and associations, both in English usage and in the words to which it most closely corresponds in the diversity of languages used by Buddhists. What is a relic? Put simply, Buddhist relics refer to material objects that connect Buddhists with departed buddhas and other awakened beings. Relics “re-present” these powerful figures, in both a temporal and physical sense, overcoming their “past-ness” and making them tangibly present to those who physically interact with them for the purposes of spiritual transformation. Such ritualized interactions have, from the earliest centuries of Buddhist tradition, been regarded as “skillful” deeds whose karmic effects advance Buddhist practitioners toward their religious goals.

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Trainor, Kevin. 4. Are Relics Important to Buddhists?. Buddhism in Five Minutes. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 19-23 Nov 2021. ISBN 9781800500907. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=40741. Date accessed: 23 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.40741. Nov 2021

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