[FOUNTAIN]A relic of Buddha arrives

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[FOUNTAIN]A relic of Buddha arrives

It had been raining for more than 10 days near Famen Temple in Xian, China, as of Aug. 24, 1981. Around 10 a.m. it started to thunder and there was lightning above the 13-tiered octagonal pagoda. The pagoda, which had been standing for over 400 years, was cut in half as if sliced by a knife from the top.
In the autumn of 1986, the Chinese government removed the pagoda and the following spring it cleared the rubble to search for relics.
One day, the excavation team found evidence of a small tunnel. When the team dug inside, it came across a stone door, which was the entrance to an underground palace. Inside, the legendary Buddha’s sarira was found among the more than 3,000 treasures.
The relic was a finger bone believed to be that of the Sakyamuni Buddha. It was a 4-centimeter-long relic that did not turn into ash although the Buddha’s cremation had continued for seven days. The monument in front of the underground palace describes very well the history of the sole finger bone sarira relic, which is called one of the nine wonders of the world.
Sakyamuni Buddha left over 840,000 sarira relics. These relics were scattered during the reign of India’s King Asoka in B.C. 240, for the purpose of missionary work. Back then, the finger bone had been sent to China, and the emperors kept the relic in their palace, but it was moved to Famen Temple during the Later Han Dynasty. The Chinese monk Anshigao thought it was dangerous to have the relics of the Buddha in the hands of the emperor. Later, Emperor Yizong of the Tang Dynasty sealed the underground palace and restricted access. The relics were then gradually forgotten.
The day the finger bone was discovered was Buddha’s birthday in the lunar calendar. Some had said during the digging that “Buddha had shown himself.” Some argued that it was the bone of a seal. Because of this argument, it was tested inside a heated metal bowl but the color of this mysterious object never changed.
In China, there is a legend that your wishes will come true when you see Buddha’s finger bone relic. It was for this reason that many people gathered at exhibitions to view this object. In 1994, 2 million people saw it in Thailand, while 4 million came to see it in Taiwan in 2003 and 1.5 million people saw the relic in Hong Kong in 2004.
This mysterious finger bone is coming to Korea for public viewing from Nov. 11 to Dec. 20 in Seoul and Busan. What should we wish for in front of this relic? Let’s hope this country will be filled with the wisdom and mercy of the Buddha as a result of this visit.

by Lee Sang-il

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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