Relics of the Buddha tour welcomes all for blessings, dialogue

The Relics of the Buddha tour will visit Spokane July 29-31. It was in Spokane before, in 2007. In this photo from the previous tour, the relics are clearly visible inside display cases that encircle a life-size, golden statue of Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya means
The Relics of the Buddha tour will visit Spokane July 29-31. It was in Spokane before, in 2007. In this photo from the previous tour, the relics are clearly visible inside display cases that encircle a life-size, golden statue of Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya means "loving kindness." According to Buddhist scripture, Maitreya is the next Buddha who will teach on Earth. Courtesy of Sravasti Abbey (Courtesy Abbey / The Spokesman-Review)

The Relics of the Buddha tour is returning to Spokane next Friday for a three-day visit.

Never heard of this tour, even though it came through town in 2007?

Never heard of its co-sponsor, Sravasti Abbey?

Well then, here are five reasons to check it out:

• You’ll discover that Newport, Wash., is home to a Buddhist abbey.

Sravasti Abbey has been there for eight years with seven monastics, several lay trainees and many frequent and first-time visitors. People arrive at the abbey from all over the United States and the world.

Its founder and abbess, Venerable Thubten Chodron, grew up near Los Angeles and studied and practiced Buddhism in India and Nepal.

“The Realtor had one site in Washington,” she said of finding the Newport location. “I looked at the building and it had lots of windows. The land was so gorgeous. You’re here and your mind relaxes and expands.

“We didn’t think there were many Buddhists here, but we’ve been very welcomed in the community. People have been very kind to us. We feel very much a part of the Newport and Spokane community now.”

Though the relics will be on display at Unity Church in Spokane, people who live at the abbey will be in attendance at the tour.

• The relics don’t have an “ick” factor.

Many people associate religious relics with early traditions in Christianity, in which people venerated bone, vials of blood and sometimes entire body parts, such as a toe or foot, said to belong to saints.

Though those relics did, and sometimes still do, hold great meaning for devout Christians, to outsiders this can seem a little strange.

The relics of the Buddha, however, look like pearl-like beads and are tastefully displayed in glass containers. They are said to have come from the Buddha, disciples and other Buddhist masters, from throughout many centuries.

“These kind of enlightened beings, of which there have been many on this Earth, when they pass away, when their physical bodies are cremated, these are the relics that remain,” Chodron explained.

• Peace, kindness and interfaith dialogue will also be featured.

The relics tour returns in a time of deep crisis in the United States. Congress is in verbal fistfights over the national debt. The unemployment rate has stalled at a record high. Tempers are hot.

The tour isn’t just about the relics. Speakers will discuss cultivating compassion, kindness, forgiveness.

For instance, Russell Kolts, a psychology professor at Eastern Washington University, will lead a workshop next Saturday morning titled “True strength: Transforming our minds by cultivating compassion.”

In an afternoon event, Spokane author Sarah Conover will read from her book “Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents.”

And next Saturday evening, there will be an interfaith service and meditation for world peace.

“People are looking for goodness in their lives,” Chodron pointed out.

“There’s just so much negativity in the news. You look at our government and all this quarreling and leaders doing other things besides leading and setting examples. People are looking for something that will give them inspiration and hope and optimism.”

• You can get blessed – and Fido, too.

Blessings, using the relics, were popular in the 2007 tour, and Chodron expects the same this time.

When the relics are gently placed on a person’s head “it gives you the opportunity to focus in your heart and feel the purity of mind about these great sages,” she said.

“Most of the day, what are people thinking about? Their minds are all over the place. This helps them focus on their own good qualities.”

Adults can get blessings the entire weekend. A special children’s blessing will take place Saturday afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. On Sunday afternoon, beginning at 3 p.m., pets get their chance.

• Everyone is welcome.

You don’t have to be Buddhist, or even have an interest in Buddhism, to attend the tour and the events surrounding it.

“I would like to emphasize that this goes beyond religion,” Chodron said. “The relics are open to everyone to see, no matter their faith. It’s even for people who don’t have a religion or don’t want a religion.

“We’re just talking about human goodness. It’s our individual responsibility to cultivate that in our heart so we can come together as a people.”

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