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Identity & Community

Buddhist Relics On Display In Pittsburgh

courtesy Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour

This week Chatham University is hosting a traveling exhibition of thousands of Buddhist relics, including one that organizers of the Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour believe belonged to the religion's founder.

Most of the relics are of the type known in the Tibetan tradition as "ringsel," according to tour manager Amanda Karg.

"They look like pearl-like crystals or jewels," Karg said. "We only find these relics in the cremation remains of people who are highly realized and great saints."

In Buddhist teaching, ringsel embody embody the spiritual qualities of deceased masters, who leave them behind as gifts to inspire compassion and wisdom in their followers. 

"There's this amazing energy that you feel, and it's because these objects are the manifestation of the masters' qualities," Karg said. "Many people feel intense feelings of love, compassion, peace."

There are more than 3,000 relics in the touring collection. One is believed to have been created by Buddha Shakyamuni, "the historical Buddha himself."

Others, including eight on loan from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are more than 2,600 years old.

But in a belief system that emphasizes the impermanence of material things, the veneration of ancient artifacts means something different than it might in other faith traditions.

"We don't think that they're permanent per se," Karg said. "They're reminders of our teachers. They're meant to inspire us to keep working to develop these inner qualities within ourselves, to become released from attachment to things that ultimately will not bring us fulfillment and happiness."

The collection will be on display in Chatham's James Laughlin Music Hall from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday.

The exhibition is free and open to "people from all walks of life and faith."