During the Thanksgiving weekend I received a phone call from a long time friend in Orlando, inviting me to join them to visit a Vietnamese Buddhist center. The Phap Vu Buddhist Cultural Centre is located in Orlando and was hosting collaborators of the Maitreya Project, a Buddhist initiative dedicated to providing cultural and humanitarian services on a wide and long-term scale. The project currently includes the Heart Shrine Relic Tour, a world tour in which sacred Buddhist relics are displayed for public viewing. The viewing of these relics is believed by many to include substantial benefits to the participants, and Phap Vu was honored to be a hosting venue for the tour during the weekend.
The call inspired me to consider circumstances from what has now been many years ago. It was early in my search for answers related to the UFO phenomenon that I first came across some material that referenced the Buddhist world view. It was suggested to refer to the Tibetan Book of the Dead for further reading on topics such as non-human entities and the possible landscapes of human consciousness. I did as suggested, and I went on to develop a deep interest in Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques. This led to my fascination with various states of consciousness, the extents that personal conditioning profoundly effects our perceptions, and similar such aspects of a Buddhist meditation practice that easily correlate with certain aspects of the current Western mental health paradigm.
I therefore accepted my friend's invitation and accompanied them to the Phap Vu Centre to view the relics. I was looking forward to exploring what would prove to be my current perceptions of the Buddhist community while considering the contrasts that might become apparent between my present and past perspectives.
The Maitreya Project is in itself a rather amazing and ambitious initiative. Inspired and co-founded by Tibetan Lama Thubten Yeshe, the project is funded solely by donations. Project personnel are constructing what will be an absolutely breath taking facility in Northern India. The facility will support extensive education and healthcare services, contribute to much needed economic growth, include a stunning 500-foot tall statue of the Buddha designed to stand no less than 1,000 years, and much more. To learn more about the Maitreya Project visit maitreyaproject.org.
The Heart Shrine Relic Tour, which publicly displays sacred Buddhist relics, is an arm of the Maitreya Project. The relics will eventually come to rest at the facility in Northern India.
Buddhist relics are artifacts that were instrumental to noted Buddhist teachers and even physical remnants of the remains of highly respected Buddhists. On display, for example, are remnants said to be remains of the cremated Buddha himself. Such artifacts are of course treated with the highest of respect and care.
Additional remnants include notable memos and literature, donated personal items from sacred teachers that have been collected and carefully maintained for centuries and even thousands of years, and similar such items of interest. Due to the sacred nature of the items, a great deal of ceremony precedes the public viewing. The ceremony includes combinations of sacred teachings, chanting, select music and rhythmic drumming. The public laypersons are then directed how to properly browse the relics in a collective clockwise motion around the large display.
The day that I attended there were approximately 75 other people in attendance. A large percentage of these were laypersons, yet there are several monks touring with the relics. There are also many laypersons from a diverse variety of nationalities that volunteer to tour, as well as many volunteers at each venue of the tour, all of which provide services to attendees and monks.
One of the interesting aspects surrounding the Heart Shrine Relics Tour is that many people believe the relics hold, or at least somehow manifest, special energies. These energies are said to facilitate healing and well-being. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to speak with fellow attendees, some of whom were touring with the relics, and hear their perspectives on the relics.
Many attendees spoke of profound experiences surrounding the relics. Some were so convinced of the accuracy of their perceptions that they were traveling great distances. Testimonies included profound observations at a prison where the relics had been displayed, a town where the crime rate dramatically decreased during the display of the relics, and many accounts of improved physical health and mental well being.
I spoke at length with two monks, one male and one female, who are touring with the relics. They described some quite interesting circumstances, and I of course have no reasons to doubt their word, or at least their beliefs in their observations. They explained that some of the relics are multiplying; that the amounts of cremated remains may increase periodically. The female monk further explained to me that she has witnessed and participated in the rituals as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and associated with a monk dying, or his consciousness moving on from his body, as she put it. She described sometimes profound circumstances, such as the body continuing to sit upright in a meditative posture and maintain certain vital signs, long after the heart had ceased beating. It should be noted that the Buddhist world view does not find such circumstances to be paranormal, but related to consciousness and mental activity.
I eventually worked my way into the line of laypersons circling the relics. I considered meditating on healing my aging body as I viewed the relics, or perhaps attempting to allow the collective healing energies to simply wash over my mind and body. I viewed the apparent remains of the Buddha. I viewed a 700 year-old incense holder apparently owned by a highly respected lama. I viewed a book apparently once held and studied by a great Buddhist teacher. I carefully viewed all the relics, monitoring my mind and body as best I could, attempting to mindfully note any responses of particular interest.
As I neared the end of the circle I was navigating, I encountered a young female monk. I had the option to kneel before her and accept her blessings. I gratefully and respectfully accepted, and with no more communication than a comforting smile she held a vessel containing relics to the top of my head. She held the vessel there for several seconds, eventually removing it, and I could then see in her eyes that I had been blessed and was free to proceed on my way, both literally and metaphorically.
While an intellectual part of my consciousness can indeed attempt to explain the testimonies and belief systems of the attending Buddhists as the results of various phenomena that might easily fall within the parameters of known and natural circumstances, perhaps that is not the most relevant point. Perhaps what is most relevant is that individuals may indeed find their higher powers and/or connect with one another and the universe through Pentecostal revivals, Catholic rites and rituals, authentic Native American ceremonies, or any number of such activities that, from even a short distance, can begin to all look quite similar. Maybe, ultimately, there is little consequence of what people choose to believe as compared to how well their beliefs equip them to interact with one another. Perhaps that is most practical and most important, and perhaps what some might term paranormal and metaphysical phenomena is subject to manifest within any religion or philosophy simply because such phenomena is part of our world, as are the religions and philosophies themselves. Perhaps it only stands to reason that they would cross paths now and then.