The Relics Are Found
In 1994 some construction workers in the small town of Wenshang in Shandong province, People's Republic of China, accidentally discovered a secret door leading to an underground vault under the Taizi Lingzong Pagoda. This pagoda, built in the Song dynasty, is near Baoxiang Buddhist Temple, a famous temple built around the same time. The vault contained several hundred sharira (relics) of the Buddha, including his tooth. These were authenticated by historians and various authorities as genuine Buddha relics. An engraved stone tablet found at the excavation site recorded that the relics had been obtained by a descendant of an emperor of the Northern Song dynasty in 1073 a.d. and entombed shortly afterwards on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month. [See note at end of article.] In 1994, the relics had also been discovered on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month, and Shandong authorities had planned to re-entomb the relics on the same lunar date in 1996.
In early April 1996, the city of Jining in Shandong province invited a delegation from Dharma Realm Buddhist Association to attend a ceremony for the entombment of the relics to the depository under the pagoda, as well as to attend the opening of Baoxiang Temple. The ceremony was scheduled for May 2, 1996, which was the fifteenth day of the third lunar month.
The Ceremony Is Cancelled
Heng Lyu Shi, abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, two laymen, and myself arrived in the town of Wenshang in Shandong province on the eve of the scheduled ceremony. Shortly after midnight, three officials told us that the ceremony was cancelled. They said the provincial department of religion had inspected the site and considered the construction incomplete and, therefore, not ready for the ceremony.
Upon further questioning, they stated that the relics had already been restored into the vault under the pagoda. There had been no publicity for the ceremony. To console us, the officials said our delegation could still visit Baoxiang temple, preferably very early in the morning. They claimed that lately ten to twenty thousand people had been coming daily to visit the pagoda in anticipation of the ceremony.
A Brief Look at the New Baoxiang Temple
Our delegation arrived at the temple site shortly after 6 a.m. on May 2, 1996, and spent about half an hour viewing the location. The grounds were surrounded by a brick wall. What we saw was only the historic Taizi Lingzong Pagoda and a new temple, with no trace of the original Baoxiang Temple. The temple was designed in the usual style of classical Chinese temple architecture. The interior consisted of just one large hall. On the back wall were pictures of the eighteen arhats. The floor of the temple was streaked with sand and mud brought in by the human traffic from the muddy grounds outside.
The Door Stays Closed
Our host, the director of the temple restoration committee, opened a metal trap door in the temple floor. Our delegation and the local officials stepped through the trap door into a tunnel about ten feet underground. The walls and the ceiling were lined with metal, while the tunnel floor was of concrete and damp. Lights and ventilation fans had been installed on the walls overhead at regular intervals. On the floor, by the wall, small withered bouquets of flowers had been set up at regular spaces. After about fifty feet the tunnel led to a ten-sided polygonal chamber about twenty feet in diameter. At the far side was a metal door which was already opened for us. In this opening we saw an ordinary wood-frame glass door, with a green curtain behind. A poster of Shakyamuni Buddha had been taped on the door. Behind this door, we were told, was the vault containing the Buddha relics which we never got to see.
Dharma Master Heng Lyu stressed the importance of the relics to be seen by visitors. Viewing the relics would inspire their Bodhi resolve and enable them to venerate the Buddha. Naturally this could only be done after all safety precautions had been duly installed.
Four stone plaques were erected in front of the temple. On one of them was inscribed a brief biography of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.
We walked around the thirteen-tiered pagoda, which was not very ornate. People were bowing at the base of the pagoda. The base was clean--no flowers, no signs of any offerings, nor any litter. Before we could walk once around the pagoda, the officials told us to hurry up before the crowd grew any more.
The Iron Pagoda at Jining and a Guanyin Image
While waiting for our train tickets, we visited two places. First we visited the Iron Pagoda which is close to Jining University. A local museum official, a devout Buddhist, showed us around. This pagoda is thirteen-tiered and stands on a brick base three feet high. At the base of the pagoda is a door which, the official opened for us. Inside, on the dusty ground was a huge slab of stone engraved with an outline of Guanyin Bodhisattva. As it would be more appropriate and reverent for Guanyin's image to be standing upright than lying down, we asked for volunteers to turn the stone upright. A man from our delegation who volunteered later said that as he was lifting the stone it suddenly became light.
About eighty feet in front of the pagoda was an old temple. It was locked and we were told it was empty. Behind the pagoda was a tower with a huge brass bell dating from the Song dynasty.
Previously Unseen Buddha Relics
The museum official had told us earlier that the pagoda had some Buddha relics, and we were granted the rare privilege of seeing them. It was claimed that these relics had not been shown to anyone before. They were kept in an old storeroom nearby. To get there, we walked through some back alleys and climbed up dark stairs. In a dingy hall upstairs, on a bench, was the box of relics.
The outer, rectangular box was made of concrete, and it was about eighteen inches long, ten inches wide, eight inches high, and two inches thick. Inside was a smaller box made of silver sheet, faintly engraved with Buddhist images. Inside the silver box were the Buddha relics together with some Ganges sand. There were about ten pieces of sharira. In the light coming from the nearby window, the sharira appeared to be white in color.
The museum official very reverently bowed to the box of relics, followed by our delegation. Then he very respectfully handed us the silver lid to have a closer look. It appeared that the relics were stored like any other archeological items.
Our delegation had been told by various officials that we were to attend the entombment ceremony and also to visit Jining University, but to our surprise we didn't get to do either one of these things. Why were the relics entombed ahead of time when the fifteenth day of the third lunar moon was so important in scheduling the events?
In 1995, the central government of the People's Republic still claimed that the Buddha's tooth relic in Beijing was authentic. This view had also been endorsed by the late Premier Zhou Enlai. If it is true that the authorities felt that having two Buddha's teeth in China would appear unbelievable to the world, does this mean that only one tooth can be genuine? If so, which one is the genuine Buddha tooth? Perhaps we should consult various international authorities and Buddhist archives and investigate how many Buddha's tooth relics there originally were, and how many of them were actually taken to China.
Note: (A translation of the inscription inside box holding relics)
In Zhongdu County of Yunzhou, on the twenty-third day of the second month in the sixth year of the Xuning reign, Zhao Shichang went to the office of Sun Wen in the palace of Prince Jia in the imperial capital, and obtained a Buddha tooth and several hundred sharira. Now I and the other donors have placed the relics in an outer chest of gold, an inner box of silver, and an innermost chest of fragrant wood, and with sincere reverence we have entombed them in Taizi Lingzong Pagoda of Baoxiang Temple. This was carved on the twenty-eighth day of the second month in the fourth year of the Yuanfeng reign of the Song dynasty.
Madam Wong (wife of Zhao Shichang), initiator of project.
Son of Zhao Shichang by former wife Madam Lee, who was taking the imperial examinations.
Daniang, married granddaughter of Zhao Shichang.
Sanniang, the second daughter of imperial scholar Changwei.
Xuwei, Changwei's grandson.
Yongshi, co-sponsor of the project.
Yongjian, abbot of the temple.
Zhirou, recipient of purple sash from the emperor, temple manager.