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Book: Buddhism in Five Minutes

Chapter: 4. Are Relics Important to Buddhists?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40741


Given the great diversity of Buddhist traditions, it’s not surprising that the relative importance of relics has varied over time and within different communities of Buddhists. And the term “relic” itself has a range of meanings and associations, both in English usage and in the words to which it most closely corresponds in the diversity of languages used by Buddhists. What is a relic? Put simply, Buddhist relics refer to material objects that connect Buddhists with departed buddhas and other awakened beings. Relics “re-present” these powerful figures, in both a temporal and physical sense, overcoming their “past-ness” and making them tangibly present to those who physically interact with them for the purposes of spiritual transformation. Such ritualized interactions have, from the earliest centuries of Buddhist tradition, been regarded as “skillful” deeds whose karmic effects advance Buddhist practitioners toward their religious goals.

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