“I was walking down the street in Asheville a few years ago, and I saw a line forming at the center where I’d occasionally attended meditation,” said Leena Rose Miller. “I thought, ‘What’s this?’ and got into it, not knowing what to expect. I can honestly only tell you that when I stood in front of these sacred objects, I felt like my life had changed.”
A medical intuitive and former director of the Downtown Healing Arts Center, Miller is the Charlottesville host of “Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour,” a travelling collection of relics of the Buddha and many other Buddhist masters.
According to Amanda Kard, an employee of the tour, relics include pieces of masters’ robes, a strand of hair, and slivers of writing, but “most of the relics are little crystals found in the cremation ashes of the masters. We only find them in the ashes of great saints. They were manifested by these masters to embody qualities that we can develop, like wisdom and kindness.” The oldest, she said, were found 2,600 years ago, and “it’s pretty clear to anyone, even those who aren’t sensitive to it, that these have a powerful energy.”
Each cluster of small crystals is held in a small round dish under a glass display case. They take center stage in a room full of candles, kataks, a golden statue of Maitreya Buddha, and visiting monastics and volunteers.
The exhibit includes more than 3,000 relics from 40 masters, including donations rescued by the Dali Lama from Tibet. Collected by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition and founder of the tour, they travel with the support of a global network that has brought the multifaith, multicultural event to more than 2.5 million people in 69 countries since 2001.
What began as a way to raise funds for a 150-ft Maitreya Buddha statue in Bodhgaya, India “has been so transformative for so many people that they decided to keep the tour going,” Kard said.
Three local Buddhist communities have been instrumental in the arrival of the tour, including Geshe Tenzin Yangton, the new resident lama at the Ligmincha Institute; Venerable Tenzin Ghepel of the Jefferson Tibetan Society; and Venerable Khenpo Nwang Dorjee, the founder, abbot, and director of Tashi Choeling Buddhist Foundation. Tibetan children will sing a welcome song during Friday’s opening ceremony, for which invited monks from New York and Mayor Satyendra Hujaour will be in attendance.
Kard, who has been traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada with “Maitreya Loving Kindness” since May, said that it “expanded my horizons of what’s possible for the world and my life.”
When the tour comes to a new town, she said, many attendees “come and don’t know exactly what they’re experiencing, but a lot of emotions will come, processes to resolve issues that haven’t been resolved. I hear a lot of people making peace or asking for forgiveness. In Nevada City, one woman saw a sign, came in, and started shaking and telling me how wonderful it was. She said she didn’t know Buddhists had relics, but she wound up sitting there for hours.” Many visitors choose to meditate in the space, and some will follow it throughout the region.
Miller had a similar experience. “I followed the tour to Atlanta and San Francisco,” she said. “When I moved back to Virginia, I contacted the international director, who is in London, and was offered the possibility of bringing the relics here.”
The historical Buddha’s relics will be on display at CitySpace through October 26. An accompanying exhibit, “Sacred Art of Tibet,” will be on display at Java Java throughout October.