The Sanskrit word "śarīra" is a common term for “body” in both the literal and metaphoric sense. The term is also used to refer to a corpse, especially that of a monk or of the Buddha, both before and after cremation; in the latter case, the term is often translated as “relic” (śarīra). In general, relics include whole-body relics—e.g., the mummified remains of eminent masters—and partial-body relics—e.g., portions of the physical body, such as a finger bone, tooth relic, or crystalline substances that are presumed to be the condensation of sanctified remains of an enlightened person that occurs during cremation. Such physical remains were believed to represent the Buddha's or the sages' ongoing presence and power and have been objects of worship since the time of the Buddha's parinirvana.
There are three tooth relics remaining in the world after the Buddha's cremation in 543 BCE. Two of these relics have been enshrined in Sri Lanka and in China. The third tooth relic was carefully kept in India for more than one thousand year. In the thirteenth century, during the Muslim invasion to Inda, the relic was secretly brought to Tibet and then was enshrined in the Sakya Namgyal Monastery. In 1968 during the Cultural Revolution, the monastery was destroyed and a Tibetan lama, Kung Dorje Rinpoche obtained the relic. Determined to send the tooth relic back to India, Kunga Dorje Rinpoche put his own life in danger crossing the Himalayas.
The Museum's Treasure
With his advancing age, Kunga Dorje Rinpoche acknowledged the fact that he will not be able to build a temple to enshrine the relic in his lifetime. When Venerable Master Hsing Yun went to India to officiate the Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony in February 1998, Kunga Dorje Rinpoche entrusted the Buddha's tooth relic to the Venerable Master, together with a certificate authenticated by twelve other Rinpoches for the relic.
Venerable Master Hsing Yun said, "The Buddha does not need anyone's worship or reverence, it is living beings that need inspiration to develop wholesome thoughts and purify their minds. By worshipping a memorial, people can come to know the Buddha's Dharma body, and their feelings of admiration can be elevated into wanting to learn about the Buddha's virtues and practice them in everyday life. The Buddha does not need a memorial, but living beings do. I built this stupa with that story in mind."
A reliquary was created to enshrine the relic. It consists of a base, body, and spire. The base has two tiers: the lower is round and inlaid with pearls, rubies, and emeralds; the upper resembles a lotus with eight petals, each fringed by obsidian and carved with one of the eight auspicious symbols.
The spherical body is made of crystal, inside which a smaller reliquary enshrines the relic. A lotus-pattern band of rubies surrounds both the top and bottom. The spire consists of a harmika, 33 stacked rings, a lotus made from mother-of-pearl, and a crystal jewel with 103 facets.