Relics

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Relics (dhàtu) are real or supposed bodily remains of the Buddha or of monks or nuns revered for their holiness. These relics are usually enshrined in stupas where they are worshipped.

The Buddha seems to have accepted relic worship as a harmless practice that might arouse faith in simple people but which would be of less value to those who had a deeper understanding of the Dhamma. Before his passing he told his monks not to bother about revering his relics but leave such reverence to lay people (D.II,141).

On another occasion he said; ‘Be heirs to my Dhamma, not to material things’ (M.I,12) again suggesting that relic worship is of little value when compared with understanding and living according to the Dhamma. The idea that relic worship need not necessarily promote the more important virtues is highlighted by the fact that after the Buddha’s passing, some people fell into angry and unseemly squabbles over his bodily remains (D.II,164). As in other religions, relic worship in Buddhism has long been associated with superstition, fraud and vulgar commercialism.

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