Sunday, July 01, 2007

Query on the authenticity of the Tooth Relic

An Arabian proverb says:

"It doesn't really matter what you worship; what matters is how devoted you are."

A Buddhist culture researcher named Ye Guofeng wrote a letter to Zaobao paper's forum page on Friday (29.6.2007), questioning whether the Buddha Tooth Relic kept by the Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown is real. His letter in Chinese could be read here:

In the letter Ye calls for DNA testing to be done to the tooth, or for a dentist to examine whether it is a human tooth at all, given its large size. He also demands verification by scriptural references to the existence of such a relic. Ye says that in the past many so called tooth relics in other parts of the world were discovered to be fake, so Singaporeans should have a right to know whether what they are venerating is authentic. After all, local people donated more than 43 million dollars & 273kg of gold to construct the temple as well as the gold stupa to house the tooth relic.

I believe the abbot of the temple ,Ven Fazhao will have to make a public clarification soon since somebody had already raised such a doubt on the tooth relic. Personally though, it makes no difference to me as I'm neither an archaeologist nor an academic. There is a well known Tibetan tale on the meaning of authenticity:

A poor old woman living in a small village in Tibet saved all her life to buy a relic of the Buddha. Hearing that one of the Buddha's tooth relic was going to be sold in a city in neighbouring India, she gave all the money to her no-good drunkard of a son and told him to travel there on a pilgrimage to obtain the relic for her. But he soon got distracted by the sights and sounds, squandering all the money on alcohol and girls instead. Later on the way back he found a dead dog in the gutter & took a tooth from its mouth. Wrapping it in a piece of golden cloth, he decided to bring it back to his mother in Tibet. The son even derided her for her superstitious faith as he presented her with the fake tooth relic. A week later, he passed her room and saw her praying before her little altar. The mouldy dog’s tooth was ablaze with divine light, and soon the whole village learned of the amazing occurrence. His mother's little altar had transformed into a famous shrine of the Buddha's relic overnight! Many miracles were attributed to it and to his mother as keeper of Buddha’s tooth. Her deeds of compassion and goodness were profound and her happiness unbounded. The young man, however, grew more and more disturbed as the relic’s reputation grew and his mother’s saintliness increased. This built up over years, and finally he couldn't stand living a lie any more. One evening, after several Lamas had visited and received both blessings and teachings from the tooth, he finally blurted out the true story to his mother: “That's not the Buddha’s tooth. I lost all the money you gave me. I got that tooth from a dead dog!" And he ran outside the house. Just outside the door stood a magnificent man looking at him with eyes of loving-kindness. It was the Buddha. In a gentle voice, the Buddha said: “That was my tooth, you know."

So there you have it; faith or science? It is all up to you really.


henry said...

There is a famous story of the young peasant who went to Lhasa to trade, promising to bring his mother a relic from the Jowo statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. He had such a good time in Lhasa that he forgot all about it until he was a few miles from home. So ashamed was he that he picked up a tooth from a dead dog's skull lying in the ditch by the road, wrapped it in some elegant silk, put it in a gau box, and presented it to his mother. The old woman was delighted and prayed to it constantly. Soon she was regaling the neighbours with the tales of the blessings she was receiving from the fine relic her son had brought her. The son was embarrassed and also felt guilty about deceiving her.

One holiday he was washing down by a stream, and he decided to confess his trick and disabuse the old woman of her delusion. The moment he came to this resolve, he looked up and saw the precious Jowo statue standing before him. The Buddha statue said to the awestruck peasant, "Young man, do not think your mother does not have a real relic. You forgot, but I remembered, and the dog's jaw was my manifestation. If you don't believe me, go quietly home and observe your mother's prayers!" The son went home directly and quietly went in to his mother's shrine where she was praying. The reliquary was open and the silk unfolded. The tooth was shining with brilliant rainbow rays of light. When she died, she obtained rainbow body and attained enlightenment. This is a very good story. So it really happens that the dog's tooth was not Buddha's tooth; it was a dog's tooth, obviously, no way to mistake that. But somehow she was able to experience her own pure perception of faith in relation to her Buddha nature, by opening her heart, by having faith in that object as Buddha's tooth.

henry said...

About the origins of the four Buddha wisdom tooth relic:

According to Mahayana canon, it recorded that Lord Indra of Trayastrimasasa Heaven took one wisdom tooth from upper right side of the Buddha's jaw after the cremation ceremony. He built a stupa and housed the sacred Buddha tooth. Three wisdom tooth relics were remained in the human world.

One was taken to Sri Lanka and is now venerated at Malagawa Vihara (Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy. It is the original possession of King of Kalinga. The last king of Kalinga (4th century A.D.), King Guhasiva, decided to send the tooth relic to his friend, a Sinhalese king, King Mahasena. He knew that he would lose his final battle and it was the time to send the tooth relic for safe preservation. Besides, ancient Sri Lanka was a Buddhist kingdom, it is most appropriate for the king to keep this sacred relic. Wars were fought over this sacred relic over the years and the tooth relic has come to symbolize the very strength and independance of the Sinhalese nation, Sri Lanka.

A second, to China by Venerable Fa Hsien (337 A.D. - 422 A.D.) over 1,000 years ago, is now venerated at the Ling Guang Si Monastery, Beijing, China. It maybe originated from the possession of King of Gandhara, a small Buddhist kingdom in modern Pakistan. Some say that it is Uddiyana or Udayana. It was brought to Khotan, an ancient Buddhist kingdom in the present He Tian of Xinjiang Province of China. When was the tooth relic brought to Khotan from Gandhara secretly? Nobody seems to know the answer. We have leamt it from oral history that the tooth relic of the Buddha remained deposited in the vihara at Hazratbal site and the Buddhists of Kashmir used to visit this shrine and pay homage to the sacred relic. Venerable Fa Hsien and Venerable Hsuan Tsang (596 A.D. or 602 A.D. - 664 A.D.) had once visited this shrine. Anyway, we need the historians to figure out the reasons for the sacred tooth was sent to Khotan for safe keeping. Perhaps there are two major factors for the reasons: 1. Khotan, Turfan, Niya, Lou Lan and many oasis kingdoms of Tarim Basin and Central Asia were once having very close-ties with India, eg. Gandhara, and these kingdoms were once major Buddhist centres before Islam had replaced as the major faith of these people. 2. Buddhist influences were declined and Hinduism gained its popularity in that region - as mentioned in travelogues of Venerable Fa Hsien and Venerable Hsuan Tsang. Venerable Fa Hsien travelled to Khotan and brought the sacred tooth relic back to Nanjing, which was the capital city of Southern Qi. Following the reunification of ancient China under the Sui dynasty, the sacred tooth relic was sent to the new capital Chang'an, present Xi'an of Shaanxi Province of China. During the period of the Five Dynasties (Wu Tai - when Central China fell into a chaotic state), the tooth relic was moved from place to place until it reached Yenjing (present-day Beijing) of the Liao dynasty in the North. The "Chronicle of Emperor Dao-zong" in the History of the Liao Dynasty, Vol. XXII, contains a record relating the enshrinement of the Buddha tooth relic in the Zhao-xian Pagoda in the 8th month of the 7th year of Xian-yong (1071 A.D.). This is how the sacred Buddha tooth relic came to Beijing. Zhao-xian Pagoda is one of the pagodas in the monastic complex of Ling Guang Si Monastery. From its interment in the Zhao-xian Pagoda in 1071 up to its reappearance in 1900, this sacred tooth relic was preserved in that pagoda for almost 830 years.

The third lost for centuries was finally taken to Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan, on April 8, 2000 from India. According to the official spokeman from Fo Guan Shan, this tooth relic was smuggled out of Tibet to India by Tibetan monks during the Cultural Revolution. This sacred tooth relic was in custody with Very Venerable Kunga Dorje Rinpoche who is a great retreat master of Drigung Kagyu tradition and teacher of Drupon Samten Rimpoche. A statement from a group of Tibetan Buddhist masters, including Very Venerable Kunga Dorje Rinpoche, stated that Venerable Shi Hsingyun, Founder of Fo Guang Shan, was chosen to take over the most precious object in the Buddhist world because of his wisdom and compassion, as well as his great contribution to Buddhist activities worldwide and his promotion of exchanges between different sects of Buddhism.

In a classic Japanese travelogue text - "Nitto guho junreigyoki", written by Ennin (Jikaku Daishi) (794 A.D. - 864 A.D.), a Japanese Heian monk, who arrived in Chang'an in 840 A.D., mentioned that there were four tooth relics of the Buddha, three of them are respectively from India, Khotan and Tibet and the fourth from heaven. If this is understood, the holy relic from India is now housed in Malagawa Vihara (Dalada Maligawa), Kandy, Sri Lanka, the holy relic from Khotan is is now housed in Ling Guang Si Monastery, Beijing, China and the holy relic from Tibet should be the sacred tooth relic worshipped by Naga kings.

In the biographies of Drigung Kyopa Jigten Gonpo (Jigten Sumgon) (1143 A.D. - 1217 A.D.), the Founder of Drigung Kagyu tradition, they mentioned:

'One day, Jigten Sumgon told his disciple Gar Choling to go to the Soksum Bridge and offer torma to the nagas living in the water. "You will receive special wealth," he told him. A Naga king named Sokma Me offered Gar Choling a tooth relic of the Buddha and three special gems. Generally, it is said that this tooth relic had been taken by the Naga king Dradrok as an object of devotion. This was the same naga who usually lived in the area of Magadha, but had access to Soksum by way of an underground gate. Gar Choling offered the tooth relic and gems to Jigten Sumgon, who said, "It is good to return wealth to its owner," indicating that the tooth relic had once been his own. "As you are wealthy," he continued, "you should make an image of me and put the tooth in its heart." A skilled Chinese artisan was then invited to build the statue, and the tooth was enshrined as a relic. Jigten Sumgon consecrated this statue hundreds of times. It was kept in Serkhang and called Serkhang Choje (Dharma Lord of Serkhang). Its power of blessing was regarded as being equal to that of Jigten Sumgon himself. It spoke to many shrine-keepers, and to a lama named Dawa it taught the Six Yogas of Naropa. Later, when Drigung was destroyed by fire, it was buried in the sand for protection. When the Drigung Kyabgon returned to rebuild the monastery a search was made for the statue, which came out of the sand itself, saying, "I am here." Thus, this image possessed great power.' (Note: The present tulkus for Siddha Gar Choling are His Eminence 8th Garchen Truptrul Rinpoche (Body Manifestation), His Eminence 8th Mingyur Rinpoche (Mind Manifestation) and His Eminence 8th Namdrol Rinpoche (Speech Manifestation).)