I'm not Buddhist, but it's not because I have anything against Buddhism.
I'm just not really... anything. Call me undeclared.
But despite my difference in faith (or lack thereof), I am starting to love Chinese New Year.
Luckily for me, I've never been turned away from a celebration for not being Buddhist.
This year, I decided to finally visit Lu Mountain Temple in the San Gabriel Valley...
...tucked away in a residential neighborhood...
...distinguishable not by its architecture but only by its statuary out front.
As I walked inside, I was surrounded by walls that are covered in golden Buddhas. But I wasn't there to see Buddha himself.
I was there to see his finger.
Buddha's finger was relocated to the City of Rosemead two years ago, when it joined the "10,000 Buddha Relics Collection" that also contains a sparkly tooth of Buddha.
This is reportedly the largest collection of Buddhist relics in the U.S. For that matter, it's rare to find any such relics as these in the U.S.—especially of Buddha.
Roman Catholics tend to parade their relics around—but less so stateside than in, say, Europe.
Take one look at these relics, though, and it becomes clear that they're not just ordinary preserved body parts of a dead saint or a prophet. Many of them are glittering crystals that were salvaged from the ashes of an enlightened sage who's been cremated.
Some of them are gem-like formations that grew on top of body parts like teeth and fingers—and when they were removed and placed into a separate container, they kept growing.
The teeth have been growing continuously for 3000 years, too. There's even a hair that supposedly moves.
These crystalized formations are called "shariras" (or, in Sanskrit, śarīrāḥ)—and they seem to hold the key to the power of the relics. After all, most Buddhists don't pay much attention to relic worship.
But then the crystals started reproducing spontaneously.
In addition to teeth and fingers, the śarīrāḥ have been found to form on the crown of the Buddha's head...
...as well as his skin and the skin of his family members and disciples.
Some of them are even known to emanate a particular aroma—which allegedly is more floral than fleshy (though I didn't take a whiff myself).
Since the collection was first donated to Lu Mountain Temple in 2013, other donations have expanded it—and, year after year, the demand to witness it also grows.
It seems worth returning every year just to witness how the relics have changed and proliferated.
After all, conceptually—and logically—it's really just unbelievable. Not the idea of them forming in the first place (since, after ll, some of us are crystallizing into gallstones or kidney stones as we speak), but that they're somehow alive on their own.
But there are some things we feel in our hearts that our brains can't understand—and if some people get a sense of calm visiting these relics (or some pain relief), then it almost doesn't matter why.
Is it supernatural? Well, it might very well be natural—but in Western culture, we cremate our loved ones far beyond recognition and don't typically search through the ashes for crystals.
Generally, if you keep looking for something, you'll find it.
I don't know what I was looking for at Lu Mountain Temple, but while I was there, I received a blessing from one of the monks.
My debts were taken away, as were my worries. Or, so he said.
If that's even remotely possible, I'll take it.
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