In 2008, when archaeologists were digging at the Grand Bao’en Temple in Nanjing, China, they found something important: a relic that was connected to Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.
The artifact was a piece of a skull bone that was found in an underground shrine. It was inside a model stupa that had been decorated. Later, this artifact was shown in Hong Kong and Macao, where it got a lot of attention from the Chinese media.
How to Find the Stupa
A stele found during excavations in July 2008 was the first sign of a big find. Macao magazine wrote that the inscription on the stele said that the palace kept the “Seven-Treasure Pagoda of King Ashoka,” which had gold and silver coffins with Sakyamuni’s parietal bone and other Buddha relics inside.
In the next month, the archaeologists found a stone chest with an iron box inside.
When the team opened the iron box, they saw a stupa that was about 4 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide (117 cm by 45 cm). Live Science says that the model is made of sandalwood, silver, and gold, and it has crystal, glass, agate, and lapis lazuli gemstones all over it.
The writing on the stone chest says that the model was made during the Song Dynasty, when Emperor Zhenzong was in charge (997-1022). The stupa has writing on it with the names of the people who gave money and helped build it.
Archaeologists told the Telegraph that they think the relic is “one of the 84,000 pagodas built by Ashoka the Great in the second century BC to hold the Buddha’s remains.”
How King Ashoka became a Buddhist
Many people remember King Ashoka as an Indian Buddhist ruler. In fact, he is a well-known figure in Indian history because of what he did for Buddhism and morality.
People have said that Ashoka had the makings of a good general and a smart leader even when he was young. Even though Ashoka was smart and strong, his chances of taking over for his father were low because he had several older half-brothers.
Still, one legend says that Ashoka fought and killed 99 of his brothers so that he could take their place on the throne. It is said that only his younger brother Vitashoka was spared.
Ashoka was a cruel leader when he first took the throne, but many stories say that after he conquered Kalinga, he changed. According to these stories, the emperor was sickened by how many people died and how much damage was done. This made him give up his violent ways and turn to Buddhism.
An inscription found in the stone chest with the pagoda and dating back about 1000 years tells us more about Ashoka and the relic.
The text was written by a man who called himself Deming and said he was “the Master of Perfect Enlightenment, the Abbot of Chengtian Monastery, and the Holder of the Purple Robe.”
“After the Buddha died in parinirvana, his body was burned near the Hirannavati River in India. Parinirvana is a final death that ends the cycle of death and rebirth. King Ashoka, who was in charge of India at the time, decided to keep the Buddha’s remains. He divided them into 84,000 pieces and gave 19 of them to China, including the parietal bone.
Putting out the Relic
Inside the model stupa, the skull bone was found in a small gold coffin that was inside a small silver coffin. Live Science says that the coffins have pictures of lotus patterns, phoenix birds, and gods with swords standing guard over them. On the outside of the casket, there are also pictures of spirits called apsaras playing musical instruments.
They also say, “The Buddha’s parietal bone was placed, along with the remains of other Buddhist saints in three crystal bottles and a silver box.”
When asked about the find in November 2008, De Qing, a Buddhist scholar from Nanjing, said:
“The relic will have a big impact on the history of Buddhism in China, and Nanjing will become a very important place because of it. It will be a great boost for Buddhists and a great help for studies to come. As a religion, Buddhism needs these relics, or sarira, to show to its followers.
The more a Buddhist practices, the more of him or her will live on after they die. I’m really happy. I think they should take the skull out of the box. It is holy, but it is not something that can’t be touched.
De Qing was right, and his wish that the public find out about the relic came true. The parietal bone was first shown to the public at the Qixia Monastery in Nanjing. In 2012, it was shown to the public in Hong Kong and Macao for worship.
It has been said that when the 2,500-year-old relic was shown, “tens of thousands of Buddhist devotees from Macao, Hong Kong, and mainland China paid their respects to it.”
Even though the writing on the artifact says that the skull bone is Buddha’s, this has not yet been proven to be true. Still, when the skull bone has been shown, it has made a big difference.
Kok Kwong, who at the time was president of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association, told China Daily about the first time he saw the skull bone relic. “It was really happy. I was happy because of the Dharma,” he also said.
“Seeing the relic is like seeing Buddha. Buddhism gives people a lot of wisdom, which is what makes them truly happy. Worshiping the relic can make people more merciful, clean their minds, and help bring peace to the world.