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Cremated remains found in China may have belonged to Buddha

Remains buried in a chest 1,000 years ago are believed to be those of one of the most influential spiritual teachers of all time. An inscription on the box says that the human remains belong to Buddha, the enlightened one.

2,000 pieces of cremated bones were found inside of a ceramic box in Jingchuan County, China, surrounded by 260 Buddhist statues. The chest had been buried by two monks, Yunjiang and Zhiming, who belonged to the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery.

A team of archaeologists led by Hong Wu, a researcher at the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, translated an inscription found on the box. According to the inscription, the monks collected the relics of Buddha for 20 years in order to promote Buddhism, and buried them in the hall of the temple.

The inscription explains how the monks collected Buddha’s relics, or śarīra: “Sometimes they received the śarīra from others’ donations; sometimes they found them by chance; sometimes they bought them from other places; and sometimes others gave them the śarīra to demonstrate their wholeheartedness.”

The chest was discovered around five years ago by workers who were repairing the road near the temple. Among the hundreds of remains are bones and teeth. The inscription does not mention the 260 statues found buried near the box, and it is unclear if they were buried there at the same time.

Siddhartha Gautama was born in modern day Nepal and traveled through Eastern India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. His philosophy and teachings formed the foundation of the Buddhist religion, and he became known as Gautama Buddha or simply Buddha.

Siddhartha was said to have left behind a royal inheritance to go on a religious quest.Once he found that various teachings were too extreme for him, Siddhartha was determined to find a middle way. Legend has it that Siddhartha sat under a pipal tree and vowed not to move until he found the truth. After 49 days, at age 35, he attained enlightenment.

Siddhartha died around 2,500 years ago at the age of 80. His cremated remains were divided among his disciples and royalty, and were spread far and wide.

The details of the discovery in Jingchuan County have recently been reported in English by the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics

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