Buddha’s bits nicked: monks are furious

Buddha’s bits nicked: monks are furious

A HANK of hair and a piece of bone? Well, actually no-one really knows what was in a golden urn – said to contain “holy” relics of Buddha – but Cambodian monks are pretty damn furious that someone nicked the urn from a multimillion-dollar monument last month, and they want swift government action to get the thing back.

According to this report, what these relics actually are no one could say. Some accounts described them as the Buddha’s ashes; others said they were teeth, hair or pieces of bone.

The relics, which were given to late the King Father Norodom Sihanouk in 1957 by the government of Sri Lanka, were stored in a golden urn, and were lifted from the Oudong Mountain monument in early in December.

Shrouded in mystery and “believed to transmit spiritual power”, the relics have long played a role in political power struggles. Their theft has added to the running conflict over the legitimacy of Cambodia’s government. Hundreds of monks marched through the streets of Cambodia’s capital after the relics disappeared, demanding that the government do something to find them.

Said the Venerable But Buntenh, the founder of Cambodia’s Independent Monk Network for Social Justice:

The Buddha is our life, it’s our refuge. We want only the Buddha’s relics back, we do not want anything extra.

But he also said that the ministers of culture and religion should resign:

Because if they cannot protect the Buddha’s relics, they should not be a minister.

Cambodia’s leaders are well aware of the sensitivity of the theft. Said Oum Darawuth, the spokesman for Cambodia’s Queen Mother, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk:

It’s like stealing the statue of Jesus Christ in Rome. It’s unthinkable.

He promised that Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen would do everything in his power to get the relics back “because he is very religious”.

Things have not been going well for Cambodia lately. The theft has set off a political firestorm in this Buddhist kingdom – with protests that escalated into violence leaving several people dead and more injured.

Cambodians were already angry with their government over last summer’s election, which many here believe was rigged, and now they also blamed their leaders for failing to protect the country’s holiest treasure.

But who took the relics and why?

One theory is that the motive of the thief, or thieves, was to cash in on the multimillion-dollar urn. According to Tess Davis, a researcher at the University of Glasgow who specialises in the illicit trade of Cambodian antiquities, looters recently started turning to less famous sites, such as urban pagodas, now that the ancient temples of Angkor are better protected.

Most such thefts go unreported to the press and even the authorities.

However, But Buntenh doesn’t buy this theory. He is convinced the relics were stolen to divert the public’s attention from the political situation in the country.

So that people would think about something else and stop thinking about the political deadlock.

The golden urn in which the relics were stored

The golden urn in which the relics were stored

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the relics remain unclear. The guard, who was sleeping on the job, said he was awakened by a barking dog. That noise prompted him to look around. He discovered that the lock on the door of the stupa, where the relics were kept, was broken.

Police didn’t believe the guard’s story and arrested him and the others on duty that night.

Scholars say the theft has historical precedents.

Devotees began stealing right from the moment of the Buddha’s death. According to Buddhist mythology, the Buddha’s ashes were divided into eight parts after his cremation, but the priest who is said to have supervised the division stole some of the ashes for himself, said Paul Harrison, a religious studies professor at Stanford University.

Scholars question the authenticity of the Buddha’s relics, which more than a dozen countries – including India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, China and Myanmar – claim to have. Part of the problem is that the Buddha lived before writing existed, so all inscribed urns that claim to hold his ashes are reburials from later centuries.

In Cambodia, monks do not doubt that the relics were real. They were given as an official gift by the government of Sri Lanka in 1957 to mark the Buddha’s 2,500th birthday.

The missing relics have provided fuel for more monks to join the general anti-government protests that have been gripping Cambodia since last summer’s disputed election. They have fed into a general distrust of the government, and the protesting monks have gone so far as to accuse the government of a deliberate attack on religion.

Said 22-year-old monk Um Somaun:

Cambodian monks tried very hard – some of them lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge time to keep Buddhism alive. The fact that the government [failed to protect the relics] means that they want to eliminate the religion.

34 responses to “Buddha’s bits nicked: monks are furious”

  1. Chuck Longstreth says:

    My oh my! They are as bad as the Roman Catholics!

  2. Trevor Blake says:

    At this high offense Buddhists are marching and speaking in interviews. At the very least of imaginary offenses Muslims are at each other’s throats for centuries. All religion is to be questioned, but some religions are far more questionable.

  3. David Anderson says:

    Looks like someone is up to monkey business.

  4. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Sounds like the pieces of the “true cross” and bits of saints that rc’s venerate, nobody actually knows what they are but everyone thinks they’re important.

  5. remigius says:

    …what these relics actually are no one could say.

    I can’t believe it’s not Buddha!

  6. remigius says:

    Part of the problem is that the Buddha lived before writing existed, so all inscribed urns that claim to hold his ashes are reburials from later centuries.

    This is not true. Writing in China, India, and the surrounding regions pre-date Buddha by thousands of years. Either they couldn’t be arsed to write down what was in the pot, or more likely, they’ve been worshipping the contents of someone’s ashtray.

  7. Shiny shoes says:

    I have got a little wooden box on my shelf. It is ages old, as old as the moon, and in the box is the big toe nail clippings from the foot of Hedimasawarikatic the father of the universe. Hedimasawarikatic took a tiny golden ball put it in his mouth and spat it out into his sky where it exploded and thence the universe was born. Every day I shake the little wooden box and ask Hedimasawarikatic to keep me safe, warm, fed and happy. Woe betide anyone who shakes the box. They will be smitten by balls of fire and die horribly. And if anyone makes a graven image of a toe nail I will declare a fatwa on them to have them declared blasphemers who must die. Be warned. This is the word of Hedimasawarikatic.

  8. charlie says:

    At least they have yet to call for some fool holy war to get the relics returned.

  9. andym says:

    To be fair, the monks whose faces you can see look more saddened than angry. But why should a religion that downplays physical against spiritual being be worried about something so physical as human remains?

  10. 1859 says:

    @ shiny shoes: You blasphemer!! I have an older, more holy toe nail than yours! – it’s in an ancient pouch in an even more ancient metal box! Your hedimasawarikatic supports Arsenal and is the Devil himself! the true maker of the universe – as everyone who is anyone knows – is Yogi Bear! (Peace be upon Him)

  11. andym says:

    In which case, 1849,the devout know that that true way is to follow his anointed son, Bou-Bou. Only devotion to Bou-Bou will lead us to THE TRUTH. You ,of course, have the right to disagree, and I have the divinely-appointed right to kill you for apostasy.

  12. Cameron says:

    wow, they started stealing right from the beginning, Buddha’s teachings must have been really well learnt!

  13. Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

    If these alleged relics are so full of spiritual power, why don’t they just use a spiritual power detector to find them?

  14. Robster says:

    Hey, isn’t Buddha a big marijuana bud? After we moved here a while back we had strangely attired people popping around at all hours seeking some Buddha. They weren’t monks, looked more like bikers.

  15. Shiny shoes says:

    @1859 Now look here….behave yourself. I will put on my really stupid hat, which is spectacularly big and really much grander than any other hat and certainly much better than yours, and then declare you a blasphemer. Everyone kno yogi bear is just a kids cartoon. What is arsenal?

  16. AgentCormac says:

    @ Shiny shoes

    I suspect you may be asking a Spurs fan what Arsenal is – stand by for a demolition job!

  17. andym says:

    Arsene Wenger does have the credentials to be a religious leader. If anything happens on the pitch to put his team in a bad light, he does not “zee” the incident.

  18. Paul Cook says:

    I was on holiday a few years back in Sri Lanka and at Kandy they have a ceremony where you can see the Buddha’s tooth be put to, or go to, bed.

    After waiting quite some time there is great ceremony behind a heavily defended reinforced glass screen, curtains are drawn and you get to shuffle across a sort of small wooden bridge rushed along by security guards and through the very thick glass window, if lucky you can see, Um, a golden cup thing on a pillow where inside is …….. I have no idea.

  19. Peterat says:

    Shiny Shoes and 1859: this is getting to be a bit like a Python sketch with four Yorkshiremen: “A cardboard box in the middle of a septic tank,,,, luxury!”

  20. Shiny shoes says:

    @andym…. Any credible fool has the credentials to be a religious leader. Any disingenuous power mad egotistical huckster has the necessary credentials too. Fools and megalomaniacs can be religious leaders but I suspect it’s mainly the later who make the grade.

  21. Shiny shoes says:

    @Peterat…don’t you think the pope, the Russian equivalent with the really stupid hat with the cross on top, Mr Welby, ex boss rabbi Sachs, any average shrieking imam, your village vicar, any Hasidic nut bag with a furry tractor tyre on his head would all fit seamlessly into a Monty Python sketch? If they were not so bloody dangerous I think we would all seriously injure ourselves through uncontrollable mirth. And

  22. 1859 says:

    @ shiny shoes et al: Are you interested in making a lot of money? My idea is this: We set up a bank and we call it ‘God’s Bank’ , or ‘The Royal Bank of God’ and we invite credit card donations – simple really! We can even sell ‘Cloud Space’ like in cyberspace – and the nearer to the Throne of God the customer wants, the more expensive the space. In the interim we can use my bank account number for people to start making donations. Would you like to join this great business opportunity? Go on – be a devil!

  23. Shiny shoes says:

    @1859….you would have to promise the punters something like eternal life in the hereafter, redemption, a bunch of virgins or something like that but who in their right mind is going to suckered into parting with their hard earned cash by such an obvious scam? You will have to count me out…your business model is flawed.

  24. Shiny shoes says:

    @1859…hey wait a minute. There are millions of people who are not in their right minds…you know..all those credulous types who think they are “worth it”, think that pure water has healing properties, that crystals can cleanse your soul, that their needle dick can be transformed into a monster cock, that bloated Botox banana lips are attractive, that marmite is tasty, that their fat arse looks good in that obscenely short skimpy little black dress, that X factor is worth watching…. You may have struck pay dirt. You will need to dress up in absurd garb and wear a stupid hat but the idea could fly…especially if you can convince the tax man to exempt you. Give it a go and if it works I am willing to go around and pose as your prophet for a modest cut of the dosh.

  25. 1859 says:

    @ shiny shoes: Done! You’re in! Just ordered my hat – it’s shaped a bit like the seat of a toilet but who cares – as you say, there are millions out there who are not in their right minds. We might even decide to float The Royal Bank of God on the stock exchange – imagine selling shares in the afterlife! This is clearly a winner!However, as a prophet what sort of miracles can you offer?

  26. barriejohn says:

    Idealisitic views of Buddhism entertained by many Westerners in the past have been sorely challenged by events:

  27. Shiny shoes says:

    @1859… Easy. Join a local crystal appreciation circle, an oven ready team of impressionable acolytes, become accepted as a key member then one day have a dramatic wobble at a meeting and start staggering the place and howling in a very strange voice about the true lord of creation Hedimasawarikatic and how he with save us from eternal damnation and, if we are good and hand over some dosh, we will be delivered to Hedimasawarikatic heaven where fabulous crystals poke out of the ground for the picking. Throw in a few magic tricks, sorry miracles, and we are away. By the way apostasy will be punishable by death or, with special Hedimasawarikatic revelation of mercy, a substantial financial contribution will secure commutation of sentence. We can also sell a nice line of blessed, by Hedimasawarikatic of course, crystals. Maybe find some golden plates buried at the bottom of my garden for good measure. I would have to work at it a bit and act oddly in public to get attention, maybe dress ostentatiously and have a few dramatic wobbles down the pub but I think I could make it fly. That is if I don’t get arrested and sectioned into the local hostelry for the deluded and psychopathic.

  28. 1859 says:

    @ shiny shoes: How about a crucifixion? – that would go down a real treat in your local pub? As for me I’ll send down a few thunderbolts to keep everyone so terrified they won’t ask too many questions.

  29. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    @barriejohn: There goes the argument that buddhism is a peaceful religion. Any religion, if given enough power, becomes totalitarian.

  30. andym says:

    @G M-R. They are in the first stages-absolute denial. How long will it be before they tell us that the perpetrators couldn’t be “true Buddhists?”

  31. sailor1031 says:

    Peaceful? Ah, yeah! What with the peace of jesus christ taking off all over africa, the peace of islam all over the middle east and Pakistan/Afghanistan/the Caucasus/Indonesia and now the peacefulness of buddhism in Myanmar it’s no wonder the world is so quiet these days. Peace breaking out everywhere. John Lennon would be so happy!

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