Sariras and Sarira Flowers
SEPTEMBER 29-OCTOBER 1, 2004
Sariras are holy objects in Buddhism. The word sarira comes from Sanskrit and it translated as body, body bone, or bone relic. After the Buddha entered nirvana at death, his body was cremated. From that cremation appeared many holy objects as firm as diamonds. Buddhists call such things sariras (or shariras).
Sariras are a type of crystal. They are as solid as steel and come in different shapes and numerous colors. It is recorded in Buddhist scriptures that after Sakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana at death, King Asoka, who was a king of the country Magadha in ancient India, built 84,000 stupas (memorial monuments) in which the sariras of Sakyamuni Buddha were buried. For example, the Bao Guang Temple in Xindu, China is one of the places where King Asoka built a stupa containing sariras. King Asoka built nineteen jeweled stupas in China.
It is recorded in historical records that Huang Chao led an army of insurgents that captured the city of Changan. Emperor Xi Zong of the Tang Dynasty fled in haste to Chengdu. Emperor Xi Zong stayed in the Bao Guang Temple in the northern part of the Xindu district of Chengdu. One year passed, and then another year passed. Because he could not return to the nation’s capital, he became depressed.
One evening when he was taking a walk in the temple, he suddenly saw a purple light emanate from the ruins of an ancient stupa. Xi Zong was amazed at this and asked Wu Da, the national teacher who followed the emperor, the meaning of that incident. Wu Da answered, “This was sariras emanating light. It was an auspicious omen. The insurrection of Huang Chao has been quelled. Your majesty can now return to Changan.”
Xi Zong was elated and ordered people to dig into those ruins. It was discovered that there was a small stone box in the ground that indeed contained thirteen brilliantly glittering sariras of Buddha. Xi Zong then ordered Wu Da to build a thirteen-story jeweled stupa and store the sariras in the stupa. Xi Zong named that stupa “Immaculate Pure Light Jeweled Stupa.” The Buddhist temple was still called Bao Guang Temple. This incident of sariras emanating light was recorded in historical documents.
The different types of sariras are as follows:
1. Vajra sariras, also known as “human-body sariras”: In this case, after eminent monastics pass away, their bodies do not rot and may shrink. Thus, their bodies become firm Vajra sariras that do not decay. This is called “firm relics.” For example, the after-death bodies of the sixth patriarch of Zen, Master Hui Neng, as well as Master Han Shan, do not decay. Another example is that of Gong Ga Rinpoche, who was 6 feet 2.3 inches tall before he passed away. After he passed away, his body shrank to 1 foot 5.3 inches tall, thus becoming a “human-body sarira.” There are also the examples of Dharma King Zongsa Khyentse and Master Pabongka, whose corpses shrank and became Vajra sariras. From flesh to bones, their entire bodies are as firm as a diamond.
2. Transformation body (nirmanakaya) sariras: This refers to sariras or sarira flowers left behind after those who have attained enlightenment are cremated. In general, these sariras come from the bodies of eminent monastics who have attained enlightenment. These sariras come in round, rhombus, and irregular shapes. Sarira flower are divided into five types. For example, there is the type in the shape of a net. Its beauty surpasses that of any workly object. The scull of Master Hsuan-tsang transformed into sarira flowers. The colors of sarira flowers originating in the bodies of those who have achieved the highest state of realization are peacock green, yellow-stone color, or white jade color.
3. Dharma body (Dharmakaya) sariras: All of the sutras, skills realization, Dharma powers, manifestations of supernatural states, and openings of holy wisdom handed down by the Buddha are Dharma body (Dharmakaya) sariras.
4. Bone sariras: This refers to the bones, scull, teeth, and other firm objects that appear after an average cremation and that do not have the structure of a net with open meshes.
5. Seed syllable sariras: When accomplished practitioners of the Vajrayana cultivate themselves to the highest deress, they naturally cremate their own body, which then turns into a flash of light. The only things they leave behind are the seed syllables that they visualized in their normal visualization practice. Sariras in the form of such seed syllables are called seed syllable sariras. This process is also known as the body transforming into a rainbow light. Guru Padmasambhava’s body transformed into a rainbow light.
Sariras have many different colors. Black sariras are the hair sariras left behind by the Buddha. Red sariras are sariras resulting from the transformation of blood. White sariras come from bones. There are also sariras that are peacock green, golden-yellow, light yellow, dark brown, grey, purple, translucent, spotted, etc. Each type forms on the basis of the person’s level of realization. Different colors and sizes reflect different levels of realization. Anyone who leave behind transformation body sariras must have attained enlightenment.
What the Buddhas leave behind is called sariras. What the Bodhisattvas leave behind is called firm relics. Both types result from accumulating great and pure compassion as well as the perfection of one’s realization and merit. Most people confuse sariras with firm relics. They also label firm relics as sariras.
Sariras do not bully the weak, nor do they fear the strong. Sariras safeguard living beings. They sacrifice themselves to benefit others. When you put a sarira on an iron anvil and hammer it, it will bore itself into the anvil, and nobody will be able to get it out. If a steel bore is sued to get it out, no matter how deep that steel bore goes into the anvil, the sarira will bore itself even deeper into the anvil. To the sarira, the anvil is like mud. No matter how a steel bore bores into the anvil, it will never be able to take out the sarira. This is an example of sariras not fearing the strong.
However, if you put a chicken egg on the anvil over the place the sarira has bored into, and if it appears from your posture that you are about to crush that egg, the sarira that bores into the anvil will on its own immediately jump out. That is because the sarira is compassionated and fears that the chicken egg will be harmed. This is an example of sariras not bullying the weak.
Sariras have five characteristics. First, they are different co based upon one’s merit. They will manifest different colors and different levels of brightness or darkness according to one’s karma and merit. The second characteristic is that of firmness or solidity. Sariras are indestructible. They are harder than any object in the world. The third characteristic is brightness. when viewing sariras, one sees their luster and becomes happy. When worshipping them, if your heart is powerful enough to evoke a response, they will emanate brilliant light. Fourth, sariras can reproduce themselves. An example of this is the hair sariras of Kang Sa Rinpoche. Fifth is the characteristic of bringing good fortune. If you build a stupa to worship them, circumambulate them, prostrate before them, light lamps near them, offer flowers to them, light incense near them, make repairs to the stupa, gild the stupa, or ornament the stupa, you will receive tremendous good fortune.
What type of person produces sariras as a result of their cultivation? Only those who practice authentic Buddhism and have attained the realization of an accomplished (liberated) one have sariras or firm relics. Only those who have attained great accomplishment (liberation) based upon authentic Buddhism have sarira flowers. Those who do not practice authentic Buddhism will not have sariras, firm relics, or sarira flowers. Those who practice authentic Buddhism yet who have not attained accomplishment will also not have sariras, firm relics, or sarira flowers (Written by Shang Miao)