|Various sarira from the Buddha and various students. Part of a collection by Maitreya Project|
|Traditional Chinese||舎利 or 舍利子|
|Simplified Chinese||舎利 or 舍利子|
Sarira are generic terms for "Buddhist relics", although in common usage these terms usually refer to a kind of pearl or crystal-like bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters.
The term sarira (शरीर) is a loanword from Sanskrit. The term "Sarira" originally means "body" in Sankrit, but when used in Buddhist Sanskrit texts to mean "relics", it is always used in the plural: śarīrāḥ. The term ringsel is a loanword from the Tibetan language. Both of these terms are somewhat ambiguous in English, they are generally used as synonyms, although according to some interpretations, ringsels are a subset of sariras.
Sarira (舍利) can refer to:
- Dharma body sariras, or sutras as told by the Buddha, according to Din Fu Bao's Dictionary of Buddhist Terms, a Dharma body sasira is "the Sutra as told by the Buddha: That which is unchanging in what is told by the Buddha, is of the same property as the essence of the Buddha himself, hence it is called the 'dharma body sarira'".
- Corporal and full body sariras, the cremated remains of the Buddha (or any other spiritual master), but can also be used to refer other remains (for instance, a finger), or a preserved body, similar to the Roman Catholic incorruptibles. Full body sariras refers to the mummified remains of spiritual masters.
- Broken body sariras refers specifically to cremated remains.
- Sariras or Ringsels, when used without qualification, the term sarira generally refers to the pearl-like remnant of a master after cremation.
The word "shrine" is sometimes used as a translation for ringsels (e.g. heart shrine relic refers to ringsels that supposedly formed from someone's heart.) This rather peculiar use of the term "shrine" reflects the Buddhist concept of shrine. For Buddhists, a shrine is anything that is deliberately constructed to remind one of something that is essentially intangible. Ringsels, whose primary function is to act as a memento, serves the same purpose as shrines, hence it is referred to as such.
Although the term sarira can be used to refer to a wide variety of Buddhist relics, as listed above, it is generally used to refer to the pearl or crystal-like bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters.
These objects are considered relics of significant importance in many sects of Buddhism since they are believed to embody the spiritual knowledge, teachings, realizations or living essence of the spiritual masters. They are taken as evidence of the masters' enlightenment and spiritual purity. Some believe that the sariras are deliberately left by the consciousness of a master for veneration, and that the beauty of the sariras depends on how well the masters had cultivated their mind and souls. Sariras come in a variety of colors, and some are even translucent.
Sariras are typically displayed in a glass bowl inside small gold urns or stupas as well as enshrined inside the masters statue. The pieces of sarira are also believed to mysteriously multiply in number while inside their containers if they have been stored under favorable conditions. Saffron threads are sometimes placed within or around the bowl containing the individual pieces of sarira as an offering.
It is believed that individuals, regardless of their faith, will be overcome with emotions of joy, love, peace, inspiration, or even spiritual transformation when in the presence of the ringsel. There have been testimonies of healings and visions attributed to seeing these relics.
The occurrence of sarira is not restricted to ancient times, as well, many Buddhists have shown that sarira does not limit to humans or masters. The cremation of Tong Xian (通显法师) in March 1991 reported 11000 sariras. Many Pure Land Buddhism texts have also shown sariras of many adherents, some occurring recently. Parrots have been reported to leave sariras after cremation.
Some Buddhists associate a Buddhist's stage with amount and condition of his sarira. Many Pure Land Buddhists think Amitabha's power helps a layman to appear sarira. Many reports sarira rains at Vajrayana monk ceremonies or funerals. There are reports sarira may appear, multiply or disappear, depend on a keeper's thought. One's vow may also be important. Kumārajīva wanted to show his translations are right and his tongue remain intact. Yuanzhao (圆照) told her students she would leave her heart to living beings before she died and cermated.
One possible scientific explanation for the phenomenon is that they are bladder or kidney stones which survive the cremation. Also, there is evidence that under certain conditions of heating, human bones can form crystalline structures. Sarira are purported to appear after a cremation, and so this could be the mechanism by which they are made. In one chemical analysis, sariras were found to be composed of matter from bones and stones. But there are also hair, meat and blood sariras. These are of course a naturally expected by-product of cremation. It is probable that after a cremation, sarira would be present in any human remains, as there is doubtful any physiological differences between the structure of the bodies of a highly advanced Buddhist master compared to that of a layman. Although the common conception is that the majority of bones in the human body are of a size ranging from that of the femora to the phalanges of the fingers, it is rather the case that many of the bones in an average human skeleton are smaller than the more rare, larger bones, and range from the microscopic (as in the ossicles of the inner ear) to the size of a pea, small nut, or pearl. It is possible that some sarira may be these smaller bones, which survived the crematory process relatively intact. As well, a certain confirmation bias may be at hand when considering the phenomenon. In Buddhist culture, since the processes which go into the manufacturing of sarira are highly ritualized and well-known, the appearance of these artifacts will have a tendency to be noticed by those who are looking for them, as opposed to the situation in non-buddhist cultures, where cremation often serves a more utilitarian purpose, and tellingly, dramatically fewer instances of the sarira phenomenon are reported. In Buddhist cultures, sariras are generally not reported on non Buddhists after their cremation.
- Il-yeon: Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K. Mintz. Book Two, page 100f. Silk Pagoda (2006). ISBN 1596543485
- 物猶如此 動物念佛往生西方極樂世界實錄
- A Brief Introduction of Forshang World Foundation
- Sariras: Ringsels and Mummies
- พระบรมสารีริกธาตุและพระอรหันตธาตุ Relics of Buddha
- Sacred Buddhist Relics
- Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Episode no. 711
- MIT News: Buddhist relics
- Sacred Buddhist relics
- WNET New York
- Heart-Shrine Relic Tour
- Xinhua (China's official government news site) Feature on Ringsels, contains pictures of purported Ringsels (in Chinese)