Religions of South Asia, Vol 8, No 1 (2014)

The Place of Relic Worship in Buddhism: An Unresolved Controversy?*

Karel Werner
Issued Date: 22 Aug 2014


Although worship of the relics of the Buddha—and its corollary, stūpa worship—is a widespread feature of Buddhist devotional practice among both lay Buddhists and monks, there is in some quarters a view that, while recommended to lay followers, it is forbidden to monks. This controversy started very early after the Buddha’s parinibbāna, and has reverberated throughout the centuries till the present time. Its source is in the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta, and it stems from the ambiguity in the meaning of the compound sarīrapūjā in the Buddha’s reply to Ānanda’s two questions concerning the actions to be taken after the Master’s death with respect to his body. The resolution of the controversy depends on correct understanding of the nature of the Buddha’s replies to the two questions. This article analyses the relevant passages of the sutta and the way they have been translated, correctly or incorrectly, into Western languages and into Chinese, and finally arrives at a solution derived entirely from within the text of the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta itself.

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DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v8i1.13


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