Lu Mountain Temple in Rosemead, CA has one of the largest collection’s of Buddhist relics in the U.S. The relics or Sharira crystals are said to have formed from the cremated remains of the Buddha and his most enlightened disciples.
Welcome to Lu Mountain Temple…
…where blessings from monks using religious relics are quite the norm.
Being displayed for the first time was a relic of the Venerable Thich Quang Duc. “This Buddhist monk set fire to himself in 1963 as a demonstration against the suppression of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government,” the statement said. “The shocking image of self-immolation covered the front pages of newspapers around the world. This action was later regarded as a turning point in the Buddhist crisis and a critical point in the collapse of the American supported Diem regime.”
The vast majority of relics in the collection are small crystals, or Shariras, believed to have supernatural properties…
…such as the ability to emanate aromas or reproduce spontaneously. First exhibited to the public in 2013, the collection has grown year after year through donations from all over the world, including Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Around the room, glass display cases held translucent urns and miniature versions of dome-shaped Buddhist shrines, or stupas, delicately arranged on burgundy-colored cloth.
The urns and stupas held thousands of bright pearl-like crystals believed to be relics of the Buddha, his relatives and his disciples.
In 2013, hundreds of people made pilgrimages to this small Rosemead temple for the first public showing of what was touted as the largest collection of Buddhist relics in the United States. Relic worship, better known among Roman Catholics, is much less commonly associated with Buddhism.
According to some branches of Buddhist belief, the relics, known in Sanskrit as shariras, offer a source of delight, blessings, enlightenment and concrete, physical evidence of Buddha. The religious artifacts are displayed in temples in Vietnam, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, among other places. Since 2001, the Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour has visited cities across the United States, sharing a collection of nearly 1,000 relics with the public.
At Lu Mountain Temple, however, the collection is far larger; it is said to number more than 10,000, including two rare tooth relics.
How such a vast collection came into the hands of the simple temple tucked away on a quiet residential street has confounded even the monks and sent small shock waves through a close-knit community that previously shied away from attention. YongHua, who began practicing Mahayana Buddhism about 20 years ago, had never seen a relic before. Then Tam Huynh approached him during a meditation retreat in December, 2013.
At the time, Huynh, 68, was a landscaper with the East Bay Municipal Utility Department in Oakland. After the Vietnam War In the late 1970s, he was a prisoner in a labor camp, where he’d been sent after serving as a captain in the South Vietnamese army. He met a Buddhist monk at the camp who he said sneaked him religious texts.
In 2003, about 10 years after coming to the United States as a war refugee, Huynh visited a relics exhibition in Sacramento.
When he sat to meditate, he found that the pain he typically felt while putting his legs in the lotus position had disappeared.
His fascination with relics grew. Over seven years, Huynh visited temples in Vietnam where he was given artifacts.
Inspired by personal growth at the meditation retreat at Lu Mountain Temple, he decided he wanted to donate his collection to benefit the temple and the community. YongHua was skeptical at first. In his branch of Buddhism, relics never rose to the level of importance of meditation, sutras and mantras. But he accepted Huynh’s donation, as well as several others that followed. In July 2013, Huynh was ordained as a monk. The abbot, other monks and members of the temple said they started to notice changes. The atmosphere in the temple grew calmer. People reported deeper, more concentrated meditation. One Alhambra man said the relics helped improve his relationship with his son.
Most mysteriously, YongHua said, the gem-like shariras appeared to grow and multiply, forming new crystals in containers and on the surface of one of the tooth relics. For YongHua, the relics are a blessing as well as a headache. He constantly fields phone calls from people who want to visit the temple. He also boosted security and installed surveillance cameras. It’s part of a sacrifice to help others. The monks hope to build a permanent shrine at the temple to house the relics. And a second, even grander vision emerged: to build a stupa large enough to display the artifacts and become an international symbol.
The modest Lu Mountain Temple became a repository for the thousands of colorful crystals, two teeth and a single hair that are believed to have come from the body of the Buddha himself. The relics are said to be capable of producing miracles for people who go near them. I was lucky enough to be blessed by the monk with these Whole Body shariras. I even got a chance to smell 3 different kinds of shariras. Each one having a unique fragrant smell.
Thousands of colorful crystals, some believed to have come from the heart and other body parts of the Buddha himself when he was cremated nearly 3,000 years ago. Other crystals are believed to have come from his family members and disciples.
The crown jewel of the collection is a tooth of the Buddha. The tooth, a molar, is now 3 to 4 inches long, is it has continued growing following the death of the Buddha. The Buddha’s teeth relics have been producing small “baby” crystal shariras ranging in a broad spectrum of bright and deep colors, from orange, red, and purple to yellow, blue, green, and white. When these baby relics fall off the tooth and are moved to a separate container, they continue to reproduce. Although such relics can be found at other Buddhist temples around the country, such a large collection is unusual.
Located on the corner of a hillside residential street, the temple is easily mistaken by average passersby for what it once was: a modest, 1950s-era, cookie-cutter tract home in an aging bedroom community east of Los Angeles. A glance down the hill offers a smog-shrouded view of hundreds of other homes, all looking the same.