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HomeAsiaControversy Surrounds Authenticity of Buddha Hair Relic, Radio Free Asia Reports

Controversy Surrounds Authenticity of Buddha Hair Relic, Radio Free Asia Reports

A Vietnamese pagoda has quietly returned a supposed Buddhist relic – eight hairs said to be from Sidartha Gautma, the founder of Buddhism – to Myanmar after questions arose over its authenticity.

The relic was on display at the Ba Vang Pagoda in northern Vietnam from Dec. 23-27, receiving huge press in the country at the time of its arrival. The pagoda made a big deal about receiving the relic with a large ceremony to receive what it was calling one of Myanmar’s “national treasures.”

But when RFA Vietnamese asked RFA Burmese to verify the story with religious experts in Myanmar, they said there was little if any archaeological or historical evidence to authenticate the relic.

If it were widely believed to be legitimate, the relic would be far more well-known in Myanmar, a country that is 87% Buddhist.

After doubts about the relic appeared on social media, the pagoda returned it to its owners.

Many objects believed to be sacred relics have dubious origins, a Buddhist monk who is a member of Myanmar’s highest State Buddhist Sangha Council, told RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity for security reasons due to commenting on sensitive religious issues.

“Any relics that we have today are due to [people] over-believing in something unreasonable,” he said. “People should use their own reasoning [to determine] whether [something like this] could be possible or not.”

RFA attempted to discuss the matter with the Myanmar military junta’s Religious Affairs Department, but both spokesmen declined to comment or were unavailable.

A gift from the enlightened

According to legend, the eight hairs were given to two Burmese merchants by the Buddha himself, who lived in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.

Ba Vang Pagoda and its abbot, the Most Venerable Thich Truc Thai Minh, said they had borrowed the relic for display from Parami Monastery and Parami International Buddha Relics Museum in Myanmar.

If genuine, it would mean that the relic was passed down through the generations from the two merchants until the museum became its steward.

RFA confirmed that both the monastery and the museum exist. They are both located in Yangon, but could not reach the spokesperson or a responsible representative of either.

Although the story about the relic went viral on social and mainstream media in Vietnam, Myanmar’s media has had no coverage regarding the lending of its “national treasure” to Vietnam for exhibition, as had been reported in Vietnam.

The reckoning

The Giác Ngộ online newspaper under the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, or VBS, reported that at its meeting on Jan. 4, 2023, the standing board of VBS’ Northern Executive Council discussed disciplinary action against the abbot Minh for being involved in the display of the Buddha hair relic.

According to the Most Venerable Thich Duc Thien, the vice-chairman and secretary-general of the Executive Council, the Minh admitted fault in front of monks, nuns and Buddhist followers for the display that provoked public controversy and damaged the reputation of the sangha.

The VBS accepted his penance, asking him and the pagoda not to organize any international exchanges at the pagoda over the next year, Thien told RFA.

Translated by RFA Burmese and Vietnamese. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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