Supercharged with good karma

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Did Sacramento citizens feel extra blessed with peace and loving kindness over the weekend? If so, that’s because the Spiritual Life Center recently hosted the latest stop for the Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour. These historically important and spiritually sacred relics belonged to the Shakyamuni Buddha (the Buddha from your high-school history class).

The relics, also called ring cells, are pearl-colored minerals that remain after a Buddhist master has been cremated. Buddhists believe that these little white beads are supercharged with good karma and radiate the spiritual essence of the master.

When the relics aren't on the road, they reside in the Aptos, California, home of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a contemporary Buddhist master who serves as the spiritual director of the tour.

Past visitors to the Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour have reported experiencing deeply moving emotional and spiritual moments in the presence of the objects, so I went to check it out for myself and encountered more than 1,000 ring-cell relics attributed to 44 masters, including Shakyamuni Buddha, his heart disciples and several saints. The items were laid out on a large altar surrounding a golden Buddha statue, along with candles, singing bowls, bells and a small prayer wheel.

The relics were housed in bell-shaped stupas, each outfitted with a clear plastic window and displayed inside plexiglass cases with cards identifying which master originated the relic.

Outside the Spiritual Life Center, tour manager Cristian Cowan gave “pet blessings” with relics to a visitor's dachshund-schnauzer mix, Decko. The dog looked especially at peace with the relics placed on his head.

Inside, I stepped up to the first station at the altar, where a small sign read “Buddha Bath Offering.” I poured a small wooden ladle of holy water over a figurine in a bowl of water. The sign prompted me to pray for eliminating negative thoughts, cultivating good deeds and helping to save all living beings.

At another station, I rang a little bell with Tibetan inscriptions and read a page from the Sutra of Golden Light. Here, Sacramentans of all walks of life palmed their hands together and prostrated before the altar, seemingly seeking inner peace and a moment of quiet on an overcast Sunday afternoon.

At the last station, I knelt onto a pillow before the Rev. Mark Berry, a volunteer for the show. Berry showed me the relics in his stupa and explained that they once belonged to Shakyamuni Buddha, the first historical Buddha who once went by the name of Prince Siddhartha before he reached enlightenment.

The little white beads of mineral cremains rolled around on a bed of red felt placed inside the stupa. They looked like little grains of rice or Tic Tacs.

Berry placed the stupa on my head and muttered a prayer too quiet to hear. I felt the warmth of his hands radiate from the crown of my head down my neck.

I walked away from the Spiritual Life Center feeling relaxed and calm and in touch with the karmic forces of the universe—a feeling that, of course, only lasted until I got in my car and drove through the crowded parking lot.