Friday, June 01, 2007

Diggin' up bones

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I've just read of William, Adso, and Nicholas-the-replacement-cellarer wandering through the vault of the abbey's treasures and relics. These include a part of the crown of thorns...a piece of the tablecloth from the last supper...the tip of the spear that pierced the Savior's side...a piece of the actual holy wooden cross. Adso is of course in awe at all these relics and William basically tells him, "Yeah, right."

Now, granted this is a fictional abbey, but I know how it is with the relic-seeking and I just wonder, seriously, why do we believe this crap? Really, though? As William puts it, "And don't succumb too much to the spell of these cases. I have seen many other fragments of the cross, in other churches. If all were genuine, our Lord's torment could not have been on a couple of planks nailed together, but on an entire forest." - p. 425

I thought about how we all do this, really. And not just with Jesus. I mean, we even do it with secular figures. ("Washington slept here!" isn't much different) But what it really reminded me of was when I was in Korea and I went to see the Buddha's finger bone, unearthed in China and conveniently on exhibit in Seoul the first weekend I spent there. I won't even try to explain my actions; you can just have a look for yourself here. Did I really think it was the Buddha's finger bone? These things beg the question, of course, of what I mean by "the Buddha." Like, maybe that really was the bone of the man named Siddhartha Gautama. Even so, what does that mean? And suppose the cross that crucified a certain (quite possibly wrongly) accused criminal was salvaged and a bit of it was hanging out in an abbey somewhere? In which case are we fooling ourselves more, that these are the historical fragments or that they are historic fragments?

Also, "the Buddha" is really not quite right to say. There have been other enlightened beings, a couple dozen buddhas in one branch of buddhism, I think. Even the word "buddhism" is misunderstood by most who use it especially when we come from western religious traditions. Where was I at with Buddhism when I randomly discovered that Buddha's bone was spending the same weekend in Seoul that I was? I guess you can see from my tales of my stay at the Buddhist temple Haeinsa, part one and part two. Maybe I'd describe it as faithful wariness?

Adso is sad and horrified that William doubts the validity of these treasures. Poor Adso. He still has a lot to learn.

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