Posted Online: Sept. 05, 2013, 8:58 pm

Figge offers Q-C residents a chance to contemplate Buddha

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By Jonathan Turner,

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Amanda Russell, tour manager of the International tour of historic Buddha relics, left and Venerable Norbu work together setting up the life-size, golden statue of the Maitreya Buddha Thursday afternoon Sept. 5 for the weekend-only free exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.
DAVENPORT -- Rochel Rittgers, of Bettendorf, said her visit of an exhibit of Buddhist relics two years ago in Cedar Rapids changed her life.

"I was so touched by its kindness and gentleness, this essence that wasn't describable," she said on Thursday at the Figge Art Museum while helping set up the same exhibit of relics from Buddhist masters around the world. The items that resemble beautiful, pearl-like crystals -- some 2,500 years old -- are said to hold the energy of Buddha and his disciples.

"At the root of all religions is kindness, compassion, taking care of one another, loving one another," said Ms. Rittgers, the exhibit host. "Doesn't everybody want to live in peace?"

Buddhists believe the sacred relics embody the master's spiritual qualities of compassion and wisdom. The weekend-only free exhibit is not a Buddhist event and is promoted as a "Loving Kindness Tour," tour manager Amanda Russell said.

"We always have a diverse audience of people. It's really about spreading loving kindness," she said.

Ms. Russell noted that its visit to Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines last year was the largest event the 12-year-old tour has had in the U.S., with about 7,000 people attending. She said topping that attendance is a goal in Davenport.

The tour, created in 2001 by the modern-day Buddhist master Lama Zopa Rinpoche, has been seen by more than 1.4 million people in 67 countries. Nearly all of the relics are from his collection, with eight donated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama more than 2,500 years old. Each relic (one is in the Figge display) were rescued from Tibet in 1959 by the Dalai Lama after the invasion of China.

"These artifacts we're carrying have this energy encapsulated in them," Ms. Russell said. "What makes this a universal event is these masters, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and other Buddhist traditions, the quality they have is loving kindness.

"We're not worshiping them," she said. "We're cultivating them into my life: How can I be more loving? How can I be more kind?

"The relics mirror what we have innately inside us, which is pure loving kindness," she said. "We don't want to be angry. We don't want to be sad, suffering. ...They're supporting the space for your true divinity to shine."

Visitors often report experiences of inspiration and healing when in the presence of the relics, which encircle a life-size, golden statue of the Maitreya Buddha. According to Buddhist scriptures, Maitreya will be the next Buddha to bring teachings of loving kindness to the world.

Ms. Russell said some visitors pray for world peace and develop their inner wisdom; others are overcome by emotion.

"Nearly everyone reports some kind of change or shift, whether it is releasing physical or emotional pain or experiencing a profound sense of peace," she said."I witness miracles every weekend. There's a lot of different ways -- some of them are physical, some are mental.

"People are gruff, don't know what to expect," she said. "As they're going through, you watch them -- with a hardened face, tight muscles, a tight body -- and they come out and they're very loose. Their eyes have this light to them that's magical."

She said that's what happened to her two years ago when, not knowing anything about Buddhism, she first saw the exhibit in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"I wanted to cultivate inner peace, focus on meditation," she said."It was really just transforming. I just stayed the whole weekend. I had a really amazing meditation.

"I could feel a transformation within myself, and I wanted to know more," she said. "To create world peace, you have to develop inner peace."

Visitors to the Figge also may participate in a Blessing Ceremony with the relics gently placed on the crown of their head as a personal blessing for themselves or others.

Genesis emergency physician Steven Lamer, who hosted the exhibit in Cedar Rapids, will speak at tonight's opening ceremony in the former Figge library space on the second floor, along with Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba.

"Just come with an open heart and you never know what's going to happen," Ms. Russell said. "It's like a re-set. You're gonna come in and see something you've never experienced.

"It's very rare," she said. "Usually you have to travel to see one relic. This exhibit has over 1,000 relics."

In this time of perpetual global conflicts, she said people should "set aside our differences and become loving, allow people to nurture whatever they believe in.

"That's what's going to create world peace," she said."We're so interconnected. Our energy is spreading outward; when you think of kind things, it does affect the outside world."

If you go:

What: International tour of historic Buddha relics

When: Through Sunday. An opening ceremony is 6-8 p.m. today, with the exhibit open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport

Admission: Free (donations are encouraged), including other exhibits at the museum during regular museum hours.

For more details: Visit