CAMPBELL -- It looked like a spoonful of caviar, golden pearls shimmering beneath a plexiglass case, bathed in candlelight and the soothing embrace of a prayer chant.
The collection of crystals that drew 100 people Saturday morning to the Ocean of Compassion Buddhist Center in Campbell are considered 2,500-year-old relics of Shakyamuni, known to most of us simply as the Buddha. And here he was on display, or at least the tiny crystals that Buddhists believe were found within his cremated ashes were.
They have been passed down for centuries from lama to disciple to lama, ending up inside a peaceful sanctuary tucked behind a strip-mall barber shop and tae kwon do studio.
"You can cry from the beautiful feeling you get from just being around these relics," said Amanda Russell, who as one of two managers bringing this "Loving Kindness Relic Tour" to 67 countries in North, Central and South America, has found much to be moved by.
"People are drawn to these relics because they're so incredibly sacred; they embody the love and the kindness of Buddha and other disciples and saints from Tibet, Korea and China," she said.
The exhibit, which continues Sunday, is part of an annual pilgrimage now in its 11th year, supported solely by the contributions of visitors. It's a rare chance to see these remnants of holy men because most such relics are confined to temples throughout Asia and are not usually in the public eye.
When this particular collection isn't traveling, Russell said its contents remain in the Aptos home of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a contemporary Buddhist master who serves as the spiritual director of the tour.
While the collection's nearly 1,000 pearl-shaped relics, known by their Tibetan name of "ringsel," may look like fish eggs or sesame seeds, Buddhists believe they're imbued with the spirit, compassion and wisdom of the 44 masters in whose remains they were purportedly found. During Saturday's viewing, a reverent and shoeless crowd of about 60 people seemed awestruck to be in their presence, as if they were in the presence of the Buddha himself.
"It is so beautiful to be here," said Rachel Ho, of Hillsborough, who had brought her dog Simba along for a sort of spiritual pick-me-up. The 4-year-old half-Shih Tzu-half Maltese had suffered mightily before Ho rescued him from an animal shelter. "He was traumatized so much by being abandoned, I wanted to bring him here today to be blessed," she said.
One of the center's monks obliged, and Simba suddenly seemed to be glowing as much as the candles giving the exhibit a surreal glow. And laid out beneath sprays of pink and purple orchids, the relics also glowed like some sort of ethereal business cards from the Buddha and his followers.
"My brother knows a lot about Buddha, but I don't, so that's why I'm here today," said 7-year-old Maya Borkar, who showed up with her dad, Mandar, a software engineer from Palo Alto, and her 12-year-old brother, Mihir, who was quick with his response when asked what he knew about the holy man.
"The Buddha saw the suffering in the world all around him, and he wanted to meditate, so he did," said Mihir as he headed into the exhibit. His dad provided a bit more context for the family visit.
"I wanted to teach my kids that the Buddha at first was like a king and lived a very comfortable life," said Mandar. "And he could have gone on living that good life, but he decided instead to devote his life to prayer and meditation."
The lesson waiting inside the exhibit for his children, like a curriculum etched in crystals from an ancient past, was a no-brainer, said the dad.
"I want to show my kids that it's good to get out of their comfort zone," he said. "Because that's when they can become more productive, both for themselves and, hopefully, for the rest of the world."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.