The Gardner pagoda is a replica of one of the One Million Pagodas, the Hyakumantō, commissioned by Empress Shōtoku (718-770) as an offer of thanks to the Buddhas for aiding in the suppression of the Emi Rebellion of 764. A total of one million pagodas were distributed equally among ten major temples in the Nara region of Japan. Composed of a three-storied body and seven-ringed finial crowned by a wish-fulfilling jewel, the Gardner pagoda itself is a replica and was carved from wood taken from Hōryūji, a temple that received 100,000 of Empress Shōtoku’s Hyakumantō, each containing a sheet of paper block-printed with one of four prayers from the Mukujōkōdarani Sutra. Of the ten Nara temples to receive the empress’s offering, Hōryūji was the only one to maintain its collection into the modern period.
A pagoda is a reliquary that contains the Buddha’s relics. To worship at a pagoda is to experience proximity to the Buddha and to be in the presence of his charismatic essence. The relics contained in a pagoda are typically material, including purported bone fragments from the historical Buddha’s cremation, or objects or clothes touched and used by the Buddha, a disciple, or a great Buddhist teacher. Pagoda relics can also be textual, in the form of a sutra (the recorded teachings of the Buddha).