In the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, the notion of sainthood is not so readily embraced--most practitioners look to the historical arhats as exemplars, and there is no tradition in Theravada such as that of the mahasiddhas. But some lineages have developed cults around the relics of such great masters as Ajaan Lee Dhammadaro, a great Thai adept and monk in the Forest tradition. Moreover, there are countless stories of great Theravadin monks and teachers performing miracles, healings, and mind reading. But they are not canonized in the way that, say, saints in Tibetan culture have been.

I still feel somewhat skeptical about miracles, though I have witnessed events for which there is no other explanation. Once, in the early 1980s, my guru, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, performed longevity empowerments for my French monk-brother's father, who was in the final stages of cancer, and he remarkably enough lived another 10 years. My friend's father was not a believer but was converted to faith during the years when this miraculous healing became obvious. The 16th Karmapa also healed a Tibetan lady I knew in Gangtok, Sikkim, in a similar fashion; on another occasion in the 1960s, at the consecration of his newly rebuilt monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim, the Karmapa also reportedly raised a large flagpole, using telekinesis.

Tibetan Buddhist history is peppered with historical saints. One was the Indian adept Shantideva, who in the eighth century C.E. wrote the classic Mahayana Buddhist text "Entering the Bodhisattva Path of Enlightenment" (Bodhicharyavatara). Still widely used as a teaching text in Tibetan Buddhism, it is a guide for beginners and lay students to developing the aspiration to free all sentient beings. Another, Padma Sambhava, whose name means "Lotus-Born" and refers to the legend of his birth from a lotus blossom, is said to have walked from India in the eighth century to help found Buddhism in Tibet and create its Dzogchen tradition.

Throughout the Buddhist world, the cremated remains of enlightened beings are said to leave extraordinary relics, and many can be seen in reliquaries at monasteries and temples in Asia and the West. Extraordinary events often occur at their cremations and funerals, too. The late Dzogchen master Dudjom Rinpoche displayed countless rainbows around his embalmed remains, known as kuding, at his funeral in Nepal in the late 1980s. I was among the witnesses, along with one of my most doubtful friends, who came away with a very different attitude!

The Dalai Lama of Tibet and the Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh are among the most saintly Buddhist sages we have today.The 14-year-old Gyalwa Karmapa, who escaped from Tibet to India in January, is one to watch, too. They say that if you chant his name-mantra, "karmapa Khyenno," you will generate auspicious karma, increase your spiritual aspirations and devotion, and meet him in this lifetime (I'm sure that this is true). By chanting their mantras and invoking their presence, Tibetans pray to Buddhist saints for blessings, inspiration, and guidance--a graceful, devotional practice known as guru yoga.