Buddha’s Birthday at a Mountain Temple in Seoul

by David Kendall, 24/04/2009


The Lantern Parade down Jongno on Sunday, April 26, only begins festivities to honor Buddha. His birthday falls on May 2 in the solar calendar this year and temples across Korea will mark the event with large ceremonies. For a uniquely Korean experience, visit Bongwonsa, where monks and professional dancers will perform the captivating Yeongsanjae Ceremony.

Just a 10 minute hike past chic apartment units and small businesses across from the back gate of Ewha Womans University, Bongwonsa emerges as a picturesque Korean temple, complete with lotus pond, mountain spirit painting and forest trails leading up to the ridge of Ansan. Only when you look back at the sweeping view of the high-rises in Sinchon and on Yeouido across the Hangang, do you remember you are in a city of 10 million.

In its entirety, Yeongsanjae is a three-day ceremony in which monks reenact the scenes of joy that accompanied the Buddha’s sermon from Mt. Yeongchwi. On May 2 only two portions -- the colorful Butterfly (Jaackbeop Mu ) and Cymbal (Cheonsu Bara) dances -- will be conducted from 6 pm to 8 pm. By the time the ceremony ends, the glowing lanterns on the grounds of the temple, make a particularly striking scene. 

A booklet published by Bongwonsa explains that the Yeongsanjae ceremony is to express the liberation that comes with rebirth and help all living creatures obtain salvation by reflecting on the Buddha's teachings.

While the monks’ robes are elaborate and the dances lively, the temple stresses that it is not a public performance but a religious ceremony on a most sacred day. Attendees should maintain proper respect. 

The Royal Asiatic Society is hosting tours to three temples on Buddha’s Birthday, culminating with Bongwonsa. For more information on its “Tour the Color and Pageantry of City Temples” program visit www.raskb.com. To reach Bongwonsa on your own, take the Green No. 7024 to Bongwonsa’s parking lot. The bus stops 60 meters from Sinchon Station, Line 2, Exit 4.

If you’d like to attend Buddha's Birtday celebration events on your own, click here for the information in the K4E What’s Going On section.

A longer version of the Yeongsanjae Ceremony can be seen at Bongwonsa on June 6. The dance ceremony begins at 5:00 and ends at 7:00. Everyone is welcome to attend, but bear in mind that space may be limited. For more information about the temple or the ceremony, please visit www.bongwonsa.or.kr or www.pompae.or.kr (click on the appropriate flag icon in lower left-hand corner for English, Chinese and Japanese pages.)

 

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