Buddha's Birthday Celebrations: 4 Beautiful Temples To See in South Korea
Happy Birthday Buddha! - 부처님 오신 날
On Sunday, May 12th, many residents and visitors to Korea took part in festivities throughout the country, celebrating Buddha's birthday! Buddha's birthday is celebrated each year following the lunar calendar. "Seokga tansinil" or Buddha's birthday, falls on the 8th day of the 4th month in the lunar calendar. This day is also recognized as "Bucheonim osin nal" (The day Buddha came) and is a public holiday celebrated by families all throughout Korea. Throughout the entire month of May, streets everywhere were lined end to end with bright lotus lanterns. Hundreds of the colorful lanterns decorated every temple in Korea, and it is a special sight to see since it only happens during the month of May. With the coming of Spring, this decor was a nice extra touch as it served as a nice contrast against many of the industrial buildings in Seoul. JD and I were lucky enough to have family and friends visit during this time; we were happy to be able to share this very colorful time with them!
During the festive day, many temples came alive with the sounds of music, chanting, performances, and the chatter of eager visitors. There were traditional dances, and many things to excite the eye inside the temples.
Below is a list of just some of the amazing Korean Buddhist temples worth seeing during the month of May (and frankly, any month) through out South Korea.
1. Jogyesa Temple - 조계사
Location: Jongno-Gu, Seoul
Directions to Jogyesa Temple: Subway line. 1 Jonggak st. : Go through exit no. 2 - Go straight about 2 1/2 blocks down until you find Jogyesa temple on your left.
Those in Seoul didn't have to travel far to join in on the birthday celebrations. Jogyesa Temple is located in the heart of Seoul, and also happens to serve as the headquarter information center location for the TempleStay programs. Visitors here will also find the Korean Buddhist Culture and History Hall. Hundreds of bright paper lanterns were strung up above the temple grounds; it was easy to forget that we were in one of the world's largest cities. That is, until you bump into one of the many visitors. Echoes of traditional music and chanting filled the temple walls, as people gathered together. Television news stations tried to capture the celebrations as best they could.
Throughout the complex, there were other stations set up for photos with a smaller Buddha statues, an area for pouring holy water, dance ceremonies, and a place to purchase lanterns of your own. Just outside the main temple, there were also big decorative lanterns that portrayed different characters.
Jogyesa's Birthday Boys
The main temple hall was home to three golden Buddha's towering over the shrine and offerings. Here, people paid their respects, and offered a variety of offerings such as fruits or candles in hopes of bringing good fortune into their lives.
2. Gilsangsa Temple - 길상사
Location: Seongbuk-dong, Seoul
Directions to Gilsangsa Temple: Hansung University on Line 4, take Exit 6 either walk uphill for about 20 minutes, or take one of the shuttles from the bus stop or simply take a taxi.
Gilsangsa Temple, though not as big as the others on this list, is still worth visiting. This temple is situated is a wealthy residential area of Seoul where many ambassadors live! Perhaps, due to this reason, this temple felt a bit more peaceful. The grounds also have a more unique layout than some of the other temples, where visitors do more winding around the grounds instead of seeing everything in one big complex. To the left of the main hall, there is a nice walking path along a stream that was lined with the lanterns. Also along the path, were tiny rooms which must be for the various programming offered such as meditation classes, and temple stays. This temple also happens to be the same temple we visited for our mission run with Tris!
Gilsangsa Baby Birthday Boy
Aside from this tiny Buddha, visitors will also find three giant Buddha statues in the main temple hall.
3. Haedong Yonggunsa Temple - 해동 용궁사
Location: Gijang, Busan
Directions to Haedong Yonggunsa Temple: The best way to get to Haedong Yonggunsa is by car or taxi. However, prepare to wait a bit in a line of cars as you near the temple as this was one of the busier temples I've visited!
Haedong Yonggunsa is a beautiful temple by the sea. Seeing this temple was special to me because seeing a photo of this complex back home was one of my main motivations for coming to Korea! The area was really stunning, and it was actually difficult to take in the view of the whole temple because there were so many lanterns in the way. At this temple visitors could pay their respects to a few different Buddha statues, light special candles and make offerings.
Haedong Yonggunsa's Birthday Boys
This temple complex was one of the larger ones in Korea! There were quite a few different Buddhist statues spread throughout for visitors to pay respects to. Haedong Yonggunsa even houses a golden lying Buddha, similar yet smaller than the Buddhist statue that lays peacefully in Bangkok, Thailand!
4. Singheungsa Temple - 신흥사
Location: Gangwon-do, Sokcho, Seoraksan National Park
Directions to Sinheungsa Temple: ▶From Express Bus Terminal take a bus to Sokcho. (Dongseoul Bus Terminal or Gosok Terminal) ▶Get off the bus at the Sokcho Expresse Bus Terminal or Intercity Bus Terminal
▶Take a local bus number 7 or 7-1 from Sokcho to the National Park. It takes about 30-40 minutes. Get off the bus at the last stop. You can also take a 10min taxi ride from the bus terminal to the park which was much faster. ▶Enter the Seoraksan National Park. The entrance fee is included in the participation fee.so just give your name at the gate. It's about 7-10 minute walk to the main temple and signs are posted.
This beautiful complex is located a bit further away from Seoul, about 2 hours away at the Seoraksan National Park in in Sokcho. Singheungsa Temple is a great one to visit for those looking to celebrate Buddha a bit more quietly. The temple is spread out so there isn't the overwhelm of crowds. Sadly, I was unable to return to this temple in time to see the festivities, but I'm sure it does not disappoint!
Singheunsa's Birthday Boy
This Buddha statue is one of my favorites in Korea. This statue sits peacefully in the middle of Seoraksan National Park. There is a hidden prayer space underground beneath the statue where visitors can pay respects, and make a 108 beaded mandala necklace.
Lotus Lantern Festivities
In the week leading up to Buddha's birthday, there are lotus lantern parades bringing joy to families lined up along the streets in Seoul. Jogyesa Temple is also surrounded by these large paper creations, depicting all sorts of things.
Interested in a Buddhist Templestay?
For those interested in exploring Buddhist culture even further, a variety of programming is available to visitors throughout the year. To see more about what to expect during a temple stay, check out my temple stay experience post here.
Visting the Buddhist Temples during the month of May is a must-do in South Korea! It's a good opportunity to learn about Korean Buddhist culture, Buddha's teachings, try the vegan bibimbap often served, as well as a chance to reconnect with yourself and take a break from the busyness of daily life.
Thank you for reading! If you visited any other temple during this time, I would love to hear about it!
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