Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Buddha Needs Love Too!

First, I'll admit that I don't know a ton about Buddhism. I've learned bits and pieces from my university and I also did a temple stay as soon as I arrived to Korea during my first stint. About 23% of Korea's population is Buddhist.

I think it's appropriate to note that I'm personally not religious. My family's of a Christian background, but you could say that I'm atheist today.

Today there are more Christians in Korea, although Koreans tend not to use "Christian" as much and use either "Catholic" or "Protestant." While I'm sure many are nice people, these Christians can be quite aggressive and even rude in their recruitment efforts.

If for nothing else in my experience, Buddhism offers a good religious break from the Christians in Korea.

Scenes from the Lantern Parade 2013
The past week Korea has seen some tributes to Buddhism to honor the Buddha's birthday. Over the last week, there was the Lotus Lantern Festival. This has events that include the exhibition of lanterns, the lantern parade, a rally and celebration.

The Lotus Lantern Festival has been held at the same place in the years I've been here. That's in the Donguk University/City Hall area: Or near Jonggak Station (Line 1) on the Seoul subway. Once I get there, it's hard to go wrong with the crowds of people going to the same place.

I last attended the lantern exhibition in 2011. It was gorgeous! Basically, you see pretty, traditional lanterns along the Cheongyecheon stream. It's better at night for obvious reasons. There were lots of people though, which can be a turn-off knowing how rude your fellow picture takers can be.

This year I saw part of the parade, which was equally nice. Lots of folks attended this too, so getting a good spot would mean coming early.

I went to a friend's temple to celebrate the Buddha's birthday

On the Buddha's birthday, my friend invited me to come to his temple. I thought it was a good idea because I wanted to see what it was like. Of course, I've looked at the exotic temples and learned about the more ancient, touristy sites, but I wanted to see a more contemporary Buddhism.

This temple is a "modern" temple. By that, I mean that it's not in a traditional building, but rather it's just a multistory regular city building like most others. His temple was in the Gangnam district in Seoul.

When we got there, he showed me around and introduced me to other members, including the head Monk. The Monk had a very friendly personality. My friend told me that once he brought another foreign friend, and they all played card games with the Monk! I thought that was cool.
Standing outside of the temple

He showed me a few routines, such as how to greet people at the temple and also how to pray to the Buddha statues. We sat down and talked to other members of the temple that he grew up with. They served some bibimbap and rice cakes for the meal. His friends also taught me how to shower the baby Buddha statue to celebrate his birthday.

Overall, it was a good experience. It even reminded me of the baptist church my mom and I used to visit when I was younger. It had a tight-knit community, where you see children grow, get married, and have children of their own. I was afraid they wouldn't be as welcoming toward me, a foreigner, but everyone was extremely friendly. At the same time, I tried to be as respectful as possible.

I had a good time and am thankful to get a chance to have these experiences!

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