What exactly is Buddha’s Birthday all about? Once upon a time, a prophecy was made about the Prince Siddhartha (now known as Buddha). According to legend, a great astronomer predicted, “The prince would become a great ruler or great holy man depending on the life he experiences outside the palace.” The king, determined his son would become his successor forbade the prince from venturing outside the palace walls. Finally, the prince had enough of life as a prisoner in his own home. Against his father’s will, he ventured into the town where he encountered an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a holy man. After these meetings, he renounced the material world and began his spiritual quest.
This is a special time celebrated on the Lunisolar calendar. Koreans call it 부처님 오신 날 meaning “the day when Buddha came.” Usually, this party is celebrated from April-May on the Gregorian calendar. Moving to Korea was the first time I had experienced anything to do with the man himself. If you find yourself In the Land of the Morning Calm during this time, here’s a guide to Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea.
How do they celebrate in South Korea?
Temples will give out temple food like vegan bibimbap and there will be lots of praying and monks about. They’ll come from many different countries and educate people on how Buddhism is practiced in their homelands. Many women will volunteering at the temples will wear hanbok and help you pray to Buddha. In addition, local neighborhoods, main sqaures and streets will be decked out with lanterns.
Manners and Etiquette
Don’t be loud and obnoxious during this time. Use your indoor voice at the temple and respect others. If you pray to Buddha, take your shoes off inside. No photography inside the temples either! To be allowed into the Buddhist temples in Korea, you are not allowed to be wearing short shorts or tops that don’t cover your shoulders. Be conservative.
Make a Lotus Flower
Part of the fun is making lotus flowers with a paper cup, You can take a special glue and paper in many different colors shaped like petals. With your finger, you dip it into the glue and start making a flower. It’s a great experience and a free decoration for your house. I was even given a flower by the kind people from the stand because mine was so ugly.
Watch a Parade
Part of the fun for Buddha’s Birthday is waiting for the darkness to come. There will be all sorts of lit up floats, people in hanbok, and music to enjoy the coming of Buddha. I saw the festivities and parade by Jogye-sa Temple.
Gina Bear: Seoul
I think the best place to watch these festivities is at the Jogye-sa Temple. It’s completely covered by lanterns and illuminated at dusk. This is the most famous temple in South Korea for the festivities and for good reason. The only unfortunate part of this temple is it’s overcrowded.
Another popular spot for Buddha’s Birthday is the Bongeunsa temple which features temple stays and lanterns for the prince himself. Personally, I think this temple is the most beautiful and the least crowded. The grounds are enormous and offer peace and tranquility to all visitors.
Linda Goes East: Cheongju
Being part of a Korean family means also being part of a big Buddha’s Birthday tradition. My fiancé and I live in Cheongju and his family always visits the beautiful Songnisan National Park for Buddha’s Birthday. Just as many Koreans, they love being outdoors and are always in for a good hike. My favorite part of the holiday isn’t the hike, though. What I enjoy most about Buddha’s Birthday in Songnisan are the great celebrations at the major temple called Beopjusa. Here, hundreds of people get together for free bibimbap and are part of an entertainment program with singers, dancers and offerings to Buddha. All over the beautiful temple area, you can also take part in various activities, such as Korean calligraphy or making a traditional lamp. If you’re looking for a local Korean Buddha celebration at a prestige national park for one of the biggest holidays in the country, come to Songnisan and you will not be disappointed!
Roam With John: Daegu
For Buddha’s birthday weekend this year, I decided to visit the famous temples in South Korea to celebrate. My first stop was in Daegu because I heard that there was going to be floating lanterns. I arrived at the Daegu Tower and wait with thousands of people in attendance. Some people registered for a lantern but unfortunately, I was didn’t register. However, I was able to film the release of the lanterns and the sky was lit with beautiful glow of lights.
Roam with John: Busan
My last stop for the weekend is in Busan where I visited Haedong Yonggunsa and Samgwangsa Temple. Haedong Yonggunsa is known as the seaside temple. You can enjoy a panoramic view of the temple and the sea if you walk up the stairs. Samgwanga is a photographer’s dream to visit during this weekend. This temple is filled with lanterns and the city of Busan is in the background.
I really enjoyed my time at these temples. It was definitely a sight to see. I would recommend visiting any of these famous temples and checking out the lantern parades.
Throughout his life, the prince lived selflessly and helped others. We can all learn from his example and be kinder to everyone 365 days a year. In the meantime, it’s fun to enjoy the brightly colored lanterns that adorn the sidewalks and give a breath of spring to everyone.
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