It’s Monday night and I’m on the bus on my way home from Korean class. I’m tired and ready to get home. As the bus goes on I see a couple of color lights in the distance that instantly wake me up. These lights can only mean one thing: Buddha’s Birthday or 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osinnal) (the day Buddha descended). Buddha’s Birthday is a national holiday in Korea and the country goes all out. Streets are adorned with lanterns, there is a special parade of lanterns and temples program lots of activities for visitors to do.
During this time, I like to make my yearly Buddhist temple visit. As soon as you walk through the massive, wooden, painted doors you are greeted by colorful lanterns floating in the sky. Greens, blues, reds and oranges dancing in the sky creating circle shadow patterns on the ground. As an artist-and avid color lover- this is something that I look forward to every year. Even the locals, who get to experience this every year, seem amazed and delighted by the sight of the lanterns.
If you go on the day of Buddha’s birthday, the temples will be extremely crowded. It kind of is like a party; it is their version of Christmas. They have free food, which you have to stand in long lines for, and you will hear monks constantly chanting. If you go to the temple rooms, you will see people chanting and bowing to a Buddha statue. Many statues have offerings of oranges, apples and rice; you can even buy rice bags at the entrance to give as an offering. As a westerner who grew up in an Evangelical church, there is so much to see and take in that is completely opposite to what I have grown up with and know. It really is an experience.
It doesn’t matter which temple you go to, how big or how small or where it is, you will not be disappointed. There are temples hiding in mountains like Seokbulsa in Busan, temples in the middle of the city like Bongeunsa in Seoul and temples near the water like Haedong Yonggungsa in Busan. Just make sure you go to a temple as soon as you see the lanterns. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.