Buddhism: South Koreans Light Buddha Day Lanterns

FRIDAY, MAY 14: Buddhists around the world are recognizing—or soon will be recognizing—Buddha’s birthday, and today marks the first day of South Korea’s Buddha Day celebration. And what a celebration it is! Also termed the Lotus Lantern Festival, this largest festival of the year for Korea’s 13 million Buddhists is know for its displays of hundreds of colorful, lit paper lanterns. (Wikipedia has more.) The largest ceremonies last for three days, but events continue for a full week. (Get the scoop on this year’s festivities from The Korea Herald.)

Monks hang lanterns in Buddhist temples across the country in preparation for Buddha Day, and activities center around Seoul, home of the Jogyesa Temple of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect. An abundant street fair takes place in Seoul, an elaborate Lantern Parade fills the city’s streets, and even tourists can get a taste of Buddhism by learning how to make a lotus lantern or painting a Buddhist picture. The festival in Seoul begins with the lighting of the enormous Jangeomdeung (“Grand Light”), a symbol of Buddhism and the birth of Buddha. According to a recent news article, some South Korean children have their heads shaved in preparation for Buddha’s birthday, and a group of eight children will stay at Seoul’s main temple for 21 days, in order to learn more about their religion.

Buddhism was brought to Korea approximately 1,600 years ago; and a symbol of Buddhism is currently touring the world. The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace, a 9-foot, 4.5-ton Buddha statue carved from a rare type of jade, is on tour through 2011. (Get a list of tour dates here.) Originating in Thailand, the Buddha is the largest jade Buddha in the world and is revered because its gemstone base is said to possess healing properties. Many believe that the jade, discovered in Canada 10 years ago, is the largest piece of gemstone-quality jade found in the past millennium. The statue is valued at $5 million. Despite its Buddhist nature, those involved with the project insist that the statue is for anyone, regardless of his or her religious affiliation. Organizers hope the statue will promote a time for everyone to reflect upon peace.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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