Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. – Buddha
Sorry Buddha, I’m a month late on this post (I blame J.K. Rowling – I’ve been overly consumed with Harry Potter and blogging has been put on the back burner. Currently in the middle of book 4, by the way.)
Every year in May, Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s birthday. This year, his birthday was on May 17th so temples were adorned with thousands of lanterns and Koreans celebrated accordingly with the usual mass-gatherings of Soju-shot-taking.
I was able to go to three temples to witness the ancient traditions Koreans practice in celebration. The first temple I went to was about a week before his birthday. I wrote about Seongnamsa Temple in my post about my first Jimjilbang (public bath house) experience. Since it was a week prior to when the celebrations would commence, monks were just starting to decorate the insides with lanterns.
The next temple I went to was Junggwangsa Temple near Mugeo-dong (Ulsan Uni area). Nate and I went the day before Buddha’s birthday (after hearing that the crowds the day of are horrendous) and after walking a few miles in search of this temple (finding directions to ANY place in this city is near-impossible – hence the directions at the bottom of this post), we found it and were greeted with a HUGE four[ish]-story temple with thousands of lanterns stringed together.
Each lantern had a unique number on it and created a ceiling of light in almost every inch of the temple. There was a giant, moving, smoke-blowing dragon made out of paper and lights and various street vendors selling Korean food while dozens of children chased each other around. There were hundreds of people praying in different rooms of the temples, and a ridiculous amount of gold Buddhas on every wall and corner. We walked up through each floor of the temple where every ceiling and wall was covered in beautiful, colorful murals of dragons, boats, demons, oceans and people. We passed a long line of people who were taking turns lighting incense and pouring a cup of water over yet another gold Buddha statue. We could’ve stayed there forever.
The next day, a bunch of us went to Seoul for the 3-day holiday weekend. We went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the largest palace in Korea. “Gung” means “palace” and “Gyeongbok” means “greatly blessed by Heaven”. This place was GINORMOUS. Like Garden-of-Versailles-ginormous. There are 330 buildings set up in a maze-like formation with over 7000 rooms. It was first built in 1395 but most parts of it have been rebuilt many times because the Japanese kept destroying it.
We walked throughout the maze and wandered in and out of different rooms we didn’t know the purpose of. Every inch of the insides and outsides of each room were carved and splashed with different colored patterns. Since we went the day after Buddha’s birthday, all of the lanterns had already been taken down, but it was still gorgeous, regardless.
How to get to Junggwangsa Temple (since we obviously had difficulties):
Junggwangsa Temple is in the outskirts of Mugeo-dong on Samholo, south of the Taehwa River. It’s about 2 kilometers east of Shinbok Rotary (going towards the city).