What happens at the temple on Buddha’s Birthday?

Buddha birthday

Walking from Jongno Tower to Jogye Temple, the streets are lined with shops selling all things Buddhist – grey monks robes and headwear, statues, 목탁 moktak wooden percussion instruments used for chanting, pictures, candles, Buddhist music CDs, sutras in notebooks sewn together with thread, beads, protection charms and bracelets, to name just some of what’s on sale! The Buddhist shops look busier than usual as crowds come to  visit Jogye Temple on Buddha’s Birthday.Jongno Buddhist shops

The Jogye sect is the largest sect of Korean Buddhism and it has over 2,000 temples across Korea. Jogye Temple was built in 1910 (when Korea was colonised by Japan and the Joseon period came to an end). It was and still is the main temple for Korean Jogye Buddhism.

jogyesalanternsjogye templelanterns

The pagoda tree and lanterns give some welcome shade on the sunny day. Rows of chairs have been laid out and the choir are practising getting ready for the service. The lanterns surround the octagonal 10 story pagoda which was built to enshrine jinsin sari (진신사리) Buddha’s sacred relics. We came to look at the lanterns by day and by night.

There have been various events on this month leading up to Buddha’s Birthday including a day for children to come and get their hair shaved and learn all about being a monk! Very cute pictures of the monks here.

pagoda treejogyesa by day Jogyesa by night

But despite the happy colours of the lanterns, the calming chanting, and the uplifting aroma of the incense, there is always the reminder that this all costs money! As soon as we entered the temple we were asked if we wanted to buy a lantern – an ATM machine for Nonghyup Bank (NH Bank) is conveniently placed at the entrance of the temple! (see below right) It’s a reminder that religion is still a business. Praying for family health doesn’t come free -prices for the lanterns start at 30,000 won but can go up to over 100,000 won for a prime location in the temple.


The Jogye sect of Korean Buddhism has had its share of scandals too. A couple of years ago it was discovered that the monks were not leading such a simple spiritual life after all – there was drinking, gambling, smoking, and rumours of visits to brothels going on as well as in-fighting for power! (the leader of the order is in charge of huge sums of money so it’s a desirable job)

jogyesa lanterns

Anyway, the ladies in the white and yellow hanboks are selling lanterns. If you choose to buy a lantern you can write your name and date of birth on it and it will be hung in the temple. From below the lanterns just looks like a mass of different colours but from above the lanterns spell out a message in Korean: 평화로운 마음 향기로운 세상 meaning ‘Peaceful mind harmonious world‘. see more info and pictures on the jogye temple website.

jogyessa incensejogyesajogyesa


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