Congregation Picnic & Worship Service

One of the responsibilities of any chaplain is to contribute to the religious support mission of the garrison on which he/she serves. While in Korea I had the opportunity to pastor the Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation at Memorial Chapel, which is coming to a close after over 25 years due to the transformation of U.S. forces to Camp Humphreys in order to return the area now occupied by USAG Yongsan to the Republic of Korea.

One of the traditions of this congregation that took place annually for many of those 25 years was taking the worship service to a park with a cook-out and picnic following. Today was the day for this annual picnic. We had over 40 in attendance, which represented most of the congregation. There was a threat of rain, but it held off until we were through so we only dealt with the wind that kept us holding our papers tightly.

Yongsan Traditional Protestant Service picnic
Congregation and choir worshiping in the park

The choir joined in the hymns and sang the anthem as well as they do in the chapel. When I first arrived in the service, I was amazed at the quality of the music for such a small congregation. Here’s a short video of the chorus of today’s anthem:

Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship
Richard reads the Scripture.
Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship Service
The keyboard was not the same as the grand piano in the chapel, but it did the trick.
Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship
Me preaching from Acts 2 (It was Pentecost Sunday).
Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship
The meat, buns, condiments, etc. were purchased from congregation funds. The other dishes were brought by congregation members. Many of the dishes were brought in wrapped in gold cloth. Some seemed to have something embroidered on them. Maybe a traditional way of carrying in side dishes?
Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship
Kalbi marinated short ribs, sausages, hamburgers, and many American and Korean side dishes made for a great lunch.
Yongsan Traditional Protestant Congregation Picnic Worship
Some of the men of the congregation cooking the meat.

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Yeon Deung Hoe (Lotus Lantern Festival)

Friends from the service I worked in at Fort Leonard Wood showed up at my service in Yongsan (which was a nice surprise!) and invited me to go downtown with them to the Yeon Deung Hoe or Lotus Lantern Festival. This was the main weekend of a month-long celebration of the Buddha’s coming into the world (birthday). Attending the festival, at least for me, wasn’t an act of honoring or worshiping Buddha but rather of observing the cultural significance of Buddhism in Korea.

There were several downtown streets closed to vehicle traffic and lined with booths sponsored by different Buddhist orders. Much like many festivals in the U.S. there were crafts for children to make, teas to taste, temple foods to sample, and various causes to support.

There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.
There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.

The businesses and kiosks that normally line the streets were also open, providing a variety of Korean foods, arts and crafts, souvenirs and other special and routine products for sale.

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There was a main stage area in the center of the festivities where traditional Korean and, I assume, Buddhist performances were staged.

A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.
A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.

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Along the street, there were various ceremonies going on; some for people to watch, others for people to participate in.

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

And then there were street performers…

Yeon Deung Hoe
A couple of expats playing bluegrass.
Yeon Deung Hoe
This guy stands statute-still until someone puts money in his hat or approaches him.

There were also artists…

Yeon Deung Hoe

…and others needing assistance.

Yeon Deung Hoe

The festival was in the neighborhood of the large Jogye-sa Temple, which seemed to be a focal point of the festivities where people gathered in the temple to pray, participate in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha and have their prayer requests attached to paper lanterns and hung over the Temple Square.

Yeon Deung Hoe
Decorations made of paper on the temple grounds
Jogye-sa temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside the Jogye-sa Temple

The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple

According to Buddhist, The Ceremony of Bathing Buddha is a ritual to improve happiness and peace of mind. The sign outside of the temple states the proper way of bathing Buddha is to fill the ladle and pour water over the small Buddha statue three times. While pouring the water, the participant is to say during the 1st wash, “May I eliminate all evil thoughts.” During the 2nd wash, “May I cultivate good deeds.” And during the 3rd wash, “May I help save all living beings.”

Jogye-sa Temple
A Buddhist adherent participating in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha
Jogye-sa Temple
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of lanterns hanging all over the temple grounds with prayer requests from Buddhist adherents (and they’re pretty…)
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.

All over the festival area there were lanterns made of hanji, which is a traditional handmade Korean paper made from mulberry bark. Most were very unique and detailed, beautiful works of art which reminded me of the variety of kites in the U.S.

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All along the streets and booths were varied and plenteous food offerings.

Yeon Deung Hoe
We passed several Turkish Ice Cream stands.
Yeon Deung Hoe
The dipping and serving was very entertaining.
Yeon Deung Hoe
And it was good ice cream
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did NOT try the octopus on a stick!
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did try a hot dog on a stick…covered in potatoes.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Hot Dog and French Fries in one hand. A convenient walking food!

We ate lunch at a small Korean seafood restaurant where we had a good sampling of fish and pancakes.

I'm not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here...
I’m not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here…
... or here.
… or here.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.

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Part of the fun of going to a festival is what you bring home. Here are a few things I picked up while walking around the area:

Korean art on rice paper
A painting of a traditional Korean village scene painted on rice paper.
Korean Mother of Pearl Box
I picked up this box at the Temple Gift Shop. “Mother-of-Pearl (najeon or jagae in native Korean) is a highly intricate decorative technique whose tradition in Korea has been kept alive for more than a thousand years. Pearl oyster, conch, and abalone shells are filed to reveal the iridescent inner layers. Thin strips are then inlaid into a black lacquered surface. The whole thing is pained again, and then the excess lacquer is carefully filed away to reveal the brillian and translucent colors of different patterns. Thus the common expression ‘najeon chilgi,’ where ‘chil’ means ‘painting.’
          Najeon chilgi is not just about shiny shells. Shell’s brillian colors come alive because of the pitch-black lacquer. Its true beauty is revealed not under bright lights, but under dim candle light or delicate sunlight seepin through Korean traditional windows covered in Korean paper ‘Light etched into darkness.’ Najeon chilgi is a thousand-year-old light of nature, the most intricate and beautiful of traditional lacquer-ware, and an applied art that represents Korea’s beautiful traditional aesthetics.”
The Temple Gift Shop had these paper models of the Four Heavenly Kings for sale and one of the booths in the festival were giving them away. I got the free ones, though I came home with just 2 of the Four Heavenly Kings. According to Buddhism, The Four Heavenly Kings are “gods” who watch over the four cardinal directions of the world. They are said to be the protectors of the world who fight evil and able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the Dharma.
Four Heavenly Kings Jogye-sa Temple
A near life size stand up of one of The Four Heavenly Kings on the complex of Jogye-sa Temple.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at the Jogye-sa Temple complex.

 

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Buddhism in South Korea

In my post about religion in South Korea, I talk more about Christianity and other non-Buddhist traditions but since Buddhism is so ingrained in Korean life and culture I wanted to spend a bit more time on it … and … I have several pictures of Buddhist temples and statues that I’ve taken that I want to share!

Laughing Buddha Suwon
A traditional “laughing” Buddha statue at a shop in Suwon.

Buddhism came to Korea from China in 372, about 800 years after the death of the original Buddha. It has grown to nearly 11 million adherents. These 11 million worship at tens of thousands of Buddhist temples located in cities and countrysides all over South Korea. For example, the small area of Suwon that I visit with Soldiers and spend about an hour walking on each trip, have 3 Buddhist temples within about a 20-minute walk of each other.

Korean thinkers developed their version of Buddhism into a more distinct version, correcting what they saw as inconsistencies in Chinese-Buddhist traditions, though is derived primarily from Seon Buddhism with other variations followed to a lesser extent.

At least early in Buddhism in Korea, many temples were located in the mountains, as a result of a practical mixture of Buddhism with Shamanism that was present in Korea before 372. Shamanism taught that the mountains were home to the spirits, so it was natural to combine Buddhist and Shaman thought in the placement of Buddhist temples. In fact, the 3 primary spirits of Shamanism remained in most Korean-Buddhist teaching and hold a place of honor and many Buddhist shrines have a place for them.

During the 500+ years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), Buddhism was forced to give way to a neo-Confucianism which grew in dominance until Buddhist monks were significant players in repelling  a Japanese invasion during the 7-year war in the late 16th century which caused Buddhist persecution to come to an end. Adherents to Buddhism increased until following World War Two when Christianity’s influence increased starting a rapid decline of Buddhism in South Korea to its present place of only about 20% of the population.

As mentioned above, you don’t need to drive long before you see a Buddhist temple or statue. Much of my walking and site-seeing has been in the Suwon area, however, so the pictures I have are of 3 Buddhist temples in that area.

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Suwon Buddhism
This picture was taken from the parking lot of the palace in Suwon and shows the prominence of some of the Buddhist statues.
Suwon Buddhist temple
This is the entrance to the temple that is home to the statue in the above picture. It’s above a number of small side-streets.
Suwon Buddhist temple
One of the buildings in the temple complex.
Suwon Buddhist temple
The statue in the center of the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
Below the statue is a shrine for worshipers.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Like many Korean sites, there are slippers for you to change into before entering.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A view inside the shrine below the statue. Notice the banners hanging on the ceiling on the right and left which contain what looks like Nazi swastikas. “In Buddhism, the swastika signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the Buddha’s footprints and the Buddha’s heart.”(1) This symbol was used in art and religion long before the Nazis used it.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Notice to the right of the statue are notes left by worshipers.
Suwon Buddhist temple pagoda
A pagoda on the temple grounds
Suwon Buddhist temple
A number of small monuments on the hill above the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
Some type of oven on the temple grounds with small statues on it.
Suwon Buddhist temple
The entrance/exit to the temple complex. Notice the bell on the tower. “Beomjong, as Buddhist bells are called in Korean, are one of the four Buddhist instruments…” (2)
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress bell
Here’s is a better picture of a Korean Buddhist bell though this one isn’t at a Buddhist temple but on top of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (you can ring it 3 times for ₩1000).

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Suwon Buddhist temple
The entrance to another Buddhist temple complex in Suwon
Suwon Buddhist Temple
This temple complex has more of an appearance of a vihara, or Buddhist monastery, with living and working areas.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Some of the temple complex was undergoing renovations so we couldn’t see it all. The sign on the structure above the steps is about praying for children’s testing for university attendance (a big deal in Korea).
Suwon Buddhist temple
The building housing a shrine in the temple complex.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Notice shoes sitting outside of the shrine. Shoes are always removed before entering.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A view of the inside of the shrine in the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
The inside of the entrance/exit gate of the temple complex.

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Suwon Buddhist Temple
Another Buddhist temple on the other side of the Suwon River from the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
Suwon Buddhist temple
This temple is larger and uses modern architectural design in contrast to the ones above which use more traditional Korean architecture. However, there is an elaborate pagoda on top of the building.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A sign on the temple building
Suwon Buddhist temple
A look inside the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
A sign describing the temple complex

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(1) http://www.religionfacts.com/swastika/buddhism

(2) http://eng.templestay.com/upload/board/2013121810273680997.pdf

Some of the information for this post came from the online New World Encyclopedia.

All photos were taken by the author.

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