The Yeongsanjae Ritual at Bongwonsa Temple
The Yeongsanjae Ritual is performed for world peace and national reunification making it a fitting ceremony for Korea’s Memorial Day on June 6.
It piqued my interest a couple months ago when I read of it after a trip to nearby Bongwonsa Temple (봉원사) where it is performed. The ceremony has been passed down since the Goryeo Dynasty (917 -1392 CE) and is Korea Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 50. It is a symbolic reenactment of the Buddha Sakyamuni’s delivery of the Lotus Sutra on Mt. Grdhrakuta 2,600 years ago and is held in hopes of leading the living as well as the deceased to the joy of enlightenment and peace.
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The ceremony starts at 10 in the morning and goes until 6 in the evening and with a cafeteria on the grounds it is completely possible to stay the whole day enjoying the sights and soaking in the peaceful atmosphere. The ceremony starts with Tajong, Siryeon. A huge bell is rung to beseech the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, gods, devas, guardians and other spirits to come down from the heavens. There is a processional led by Bodhisattva Innowang to lead the spirits onto the temple grounds. Next is Gwaebul Iun, in which the large Tangka painting with a picture of Buddha Sakyamuni is raised. This represents the appearance of the Buddha at the ceremony. Chants to relieve suffering and dances to say thanks are performed. While this is happening there are altars set with food so that those in attendance can have their ancestors’ names written on paper and hung nearby to be prayed for as well.
Around noon the Meal Offering, Sikdang Jakbeop, is performed. The guide I received explains that this is unlike usual meals in that it is accompanied by music and chanting as well as dancing and drumming and is extremely complex. Interestingly, no photographs were allowed during this time which made the crowds dissipate and head in to eat their own lunch as well.
If you’re heading to Seoul, don’t miss this amazing temple and if you’re in town at the right time, make sure to witness this amazing ceremony. Stay downtown in Myeongdong at hte TMark Hotel or in Dongdaemun at Hotel SkyPark Kingston. Both are in a great location and an easy taxi or bus ride away from this beautiful temple.
Bongwonsa temple is worthy of a visit without a ceremony to see, but this ceremony is extremely special to view and be in the midst of if possible. It is not only performed on June 6 every year, but also on other important and auspicious days in Korea. There doesn’t seem to be terribly much information regarding the other exact dates available in English, but perhaps with a Korean friend these websites could help: http://pompae.or.kr/
서울특별시 서대문구 봉원동 산1
1 San Bongwon-dong Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea
Subway: Sinchon Station (#240) on Line 2, Exit 3. Then, take bus No. 7024 directly to Bongwonsa.
Buses: 7024, 7737
Walk: From the back gate of Ewha Womans University, walk north alongside the main road until you reach an intersection underneath the freeway. From there, go up the hill 500 meters.