Korea used to be a predominantly Buddhist country. With westernization came Christianity and with time, crosses began to replace and push away the colorful temples. Luckily, if you venture into the many mountains that surround each city in Korea, you are bound to find a Buddhist temple still in tact, with monks and all.
In order to educate and preserve this aspect of Korean tradition, Hongpeop-sa (sa meaning temple in Korean) which is located in the eastern part of Busan holds a monthly cultural event for foreigners. This was my first time participating mainly because I tend to stay away from the foreigners only event, assuming that much culture can’t really be understood in such an environment. This event however proved me wrong and I came home with 2 beautiful, hand-made lanterns feeling very enlightened and lucky to be able to participate in such an ordeal.
Buddha’s birthday is in a few weeks, and lighting lanterns is a way of celebration. Visiting a temple around this time is a real feast for your eyes because the temples are decorated with hundreds, if not thousands of colorful lanterns.
There are numerous tales to how lanterns became part of the Buddhist tradition. One such tale is about a woman named Nanda who came upon a celebration which lasted for 3 months. When asked what the celebration was about she was told that the king was offering food, medicine and clothes to Buddha and his disciples. Nanda was poor and had nothing to offer Budda, so on the path that Buddha was to pass by she hung a lantern which she bought with her little money. The lantern that she hung outshone all the other lanterns on this path and when Buddha’s disciple asked him about why only her lantern was still lit, Buddha replied it was because the lantern represented the true pure mind of Nanda and she was already enlightened.
Octagon Lantern in the making
The lanterns are made with paper and in Korea with Korean paper. They come in numerous colors and the hand-made paper really make them beautiful. I got to make 2 lanterns – a lotus lantern and an octagon lantern.
The metal frame both lanterns are similar, but the frame for the lotus lantern is much smaller. The octagon lantern was simple to make, just having to glue on 8 pieces of paper. On the finished lantern you attach a wish, which you write and hang from the bottom.
The lotus lantern is a bit more complicated and the result is a gorgeous lantern that I just can’t believe I made on my own!
The lotus lantern consists of 5 rows of 13 pieces of petal paper. You choose a color for the flower part, and the base is made of 8 pieces of green petal paper which are the leaves at the bottom of the lotus.
The lotus has been a symbol representing Buddhism for centuries now. The lotus is a flower that spreads beauty and cleanliness, even though it grows in the mud. It demonstrates that a person can acquire cleanliness of mind and spirit, regardless of what environment they come from. The burning of the lantern means sacrifice and wisdom to lighten the darkness of the world.