Lotus Lanterns Unique to Korea Culture

Ven. Mushim of Musang Temple

What are the strong points of Korean Buddhism and culture that we should know about and are valuable to people from other countries and different cultures?

Recently we had a grand Buddha’s Birthday celebration here in Seoul and many people gathered for the parade from Dongdaemun Stadium to Jogye Temple. There were Buddhists from many different groups in the country including the Cheontaejong (Cheontae order), Jogyejong (Jogye order), and also other groups such as the Taegojong (Taego order) and Hanmaum Seon Center. Although these groups have different leaders, different philosophies, etc., on Buddha’s Birthday, they all become one.

Foreign Buddhist monks and nuns from America, Russia, Israel, Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Poland participated eagerly and were walking together on the streets of Seoul, carrying a simple lotus lantern or flag showing their country’s colors.

Although the people of this world have many differences in government and culture, when they practice meditation correctly together they can easily become one.

The lotus lantern represents our sincere aspiration to rise up out of the mud of delusion and become a bright light that can shine to all people who are suffering.The lotus lantern also represents perfect awareness and the awakened mind.

The lotus lanterns are unique to Korean culture; they cannot be found in Chinese or Japanese Buddhism. One of my Dharma sisters in Hong Kong likes these Korean lanterns so much that she imports them every year to Hong Kong for the people there to enjoy.

Many Korean people take their culture for granted and forget that Oriental culture has much to offer the people of this world. In this age of computers and the Internet, it is easy to overlook which has been valuable to many generations before electricity and telecommunications became so widespread.

We live in a very material world and believe that our happiness depends only on material gain. Before I came to Korea, I studied organic chemistry as an undergraduate. I was very interested in understanding the chemistry of the brain and how it affected our consciousness. Soon after I did not want to eat any food that had extra chemicals in them because I thought that they would affect my brain. So, I ate only natural food that had no chemicals.

But, I still had a problem because even though my body felt pure and good, my discriminating mind was always watching other people who ate these food. Finally, I understood that chemical or natural food was not the point; mind food, or Dharma food is important. What is Dharma food? While practicing meditation one sincerely asks, “What am I?” and doesn’t pretend to know everything about who one is. This “don’t know” mind is a precursor to arriving at a greater awakening or enlightenment. This is a way to remove all delusions, attain truth, and help others find happiness.

Long ago in China there was a famous student of Zen Master Majo named Hanong. Everyone said to him, “You are lucky, you are happy.” Then he said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” He always spoke like this.

He had a good horse, which he liked to ride every day. One day the horse disappeared, so everyone said, “Oh, are you unhappy? Are you sad?” He said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” No feelings. His horse ran away, but he only said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” Everyone said, “This man has no feelings.” Usually, if someone is attached to something and it goes away, then he is very sad. But Hanong only said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?”

A week later Hanong got a new horse, a very good horse; we say, Junma. This means it only has to see the shadow of the whip and it runs. This was a very clever horse. So everyone said, “You are happy. You are lucky.” He said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” Only this. No feelings. Then everybody said, “This man is very lucky.” His son liked the horse and rode it every day. He only had to mount the horse and it would go, so he rode around and around, very happy. Then one day while riding, he fell and broke his leg. So everyone said, “Ah, I am sorry your son broke his leg. Are you sad?” He said, “What is sadness? What is happiness?” No feelings.

Soon after this, there were many wars, with North China and South China fighting each other. All the young people had to go to the army. But Hanong’s son had a broken leg, so he could not go; he stayed at home and helped his parents. His leg was not so bad, so he could work in the garden and help them with their chores.

Everybody said, “You are lucky. You are happy.” So he said, “What is luck? What is happiness?” This is Hanong’s style of speech – “What is sadness? What is happiness?” In any situation, his mind was not moving, still and clear. He did not presume to understand everything, and he always kept his mind clear. This is very wonderful.

Who was Shakyamuni Buddha? He did not understand any Hanja or Chinese characters because he was living in India. But nowadays many people believe that the only way that you can study Buddhism is to memorize many Chinese characters. This is a common mistake.

Shakyamuni Buddha was born as a Prince in ancient Northern India and was said to be lacking nothing in his youth. Also known as Sidhartha Guatama, following the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya fell pregnant, she returned to her father’s kingdom to give birth, but after leaving Kapilvastu, she gave birth along the way at Lumbini in a garden beneath a sal tree. A few days or a week after his birth, his mother was said to have died.

Destined to a luxurious life as a prince, Siddhartha had three palaces (one for each season) especially built for him. His father, King Uddhodana, wishing for Siddhartha to be a great king, shielded his son from any religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. Siddhartha was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati.

As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to Ya?odhar?, a cousin of the same age. In time, she gave birth to a son called Rahula. Siddhartha spent 29 years as a Prince, and his father ensured that he was provided with everything he could want or need. Despite this, the young Prince was not content just to be materially satisfied and he left his palace in search of a greater truth. By leaving his family behind, he caused much worry and anguish for his father and fellow country men.

Even though he initially caused them some suffering, the truth that he discovered was so great that people praise him for this and still celebrate his birthday today with so much enthusiasm.

The truth that the Buddha discovered has many different faces but only one function. That one function is to set one free from any dependence. This truth is universal and not dependent on any one culture or country.



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