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Korean Buddhist Cultural Heritage

Why do people come to Buddhist temples?

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Writer Jogye Date05 Sep 2023 Read271 Comment0


Names for places of worship

Buddhist monks and nuns withdrew from society and formed new communities devoted to spiritual practice in pursuit of liberation. Soon, lay followers found their sanctuaries, and started coming to learn how to meditate and pray. These centers for religious practice and learning, where the monastic Sangha and the laity uphold the Buddha’s Dharma together, have come to be known in Korea assachal,jeol,orgaram.

Thesa-in ‘sachal’ means a residence hall for the monks, while -chalrefers to stupa, signifying a space dedicated to the veneration of Buddha where lay devotees come to make offerings. Originally in India,sa--where the monks live and practice--were strictly segregated fromchal, where lay people come and go to perform rituals. Over the course of time, these two spaces fused to some degree, but certain demarcations continued to be observed. As Buddhism came to East Asia, however,beopdang, or the Dharma Hall where the statue of Buddha is enshrined, emerged as a center of the temple. Subsequently,beopdangandchal, both serving as shrines for holy objects of worship, came to be cradled and subsumed bysa, the living quarters for monks.

‘Jeol’is another name for Buddhist sanctuaries in Korea. There are several views regarding the origin of this word. Some believe it is borrowed fromchal,and others think it came from the nounjeol, which means prostration or bow. According to this theory, since people went to a temple to prostrate themselves,jeolcame to be used as a place-name as well.

Another theory postulates that Ado, a monk who introduced Buddhism to the kingdom of Silla, was hosted as a houseguest by a patron named Tyeoly, transcribed in Chinese characters as毛禮. It is argued thattyeolyewas altered todyeolyeandjeolye, and eventually tojeol.

Buddhist temples are also sometimes called ‘garam’ in Korea, a shortened form ofseungaram, which is a transliteration ofsamghrarma, a Pali term for monks’ residences.

Why do people come to Buddhist temples?

What brings people to Buddhist temples? Originally, lay Buddhists came to a temple to support the monks and nuns with donations of food and other necessary items so that they could dedicate themselves to spiritual practice. Buddha always thanked people for their generosity by giving them Dharma talks, and later, people started coming to temples only to hear the teachings.

The early tradition of providing for monastics is still alive in the ritual of making offerings to Buddha statues, and Buddhists still come to the temple to attend Dharma services on weekends and religious holidays and listen to sermons. Some people come to the temple to perform the ceremony of commemorating ancestors and guiding their spirits to be reborn in the Pure Land, while others come in pursuit of quiet contemplation. They stay at a temple for a meditation retreat and experience the life of a monk for a short time.

It is more likely that you are reading this book out of mild curiosity, rather than seeking a serious religious path. But such curiosity, benign as it may be, is perhaps sparked by a yearning for peace of mind.

Pictures are from Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea

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