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Yeongsan-jae is a Buddhist ceremony that reenacts the Buddha’s teaching of the Lotus Sutra on Vulture Peak in India 2,600 years ago. The purpose of the Yeongsan-jae is to deliver both the living and the dead from suffering to happiness. Thus, Yeongsan-jae is not simply a performance but a solemn Buddhist ritual in which all those present participate.
In addition, the proceedings of Yeongsan-jae have elements of traditional culture in terms of music, dance and drama. In particular, the Buddhist music known as Beompae (verses sung in praise of the Buddha and his teachings) and Hwacheong (songs of well-wishing) is thought to have greatly influenced Korea’s traditional folk music. Yeongsan-jae is performed annually at Bongwon-sa Temple in Seoul. It is Korea’s Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 50 and also inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
It is not clear when the Yeongsan-jae was first performed. However, from the fact that Beompae, one element of Yeongsan-jae, is referenced in Samguk yusa (Legends and History of Korea’s Three Kingdoms), as well as in the inscription on the stele of National Preceptor Jingam at Ssanggye-sa Temple, we can deduce that Yeongsan-jae was already being performed during the Silla era. In addition, from the section titled “Wolmyeong sajo (月明師條)” in Samguk yusa and in Joseon geumseok chongnam (朝鮮金石總覽; Comprehensive Survey of Joseon Epigraphy), we know that Buddhist ceremonies to console the spirits of the deceased, also the objective of Yeongsan-jae, existed during the Silla era.
- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism