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Jungto Society Marks the Birth of the Buddha With Gatherings in Seoul

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim. All images courtesy of Jungto Society

Jungto Society, the international Buddhist community founded by the revered Korean Dharma master and social activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님), marked the birth of the Buddha on Saturday. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, recently returned from a tour of Asia visiting vulnerable communities and social activist groups in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, led a series of three commemorative ceremonies over the course of the day at the Jungto Society headquarters in downtown Seoul: a morning ceremony for Jungto practitioners, an afternoon interfaith gathering for respected public figures, social activists, and representatives of other religious traditions, and an evening ceremony for younger members of Jungto Society. 

Commemorations for the birth of Buddha, a public holiday in South Korea, are known as Bucheonim Osin Nal (부처님 오신 날) meaning “the day the Buddha came,” and Seokga Tansinil (석가탄신일), “the Buddha’s birthday.” The festival is observed on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls during May.

To celebrate the 2,567th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha this year, Buddhist temples and public spaces across Korea hosted events and celebrations illuminated by thousands of delicate paper lanterns. Although related events were scheduled in Seoul and elsewhere from 11 May, festivities and activities continued through to the official anniversary on 27 May, when formal Dharma ceremonies were held. 

The morning began with a ritual commemoration of the birth of the Buddha, attended by more than 1,500 Jungto practitioners and live-streamed to some 2,900 Jungto Society members around the world. A celebratory video was shared featuring messages practitioners from across Korea and internationally. The participants chanted the vow of refuge in the three jewels and the Heart Sutra, and Ven. Pomnyun Sunim expressed the bodhisattva’s aspiration for the liberation of all sentient beings and made an offering of incense before the Buddha.

Jungto Society is a volunteer-run community and humanitarian organization that aspires to embody the Buddhist teachings through social engagement, and by promoting a simple lifestyle centered on sustainable living. Jungto Society seeks to address the crises of modern society, such as greed, poverty, conflict, and environmental degradation, by applying a Buddhist worldview of interconnectedness and living in line with the principle that everyone can find happiness through Buddhist practice and active participation in social movements.

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim then offered a Dharma teaching, presented here in an abbreviated format, on the significance of the Buddha’s birth and how practitioners today can continue to practice and embody this ancient spiritual legacy:

“Today marks the 2,567th year of the Buddhist calendar. Over the past 50 days, I’ve had the opportunity to visit certain regions of South, Southeast, and West Asia, where I met people, observed their ways of life, and engaged in conversation. I learned things that I didn’t know while living in Korea, saw things that I hadn’t seen before, and heard things I hadn’t heard before—of how people are suffering around the world in places we might never have head of. . . .”

“The wisdom of the Buddha encompasses understanding all of this. Viewing others as lesser because they’re not from our country, or because they’re a woman, or a person with disabilities, or have broken the law is not compassion. Compassion means recognizing that they are all suffering for various reasons, and finding ways to help them liberate themselves from that suffering.

“Today, as we celebrate the day of the Buddha’s arrival, lighting lanterns has a symbolic significance: it represents illuminating the flame of wisdom and, at the same time, alleviating the suffering of those around us, whom we see, hear, and understand. . . . While the lantern festival can be a celebration for us, what is more important is that the light from our lanterns reaches those who are suffering, where it can be transformed into water, food, and school supplies. This is the true attitude we should have as we celebrate the day of the Buddha’s arrival.”

“Furthermore, we must learn and embody the Buddha’s teachings correctly to realize that we are beings without suffering. This means that if we understand that we are content, we will no longer feel compelled to use all kinds of energy and money to torment ourselves. Psychological unease or inferiority complexes lead us to desire expensive clothing, expensive bags, expensive earrings, necklaces, and other adornments to compensate. These behaviors are a major cause of environmental destruction—all stemming from the emptiness in one’s  heart. However, if I am aware that I am content, I can live proudly without being attached to material possessions or adornments. I only need to eat enough to maintain my health, and clothing should cover my body and protect me from heat and cold. I won’t indulge in gourmet restaurants or obsess over luxury goods.

“Moreover, even by sharing a small portion of my wealth with those around me, we can use money that might otherwise be wasted on a single indulgence to save someone in desperate need from death. Building a house for someone without a home does not require a large sum of money. . . . Similarly, digging a well in a place where water is scarce only requires only a small sum. . . .

“What Buddhists should do today is to alleviate the suffering of the impoverished in various parts of the world and take the lead in addressing the global climate crisis by stopping the foolish pursuit of material desires. There is no other way to solve these problems except through the Buddha’s correct teachings.”

Following the Dharma teaching, the practitioners assembled respectfully to participate in the symbolic bathing of the infant Buddha, representing the aspiration to purify oneself and to transcending the cycle of birth and death.

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim then offered the ritual blessing, known in Korea as Majeongsugi (마정수기). According to Indian tradition, it is said that there is an eye of enlightenment between each person’s two physical eyes. During the symbolic ritual, representing opening the eye of enlightenment, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim touched an offering of water to the forehead of each practitioner, uttering the words: “You will become a Buddha in the future. . . .”

“With this aspiration and virtuous connection, on this auspicious celebration of the birth of the Buddha, I vow that all those who participate in this ceremonial event awaken from their ignorance, become free from suffering, and live a bodhisattva’s life, serving as a support to their neighbors and the world.”

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, the guiding Dharma teacher of Jungto Society, is a widely revered Dharma teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world. Among them, JTS Korea, an international aid organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger, and Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).

In October 2020, The Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of the revered monk’s international humanitarian work, environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different faiths and cultures, toward the goal of world peace.*

Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)

See more

Jungto Society
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

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