Buddha’s Birthday at Neunginsa

Over the past five years living in Sasang-gu, I’ve explored many of the local temples, and have even come to know some of the monks fairly well–well enough to get good access for photographs and share the occasional tea, coffee or beer. Sorry to spoil any illusions–some monks drink beer.

The Buddha’s Birthday is a major holiday in Korea, and temples across the country light up with beautiful paper lanterns, drawing crowds who come to pray, eat bibimbap, and take lots of pictures. As the Buddha’s Birthday approached this year, I decided I wanted to stay local, stay away from big crowds, and try to make some intimate photographs of this important part of Korea’s Buddhist heritage.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Neunginsa (“sa” is the Korean word signifying a temple), located at the base of Baekyang Mountain in western Busan, is only one hundred years old. The temple, however, plays an important role in the neighborhood, and also has strong ties with older and more well-known temples in the Jogye Order. The temple is just a five minute walk from my apartment, and my wife and I have visited it many times, even having tea on occasion with Yong-un, the head monk.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Yong-un, the head monk at Neunginsa

I approached Yong-un about a week before the celebrations to see if it’d be okay for me to photograph on the big day. He’s pretty fond of saying in English, “Sure, no problem,” and this time was no different. With Yong-un’s permission, I now had the access I needed to get really close to the story, and to make these images.

If you’d like, listen to an audio recording from the final ceremony of the day as you view the images:

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

20150525_110

20150525_172

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea photographer buddhas birthday busan monk buddhism

In the evening, devotees lit paper lanterns and walked in a procession through the temple grounds, chanting and praying.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

20150525_254

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

20150525_407

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Some more portraits of Yong-un:

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

20150525_35

20150525_41

All images in this post by Ben Weller, all rights reserved. See more pictures from this series and others at www.wellerpix.com.

For more (amazing!) pictures of Buddha’s Birthday celebrations, and for some great photography tips, check out my friend Jason Teale’s excellent post on his approach to photographing the holiday this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s