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Sri Lanka's Buddhist Ties With Korea

By Jeffrey Miller, The Korea Times Feature Writer, May 22, 2005

Seoul, South Korea -- In Korea, Buddha?s birthday is not only an important day for Korean Buddhists to celebrate, but also for residents from other predominantly Buddhist countries. Although Buddha?s Birthday has come and gone, in other countries such as Sri Lanka, Buddha?s Birthday is celebrated on a different day.

``In Korea, Buddha?s Birthday is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month on the lunar calendar, but in Sri Lanka, we celebrate Buddha?s Birthday on the full moon day of the month of May, which is May 23 this year,?? Sri Lankan Ambassador G. Wijayasiri said. ``This is the most sacred and significant day for Buddhists all over the world even though we celebrate Buddha?s Birthday on two different days.??

In Sri Lanka, Buddha?s Birthday, which is celebrated as Vessak Day and the day after, is celebrated for three events.

``We believe in the Theravada School of Buddhism that Buddha was born on this day, he became an enlightened one on this day and he passed away on the same day,?? he said. ``So, you might say that the day has triple significance.??

Buddha?s Birthday is without question one of the more colorful ceremonies in Korea. As for celebrating Buddha?s Birthday in Korea, the ambassador said that many Sri Lankans participated in the activities and ceremonies organized by the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

``We have a very close relationship with Chogye-sa Temple,?? said Wijayasiri. ``In 1914 a famous Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka visited the temple and donated some relics which are enshrined in a pagoda in front of the temple.??

Although there are three schools of Buddhism, the basic philosophy is the same. Whether you are a southern Buddhist, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka certainly you can enjoy Buddha?s Birthday in Korea, said the ambassador.

In Sri Lanka, which is 70 percent Buddhist, the same is true where other people from different religions can also take part in celebrating Buddha?s Birthday, added Wijayasiri. Generally people go to temples where they observe the Buddhist precepts and offer flowers and prayers to the Buddha.

``We have a lot of `Pandls? which is some kind of illumination ceremony of paintings of the Buddha?s birth and previous life,?? said the ambassador. ``We illustrate the previous life of the Buddha. How he was born and became a Buddha.??

Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the year three before Christ by the son of King Asoka of India. Although Buddhism originated in India, Sri Lanka became the center of the southern school of Buddhism after the religion had disappeared from India during medieval times.

``We had a lot of religious and cultural contacts with other countries in Southeast Asia during this time,?? he said. ``A lot of Chinese came to study in Sri Lanka and took a lot of Buddhist scriptures back to China.??

Interestingly, Sri Lanka and Korea share one major similarity with each other regarding Buddhism. As a parallel with the Korean Tripitaka, in Sri Lanka in the first century, Buddhist scriptures, which had been previously transmitted in the oral tradition, were committed to writing.

``This was a very important contribution that Sri Lanka made to Theravada Buddhism. They were written on ola, a palm tree leaf which is something like papyrus,?? said the ambassador. ``So there is some similarity with how the scriptures were committed to writing in Korea.??

Another connection, albeit an indirect one was the origins of the Buddhist nun?s order which is called ``Bhikkuni?? in Sri Lankan and ``Bikuni?? in Korean.

``That order was introduced from Sri Lanka to China in the fifth century and it was from China that it came to Korea,?? said Wijayasiri. ``So, there is some indirect connection between our two countries.??

Similarly many Sri Lankan monks come to Korea to study and even do a comparative study of the two schools of Buddhism, and according to the ambassador, there are also Korean monks who go to Sri Lanka to study.

Since being posted in Korea, Wijayasiri has had the chance to visit some of Korea?s famous Buddhist temples. As for some of his favorite temples in Korea, without question Pulguk-sa Temple and the Sokkuram Buddha in Kyongju are at the top of his list.

``Sokkuram is one of the most beautiful Buddhist statues I have ever seen,?? he said. ``You can really see the serenity coming out from the face.??

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