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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in South Korea Series on KoreanClass101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Korean holidays and observances. I’m Brandon, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 3: Buddha’s Birthday.
Do you know that South Korea doesn’t have a national religion? The country is a mix of many diverse religions, including Buddhism 불교 (bulgyo), Protestantism 기독교 (gidokkyo), and Catholicism 천주교 (cheon-jugyo). In this lesson, we’ll talk about the main holiday celebrated by Buddhists—Buddha’s Birthday or, 부처님 오신날 (bucheonim osinnal) in Korean.
Buddha’s birthday is on May 18th of the lunar calendar, and that’s when Buddhists believe that Sakyamuni, or Buddha, came to this world. The beginning of Buddhism in Korea dates back to 37 B.C. when 고구려 (Goguryeo), the ancient Korean kingdom, designated Buddhism as the national religion. Buddhism was the most common religion until the more recent introduction of Christianity to the country.
Now, before we go into more detail, do you know the answer to this question: Many people take turtles or fish to the river on Buddha’s Birthday. Do you know why?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
Temples are typically located in the mountains in Korea. So many Koreans visit these temples, 절 (jeol) on Buddha’s Birthday. At the temples, visitors walk around the stone towers and make wishes, as well as light lanterns that contain pieces of paper with wishes written on them.
These lanterns are called lotus lanterns because they are shaped like a lotus. They’re used for the most famous event on Buddha’s Birthday—the Lotus Lantern Lighting Festival or 연꽃 축제 (yeonkkot chuk-je.) You can write a wish or two on a piece of paper, put it inside the lantern, and light the lantern with a candle or a light bulb. Then, you hang it up inside the temple.
If you ever visit a temple on this holiday, you’ll see tens of thousands of lanterns, illuminating the whole temple.
On Buddha's Birthday, many people eat meals at the temples, usually eating 사찰 비빔밥 (Sachal Bibimbap.) You've heard of the popular Korean dish 비빔밥 (bibimbap) —rice mixed with red pepper paste, vegetables, and meat—right? Korean temples make 비빔밥 (bibimbap) without meat. It’s made instead with fresh vegetables that were grown naturally and not in greenhouses. The lack of meat represents a clearing of the mind. So many people go to temples to eat this temple-style bibimbap or 사찰 비빔밥 (Sachal Bibimbap.).
Here's our fun fact for the day! Did you know that there's another name in Korean for Buddha's Birthday? It's 석가탄신일 (Seokga Tansinil.) The first word 석가(Seokga) means “Buddha,” and 탄신일(Tansinil) is Chinese for “the day of birth.” Just remember that 부처님 오신날 (buehonim osinnal) and 석가탄신일 (seok-ga tansinil) both refer to Buddha’s birthday.
Now it’s time to answer our quiz question: why do people take turtles and fish to the river on Buddha’s Birthday? They do this because of a tradition called 방생 (bang-saeng) where you release pet turtles or fish into nature. So it's very likely you'll see people letting their pets go in the 한강 (hangang) or Han River or the 청계천 (cheonggye-cheon) Cheonggye stream on Buddha's Birthday.
Well listeners, how was this lesson? Did you learn a lot of interesting things?
What religions do you have in your country? Or do you have a special day for your religion in your country?
Please leave us a comment at KoreanClass101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!