Buddhism, much like other religions, has a wide variety of different sects. In Korea, the largest sect of Buddhism is the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The Jogye Order generally has the care of some of the most historic temples in the country. With temples throughout the country, universities, and their own cable TV network, they are probably the most prominent. The second largest order, the Taego Order is famous for a couple of things. They are famous for having preserved and lovingly maintained certain Buddhist ceremonies and dances which only they practice and which go back quite some time into Korean Buddhist history. The other distinguishing feature of the Taego Order is that they permit their monks to marry. I recently visited one of the head temples of the Taego Order in Seoul, Bongwonsa. It was more out of curosity for the phenomenon of married Buddhist Korean monks than anything. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of them about. There is a collection of homes nearby the temple where, I am told, the monks reside with their families.
In Japan, most Buddhist priests are married and have families. In fact, the care of a number of temples has passed down from father to son. Currently, this tradition is under threat, as many of the young do not consider the life of a Buddhist priest attractive. It was under Japanese influence during the period of forced colonization that Korean Buddhists began to marry. Also, unlike the stricter Jogye Order, I’m not certain whether or not the Taego monks are forbidden from eating meat. I have read somewhere that they are not.
The emblem of the Jogye Order is a circle with three dots inside. The emblem of the Taego Order is the wheel of the law.
Bongwansa has a very large hall named the Three Thousand Buddhas Hall. This hall has one large Buddha statue with about 3,000 small Buddha statues lining the walls.
Every Buddhist temple generally has a main hall, often called the Daeungjeon where at least three Buddha statues are enshrined. Generally, the central statue is of the historical Buddha. To the right and left of the statues are either Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Often, the faces are identical. They can often only be identified by their hand positions.
A very common Korean temple motif is the lotus flower, a favourite metaphor for enlightenment. The doors of the various halls are often very impressive in their own right. While I have taken photos of episodes of the life of the Buddha from other temples, I don’t think that I’ve focused on the doors before.
Speaking of temple adornments, a very common one which might disturb North Americans or Europeans is the swastika. It simply does not have the same meanings attached to it here that it does elsewhere. In fact, Buddhist temples are often identified on maps by a swastika in much the same way as a church might be identified with a cross.