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Author Jogye On14-06-12 15:44 Views24,765 Comments0


Prayers for the Victims of the Capsized Ferry Sewol 

Cheondojae: Prayers for the Deceased
Korea’s Traditional After-death Ceremony Performed in Busan 

Traditional Cheondojae Ceremony in Beomosa Temple

To console the deceased and pray for the missing victims of capsized Sewol Ferry, Beomosa Temple held  Cheondojae ceremony on June 6, 2014. Traditional Cheondojae ceremony with hanging Buddhist paintings, music concerts, processions and various offerings and prayers were offered with Buddhists around the nation participating in Beomosa Temple and Geumjeong Comprehensive Monastic Training Center in Busan.  

Cheondojae is a well known Buddhist ceremony in Korea, where many lay and Sangha Buddhist members participate in. 

The Buddha taught that people live in a sea of suffering because of anger, greed and ignorance. He also explained that life in itself is suffering (), pointing out to the fact that we must commonly undergo birth, sickness, old age, and finally face death.
Since life is suffering, the only evident way to put an end to suffering is death and consequently, virtually all religions attempt to understand death and after-death. Western religion, including Christianity preserve the world view of afterlife (in heaven and hell) and Buddhism also contemplates earnestly on where souls will be after death.    

Procession to Show Respect to the Deceased
Cheondojae, after-death ceremony (), originates from the aspiration for the spirits to find peace and rest in afterlife. Thus, Cheondojae is commonly referred to as Traditional Buddhist Ceremony of Death and After Life. Chun () means to recommend and Do () is to guide the spirit of the deceased to take birth in better place or direct them to the path of goodness. Therefore, Chundo ultimately means to guide or save souls after death in order to take blissful rebirth in the Pure Land or heavenly realms. Therefore, Cheondojae in fact contains a very broad meaning, which incorporate diverse Buddhist ceremonies such as the 49-days death sacrifice (a 49 days memorial service after person’s death), Suryukjae (Ceremony to pray for the lonely spirits and hungry ghosts in water and on land), and Yeongsanjae Buddhist rites (honoring Sakyamuni’s sermon at the sacred Vulture Peak Mountain and prayers for all sentient which include the spirits of the deceased).

Venerable Jiyu from the Geumjeong Comprehensive Monastic Training  Center

What is referred to as the spirit () which is subjected to Cheondojae, recognizes the permanence of existence (or permanence through karma, a profound concept difficult to understand and accept) and reasonable recognition on spirits being lead to Pure Land, independent to the substantial teachings of ‘selflessness’ of Buddhism. The soul is acknowledged as an entity, and depending on the karma (action and reaction or cause and effect) of each individual, the soul will be transferred from one physical body to another and reincarnate in endless cyclic rebirths. This is often referred to as Traditional Buddhist Death Rites to help the spirit of the deceased to take rebirth in Pure Land or in heavenly realm ().


Ven. Subul, Abbot of
Geumjeong Comprehensive Monastic Training Center in Busan

Chanting of Mantras () are mostly employed in Cheondojae to call up on the spirits and offer them Dharma teachings () in order for them to realize the futility of attachment to life, and teach them to let go of any attachments and obsessions of this life. Through sincerity (and prayers) from the living, spiritual powers and protection from the Guardians of Buddha-Dharma, and with the blessings from the Buddha and teachings of the truth, prayers are offered to the deceased,  in which they are guided to take blissful rebirth in the Pure Land.
The fourfold assembly offer prayers
Depending on ritual procedures, rites are categorized as Sangjugwongongjae (常住) a form of 49-day death sacrifice, Gakbaejae () prayers offered for the deceased to pass onto a better realm, and Yeongsanjae Buddhist rites. Sangjungwongongjae is often interchangeably used to describe the 49-day death sacrifice, a most basic ritual amongst them all. Gakbaejae rite has additional belief in Myeongbu or ten kings of netherworld, enshrined to judge the fates of the deceased according to their deeds of this life. Yeongsanjae Buddhist rites symbolizes Sakyamuni’s sermon at the sacred Vulture Peak Mountain to lead the spirits to enlightenment.
Members of the Sangha pay respect to the victims

Cheondojae, commonly held at a Buddhist temple is thus becoming the alternative plan for funeral rites and after-death ceremonies chosen by many people, irrelevant with belief in Buddhism.

President of the Lay Buddhist Association in Beomeosa Temple

Small Music Concert to Consolidate the Victims and the Korean Citizens

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