Lanterns show a message: "Share the Pain," to console the victims of the ferry Sewol's sinking during an annual Buddhist lotus lantern festival in central Seoul, Saturday. / Yonhap
By Joel Lee
Koreans and foreigners, believers and nonbelievers alike joined hands in consoling the loss of lives in the ferry Sewol disaster in an annual Buddhist lotus lantern festival in Seoul, Saturday.
Thousands watched the parade stretching from Dongguk University to Jogye Temple wearing yellow ribbons in symbolic commiseration.
This year's parade in honor of Buddha's Birthday (May 6) is more than a nightly urban spectacle of lanterns and floats.
Kim Soo-ho, 64, a shipping industry worker and Buddhist for 20 years, said, "In Buddhist teaching, life and death are not separate but connected as one. Regardless of religious beliefs, those gone early will return in goodness in the next life through reincarnation."
Jung Soo-young, 50, a housewife and a recent convert to Buddhism, said, "With or without faith, everyone goes through pain. The real meaning of religion is to share the pain across different faiths. Tensions and conflicts are the product of people."
Lawrence Moss, a retired engineer from Bristol, England said despite being a westerner he felt a "higher spiritual sense" through participation.
"My family went to the Jogye Temple unplanned but we felt as though we were drawn to the place somehow. The ladies making the colored balloons for the sunken ferry was very moving. We actually sat and helped with the ladies preparing the flowers and the lanterns."
Moss said his brother died a year ago and he put a prayer note in a lantern he made with his family. "There were a lot of positive emotions felt there," he said.
Jenny Saklar, 33, from Fresno, California, said this year's event was different from the one she participated in four years ago.
"When we came four years ago it was such a beautiful display of spirit and light. The festival was a jubilant affair with so much dancing and celebration, wildly colorful. But this year with a nation in mourning, everyone is supporting the bereaved families."
Stephen Redeker from New Jersey of the United States said that although foreigners don't know the meaning behind the religious ceremonies, the symbols and the imagery of Buddhism ― the lanterns, lotus leaves, elephants, Buddha and monks in wardrobes ― were exotic and alluring in westerners' eyes.
But this year due to the condolatory effort, the event felt "subdued, like a funeral march."
Princess Pangandaman, 20, an exchange student from the Philippines studying at Daejon University, said she enjoyed the harmony of different faiths united under the same cause.
She added such a large public parade taking place in the heart of a modern metropolis is enticing. "The harmony between the traditional and the modern is what makes Korea unique. In the Philippines, the big festivals are held in the provinces, not in the city."
Sam Moss, 33, a civil engineer from Bolton, England said, "The spectacle is uplifting and exciting, because you don't get to see something like this in Britain. Some religious preachers like to throw the doctrines down your throat but this event is open and inviting toward everyone in a relaxed way."
Mike Harding, 38, an IT manager from Fresno, California echoed the view, "The color, the light and the energy you get from this festival are really warming. The event is really welcoming to everyone and no one feels like an outsider. There is a sensibility of respecting beliefs, not stepping on each other's toes or trampling on others' beliefs."
He commented the aesthetic beauty was "nothing short of breathtaking and enlightening," giving him "an inescapable feeling."