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Korean Traditional Dabi (Cremation ) Ceremony Worth Preserving
By the riverbank of the Ganges in Varanasi, countless people come to experience life and death. At early dawn on the banks of the river, the scene of cremating bodies unfolds. There are those who bathe and brush their teeth in the river, and those who get on boats to distribute the cremated ashes and pray for the rebirth in the Pure Land. Countless people of the world come to the Indian holy site. Photographing the scene of cremation is strictly forbidden. It is one of the unique Indian rites of passage, kept invisible from the rest of the world. The Indian way of cremation was introduced to China and adopted widely, in time established as the Buddhist cremation ceremony.
In recent Korea, the rites of the funeral have been gradually simplified. It is now common for the funerals, once held at home, to be held at the funeral parlors. Even as recently as a decade ago, a five-day funeral or a seven-day funeral ceremony was conducted, but such has languished in recent years. It seems the only traditional Korean funeral ceremony that remains is the Buddhist cremation ceremony. Without using a crematorium, the funeral ceremony of the monks of the Jogye Order is still conducted in the way of the traditional cremation ceremonies of the mountains.
The history of the Buddhist cremation ceremony dates back to the period of Buddha. The Buddhist funeral ceremony is called “sidarim” (尸茶林: a place for exposing corpses), and the Buddhist cremation ceremony is called “dabi” (茶毘: cremation of a corpse). Dabi (茶毘) means cremating a corpse, and the Longer Agama Sutra (長阿含經) and the Sutra of the Deathbed Injunction (遺教經) preach about the cremation ceremony of the Buddha.
At this time with the traditional funeral culture of Korea having perished, only the Buddhist cremation ceremony with the 1,500 year history since the time of Silla’s King Munmu is maintained in its original form. If the Buddhist cremation ceremony, the only remaining traditional funeral ceremony, disappears, the traditional funeral ceremony of Korea would perish completely. As the Lotus Lantern Festival was designated an Intangible Cultural Asset, the Buddhist cremation ceremony should be preserved as part of Korea’s traditional culture.
Most Ven. Jaseung, the President of the Jogye Order, has urged the Expert Advisors of Cultural Properties to include “Baru,” the Buddhist meal taken in traditional bowls, the ritual of circling pagodas, and the culture of the cremation ceremony along with other Buddhist ceremonies to be included in cultural preservation. Preservation of the Buddhist cremation ceremony is an important part of preserving the traditional funeral rites of Korea. We hope for the designation of the Buddhist cremation ceremony of the Jogye Order and the Council of Elders as Intangible Cultural Assets.
<Pic.The President of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism gives words of condolences>
The Dabi Ceremonies of Most Ven. Jigwan and Ven. Daehaeng held in 2012
One of the most revered Buddhist Masters of Korea, the Most Venerable Jigwan (智冠 ) of Gasandang (伽山堂), has entered Parinirvana at the age of 79 at the Gyeongguk Temple last January. Traditional funeral rites were performed with great solemnity at the Haeinsa Temple on January 6th with 10,000 people of the fourfold assembly in attendance. A memorial altar was set up at the Haeinsa Temple in South Gyeongsang province and the Dabi Ceremony (cremation rite) was held on January 8th.
Ven. Ji-Kwan was born on Dec. 9, 1932 and took monastic vows in 1947 at the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea. He served as the Head Monk at the Haeinsa Temple from 1970 to 1972, and taught as the professor at Dongguk University. Ven. Jigwan led the Jogye Order for four years, following his predecessor Ven. Bub Jang. Venerable Ji-kwan was respected for his academic research of Korean Buddhism, and founded the Kasan Institute of Buddhist Culture, a research institute dedicated to the study of Buddhism. He devoted most of his life to publishing texts in Buddhism.
Ven. Jaseung, the Jogye Order’s President, reflected on the memory of Ven. Jigwan: "As the founder of a school which preserved the honor of Korean Buddhism, thousands of memorial expressions and dedications would not be sufficient." President Lee, Myung-Bak also sent a letter of condolence which read, "Although the Great Master has entered Parinirvana, his mark will remain permanent. I pray the spirit of harmony and peace shown by him during his lifetime be realized in this world of suffering."
After the Memorial ceremony, Ven. Jigwan’s Dharma remains were devoutly moved to the lotus-pedestal of the cremation site. The fire was lit while a monk announced, "Venerable, a fire enters." The assembly bid farewell to the Great Master Jigwan, diligently chanting "Namo Amitabha."
Daehaeng Sunim, from the Hanmaum Seon Center in Korea has also passed away at age 85. The following comes from the press release provided by Chong Go Sunim on May 22, 2012:
Hanmaum Seon Center regrets to announce the passing of our beloved teacher Ven. Daehaeng on Monday, May 21, 2012. She was 85 years old, and was ordained as a Buddhist nun 63 years ago. Daehaeng Kun Sunim (Kun Sunim is the Korean Buddhist title of respect for a senior nun or monk) was a rare teacher in Korea, a female Seon (Zen) master, who also taught monks. She was a teacher who helped to revitalize Korean Buddhism by dramatically increasing the participation of young people and men. She made the laypeople a particular focus of her efforts, and broke out of traditional models of spiritual practices to teach in such a way that anyone could practice and awaken. She was a major force for the advancement of Bhikkunis (nuns), fully supporting the traditional Bhikkunis’ colleges along with the modern Bhikkuni Council of Korea. Clearly seeing the great light we each have, she taught people to rely upon this inherent foundation, and refused to teach anything that distracted people from such.
Her deep compassion made her a legend in Korea long before she formally began teaching. She was known for having the spiritual power to help people in all circumstances with every difficulty. She compared compassion to freeing a fish from a drying puddle, putting a homeless family into a home, or providing the school fees that allow a student to finish high school. When she performed such acts and much more, few knew she had done so.
She supported many social welfare projects and founded centers in 11 countries around the world (15 centers in Korea, 10 international centers). Her teachings have been translated from Korean into English, German, Spanish, Russian, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese.”
<The Dabi Ceremony article from Buddhist Newspaper posted on May 24, 2012;
The Most Ven. Jigwan article from Buddhist Newspaper posted on January 2, 2012;
The Ven. Daehaeng article from Shambhalasun.com posted on May 22, 2012>