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Introduction to Korean Buddhism

08. Instruments for Buddhist Rituals (Beopgu)

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Writer Jogye Date07 Apr 2020 Read4,593 Comment0


08. Instruments for Buddhist Rituals (Beopgu)

The term "Beopgu" refers to the musical instruments used during Buddhist ceremonies. These instruments must be handled in a sacred way, as if one is literally caring for the Buddha-Dharma, and used only when necessary according the rules of the ritual.

1) The Four Objects of the Main Hall (Buljeonsamul)

The four Buddhist objects employed during the morning and evening services include the dharma drum, the cloud-shaped gong, the wooden fish drum, and the great bell of the temple.

Beopgo, or the dharma drum, is meant to “convey of Dharma.” This drum is made of cow skin, and it is believed that the sound will deliver all animals to enlightenment. The cloud-shaped gong is made of bronze or iron plate, and is designed to awaken and save the flying animals and spirits in the air. In Chinese temples, however, this gong is hung in kitchens or reception rooms to signal meal times.

The wooden fish drum is sculpted out of wood in the shape of a fish. The abdominal center is hollow; sound is created by striking this part with two sticks. This instrument is used for the sake of saving the living beings in the water. Moreover, it is a symbol of a teaching that, in the same way that a fish always keeps its eyes open, Buddhist practitioners should practice diligently to attain enlightenment without being slothful. The great bell is rung when morning prayers are chanted and during large events. The bell is rung 28 times in the morning and 33 times in the evening. It is thought that the sound of the bell will save the beings in the heaven and hell realms.

2) Other Buddhist Instruments

1> Hand-held Wooden Percussion (Moktak)

This is the object most commonly utilized in Buddhist ceremonies. It is also used as a signal to gather the public.

2> Bamboo Clapper (Jukbi)

This Buddhist instrument is widely used in Seon Meditation Halls. It is most often used to signal the start and end of meditation and to signal meal times. This instrument was first used in Chinese meditation halls, and is made from the bamboo stalk or root.

3> Traditional Meal Bowl (Barugongyang)

The "Balu" is a traditional bowl for meals that has been adopted by Sunims since the time of the Buddha. The term "Baru" refers to a bowl intended for individual needs. However, it is not simply a bowl, but an instrument designed to help people take only the amount they can eat, so that not even a speck of food is wasted. Its purpose is to lessen greed and to guide practitioners appropriately. The Barugongyang used by monastics is seen as a part of a practice that symbolizes purity and equanimity. The meaning behind this is that meals should be equally seen as part of Buddhist practice, not for satisfying one’s sensory desire.

4> Hand Bell (Yoryeong)

This Buddhist instrument is used by Sunims during Buddhist practice. It originates from Vajrayāna Buddhism, or esoteric Buddhism, but the practice spread to northern Buddhist temples and it is now a very important object utilized during all types of Buddhist ceremonies.

5> Prayer Beads (Yeomju)

Prayer beads are a very important object that every Buddhist should possess; they are mainly used for counting prayers or prostrations. Strands of prayer beads generally consist of 108 individual beads, which represent the 108 defilements of sentient beings. Originally, these beads were created from the fruits of the Bodhi tree, but different materials are now used, such as the fruit of the adlay tree, the logan fruit, and beads made from diamonds and other precious jewels.

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