Forty-nine days have passed since my dear friend’s mother has passed away. In Korea, a ceremonial ritual called sasip-gu jae (49재) is held depends on the religious belief of the deceased and their family. My friend’s mother was a Buddhist and her 49 jae was carried out at a Zen temple called Mu Sang Sa (무상사) in Kyeryong city which is about half-an-hour drive from my home in Daejeon.
Being a nonreligious person, this was my first time attending such rite and although I enjoy visiting Buddhist temples I have never actually been inside one. The interior of the temple was full of elaborate Buddhist artworks including a portrait of Seung Sahn, the founder of Musangsa and a Buddhist monk who had travelled to America and returned with many disciples that are occupying the temple ground today.
The ritual lasted for about two hours and it included bowing, chanting, and a kind of jesa where the foods are prepared for the deceased. There was also some type of performance where we assumed that the deceased is “cleansing” herself then putting on a new cloth. After the ceremony was over, the clothes were then burned outside into ashes. What I understood was that this could be a process where we wish for the soul’s eternal peace and perhaps a better afterlife.
After the unique experience was over, I left behind to capture some of the daily moments of Musangsa. Although I am no Buddhist, spending time at a Buddhist temple is almost like a healing process for my mind and soul. The silence and the sight where nature and manmade coexist would allow anyone to meditate naturally.