The Flowers Adorning Temple Ceilings

AnyangamInside one of the flowery shrine halls at Anyangam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Whenever you walk into a Korean temple hall, one thing you might notice are the painted flowers adorning the ceiling. You might also see paper lanterns of purple and pink lotus flowers suspended from the ceiling. So why exactly are they there, and what do they mean?

JogyeamA fine example of a floral ceiling inside Jogyeam Hermitage.

In Buddhist scripture, in the introduction chapter to the “Lotus Sutra,” the writing describes a sermon by Buddha on Vulture Peak. As the Buddha finished his sermon, entitled “Infinite Meanings,” he then sat in the lotus position and meditated. No sooner had he started to meditate then white and red lotuses rained down from heaven. They fell upon the Buddha and all those that had gathered to hear the Buddha’s sermon.

Magoksa

The flowers that fall from the ceiling at Magoksa Temple.

There is also another Buddhist scripture, from the chapter “ The Parable of the Illusions City,” from the Lotus Sutra as well, that describes how heavenly beings made a lion seat under a bodhi tree for the Buddha. They did this so the Buddha could sit on it and gain supreme and universal enlightenment. And no sooner had the Buddha sat on this lion seat, did the Brahma kings cause numerous flowers to rain down from heaven. From the time of his enlightenment, to the time of his earthly death, flowers from heaven would rain down on him from time to time.

Tongdosa

Yet another set of heavenly flowers that falls from the ceiling at Tongdosa Temple.

Banyaam

An extremely vibrant set of heavenly flowers from Banyaam Hermitage.

With this in mind, Korean temple ceilings are adorned with floral patterns for a couple of reasons. One reason is to symbolize the site of the Vulture Peak assembly where the Buddha preached to his community of followers. The second reason, and much like Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) gained enlightenment under a sky of flowers, so too can monks, nuns, and laypeople presently gain enlightenment in Korea.

Shinheungsa

A view of the cross-hatched sections inside the main hall at Sinheungsa Temple.

Eunhaesa

A look up at the unbelievably ornate floral ceiling inside the main hall at Eunhaesa Temple.

There are two ways that these floral patterns are depicted in Korean temple halls. The first is that a ceiling is typically divided into cross-hatched sections with a lotus flower painted in the centre. While a lotus flower is usually depicted, it isn’t always; instead, another colourful flower can appear. Another way that flowers are represented in Korean temple halls is purple and pink paper lotus flowers. These paper lotus flowers are usually suspended from the ceiling and hang at head height.

Wonhyoam Yangsan

The pink lotus paper lanterns are falling from the heavens above at Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Cheontaesa

A simplistic set of flowers that adorn the Nahan-jeon Hall at Cheontaesa Temple. To the far right is a large pink lotus lantern that has already descended from heaven.

So the next time you’re inside a temple hall, no matter the size or prominence, have a long look up at the ceiling. The flowers that adorn the ceiling are symbolically raining down on you, so you too can potentially gain enlightenment much like Seokgamoni-bul did.

Tongdosa2

One last look inside one of the shrine halls at Tongdosa Temple with an older looking dragon across one of the beams and another amazing set of heavenly flowers adorning the ceiling.

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