A PHOENIX rises from the ashes of its former self, an old soul reborn into a new body. This majestic creature is a myth that symbolizes the supernatural concept of rebirth. Rebirth in our world, however, can only mean a fresh start as we redeem ourselves from the sins we have committed in the past. Despite knowing that change is hard when bad habits are ingrained, every year we promise ourselves to become a better person. This is particularly true for Buddhist monks, who receive a new identity when entering the temple.
As a symbol of their commitment to the religion they devote themselves to, Buddhist monks are required to wear traditional gray garb, often accompanied with a splash of red fabric around their shoulders during formal occasions. A monk interviewed by The Yonsei Annals revealed that it was disconcerting at first, as he was used to thinking of his fashion style as a representation of his personality. However, in pursuit of answers to the meaning of his life, he turned his back on the individualism that characterized his former life.
Before they enter the temple, every monk had a life similar to ours—some were attending university, and some were working full-time. A monk currently living in Jogyesa Temple, located near Insa-dong, spoke about leaving behind his former life. “It is a different type of living, one that most people wouldn’t understand,” he said. “While most people didn’t understand how I could leave behind my career and former life, I felt like this was my path.”
His life as a financial advisor was unfulfilling, which is why he turned to Buddhism for answers. He recalled all the times he had worried about being the best and having everything society deemed necessary for success. He found peace only when he began to follow Buddha’s teachings and devoted himself to become a better person through enlightenment.
Another monk living in a temple near Yonsei University spoke about the comradery between the monks in the temple and how it allowed him to heal from his traumatic past. “I came to this temple when I was very young, and the monks here helped me become the person I am today.”
People go to temples all around Korea in search for something, whether it is the hope that their prayers will be listened to or enlightenment from a deity. Only some choose to stay and become monks. For the rest of us, change doesn’t need to be so drastic, especially if we do not have such religious inclination. We can begin by starting a new routine, which can give us a sense of renewed life.
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Rebirth does not necessarily have to be the complicated supernatural phenomenon we all know. It can be us letting go of the past and changing our routine with the intention of being a different person—somebody we’re proud to be.