Young monks shave heads for Buddha’s birthday

Ten children dressed in light-gray robes sat cross-legged under vibrantly colored lanterns.

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They are child monk candidates, waiting for their Buddhist initiation ceremony to begin. They’ve shaved their heads to show they’ve let go of “worldly desires.” A few dozed off, in front of senior monks. Others shed a few tears when the vibrating hair trimmer approached.

The ten boys recited vows and chanted scriptures — and were accepted as disciples of Buddha.

They received the commandments of Buddhism at Jogye-sa, a temple in the heart of Seoul, on Monday. A crowd of more than 200 had gathered to watch the annual event.

“There was a lot to learn from the child monks in today’s ceremony,” Jang Hyunjung, who sent her son to become one, told ABC News. “Sitting in front of countless cameras and a big audience is something you may never experience in life, but the child monks took it so well in such mature manner.”

The commandments are temporary, lasting only three weeks until the Buddha’s birthday on May 12. To officially become a Buddhist monk in South Korea, it’s mandatory to hold a high school diploma to ensure that the applicant is educated enough to make his own decisions.

“We are lucky to witness this event where children shave their heads to become monks,” said Stephen Burns of San Francisco, who was traveling in Seoul with his wife, Nancy “It’s also comforting to know that this is not permanent, but, in a way, a religious camp for children.”

Each year, a month ahead of Buddha’s birthday in May, 10 children aged 6 or 7 are given the opportunity to enter the Buddhist priesthood for three weeks. The children live together at the temple, attending Buddhist services and visiting public events to spread Buddha’s teachings.

“This year, child monks at Jogye temple will deliver the message ‘Mercy at heart and peace to the world’ to all parts of the society,” Choi Jonghyun, who runs the child monk program at Jogye temple, explained to ABC News.

Devout Buddhist parents enroll their children to become short-term child monks. Applications are accepted by the order of arrival. The 10 are chosen after a resume screening and interviews with their parents. This year’s class was all boys, but girls are welcome to apply.

“Although I was worried it would be hard for little ones to handle at first, now I feel proud to see my son making himself comfortable in the ceremony,” Moon Youngjin, father to Moon Sunwoo, who became monk Sung Hyun on Monday, told ABC News. “Through this program, I hope he will learn and realize many values in life.”

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