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Temple Ventures

Following “Busan Landing” and “Chan’s Guesthouse and Friends,” I give you the last, and by far, the most interesting and perhaps the most eye-catching blog installment of my trip to Busan. Amid my joyful wandering in and around Busan, I took advantage of the propitious, sunny weather and ventured throughout three Buddhist temples: Beomeosa, Samgwangsa, and Haedong Yonggungsa. All three temples were quite distinct in terms of location, nature, enormity, and general composition. Thus, I honestly stood amazed, and sometimes greatly bewildered, while gazing into the depth of the art, color, architecture, and sacrosanct chambers found at each temple site. Walking amidst those sincerely praying while inadvertently listening to monks chanting away synchronously in distant chambers with their loud, soothing bass voices, I found that there was this cool peace about it that transcended far beyond my own understanding. I honestly left each temple feeling rested and at peace.

I stayed for quite a long time during each temple visit and was always the only foreigner present. At each temple I was given a few authentic smiles, but the majority of the time I was treated with a somewhat mild neglect as I snapped photos trying my best not to disturb those around me. My first visit: Beomeosa Temple.

Beomeosa Temple is the most remote of all three temples visited and probably the most remote in all of Busan.

Beomeosa Temple Shrine

Beomeosa Temple was first constructed in 678 A.D. Unfortunately, the temple was burned to the ground in 1592 during the Japanese invasion and was reconstructed in 1602. However, it burned to the ground again by an accidental fire a few years later, and in 1613, it was rebuilt again to it’s current composition.

Situated in the northern most part of Busan near Geumjeongsanseong Fortress, I had to take a long subway ride to the end of the line and then get on a bus that took me for a somewhat stomach-churning 20-minute ride up Geumjeongsan Mountain. After I was dropped off, I then hiked up a fairly steep hill and snapped a couple photos of a few things that caught my interest.

Turtle "steles" at Beomeosa Temple. Turtles are believed to bring good luck & protection.

A “stele” is a stone or wooden slab, normally erected for funerals or commemorative purposes with enscriptions of the names and titles of the deceased or living. These “steles” can also be used as territorial markets to delineate land ownership. At Beomeosa, there were several dozen laced around the temple surroundings.

When I reached the entrance I already had my wallet out and ready to pay an entrance fee, but I just continued walking through and quickly realized there wasn’t any fee. Cool, I thought. Then I saw many people bowing to the 7-story stone pagoda seen below and I attempted to snap a cool photo with the sun directly behind it.

7-story stone pagoda at Beomeosa Temple

Upon entering the confines of the temple, I immediately noticed another smaller pagoda and a few people trying to flip coins onto the top of it. I’m unsure about the significance of this practice, but it was rather interesting to watch. This pagoda is believed to have been built during the reign of King Heungdeok (826-836) of the Unified Silla Kingdom.

3-story stone pagoda at Beomeosa Temple

Flipping Coins. This man tried to flip a coin onto the top story of this pagoda three times. When he apparently failed, the coin was left where it landed and then the man went about his business

After observing the comings and goings of temple patrons, I snapped photos of some of the temple’s artistic relics.

Individual prayer quarters at Beomeosa Temple

Beomeosa Temple Lotus Flower

Beomeosa Temple Painting

Woman painting

Beomeosa Temple Lotus Flower Design

Backroads path through Beomeosa Temple

Beginning to fight daylight, I left the temple through this backroads path seen above and walked down the hill alongside dozens and dozens of “Beomeosa Lanterns.”

Beomeosa Lantern

Next: Samgwangsa Temple

Samgwangsa Temple is the most enormous of all three temples visited and undoubtedly the most wealthy in all of Busan.

Samgwansa Temple Hall

Built adjacent to the Baekyang Mountains by the monks of the Chongdae Order, this temple is practically spotless as it was recently completed ten years ago, having been built from 1982-2001. Although the temple’s construction is recent, its design and elements still follow Buddhist traditions and I figured it was worth a visit. Again, there was no entrance fee.

Samgwangsa Temple Shrine & 10-story pagoda

Samgwansa Temple Hall - Photo 2

During my time at Samgwangsa, many people came to bow to this particular pagoda, seen below.

10-story stone pagoda at Samgwansa Temple

The significance of this resides in the fact that a pagoda is seen as the home of Buddha’s body because each one is supposed to contain some of his thousands of sari, or beads. These sari are considered to be Buddha’s remains because they weren’t consumed when his body was cremated. An interesting facet about Korean pagodas are that they are made of stone, while Chinese Buddhist pagodas are usually made of brick and Japanese pagodas are most often made of wood. After quietly observing several temple patrons bow and begin to pray, I ventured around the temple site captivated by all the colorful art and enormous buildings.

Samgwansa Temple Lotus Design

Samgwansa Temple signature Lotus

Samgwansa Temple Lotus Design Ceiling

Samgwansa Temple Hall - Photo 3

Samgwansa Temple monk quarters & business offices. Enormous!

After this last photo was taken, a busload of practicing Buddhists were dropped off, and with only minutes of useful daylight left, I decided to take off and save the next and last temple I wanted to visit until the following day.

Next: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

While Beomeosa is situated in the heart of mountains and Samgwangsa in the general confines of the city, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is situated on the outskirts of Busan alongside the sea. Of all three temples, Haedong felt the most “open” and was my favorite among those visited in Busan.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggunsa Temple was built in 1376 A.D and founded by venerable monks named Naong. However, during the Japanese invasion of 1592, the temple was burned down. In the 1930’s, almost 300 years after its arson, the Wunkang monks of the Tongdo temple reconstructed the temple to its original stature.

Upon entering the temple free of charge, an 8-story pagoda laid in my view, as seen below.

8-story stone pagoda at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

After passing a painting of swans, I was given a wonderful view of the temple confines.

Swan painting

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple stone lantern stairway, bridge, and shrine

Soon thereafter, I passed by a person in prayer, who in fact was praying the entire 2 to 3 hours I was there.

Bowing to Buddha on seacliff

Then I crossed the bridge and watched people tossing coins trying to make it into the stone bowl far below. I’m still not sure of this practice or significance, any ideas?

Tossing coins. I watched 8 people toss coins... all failed to sink one into the stone bowl below.

Then I came across a 15ft tall “gold buddha” or a bodisattva of some kind.

Happy, Gold Buddha

Then I was amazed by the 4 different types of detailed lotuses around the rather ornate temple shrine.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Shrine

Which one is your favorite?

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Lotus #1

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Lotus #2

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Lotus #3

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple Lotus #4

All in all, it was a very fun, eventful, adventurous, and thought-provoking learning experience visiting these three buddhist temples in three different areas in and around Busan.

Busan was an experience I shall never forget… and I shall return.

4 comments on “Temple Ventures

  1. April
    February 7, 2011

    There are many temples in korea. Anywhere i can go to temple easily. And i used to go there manytimes. Temple is so beautiful and calm. But I didn’t catch take a picture like you. because I had ever been to go alike temples. So i used to seeing temple without special notice.your pictures are so amazing! Pictures it’s attention to me and makes others think that temple has something special. Nexttime I will try to see the temple from a different perspective. Anyway,
    Bulguksa in kyoung-ju. It’s one of the most beautiful temples I have ever visited. someday You should go there.i had special experience as your blog read it. I like it so much.

  2. Gavin
    February 15, 2011

    Hi Paul,

    Nice to find your blog, I’m in Sasang-Gu currently, living with my girlfriend’s parents, while working as a newswriter with a UK firm.

    Was great to see a lot of the stuff you’ve done, and gave us a few ideas. I’ve been here a few days and have seen quite a lot of Haeundae so far, including the Hairy Navel — strange name for a bar!

    I think the stone bowls, according to Goeun, is supposed to grant a wish (thought of before throwing). I also missed, several times!

    I presume by the date of your last post you still are in Busan? When did you arrive, what is your nationality, and how long do you think you will stay to teach?

    How are you finding it?

    • Gavin
      February 16, 2011

      Oh yeah, I remember now, (the Fuzzy Navel things) I interpreted it as hairy lol 😉

      I’m leaving Busan on March 2 but I expect to be back for another month in June, before my girlfriend returns to the UK.

      We’re undecided as to whether I will live in Korea, or whether she will try to find work in the UK.

      I haven’t encountered any xenophobia, other than from children who are quite shocked to see a foreigner. I certainly haven’t encountered any extra seats on the subway, which appear to be oversubscribed! and I would urge you to put your feet up if you’re being offered the extra room!

      I’m loving the culture here despite having made a few faux-pas with the strange customs, but (I think) I’m learning fast. It’s certainly different from Western culture, more so than I had expected despite reading up on it before coming over.

      I’m just 21, but very together back home and it’s strange to be taken on the basis of my age (which among peers in Korea is quite low) despite in Hastings – the small town in the UK where I’m from – being of ‘high standing’, not something difficult in my town!

      I think even if I was to gain fluency in Korean I would always be treated as an outsider which is strange, especially as in the UK Asian people, while segregated, can merge with society providing they have conversational English.

      Not sure what I’m doing yet, I love my job in the UK and it pays better than I think I could get in Korea (having no degree), but I think if Goeun can get a job I may decide to move over and teach English too, at least to start.

      Why did you decide to come to Korea in the first place?

  3. Gavin
    February 16, 2011

    I heard as much about the degree thing, very strange imo, although education is very much touted in Korea.

    If I was to come over I’d probably try and do an Open University degree whilst working for the company I’m with now.

    I look forward to future submissions!

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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