A building in the Bongwon-sa Buddhist Temple complex.
Today was such a happy day! Today I had the priviledge of going to Bongwon-sa Buddhist Temple with Ian. (Actually, the "B" in "Bongwon-sa" is a "P," but since a "B" is used in the Moon Handbook for South Korea, I've kept the spelling.) Ian's cousin Eun Juhng went with us, and we enjoyed her company again. It was well that she was with us, too: we would have taken much longer to find the place without her. According to the Moon Handbook, this temple is the home of the Taego sect of Korean Buddhism, a sect that "allows priests to marry." Bongwon-sa is home to "Human Cultural Assets" #'s 48 and 50. I was surprised and amused to see this adaptation of the "National Treasure" number system to people! The "Head Abbot" and "Second Priest," respectively, are masters of a traditional kind of mural painting, and of chant. The temple and grounds, as you will see, are true places of human culture and civilization. Each of the buildings, including the one pictured above, was beatifully and colorfully painted. As a side note: Koreans, especially the women, dress in bright colors; I wish my boring fellow Canadians in their earth-tones would take note! (Not that earth tones are all bad, of course!)
My first impression of the temple grounds was of all the houses that are clustered around them. After that, many white and grey statues met our eyes. Here are some of the former:
A Buddha-to-be (one hopes!)
And here are Ian and his cousin Eun Juhng in front of a secondary prayer hall.
This beautiful pagoda was decorated with a bunch of small, free-standing Buddha statues near the bottom; you should be just able to see them. The situation of the pagoda amidst nature may remind you of the palaces I visited earlier, where nature and building are part of a harmonious whole. (For a hyperlinked list of palaces and other sites, please click on "Best of Hifromseoul" on the sidebar under the archives.)
Pagoda in Autumn.
Today, for the first time here, I went in, as opposed to only looking in, a Buddhist prayer hall. Unfortunately, the main prayer hall was somewhat inaccessible due to construction (there was even a backhoe!). However, whatever disappointments existed on that score were more than made up by my experience in this room. Interestingly, the "Hall of the 3000 Buddhas" was a long-room structure: i.e., the entrance was in one of the short ends of the rectangle. Every single temple building and palace throne-room that I have seen here has been a broad-room structure. This prayer hall, however dates to the 20th century. I enjoyed the silence and the darkness of the room, and the company of thousands. It is a beatiful and holy place.
I'd like to reflect a little on some of the religious similarities and differences between Buddhism and Catholicism and its children in a future post. Stay tuned.
The Hall of the 3000 Buddhas
Just some of those 3000 Buddhas!
Behind the temple grounds proper is a series of mountains, the lower one of which we went hiking up today on a rocky, but well-maintained, trail. The temperature was warm, and the leaves on the trees are changing their colors at this time of year. In short, it was a lovely little hike. At the top of the little mountain there was a ridge-path that went to the other mountains. We followed one direction for a short while, and came across many people, old and young. We were passed by quite a few young women joggers with spandex shorts, killer legs, and tiny ponytails! The path went down for a couple of minutes, and then we were in a place with many people. There were all sorts of people: ajummas (old ladies well-known by this title), and older gentlemen. The ajummas were sitting on benches with their beloved but silly face visors, talking to each other happily. There were children and parents and pet dogs. The gentlemen were playing games:
Gentlemen playing Paduk, a traditional Korean game.
Janggi, Korean chess. Apparently it's very similar to one of the Chinese chess variations.
Finally, there were physical as well as environmental exercises going on up there, and the picture below shows only part of a fairly substantial outdoor gym!
Only in Korea, one might think with a laugh, would an outdoor gym for laypeople be held on the top of a small mountain behind a Buddhist temple! While this certainly is somewhat amusing, it points to the high degree of culture prevalent in Korean Buddhism. It points also to a holistic view of life. Here you see physical, mental, aesthetic, and spiritual exercise being practiced by all generations. I greatly admire the people and the culture that could produce an institution like this in which to live their ideals.