South Korea Day 3 – Hiking in the rain and my first visit to a Korean Temple.
We spent day 1 hitting up some big tourist spots in Seoul. On days 2-4 we were in Daejeong, South Korea; the 5th largest city in South Korea. It’s much more industrial and less touristy compared to other big cities in South Korea like Seoul and Busan.
Our original plan was to take a train (about an hour and about $40) back to Seoul at the end of day 2 and come back by train on day 4 for the wedding. Instead, we stayed in Daejeon to save some money and the extra traveling time. This allowed us to spend the day with our friend (the bride to be) and her family.
We were simply told that they were going to pick us up at 9:30am with breakfast and that we were going to spend the day with them. We did not know where we were going or what we were going to do.
After a quick breakfast at a relatives house, we piled into a rental car (seats 9) and started to head out of the city. By then, it was starting to rain. I in a dress and sandals (definitely not rain attire).
It was an hour and a half drive from Daejeon through toll highways, tunnels (lots of holding our breath and making wishes), and some rain to Songnisan National Park. Our destination: Beopjusa Temple located inside the national park.
I have never been to a Korean temple before nor do I know very much about Buddhism in Korea; I can only compare this temple to my knowledge of Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism.
Before walking into the temple, we walked through an interesting gate. The gate had 4 big scary looking statues looking down at us (protected by chicken wire making it hard to get a good picture) as we walked through the gate. That is when we finally get a full view of a very big standing Buddha statue and yet another gate that is supposed to lead us to pagoda.
As we walked through this final gate, there are 4 more statues looking down at us. This time, I recognized who they depict. They are the 4 heavenly kings. I have heard and seen (on TV). I have never seen any gates like this, where you walk through to a set of statues. I’m sure they symbolize something, my Asian Studies background does not answer my questions yet.
The most magnificent statue at Beopjusa Temple is a 33 meter tall bronze statue of one of the most well known Buddhas. He is the one that is most often seen at temples; The Future Buddha. This specific one is the biggest free standing statue of this Buddha in Asia and was only built in the 1980’s replacing an old stone statue dedicated to the re-unification of Korea.
Another focal point of Beopjusa Temple is a 5-story wooden pagoda called Palsang-jeon. Palsang-jeon literally means “Hall of Eight Pictures”. I would assume that there are 8 pictures in the pagoda.
Unfortunately, one of the most well know sites at the temple was closed for renovation. But I am thankful that they put up a facade of the pagoda. At least we know what it is supposed to look like, but it would be nice to see it in person.
I have been to many temples in my life, and I found that many of these temples have some sort of water feature. I have always been told to either wash my hands in the water or take a sip of the water. I may not understand the significance of the water, but I do believe it is always part of the temple experience.
Here at Beopjusa there is a big carved stone bowl filled with spring water. I like that they have these ladles ready for your take a sip of the water. Each one of us took a sip of the spring water and of course some fresh rain water.
This reminds me of the all of the big pots you can find in the Forbidden City (Chinese Palace) where they store their drinking water in big pots throughout the palace. I bet this pot here supplies the water here at Beopjusa as well and looking at its size, this temple must have housed a large number of monks.
After walking through a forest, through gates, tasting water, seeing a big statue, and what looks like a big pagoda we finally walked up to the main hall in the temple.
I am suddenly reminded of the culture in Korea and how its history can be seen everywhere. The main hall is adorned with many Chinese characters (which are translated into to Korean and English for tourists). Today, Korea has its own alphabet and writing system but before its creation Chinese characters were used.
Although we see all of these historical and traditional places throughout South Korea, I found that most of these buildings were destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea, but many of these things have been restored or rebuilt.
Before leaving Songnisan and Beopjusa we made 1 last stop. Of course the rain was starting to come down harder.
This Jeongipumson Pine Tree is hundreds of years old. Unfortunately, parts of the tree have been destroyed, the shape of the tree is still preserved. Legend has it that, this tree lifted its branches and bowed to a King when he came to Beopjusa Temple.
We did not get out of the car because of the rain, but our view from the car was still stunning.
Although I am Buddhist, I found that I know very little about my own belief and even less when about its traditions in other countries. Beopjusa Temples does have a temple stay program where you can stay for a couple days and experience what life is like at a temple.
note: everything written in this post is what I observed and heard from my family friends here at this temple. Please let me know if any information may be incorrect.