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Buddha's Day in Gwangju


Beomeosa Temple


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Established in the year 678, Beomeosa is probably the most important Buddhist temple in Busan. And with its location in the foothills of Mt. Geumjeongsan, it’s certainly among the most beautiful. Entering the complex is like stepping into another world, one more sacred and peaceful.


Truth


More Monks

It’s nice to have some variety in your monks. Now the regular Korean monk wears a gray robe, gray pants, and even maybe a gray cap, over what appears to be normal clothes beneath; old flashy sneakers may be included in this sartorial design, which ultimately ruins the sacred effect. Monks are also always shaved bald.

Yesterday as I was walking about I may have seen an exception—perhaps, and I say perhaps because he was some distance away, I saw a Tibetan monk get into a taxi cab. I’m pretty sure it was a monk, because the person was wearing robes, only the robes were of a deep dark crimson color, and partially slung over his head in a kind of hood. I thought this interesting.


Humanizing Buddhist Monks

Dongguk University must be one of the few academic institutions on Earth where you can see significant portions of the student body wearing either miniskirts or the thick gray robes of Korean Buddhist monks, but now that everyone’s on vacation the campus is dead and all but a few stragglers have scurried away into their alcoves throughout the rest of the half-peninsula. I was working in the library today for two very short, very precious hours on the best part of my book, perhaps, indeed, the only good part at all, which deals with describing the riches-to-rags-to-middle-class journey of my wife’s family, when a nearby monk got a call on her cellphone. At once the silent study room exploded with the chants of Korean Buddhism, as well as that telltale sign of ancient far eastern spirituality—the moktak, or wooden fish.


After the Beach, the Temple

In the Rough Guide to Korea, my guru Norbert calls Yakcheonsa one of Jeju’s most magical experiences.  The best time to arrive, he writes, is 7 pm on a summer evening, when “worshipping locals chant under the interior glow with their backs to the sunset.”

So I hiked a staircase at the end of Jungmun Beach, grabbed a cab from the Hyatt hotel, and missioned to the temple, which was built in the 1990′s and, according to Norbert, is considered one of the most impressive in the country, despite its less-than-historical 20th-century roots.

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In a smaller sunlit hall to the left, these guys sat perched…

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Tiny Monks, Big Temple

If any monks still live at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple–an ancient and sprawling holy site on Busan’s Northeast coast–they kept a low profile on the hot Saturday afternoon I visited.  I don’t blame them–a few hundred camera-toting tourists descending on the grounds doesn’t spring to mind as ideal company for a meditative moment.

But I did spot these guys taking refuge… 

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They appear to be engaged in a study session of sorts.  I guess if you’re going to devote your life to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, learning the ropes on a shelf built into a rock wall beneath a massive metal dragon is the way to do it.

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Beomeosa in black and white

Took a Sunday stroll up Guemjeong and witnessed evening rites; visiting bhikkus from Thailand were led around in their orange robes and the abbot of Beomeosa passed everyone a gift of his calligraphy (us too). The temple was muffled in dribbly evening haze. Five people quietly watched the monks exit the hall single file and chant the heart sutra into the mountains like a hoarse fight song; an ode to awakening. Metaphysical mercenaries. Many were quite young. I was surprised. Drums and bells echoed and reverberated, tinkling and bouncing through the evening air as white mist mushroomed off the southern peaks.  It was a long weekend, and a bleary eyed Sunday, also the first day of monsoon season, and the scene, my mind swamped in stale smoke and alcohol,made me wonder why I don’t go up there more often.


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