Sunday, June 3, 2012

Entering Three Gates of a Buddhist Temple

Over the years I have entered many Buddhist temples, and one thing the large temples have in common, whether the originals had been destroyed by fires, Japanese or through other circumstances is that in the rebuilding, the larger temples have their three gates leading to their temples rebuilt. It's often possible to walk around the first two, and perhaps the third, and in our modern busy world, temple parking lots have been constructed and often they lie as close to the temple as possible - for people's convenience - so that one or two of the temple gates can and are by-passed. However, when I have approached temples with friends, students or Korean colleagues I've had a few call me back and tell me not to walk around but to experience "walking through". I didn't know what they meant, but gradually over the years I've come to understand the importance in belief for each gate, and with the help of the Beomeosa brochure, I can even get the meaning of the iconography no one has been able to explain.


These pictures and names of gates are for Beomeosa (temple) in Pusan. I'm not clear whether all gates are termed the same in the Buddhist world - something to check out.

Jogyemin or Ilju gate (One-Pillar Gate)

"It is the first door that leads to the sacred world of Buddha. As the world of truth has no discrimination, it is said that people coming into the door have to leave their discrimination ideas behind. Our original nature is as clear as blue sky, but it gets tainted in the mundane world." (brochure)

A young Buddhist monk educating people (probably people on Templestay) on the great history and Buddhist beliefs surrounding this gate. He lectured them for well over half an hour, bu then this particular gate is also designated as a treasure.

Changwanmung (Four Guardians Gate)

The second gate enshrines the four Buddhist guardians. "It is believed on Mt Sumi, the universe has four guardians protecting the east, west, north, and south. On the four pillars of the gate are the words engraved:
Hwaeumseongjunghyegammyoung - wise man of Hwaeumseongjung
Sajiinsalinyeonmji - he knows every world affair in one thought
Aeminjungsaengyeojeokja - he cares for all people like his children
Sigoageumgonggyeongrye - now I pay respect to him" (brochure)
By passing through this gate and between the guardian divas, in Buddhist theory, people are made to think about their behavior and thoughts and to repent.

Guardian Ji Guk (the east diva)
Guardian Ji Guk of the east clenches his left fist and in his right hand holds a sword to ward off evil spirits.

Guardian Jeung Jang (the south diva)
Guardian Jeung Jang holds a magic pearl in his left, symbolizing the wish for dreams to come true, and grasps a dragon in his right for keeping Buddhist 'truth'. Supposedly with the dragon and the pearl, the guardian can bring life to everything.

Guardian Gwang Mok (the west diva)
Guardian Gwang Mok holds a pagoda, representing Buddhist enlightenment and rescuing people from darkness, in his left hand and a spear in his right for fighting off evil spirits. This guardian symbolizes bringing benefits to people and protecting people (or punishing people) from evilness.

Guardian Damun (the north diva)
Guardian Damun plays the mandolin (hmmm, not a Korean instrument) to make evil-spirited people have a beautiful and warm heart. The guardian symbolizes correcting bad behavior and ideas through beautiful music, and the meaning of 'damun' is to protect the Buddha's world and spread teachings to all the people.

Damun (the north guardian)

Gwang Mok (the west guardian)

Ji Guk (the east guardian)

Jeung Jang (the south guardian)
Bulemun (non-duality gate) or Haetal gate (gate of enlightenment)

The meaning of the third gate is 'non-duality' meaning something like "Buddha and mankind is the same, life and death, meeting and separation are not different, both [though termed differently] come from the same root. People tend to separate good and bad, mine and other. They compete against each other and often end up in fierce war and fight. However, in the world of "truth" there is no separation and discrimination. People co-exist there, meaning I can exist because you exist. This is the point of non-duality. People cannot live alone." When people pass through this gate of enlightenment, "people realize the true meaning of non-duality is able to reach enlightenment [sic]." (brochure)

Supposedly by the time someone has passed through the three gates, wihch together symbolizes passing from the earthly to the heavenly realm of meditation and enlightenment, one is ready to reach spiritual purification.

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