Sunday, November 8, 2015

Touring Bongjeongsa (Andong) and Bogyeongsa (Pohang)

Dongguk University International Seon Center offered a weekend templestay at an Andong and a Pohang temple. I had never participated in a templestay because I always felt like it was targeting to foreigners to "teach" them how to do mundane little things like sweep the ground for two hours as without work no one eats, or to make a lotus lantern, or how to do 108 Buddhist bows. Seriously, I am not interested in being shepherded around with foreigners who "need to be taught" like attending a Buddhist temple is a giant lesson. However, when I saw the call for interested participants to join the templestay program hosted by a Seon center, I thought, "Now here's a chance to go to a temple and have a more authentic experience about how Buddhists practice". There were only five foreigners who went with about 35 Koreans, not all of whom were Buddhists, so it was a chance to emulate, ask questions and quietly learn. 

Bongjeongsa in Andong, of the 16th branch of the Chogye Order

Background: Said to have been founded in 672 during the reign of King Munmu of Unified Silla. According to legend, the Buddhist monk Uisang, the national preceptor of Silla, chose the site after a paper phoenix he released at nearby Buseoksa floated to the Bongjeongsa current site and landed heralding propitious blessings on the grounds.

Among the 10 buildings at the main temple, five have been designated as treasures  one National Treasure, three Treasures and one Provincial Treasure.
  • National Treasure #15 - Geukrakjeon (Nirvana Hall) of Bongjeongsa is one of the rare specimens of Goryeo wooden architecture still standing in Korea, and is in fact considered Korea's oldest wooden building -- built in 1363. 
헌식대 - (literally, 'contributing' + 'food' + 'platform') the stone table in a Buddhist courtyard for giving blessed offerigns after a ceremony to animals, the action is symbolic of the compassion of Buddhism

In the corner of the temple's yard
a few grains of rice are placed on top of a small stone altar.
During barugongyang, monks took small bites of their food
to share with squirrels and birds.
All sentient beings share together.

  • Treasure #55 - Daeungjeon, the main temple hall with its stunning original murals, represents the building styles of the early Joseon Dynasty. It is noted for its column-head brackets and curved bracketing, a style imported from Song China, with whom the Goryeo rulers maintained regular contact with. Later in the Goryeo dynasty this bracketing style evolved into a multi-clustered bracketing inherited from the Yuan, which clustered brackets on column heads as well as between the columns of the beams. 
  • Treasure #448 - Hwaeom Gangdang, a study hall constructed in 1588 during the mid-Joseon Dynasty
  • Treasure #449 - Gogeumdang, a small worship hall constructed in 1616
  • Provincial Treasure #325 - Manseru, a meeting hall containing the four Buddhist instruments for waking and calling the sentient beings

Inside the unusually spacious Manseru, the hall containing
the four Buddhist instruments, three of which are pictured.

Bogyeongsa in Pohang, of the 11th branch of the Chogye Order

Bogyeongsa was founded in 603 AD during the 25th year of King Jinpyeong's reign of the Silla period. Monk Daedeok Jimyeong studied Buddhism in China and returned home with an octangular treasure mirror (bokyeong in Korean and meaning 'scripture'). Upon his return, he showed the mirror to the Buddhist king and told him, "If you discover an auspicious site on an east coast mountain, bury the palmyeongbogyeong (the eight destiny-or-precept scripture-mirror) and build a Buddhist temple. You will be able to prevent Japanese pirates from invading and you will unify the Three Kingdoms." The delighted king took the mirror and sailed north along the coast. Passing Pohang he saw Mt. Naeyeonsan covered with five-colored clouds. On the slopes under the five-colored clouds the king buried the scripture/mirror in a pond and filled the pond with earth, forming the foundation of Bogyeongsa. 
No one seems to really "know" where the great mirror-scripture was buried, but when we first arrived, another participant and myself walked around in the rain and thought that perhaps the area under the kimchi pots. It looked like an area that could have once been a pond that was filled in, but we weren't taking into consideration the hundreds of years that would change the look. Fun to speculate though.
Supposedly the scripture-mirror is under the Daewungjeon, the Buddha Hall, built in 1677 and which houses the three Buddha statues -- Amitabha (Infinite Life) Buddha in the center (아미타블) , Mahasthamaprapta (Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom - 대세지보살), and Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva of Great Compassion - 관세음보살).

Jeokkwangjeon (the Hall of Great Peace and Light) was built in 1740 and is grounded on the Flower Adornment Sutra, which is dedicated to Vairochana Buddha (Manifestation of Dharma), who radiates the light of truth in every direction of the universe. In Seon Buddhism, this is the Hall of the Three Bodies of a Buddha -- Dharmakaya (Vairochana) or the Dharma-body Buddha in the center, Sambhokaya (Rocana) or the Delight-body Buddha on the left, and the Nirmanakaya (Sakyamuni) or the Transformation-body Buddha on the right.

Myungbujeon (the Hall of Ksitigarbah Bodhisattva) or the Hall of the Bodhisattva of Hell built in 1678. It is also known as the Judgment Hall where ten kings are enshrined to judge the fates of the deceased according to their earthly deeds.

Palsangjeon (the Hall of Eight Aspects of Sakyamuni Buddha life) was built in 1678. It has eight Aspects of Sakyamuni Buddha's life. Eight scenes from the life of the Buddha who came to this world to deliver all living things:
  1. Depiction of Maya's pregnancy - foretelling dream, or the announcement of Buddha's Imminent birth
  2. The birth of Buddha in the Lumbini grove
  3. His four scenes of human existence (aging, sickness, dead body, and asceticism).
  4. His great renunciation (leaving the palace in search of Truth)
  5. His ascetic practice on a snowy mountain.
  6. His temptation and enlightenment under the bodhi tree.
  7. His first turning of the wheel of the Dharma at Deer Park in Baranes.
  8. His entering parinirvana under the twin sara tree.
The Hall of Disciples and Arhats - a recapitulation of the sermon on Vulture Peak Mountain with ten major disciples and sixteen Arhats.

Other unique structures:

Bell Pavilion where the four Buddhist instruments for Buddhist services are  a Dharma bell, a cloud-shaped brass, a wooden fish-shaped gong, and a great bell. All are for waking the sentient beings and calling them to worship.

Cheongwang-mun (the gate of the heavenly guardians), built in 1686 for the protection of both the temple and Buddha-Dharma.

Mountain Spirit Shrine - symbolizes the worshiping of the mountain spirit, an influence of Taoism. This is a typical aspect of Korean Buddhism, a coexistence of Buddhism, and the beliefs of folklore and shamanism.

Wonjin-gak, built in 1677, and enshrines the national master Venerable Wonjin in the Goryeo dynasty and 16 other great monks who studied in the temple.

Religious and cultural treasures in Bogyeongsa:
  • Treasure #11-1 - Bogyeongsa Bronze Bell crafted in 1667 by artisan monk Sa In.
  • Treasure #252 - National Master Wonjin's epitaph
  • Treasure #430 - Bogyeongsa stupa (budo) for the monk Venerable Wonjin; built in 1224
  • Treasure #1609 - Bogyeongsa Scroll Painting of Buddha (a long hanging Buddha scroll painting)
  • Provincial Treasure #203 - Five-story stone pagoda
  • Provincial Treasure #408 - Sarira stupa of the stone monument where sariras of great masters are enshrined
It was at this great temple with its many buildings that our Dongguk University Seon Center group gathered for templestay. Despite the rain, we were guided around the temple to familiar ourselves with the many buildings and told which buildings were used for different kinds of meditation. So many buildings, so the next morning at 3:30a.m. when we three foreign girls tried to find the correct building for the before sunrise call to meditation, rudely we arrived late because we went to the wrong temple ... in the rain and mud ... and it was already unpleasant getting up at 3:30a.m. 

We gathered to chant (well, listen to chanting) ...

... and meditate some more before we did the 108 bows (I still don't know the significance of this or the 108 beads, but I do know my legs felt like jelly afterwards!) ...

... We had Dharma talks ...

... and did personal meditation with legs crossed (if we could) for an hour. 
One of our foreign friends -- dang, the dude must have a sleeping disorder promptly, he promptly fell asleep, in almost any position, and snored. It was hard not to laugh ... and we were supposed to be absolutely silent so as not to disturb others in mediation!

... and of course we enjoyed delicious Buddhist temple food! Not pictures but well tasted!

Bogyeongsa is a beautiful temple hidden among trees on gently ascending slopes. Entering through the first gate, the one-pillar gate of Buddhism, is also entering into the valley of waterfalls. Flowing down Mt. Naeyeonsan to the back of Bogyeongsa are 12 waterfalls, the first seven are easily accessible along a trail paralleling the temple and snaking up the mountain behind.

Ssangsaeng or Twin Waterfall

Waterfall #7 among the 12 waterfalls - Yeonsan Waterfall, at 30 meters
Because it rained all weekend, the waterfalls were beautiful and very powerful! My weekend breath-taking moments!
Mr Kim, the Seon center director was delighted to show us this Korean beauty spot!
Waterfall #7 flowing down Mt. Naeyeonsan 
Meditating in front of Yeonsan Waterfall on Mt Naeyeonsan, Pohang


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