Sunday, October 23, 2016

Templestay in Gangjin, Jeollabukdo

Hendrik Hamel (1630 - 1692)

Gangjin has a bit of unusual cultural history  in the 17th century it was the town where Hendrick Hamel, the Dutchman who famously became shipwrecked, spent years of his life before being transferred to Hanyang (present-day Seoul). In 1653 Hamel and 35 fellow shipmates were shipwrecked and stranded in Korea. And as the story goes, two years after being shipwrecked a Manchu envoy came to Seoul whereupon a senior navigator and a sailor from Hamel's crew members approached the Manchu envoy about returning to the Netherlands via China. However, their escape attempt was quickly discovered resulting in them being imprisoned and the remaining 33 Dutch sailors being spirited away to Gangjin, where they lived for seven years. Eleven of them died during this period. In three consecutive years (1660, 1661 and 1662) famine stuck the Gangjin area and due to the inability to feed the men, the dwindling crew were divided into three groups and sent to Saesong (12 men), Suncheon (5 men) and Namwon (5 men). Finally after 13 years of being detained in Korea, Hamel and seven other crew members were finally able to make their escape.

Gangjin Celadon Festival

Gangjin is also famous for the Gangjin Celadon Festival, listed by many as one of the top festivals of South Korea. According to the website Festival Walker:
"Pottery has been one of the famous industries of the old Korea that has continued to amaze not only the local citizens but people from other countries as well. Because of this, Gangjin, still retains over 200 traditional kilns which are still functional. The town produces celadon earthenware which has top quality; thus they are considered masterpieces. During the festival, visitors can observe how high quality pottery is made. An exhibit on of celadon relics which were brought up from the bottom of the sea is open to the public. This festival is celebrated from late July to early August in the city of Gangjin, Jeolla-do."
Templestay at Baekryun-sa, near Dasan Chodang

Gangjin is also where Dongguk University Seon Center arranged for participants to have a templestay and detoxify from city life in the remote beauty of Baekryun-sa.

The temple is next to a camellia forest with meandering trails that ultimately lead to the famous Dasan Chodang, the tea hermitage of Jeong Yak Yong, more commonly known by his pen name Dasan, meaning "mountain of tea".

Dongam, also called Songpungnu, was the house where Dasan received guests and kept his private library of the 2000-odd books he needed as references for writing his works. Dasan spent most of his time in exile at Dasan-chodang immersed in writing. It was here he completed Admonition on Governing the People (Mongmin simseo), the most famous of all his writings. Time work his house down, so this house was rebuilt in 1976 along with Seoam.
Dasan was a great intellect of the Joseon Dynasty and lived for many years in exile here on Mandeoksan (mountain) surrounded by camellias. He taught many students at the hermitage where, in the seclusion from court life, he did his most profound scholarly work. It was on the trails overhung by camellias that he would meet with Hyejang of Baekryunsa to discuss Confucianism, Buddhism, have discussions of the world, and drink tea. The area nearby is still known for its tea cultivation.

Playing in a green tea field about 20 min drive from Baekryun-sa.
The head monk (pictured) showed us this hidden beautiful jewel.
The field had just been clipped! What fun!
[An aside on the camellias — Although there is no medicinal value for camellias, they have their traditional purpose in society. During the Joseon Dynasty the groom (limited to this region as the trees grow only in the south in the Namhae-do region) would carry a branch of a camellia tree in front of the bride as she was being transported to his house. Camellia trees as prodigious fruit-bearing trees were used a propitious symbol for fertility. Camellias were and still are used in hair treatments. Can't remember if they are believed to darken or soften the hair, but people want hair treatments with camellia listed on the packaging!)]
The first name of Beakryun-sa was Mandeok-sa (Many Virtues Temple) and its name was taken from the mountain on which it was situated. The temple is said to have been built by Master Mu Yeom in 839 during the Unified Silla Dynasty. Ven Mu Yeom was a high monk who opened famous the Sungju Meditation center in Boryung, Chooncheongnam-do, one of the first 9 Seon (Zen) centers in old Korea.

Time flowed, and the original temple buildings crumbled with only one site remaining. The temple was rebuilt by Ven Yo Se in Goryeo Dynasty and became a large temple complex when a group of practicing Buddhist monks and lay people gathered to make a Buddhist reform movement, the historical Baekryunsa (association) Movement which is compared to the Samadi-Wisdom Practice Movement (called Suseonsa) at Songgwang-sa, Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Since the reform movement was very successful and drew many monks and practitioners from across the country, the temple came to produce 8 national masters in the Goryeo Dynasty.

As for the Baekryun reform movement, it was more focused on repentance in one's life and belief in rebirth into Buddhist Pure Land through mantra recitation practice. The religious reforms were more popular among low-educated people rather than middle- and high-class people.

Baekryun-sa was damaged and destroyed by invading Japanese pirates in the late Goryeo Dynasty. Ven Hang Ho with the royal assistance from the third brother of King Sejong in 15 century started to the reconstruction of the temple. In 1760 it was demolished in a big fire, but afterwards rebuilt into its present shape.

Baekryunsa is quite well-known:
  • opened by National Master Mu Yeom in the 9th century during Unified Silla Dynasty
  • birthplace of Baekryun Pureland Movement led by National Master Won Myo in 13th century in Goryeo Dynasty
  • produced 8 national masters in Goryeo Dynasty and 8 highest monks in the Joseon Dynasty 
  • famous nationwide for tea plantation, camellia flowers, and a good view of the sea
  • main Buddha hall, 3 wooden Buddha statues, and a temple chronology epitaph recognized as important artwork
The Paintings of the Main Hall at Baekryunsa
  • 21 dragons are painted inside the Main Hall!
  • Why so many? People dream of nirvana and when they die they believe a boat will come to transport them to the Pure Land and because dragons protect from air, land and sea, the dragons are seen as protectors. The boat is called something like banyayongseon and comes from Sanscrit.
  • 21 dragons. Two of them have their heads outside (the left one is always white, the right is always blue). The two dragons bodies penetrate the walls of temple and their scales are painted on the beams spanning the airy space above — this symbolizes the dragons wrapping their bodies around the building and therefore the people within, which symbolizes a promise of protection.
  • Buddha sits on a maeru (name of a mountain) and when Buddha preached, flowers in the ceiling fell from heaven. Meanwhile, music is played and since angels play music, the idea of support from the heaven is portrayed. Cloud motif is heavily used in temples and is particular apparent in this temple; the clouds are representative of the heavens.
  • Lotus are throughout all temples in Korea, and again, obviously so in this temple. The lotus plant has many seeds — the tops are blooms and as the plant matures it gives a pod, and the cycle of life repeats.
  • Painted on the wall beams also is a pair of frogs, a very unlikely depiction to be found in almost all other temples, but the symbolism again is clear: from have many eggs and so frogs symbolize fertility.
  • Lions, the imagery originally brought from India, are also found — saja, the word for lion, is a play on word for a Buddhist term, thus the creatures presence in Buddhist temples. 
  • The phoenix, also a motif for kings, has winged its way into the paintings. This phoenix has the celestial wings, but also features like a deer, and the head of a chicken — the combination of which is for bringing good fortune, thus, the reason for kings also using the imagery.
  • Fish with an axe-head in its mouth ... a visionary reminder of what Buddha said, to be careful of one's words because they can cut and damage.
  • 18 arahans (like small buddhas, Sanscrit) — their presence means that Buddha told them not to go to heaven but to stay in the mundane life and teach practitioners the truth; they study, recite, meditate, pray ...
This building, far from Seoul and the more developed regions, is surprisingly well funded as is obvious by its great paintings and well-kept roofs and outer buildings. Probably because of the 8 Grand Masters and 8 high monks who are famed in Korean Buddhism, this building gets funding from the Jogye Order countrywide administration. They certainly need funding to commission the woodwork and paintings and maintain the compound and roof especially. Every 30 years the whole ceiling (and all the artwork and scroll-cut wood) needs to be removed and totally redone, which takes about 40 billion won!

This temple has been carefully maintained and is in its original form since ???? (many many) years, except for the roof that needs continual repair and for 2 large very valuable paintings that were stolen in 1994 when the Jogye Order had a major fracturing and turnover caused by the head of the order (very powerful) trying to extend his term of leadership into a fourth term when by religious decision, a monk could only serve up to a maximum of three terms.

In designing Baekryunsa, the Bophwakyeong lotus sutra or Dharma flower sutra was themed in all of the paintings.

Having tea with the head monk.
The view from behind him is absolutely breath-taking
--> — a panoramic view of water liberally speckled with islands. An amusing fact shared by the monk: Hundreds of islands dot the waterways below the temple, many of them quite small and without water sources. In fact, of the 2,000 or so islands in South Korea, only about 400 of them are populated. 
Enjoying Buddhist fare (vegan food and without the 5 foods that excite the body:
garlic, onion, leek, chive and a related cousin). Lots of vegetables, oh yes, my kind of food!
Meditating in the main temple hall -- this is where the artwork inside is so unusual, and with 21 dragons!

Communal hall where the community can gather, relax, hear Dharma talks and Buddhist teachings, and have activities. At present, a display of fish (symbol of Buddhism as fish never close their eyes and sleep - spirituality never sleeps either) made by children in a temple program are on display. At night the fish-shaped paper lanterns are a delight to see!
Muwisa Temple, known for its beautiful paintings

We stopped by the very famous Muwisa Temple for a couple of hours and for our Buddhist fare lunch. This temple, unlike Baekryunsa, is packed with people and has a food hall for visitors who are lined up, quickly passed a bowl of rice and veggies, encouraged to hurry so that more visitors can fill the seats. The visitor's lunch hall was very large and there were many people cycling through. Near the exit of the visitor's dining hall is a large area to wash one's bowl and eating utensils. This is standard in almost all temples, but much more strictly organized here. Assembly line dining.

The temple was lovely ... and very old. Many treasures are located on its grounds, but some quick simple notes are:
  • temple was founded by Great Master Wonhyo in 617 of the Silla Dynasty
  • Keuknak Jeon (Hall of Utmost Bliss) built in 1430 houses 3 Amitabha Buddhas (national treasures)
  • 29 paintings in Keuknak Jeon—known as the oldest and most creative Buddhist wall paintings in South Korea

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