The Story of…Beopcheonsa Temple

DSC_0310

 The temple courtyard at Beopcheonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The very last major temple I had yet to visit in Yangsan was Beopcheonsa Temple. The first time I attempted to visit this nunnery in the mountains of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which borders on Busan to the south, I thought I was going the wrong way down a dirt road. The road simply seemed to be headed to nowhere. I hadn’t brought a map with me, and the prospect didn’t look all that promising, so I turned around.

A week later, and with map in hand, I headed back to Beopcheonsa Temple. Upon second look, if I had in fact followed my instincts, and the road that appeared to go no further than a farmer’s field, I would have ended up at the beautiful Beopcheonsa Temple.

After arriving at the temple parking lot, I was greeted by a beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate and stone lanterns. After passing through the gate, and coming out on the other side, I was nicely surprised with the unique main hall that had windows behind the main altar statues that looked out onto the mountain, as well as a Samseong-gak joined by twisting read pines.

DSC_0331

 The pair of ducks that walk around the temple grounds.

As I walked the grounds, I was able to see a beautiful pond where a pair of colourful ducks were swimming, as well as an area for some stone statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Amazingly, the entire grounds were populated by stray cats that the nuns at the temple took care of. It was only when I got to the north side of the temple grounds, and was walking around the Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) shrine that a nun called me over. I thought, oh no, now I’m in trouble for trespassing on a part of the temple that I shouldn’t have been visiting.

DSC_0370

 The Jijang-bosal shrine where I thought I was going to get in trouble.

But when I got to her, she invited me in to the temple’s visitors’ centre. I thought, okay, why not. When I entered, they offered me a coffee and tangerines. We talked exclusively in Korean. They asked me questions about my time in Korea, whether I was married, and why I was so interested in Korean Buddhism. As we were talking, a half dozen cats came in to have a drink of milk that the nuns had provided inside the visitors’ centre. After about 30 minutes, they gave me a Buddhist CD and wished me well upon my way.

The offering up of coffee to me is a bit funny. It’s a bit funny because I never have coffee unless a Buddhist monk or nun offers it to me, which upsets my coffee-loving wife to no end.

For more on Beopcheonsa Temple.

CSC_0440

 Inside the main hall as one of the nuns I had coffee with conducts the morning prayer service.

The Story of…Anjeokam Hermitage and Jogyeam Hermitage

Picture 067

The beautiful Naewon Valley in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

With hundreds of successful temple adventures, there have been a handful of times that I haven’t succeeded for one reason or another. Other than the famed failure at Buljosa Temple in Gimhae, because of a crazed monk, my other failure came at Anjeokam Hermitage and Jogyeam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

It had been my intention, when setting out for Anjeokam Hermitage and Jogyeam Hermitage, to enjoy a crisp fall morning hike in the Naewon valley. I knew that the trek up to the two hermitages would not only be long (9 kilometres) and arduous (up and down mountains and valleys), but that they might also be a bit hard to find. I knew the area well, having traveled the valley numerous times both in groups and by myself. I knew once I passed Nojeonam Hermitage, which is a couple kilometers into the valley, that I would have to keep my eyes peeled for the sign marker pointing me north towards Anjeokam Hermitage and Jogyeam Hermitage.

I’m pretty good at reading maps, but when I came to the map on the trail, I completely misread it. I blew past the trail head that would have led me to the two remote hermitages. This mistake would take me halfway up Mt. Cheonseongsan, in the wrong direction, and four kilometers out of the way. Backtracking, and after asking a couple Korean nuns, I finally found the trail head that I was initially looking for. When I finally did arrive at Anjeokam Hermitage, the first of the two nestled beside the other, I had already traveled 8.5 kilometres (with another four and a half to get back to my car), up and around mountains and valleys.

Picture 094a

The not so nice monk at Anjeokam Hermitage, who is highlighted by the arrow.

However, the story doesn’t end there. There were a couple times when I was going to give up along the way, so as you can imagine, I was pretty happy to finally arrive at Anjeokam Hermitage. I started to explore the smaller sized hermitage grounds, having a look inside the rather atypical main hall and the stately Iljumun Gate. I had noticed, what I believed to be, the head monk at the hermitage talking to an older Korean man. When I came out from the main hall, the head monk was no longer joined by the Korean man. Perhaps this is when he noticed me for the first time, as I made my way towards the Samseong-gak. I thought it was pretty harmless, in my near delirious state, to explore the shaman shrine hall. Well…I couldn’t have been more wrong. He told me no, in Korean, and pointed me towards the exit. As I said, being nearly delirious with exhaustion, I simply said good-bye to the hermitage and made my way towards the neighbouring Jogyeam Hermitage. With another hermitage to see, which turned out to be stunning, and another four and half kilometers to hike, it wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized that I had been shooed from a hermitage.

Picture 184

The much nicer, and more beautiful, Jogyeam Hermitage.

This would be my first, of just two, temples that I’ve been asked to leave or simply barred from entering. Fortunately, in the over three hundred temples and hermitages that I’ve visited in Korea since 2003, it’s been nothing more than an isolated incident. More often than not, Buddhist temples and hermitages are among the friendliest places you’ll visit in Korea. So don’t be deterred, I haven’t been.

For more information on Anjeokam Hermitage.

For more information on Jogyeam Hermitage.

Picture 077

A beautiful water cascade in the Naewon Valley.

The Story of…Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju

DSC_1235

A successful climb of Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In total, I think I’ve explored Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, four or five times. I’ve explored the north, south, east, and west sides of the mountain; and most of them have been highly enjoyable. In fact, I enjoyed exploring Samneung-gol Valley so much that I thought I would explore the south side of the mountain a couple weeks later.

Well, let’s just say that exploring the south side of Mt. Namsan wasn’t as successful as hiking Samneung-gol Valley. Each little adventure isn’t always a success, and the south side of Mt. Namsan on this day was certainly added to that list.

So I took a turn down a country road, where the houses are literally placed right on the road without a curb or a milimetre of room for error. I wasn’t the least bit surprised as I made my way towards my next temple adventure with my map in hand. I’ve been up more remote roads in my travels.

DSC_1204

The view from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Then the road gave way, and I was next to a pig far; but the road kept going. Finally, the road gave way once again, and I was on a dirt road (which is putting it nicely). There was grass growing between the ruts in the dirt road with trees jutting out from the neighbouring mountain’s face. I thought, “Okay, any minute I’ll arrive at the temple, and everything will be okay…”

Well, my “okay” turned out to be a truck that was blocking the only lane as the occupants loaded their truck with rocks. I thought, “Okay, what do I do now?” One foot off the grassy road on either side would land me in a rice paddy. I didn’t want to do a U-turn into the unknown. So I decided to reverse my car back from where I came. In the process, I was giving up on seeing the temple that I thought once lay up the road. But at this point, as I switched into reverse, I’m pretty sure no temple ever existed up the road I was attempting to explore.

With tree branches whipping off my window with a twang, and my parking sensor beeping every two seconds warning me about any and all potential rocks, weeds and mountains, I made my way slowly back to the pig farm. Finally arriving, in what I hoped was in one piece, I got out to take a look at the damage. I had to get down on all fours to pick out the grass from both my front and back bumper, and I also had to bend my driver’s side mirror back into place. Not the best of situations, but it could have been a lot worse, too.

The lengths I sometimes go to to see the next amazing temple or hermitage in Korea.

DSC_1216

The stony face of Mt. Namsan on a more successful day.

The Story Of…Unmunsa Temple

CSC_1572

The amazing main hall at the beautiful Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone,

I think one of the scariest movies I ever saw while growing up was The Birds, the 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock. Ever since that day, I’ve had this phobia of any close encounter with our winged friends.

The_Birds_original_poster

 The original poster for The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock.

With all that being said as a bit of a precursor, I visited Unmunsa Temple, in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, this early fall season. The weather was still a nice 20 degrees during the daytime; and yet, the fall colours were out in full swing on the trees.

After visiting the neighbouring Naewonam Hermitage and Bukdaeam Hermitage, I found myself strolling up a path filled with these beautiful fall colours all around me. Because it was a weekday, and it was earlier in the day, I found myself enjoying the fall weather and colours at Unmunsa Temple all to myself.

Taking my time and snapping over a hundred pictures in total, I explored all that Unmunsa Temple had to offer. I especially enjoyed the massive main hall, the Mansye-ru pavilion with a painting of the Buddha with children, the Biro-jeon hall, as well as the other dozen halls that the temple has to offer a visitor.

CSC_1628

Where things took a turn for the worse.

But it wasn’t until I got to the Cheonbul-jeon that things took an interesting turn for the worse. I was all by myself snapping a few pictures inside the hall, when I heard a scratching sound at the door. It creeped me out a bit, but I took a couple more pictures. Finally, a bird appeared out of nowhere and buzzed close by my head. Ducking, I thought, “God help me.” Then the bird buzzed by me again, and again, and then again. The fourth time was the charm. I immediately made for the door. It was only then that I realized that I had left the door slightly ajar, and a much bigger bird was waiting for its partner on the other side of the door.

CSC_1617

Somewhere up there is where the bird was plotting against me.

In a near panic, or thinking I looked a little bit out of sorts after my perceived encounter with death, a nun at the temple greeted me with a bow as she made her way to the Cheonbul-jeon hall. Perfect. I hadn’t seen anyone the entire time of my tour of the temple; and just when I needed no one to be around, I was greeted with an “안녕하세요” (Annyeong hasyeyo). I returned this greeting with an “안녕하세요” of my own. The nun, whether it was because I was speaking Korean (which I hoped), or I looked scared out of my wits (which I think), she gave a little laugh and smile.

Either way, I found a tiny corner of my own at Unmunsa Temple, out of sight from everyone else, to both collect myself and to calm my rapidly beating heart.

All I can say is that you should keep your eyes peeled the next time you visit a temple, or the temple might just get you!

For more on Unmunsa Temple.

CSC_1610

The beautiful view as I exited out of the Cheonbul-jeon a bit out of sorts.

The Story of…Wonhyoam Hermitage (Busan)

Picture 074

 The amazing view from Wonhyoam Hermitage…and the hike that nearly killed me to get it.

Hello Again Everyone!!

As I mentioned in a previous posting about Wonhyoam Hermitage, there are literally dozens of Wonhyoam Hermitages throughout the Korean peninsula named after the famous Korean monk, Wonhyo-daesa. And this entry is about another hermitage called Wonhyoam Hermitage.

The difference between this Wonhyoam Hermitage and others is that this one is directly associated with Beomeosa Temple in Busan. In fact, it’s located on the temple grounds and up Mt. Geumjeongsan.

The story all starts when I was exploring some of the hermitages in and around Beomeosa Temple. Initially, I had been attempting to see Geumjeongam Hermitage. One wrong turn later, and I was attempting to see Wonhyoam Hermitage. I had known, or thought I knew, that the two hermitages were close in proximity to each other. So when I was unable to locate one, I was crossing a bridge over Dolbada (The Sea of Rocks), and heading up a mountain in search of a second hermitage.

Without knowing the distance it took from the base of the mountain up to Wonhyoam Hermitage, I was ill prepared for the climb. I didn’t have any water, and I didn’t have my hiking boots on, either. Halfway up the climb, which is about 500 metres straight up, I was wondering what I had got myself into. Resting at the first of many large rocks along the way, sweat covering my body, a stranger walked by me. He kindly offered me water. I must have looked like death when he saw me. Fortunately, this wasn’t the first stranger to offer me assistance along the way.

Picture 153

 Part of the arduous hike on your way up to Wonhyoam Hermitage.

A further 300 metres up the hike, a hike that I had no idea when it would come to an end, another stranger walked by me as I rested on a rock. His English was great, and he offered me the encouraging words that the hermitage was only another 200 metres up the mountain trail. Before he had told me the distance remaining in the hike, I had been contemplating descending the mountain. I hadn’t seen a sign pointing me in the direction of the hermitage for several hundred metres.

He asked why I was so interested in seeing Wonhyoam Hermitage. I told him that I had heard great things about the hermitage. He then went on to tell me that he visited Wonhyoam Hermitage every weekend, which was a miracle onto itself, considering the distance and stamina it took to see this hermitage located amongst the mountain peaks of Mt. Geumjeongsan.

He suggested that we go together. When I told him that I was going to rest a bit longer, he gave me the most accurate directions to get to the hermitage: through a fenced gate and around a rightward bend in the trail.

Having finally ascended the mountain, I saw both Korean gentlemen that helped aid me in my time of need. With a kind smile exchanged between us, I hung around a bit before descending down the mountain.

Picture 322

 The older looking main hall at the hermitage.

To me, it’s these moments that remind me of the kinder and gentler side of Korea. It isn’t the driving or balli, balli (hurry, hurry) culture, but the kindness shown from one stranger to the next. And the more I explore the mountain trails and temples of Korea, the more I get to discover the sweeter side of Korea.

For more information on Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

The Story of…Samyeongam Hermitage

DSC_1211

 The front facade to Samyeongam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

There are just so many beautiful and well kept hermitages at Tongdosa Temple. In this case, the Story Of… discusses Samyeongam Hermitage, which is part of a collection of hermitages that surrounds Tongdosa Temple.

When I first visited Samyeongam Hermitage back in 2004, I was blown away by its beauty. I’ve been to my fair share of smaller sized hermitages associated with much larger temples, but Samyeongam Hermitage surpasses most of them. With the twin Koi ponds out in front of the elevated hermitage courtyard, as well as the two pavilions that stretch out over these ponds and the mountains that frame Samyeongam Hermitage, and this hermitage has both natural and artificial beauty.

CSC_1255

 The beautiful pavilion that overlooks the equally beautiful Koi pond.

This beauty is re-affirmed to me each of the handful of times that I’ve re-visited the hermitage throughout the years. But the most memorable moment came in 2012, when I was out taking pictures of the hermitage’s courtyard. The head monk at the hermitage noticed me as he came out of the monks’ quarters. With a passing smile between us, he continued on his way, and I on mine. I continued onto the main hall, where I took some pictures inside the hall while there were no visitors. The head monk noticed this and nicely told me that I should hurry because his morning prayer service was about to start. After that, he disappeared for a bit.

Wanting to get a few more pictures from the hermitage’s courtyard, and down onto the twin Koi ponds, I hovered around one of the pavilions. Suddenly, the window to one of the monks’ quarters swung open. It just so happened to be the head monk, again, holding out a bowl of peanuts for my wife and I. After we took the bowl, he reached down and grabbed some bread, as well. He then motioned us towards the pavilion to enjoy the view and enjoy what he had given us. He then said that if we were still around after the hour long morning prayer, he would like to join us. Unfortunately, we already had plans; otherwise, I’m sure it would have been yet another great conversation with a Korean Buddhist monk.

It’s kind of funny that you set off in exploring a Korean temple or hermitage and you end up eating a bowl of peanuts provided to you by the head monk of a hermitage.

For more information on Samyeongam Hermitage.

CSC_1287

 The view from the restive pavilion. 

The Story of…Wonhyoam Hermitage (Yangsan)

Picture 008

 The stunning view from Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’ve been to my fair share of Wonhyoam Hermitages throughout the Korean peninsula. But the one that this Story of… will focus on is the Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

I had visited nearly all that Yangsan had to offer in terms of hermitages and temples, all but for the hard to reach Wonhyoam Hermitage. I had been told that you had to trek through a military base to get to the hermitage that lies 900 metres up on Mt. Cheonseongsan.

So pushing my luck one Sunday morning in 2011, I made my way towards Wonhyoam Hermitage. With a few wrong turns, I finally found the dirt road that led up to the hermitage. Fortunately, my information was wrong, because Wonhyoam Hermitage isn’t on the other side of a military base; instead, the dirt road that leads up to the hermitage skirts the military outpost. And there’s one turn, if you head in the wrong direction, that is out of bounds because it’s protected by landmines. Glad I turned left instead of right at that bend in the road.

Picture 115

 The not-so-camera-shy junior monk and I just outside the main hall at the hermitage in 2011.

When I finally did arrive at the hermitage, I was pleasantly surprised by a hermitage filled with beautiful shrine halls and a gorgeous view of the town of Yangsan down below. But the true highlight to this hermitage was when the junior monk saw me walking around and took an interest in me. He waved me over for a quick coffee. With his broken English and my broken Korean, we were able to have a nice 30 minute discussion about Korea and Korean Buddhism. Just before I left, he got a volunteer at the hermitage to take a picture of us just outside the entrance to the hermitage’s main hall. With a warm good-bye, he invited me to come back the next time with my wife. With a smile, I promised that I would.

A year later, I finally lived up to the promise that I gave the junior monk at Wonhyoam Hermitage. With my wife, and in the spring of 2012, we made the long ascent up to the hermitage. I was a little surprised that the monk remembered me a year later; but then again, Wonhyoam Hermitage probably doesn’t have all that many expats visiting the hermitage. This time, with my wife as a translator, we discussed Korean Buddhism even further in depth. He explained to me the patient mind it took to become a Korean Buddhist monk. It was really informative. I was also able to ask him questions about Korean shamanism.

DSC_0298

 And a return visit picture of the two of us from 2012.

Once more, before we left, he got pictures of us all together. This time, however, he was the photographer. He got my wife and I to pose in front of the main hall and the bell pavilion. He also got a picture of him and I together. It was a really unique experience to have. He even showed me a picture of his previous day’s climb to the ledge where Wonhyo-daesa purportedly prayed upon when he was at the hermitage some 1300 years earlier.

It’s these encounters that I really cherish when visiting Korean temples. So many people get caught up in the daily trappings of life that they forget to stop and enjoy the experiences that life can sometimes provide. Also, some may overlook them during their time in Korea. To me, these kinds of encounters are what typify the Korean experience for me.

For more information on Wonhyoam Hermitage.

The Story of…Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple

DSC_0804

The parking lot on the mountain where my near death experience started at Mitaam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This will be my last posting on the website until early September. I’ll be headed out on vacation. It’s the first time in two and a half years that there won’t be a weekly posting, but hopefully there’s enough already up on the site to keep everyone busy. Have a great August, everyone!

So in this posting, I thought I would talk about the near death experience I had while visiting Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple in Yangsan (not to be confused with the much more famous one in Jirisan National Park).

A lot of the time I visit temples and hermitages way off the beaten trail. Not just a little, but waaaaay off. I’m so far off, sometimes, that Korean hikers have asked me how I even found the hermitage or temple in the first place. When I do visit these places, often the road can be quite hazardous in my two-wheel drive KIA Pride. Such was the case when I visited these two mountain temples.

The initial climb up in the car was rather smooth. Then I switched it over to low gear just to be sure. Eventually, I came to a parking lot that had quite a few vendors. At first, I was going to park my car here, but then I realized that the road continued and Mitaam Hermitage was a further kilometre away. At this point, I was completely ignorant of just how much the road conditions would change.

Continuing, the road’s gradient quickly change. No longer was it a respectable 15 degree angle; instead, it had become a 30 degree angle (at best). Finally, nearing the point where the road ends, there’s a narrow plateau where two or three cars can park. Unfortunately, all of these spots were taken up. This is also the place where the trail for Mitaam Hermitage begins. Having not found a place to park, I decided I would continue up the road and visit Hwaeomsa Temple first. Then, I would backtrack and have a look at Mitaam Hermitage later. The only problem with this plan is that the road abruptly becomes a 40 degree angle and it’s at a bend.

DSC_0844

The trail that leads up to Mitaam Hermitage. It’s also on the neighbouring road that I skidded and slipped down the side of a guardrail-less mountain road.

So I revved up my car and attempted to take the angle and gradient with a bit of speed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take it with enough speed because my tires started to spin. Then, my car started to roll back because of the incline. I got to a point where I was nearing the edge of the road: a road that has no barriers or guard rails. Instead, all that awaits you is a steep kilometre long drop-off. I thought, so this is how it’s going to end. Fortunately, my wheels finally did gain traction and stop spinning, and my car eventually did stop rolling backwards. It was a bit touch and go as I turned my car around, but I was finally able to do it. With my emergency brake on, and my car parked at a 30 degree angle, I explored Mitaam Hermitage, which lies 400 metres up the trail.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally plucked up enough courage to make my way back up to Hwaeomsa Temple and the steep and dangerous mountainside road. It should be said that the second time did the charm and the beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple was nearly worth risking my life.

For more on Mitaam Hermitage, follow the link.

And for more on Hwaeomsa Temple, follow this link.

CSC_0291

The beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Story of…Jeongchwiam Hermitage

DSC_0038

A foggy summer day at Jeongchwiam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The entire purpose of visiting Jeongchwiam Hermitage in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do in the summer of 2012 was to see the beautiful Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting and enjoy the views of the valley down below. However, the adventure to get there, and what awaited us, quickly overshadowed expectations.

CSC_0655

The winding road, and wrong turn, that leads up to the hermitage.

Jeongchwiam Hermitage is a bit difficult to find, as it’s a bit off the beaten path. So I took the turn that I thought led into Jeongchwiam Hermitage. Boy was I wrong. Like most mountain roads, there’s only one way in and one way out, so it’s next to impossible to turn around. Most of the time, you just have to keep heading straight and hope that your destination lies somewhere further up the road. Unfortunately for this turn off, there was no ultimate destination; instead, the gravel road quickly turned into a mud bogging road. With the aid of my wife, I was finally able to turn the car around, but not before almost flipping it in the process.

DSC_0022

The welcoming committee at Jeongchwiam Hermitage.

Finally, with a few frayed nerves, we arrived at Jeongchwiam Hermitage. When we arrived, it was really foggy from a previous night’s rainfall. When we finally did start to explore the hermitage grounds, we were greeted by a Jindo pup. A Jindo dog originated on the island of Jindo in South Korea. It’s white in colour and it’s known for being both loyal and brave in nature. This puppy was extremely playful in nature. It seemed happy to see us.

As we continued to explore, the Jindo pup followed us around nipping at our heels (literally), as we explored the hermitage grounds. And when we attempted to visit the main hall, the Jindo attempted to follow us in. Perhaps this puppy does this on a regular basis with the monks at the hermitage, but it was strange for me, so I physically had to bar it from the main hall.

And then when we went on to explore the rest of the grounds, and as we carefully made our way up to the cliffside halls, the sure-footed Jindo nearly tripped me up on the rain soaked stairs. It was just so excited to see a visitor.

Finally, when it was time to go, this free-roaming puppy sat patiently in the parking lot to see us off as we left. But before we drove away, we said our good-byes. Strangely, it felt as though this puppy had been our tour guide, and was now sadly saying good-bye to us.

For more information on Jeongchwiam Hermitage, please follow this link.

DSC_0078

And a good-bye. Until next time…

The Story of…Samgwangsa Temple

CSC_0761

The amazing Samgwangsa Temple in Busan during Buddha’s birthday.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I think Samgwangsa Temple, in Busan, was the third Korean temple I ever visited way back in 2003. The first two were Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do and Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. And throughout the years I’ve visited all three a countless amount of times.

It’s from these countless amount of trips that so many stories come back to me about Samgwangsa Temple. However, there really are three stories that really stick out in my mind about Samgwangsa Temple.

DSC02524

Near where I was approached by a crazy lady in the fall of 2004.

The first, and perhaps strangest, was when I visited Samgwangsa Temple back in the fall of 2004. I was just wandering around the temple grounds taking pictures of the bronze bell and the massive nine tier pagoda. When I approached the main hall, I was accosted by someone a little off their rocker. She started yelling at me, in Korean, not to take pictures. At first, I wasn’t sure what she was going on about, so I just wandered away and took pictures of Samgwangsa Temple away from her gaze. Well, it wasn’t far enough, or she simply followed me, because she started yelling at me again to not take pictures. This had never been a problem before around temple grounds just as long as you don’t take them inside temple halls (or so I thought). She kept going on and on until an older lady exited the main hall and told her to leave me alone. Now, it was her turn to be confused, as she disappeared from the temple grounds with a bewildered look on her face. And ever since then, in nine plus years of returning to the temple, I have yet to see her again.

DSC02437

Buddha’s birthday in 2006.

The second story comes from 2006, when I first visited the temple during Buddha’s birthday. By far, Samgwangsa Temple is not only the best temple to visit in Busan during Buddha’s birthday; but in my opinion, it’s the best temple to visit during this time in all of Korea. The entire grounds are canopied by a ceiling of beautiful and colourful paper lanterns. Also, there are twin dragons, a few statues of the Buddha, and a car that drives around with Buddhist imagery on it. Words simply don’t do this temple justice during Buddha’s birthday, and it’s even more the case at night, which I finally explored in 2013.

CSC_0736

A picture of the canopy of paper lanterns during Buddha’s birthday in 2013.

So come this past Buddha’s birthday, my wife and I made our way over to Samgwangsa Temple. For the longest time, I knew that there was this angle that I wanted to capture of the colourful paper lanterns at night. So from the main auditorium that houses over 10,000 people at one time, I was able to get a great vantage point. As I climbed the stairs to gain the greatest angle, I passed by this older woman that was in a deep trance chanting “Gwanseeum-bosal” (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). But as she was saying these words she would start soft and then shout almost like an ambulance, “gwanseeum-bosal, GWANSEEUM-BOSAL.” Even after I couldn’t see her, I could hear her. And while we got there early, there were a few others that had the same idea as I did to see and take pictures of Samgwangsa Temple at night. So I had to crawl through a window and out onto a guardrail-free perch that looked out over the colourful temple courtyard. There were a dozen of us up there huddled together snapping pictures of the most beautiful Korean Buddhist temple during Buddha’s birthday.

So while Samgwangsa Temple often gets overshadowed by the other major temples in Busan like Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and Beomeosa Temple, Samgwangsa Temple is a must see, especially during Buddha’s birthday, just beware of a possible local crazy.

For more on Samgwangsa Temple, please follow this link.