Poroe: The Dragon that Adorns the Top of the Temple Bell

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The Poroe that adorns the top of the temple bell at Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

A bell at a Korean temple is one of the most beautiful things to see while visiting. It’s well-crafted and usually dates back a few hundred years. It can take a bit of time to recognize all the beauty that pours forth from the bell, but in time you’ll be able to see Biseon flying around, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sitting or standing contemplatively, and a dragon holding the bell to the rafters.  So why is it a dragon, and not something else? And why exactly is it adorning the top of the bell?

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The Dharma bell at Tongdosa Temple. Poroe almost seems gnarled.

The hooks that hold the bell to the rafters on Korean bells are usually shaped like dragons.  As a result, they are called “dragon hooks.” Specifically, the dragon on top of the Korean temple bells is called Poroe (in Korean). This specific mythological dragon, Poroe, is afraid of whales. So whenever a whale runs into him, or even near him, he cries out.

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A close up of Poroe from Jijangam Hermitage, located near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

You might be asking yourself, what does Poroe have to do with Korean temple bells?  Well, if you look at the striker that hits the bell, traditionally, these bells were whale-shaped strikers. And there are still some of these strikers that can be found at Korean temples. So when the whale-shaped striker comes close to Poroe, at the top of the bell, he lets out a loud scream, allowing the bell to sound even louder. That’s why, in Korea, the sound that a bell makes is called a “whale sound.” Poroe is a unique feature to Korean bells. In Buddhist temples in both China and Japan, Poroe doesn’t appear.

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An up close look at Poroe at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

So the next time you look at a Korean temple bell, and you see a dragon-like figure, you’ll know that’s the cetaphobia dragon: Poroe.

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One last look at Poroe.  This Poroe is from Naewonam Hermitage, located near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

Buseoksa Temple – 부석사 (Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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A look up at the beautiful temple pavilions and halls at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

It was a long way to travel, but with two weeks of summer vacation, it was well worth the three and a half hour car ride. I had long wanted to see this temple. It had been on my “to visit list” for quite some while, and the wait was well worth it.

Buseoksa Temple (부석사) means “Floating Rock Temple” in English. The temple itself dates back to 676, when it was established by the famous monk, Uisang, under the orders of the Silla King, Munmu. Monk Uisang studied Buddhism in China for 10 years, and upon his return to Korea, he helped spread Buddhism throughout Korea. In fact, he used Buseoksa Temple as a base to spread the message of Hwaeom Buddhism for which he is renowned.

There is a famous story associated both with Uisang and the temple as it pertains to Uisang’s stay in China. In China Uisang met lady Seonmyo in Dang, China while he was studying. When Uisang told Seonmyo that he was going back to his country, Seonmyo jumped into the sea and drowned herself after realizing that Uisang’s boat had left for Korea. After her death, and so the story goes, Seonmyo became a dragon. As a dragon, Seonmyo followed Uisang to Korea to protect and be with him. When Uisang ran into difficulty in building a new temple, and they tried to stop him, Uisang brought down three stones from heaven to stop the crowd that had gathered to block him. One of the stones that floated down from the heavens now stands to the left of the main hall, Muryangsu-jeon. So the temple is named after this “floating rock” story.

You first approach Buseoksa Temple from a long country road. The views of the valley below from this country road are gorgeous. As you first approach the temple courtyard, you’ll first pass by a newly built museum that houses all the valuable Buseoksa Temple artifacts. The design of the Buseoksa Temple is beautiful, with the main hall sitting on top of a terraced hillside as though it’s crowning the temple. On the first terrace you’ll see twin pagodas that date back to the Late Silla Period. To the far right, as you ascend the hill, you’ll see a newly built and colourfully painted Jijang-jeon Hall which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Up the main stairway, and straight ahead, is the weather-worn Beomjonggak. In this openly designed pavilion sit the fish-gong and drum. To the far left are the monk dorms. Passing through this beautiful pavilion, you’ll next come to the picturesque Anyangnu Pavilion (Entrance to Heaven), which beautifully frames the main hall, Muryangsu-jeon. Muryangsu-jeon is the second oldest wooden structure in all of Korea. It dates back to 1376, and it was one of the few wooden structures that avoided destruction during the Imjin War. The hall is compact and smaller in size, typical of Goryeo Dynasty architecture. The name tablet that hangs over the entrance to the hall was written by King Sukjong. Inside the hall, there’s a regal rendering of Amita-bul (The Buddha the Western Paradise). On the left side of Amita-bul is a beautiful rendering of a guardian painting. Besides this painting, the interior of the hall is all but colourless from age.

To the right of the main hall is small shrine dedicated, to what looks to be, lady Seonmyo. A painting of her is situated inside this hall. To the right of this hall is a large sized pagoda that stands over five metres tall. The pagoda was built sometime in the United Silla Period. Up the hill, just past the pagoda, a trail leads to two separate compound areas. The trail that forks to the right has a single shrine hall, Josa-dang, which is dedicated to the temple’s founding monk, Uisang. This hall is the second oldest hall at the temple; it dates back to 1490.There is a statue of monk Uisang in the centre, with a highly unique painting of his life behind the statue. To the left is another guardian painting. Flanking the statue of Uisang are three other paintings of famous monks. In front of these monks are various depictions of guardians protecting the monks from evil spirits. And on the path that forks to the left, this trail leads you to an area that houses three temple halls. The small one to the far right is unknown; however, the larger one in the centre is called Nahan-jeon and is dedicated to the disciples of the Buddha. The building to the left is Jain-dang. Inside are housed three ancient stone statues. The one in the centre is the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. The flanking figures are similar in design and they depict Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light). These two Birojana-bul statues were first located in a ruined temple near Buseoksa Temple, and they were thought to be made in the 9th century as a result of their design that was prevalent at the time.

As you descend down the hill and make your way through the main hall courtyard, you’ll notice a beautiful stone lantern that dates back to the middle of the 9th century. Past this lantern, and to the left of the main hall, is a gathering of rocks to which the temple gets its name. Adjacent to these rocks is a shrine set up to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Down the cobble-stoned walkway, and past some of the most well-manicured grounds at any temple I’ve visited, you’ll see the hall dedicated to the three Shamanistic gods: San shin, Chilseong, and Naban Jonja. Beside this hall is the residence of the head-monk at Buseoksa Temple. Just down the hill, you’ll come to the compact bell pavilion at the temple, which houses a beautiful, but modest, temple bell.

Admission to the temple is 1,200 won, which is very, very reasonable for a temple like this one.

HOW TO GET THERE: Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do is definitely one of the more difficult temples to get to just because of where it’s situated. It’s not really located near any major city like Seoul, Busan, or Daegu. First, you’ll have to get to Yeongju from wherever it is that you’re located. From Yeongju, you can get to Buseoksa Temple by catching a city bus from opposite the Yeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. Catch bus number 55 bound for Buseoksa Temple. The bus ride takes about 50 minutes. Or if you get off in Punggi Station, you can catch a bus from Punggi Station bound for Buseoksa Temple. It takes about 30 minutes; either that, or you can splurge and take a taxi from the station. This ride will only take you between 20 to 25 minutes depending on traffic (which is almost non-existent).

View 부석사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. This temple rates so highly for several reasons. The number one reason, however, is the main hall, Muryangsu-jeon, which dates back to 1376 and is the country’s second oldest wooden structure. The temple is situated on perhaps the most beautifully maintained temple grounds in all of Korea. Lastly, there are numerous halls and structures to see to keep you busy for quite some time like the Nahan-jeon hall on the hill and the Anyangnu Pavilion that you pass under to gain access to the temple’s main courtyard. The only drawback, and why the temple doesn’t rate a perfect 10 out of 10, is that it can be really hard to get to. Other than that, I highly recommend that you take the time to visit this little visited temple by foreign tourists.

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A look up from the lower terrace at Beomjonggak Pavilion.
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One of the twin pagodas that dates back to the Late Silla Period.
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A better look up at Beomjonggak Pavilion.
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Inside the Beomjonggak Pavilion are housed the wooden gong and drum.
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To the right of Beomjonggak Pavilion is the Jijang-jeon Hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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On one of the exterior walls is a painting dedicated to the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.
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Inside, adorning the altar, is a statue of Jijang-bosal without his 10 Kings.
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A look up at Anyangnu Pavilion from Beomjonggak Pavilion.
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The walk up to Anyangnu Pavilion.
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A look up at the main hall, Muryangsu-jeon, through Anyangnu Pavilion.
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A better look at Muryangsu-jeon. The main hall is the second oldest wooden structure in all of Korea, and it dates back to 1376.
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The wooden name tablet that hangs above the entrance at the main hall.
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The massive Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) sits solitarily on the main altar at Muryangsu-jeon.
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The guardian painting that rests to the left of Amita-bul.
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Up to the right is this five metre tall stone pagoda that dates back to the United Silla Period.
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Up the hill, to the right, is this hall dedicated to the founding monk of Buseoksa, Uisang.
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Inside the hall, Josa-dang, sits a mural and statue dedicated to Uisang. He’s accompanied by paintings of other famous Korean monks.
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To the left of the Josa-dang hall is another compound that houses the Nahan-jeon (right) and Jain-dang (left). Nahan-jeon houses statues of the Buddha’s disciples, and the hall to the left houses three ancient stone statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul and Birojana-bul (The Budhha of Cosmic Light).
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To the left is the statue of Birojana-bul and to the right is Seokgamoni-bul, both of whom reside inside the Jain-dang Hall.
Picture 410The statues of the Nahan, the disciples of the Buddha, that reside inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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Back down the hill, and left of the main hall, are the “floating rocks” that gave Buseoksa Temple its name.
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A view down the cobble-stoned path and a look around at the beautifully manicured temple grounds.
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The entrance to San shin-gak: the hall which is dedicated to the three Shamanistic gods.
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In the centre is Chilseong (The Seven Stars); to the left is San shin (The Mountain god); and to the right is Dokseong (The Recluse).
Picture 492Just down the hill, on the lower terrace, sits this bell pavilion.
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And inside the bell pavilion is this stout bell with orange moss growing over it.

Bulimun: The Gate of Non-Duality

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A view of the third gate at Beomeosa Temple in Busan with paper lanterns and a blooming magnolia tree.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The third and final gate that you will encounter at a Korean temple is the Bulimun gate, or in English, The Gate of Non-Duality. So what does this seemingly philosophically sounding gate look like, and what exactly is its purpose at the temple?

Bulimun Gate, or Gate of Non-Duality, vary in how they look and even the name ascribed to them. At some temples, the gate is not called Gate of Non-Duality, but instead it can be called Haetalmun, or Gate of Liberation in English. But usually, these gates are named either one of these two names. There are also a few things that do unify these gates in design. First, they are usually decorated in beautiful summer sceneries. Also, the structure itself can look similar to the Iljumun gate in its open pillar design, or it can also look like the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate design in that it’s fully enclosed. But these two structural designs are pretty typical of most, if not all, Bulimun Gates at Korean temples.

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 Another look at the open-structured Bulimun Gate at Beomeosa Temple.

So what exactly does the philosophical name of the gate mean? And why is it the third of three gates? The English name for the philosophically named Bulimun is Gate of Non-Duality. What this refers to is a central tenet to Buddhism; namely, that all things are one. That things like birth and death, good and evil, love and hate, are not in fact two, but they are one. By freeing ourselves of this binary discriminatory world view, we rid ourselves of our ego and the selfishness that comes as a result of it. Instead, everything, and everyone, is one.

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The Bulimun Gate at Hwaeomsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, in Jeollanam-do.

Following this idea up with a look to Buddhist sutras; specifically, one has to look at the Vimalakirti Sutra.One gains a better understanding towards the meaning behind the name of the Bulimun Gate when one looks at this sutra. This sutra is one of the central sutras to Seon monks in Korea, which belongs to the dominant Buddhist sect in  Korea: Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The sutra is about a sage householder who lived at the same time as the Historical Buddha: Seokgamoni-bul. He was so wise that he was even getting the better of Bodhisattvas. Specifically, in the chapter, “The Dharma-Door of Non-Duality,” the discussion is about how a Bodhisattva is to enter the dharma-door of non-duality; and thus, enter Buddhahood. Many Bodhisattvas expressed their very profound ideas both wisely and eloquently, but when it was Vimalakirti’s turn, he remained silent. His silence demonstrated the subtleness of Buddhist enlightenment.

So in combining these two ideas of the elimination of duality and silent enlightenment, one is able to free oneself from the burden of suffering and delusion as they pass through the Gate of Non-Duality (Bulimun).

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The closed-structured design of the Gate of Non-Duality at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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A better look at the Yin and Yang sign that adorns one of the doors on the Bulimun Gate at Tongdosa.

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And inside the Bulimun Gate at Tongdosa Temple is this adorning white elephant, which is a sign of good luck.

Beautiful examples of the Bulimun, Gate of Non-Duality, can be seen at Beomeosa Temple in Busan, and  Tongdosa  Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

So the next time you’re approaching the third gate at a Korean temple, the Gate of Non-Duality, remember to keep an open mind and a silent heart when passing through this extremely symbolic gate. It is only when you’ve put yourself in the proper frame of mind that you can enter into the heart of the temple compound.

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The Gate of Non-Duality at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Wonhyoam Hermitage – 원효암 (Busan)

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A beautiful view from Geumjeongsan Mountain near Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Getting up early to visit a few more of the hermitages at Beomeosa Temple, I was surprised by one and disappointed by a couple others. The one that I was pleasantly surprised with was Wonhyoam Hermitage. I think it’s probably the most difficult hermitage that I’ve ever tried to get to, but the views of Busan down below were well worth the one kilometre hike up Geumjeongsan Mountain.

Wonhyoam Hermitage (원효암) is named after the famous Korean monk, Wonhyo, who helped popularize Buddhism throughout the late Three Kingdoms Period and the early Silla Dynasty. Wonhyoam Hermitage is built on the former residence of Wonhyo. As I was walking in the temple courtyard, I was greeted by a hermitage monk. He told me that the hermitage is over 300 years old.

Half the adventure of seeing Wonhyoam Hermitage is making the long hike up the steep rock trail. In fact, the area that you first start to climb to the hermitage (left of Beomeosa Temple) is called Dolbada, which literally translates as “Sea of Rocks.” So make sure you bring a good pair of shoes because the hike can be a bit treacherous at times if you don’t have the right pair of footwear. The trail that leads up to the hermitage zigzags for about a kilometre. The trail to the hermitage is marked by white signs, with red print, that read – 원효암. There’s a faded hermitage sign to the right which highlights the summit of the mountain ridge. However, before you turn towards the hermitage path, hang a left towards a rock outcropping. Scaling the rocks is a bit dangerous, so be careful. But once you’ve traversed these big boulders, a beautiful panoramic view of Busan and the Nakdong River reveal themselves in the twisting valleys below. It’s a nice little spot to catch your breath amongst the sky and stone. Take your time and take as many pictures as you want because you’ve earned it with the hike.

Once you’ve gathered all the pictures you want, and your breath, head back to the main hiking trail. A groomed trail will lead you to a set of three stupas of monks who once resided at the hermitage. To the left of these stupas is an ancient pagoda that dates back to the 10th century. So important is this three-tiered pagoda that it’s been declared a Busan Tangible Cultural Property. Continuing down the trail, and past the hermitages farm, you’ll notice the hermitage’s main gate to the right and through the trees. The entrance gate is adorned with two fading paintings of the guardians Heng and Ha. The gate doors are uniquely adorned with an equally fading symbol of Yin and Yang. The door knockers are a pair of beautiful lion heads. As you pass through this gate you’ll be met by a serenely maintained hermitage courtyard. Straight ahead is the diminutive main hall. Inside the main hall, have a seat and enjoy the serenity. The main altar statue is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To her right is a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). There is a beautiful guardian painting to the left of Gwanseeum-bosal. As you step out of the main hall, you’ll notice an administrative office to the left of the main hall. To the right, and up the hill, is a set of monk dorms and study halls. Up this hill is the twin pagoda to the one at the entrance of the hermitage. Like the first, this pagoda also dates back to the 10th century. Originally, it was located 30 metres northwest of the hermitage, but was later moved to be included on the hermitage grounds.

The Story Of…Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Like all the other hermitages at Beomeosa Temple, you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple.  You can take a path that leads left of the Iljumun gate. This trail will lead you to an opening with a wooden bridge that spans a stream. This area is the start of the Dolbada (The Sea of Rocks). Hang a left and cross the bridge. Straight ahead is the first of several white signs with red print that read – 원효암. Now the truly tricky part: Head up the 1 kilometre trail to the summit of the ridge along the Geumjeongsan Mountain Range. You’ll pass through a gate with wired fencing. You’re halfway there! Keep going, and you’ll come to a fading sign. The hermitage is about 300 more metres up the trail passed the pagoda, stupas, and the hermitage farm. It’s tough but well worth it!

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. While the buildings aren’t quite as beautiful as the ones at Gyemyeongam Hermitage, the sister hermitage at Beomeosa Temple, the views of Busan and the Nakdong River down in the twisting valleys below are second-to-none. The hermitage has a pair of ancient pagodas that are beautiful. The hermitage itself is serene and worth the effort to get to. So if you have the time, strength and the stamina, have a look at this hermitage!

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 Dolbada is the starting point to your exhausting climb.
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 You’ll be greeted by a lot of these signs along the way that lead you up to Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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Just a part of the arduous kilometre hike up Geumjeongsan Mountain.
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 Finally, the sun appeared as I made it to the ridge that the hermitage rests upon.
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 To the right, as the path forks, is Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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But before you go, hang a left and climb these boulders to get an amazing view of Busan down below.
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 Part of the panoramic view. There is ancient Chinese character writing to the right and Busan in the valleys below to the left.
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 A beautiful view from the rock ledge of Busan and the Nakdong River.
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 Back on the hermitage trail you’ll come across these unique monk stupas.
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 Across from these stupas is this 10th century pagoda.
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 Past the stupas and pagoda is the richly coloured hermitage farm.
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 Not long after the hermitage farm is the hermitage’s main gate. It slants a bit, but it’s still beautiful in colour and design.
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 On the right side of the gate is the guardian Heng.
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 And to the left is the guardian Ha.
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 The fading Yin and Yang sign that adorns one of the hermitage’s gate with a beautiful lion-head knocker.
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Finally, a walk through the hermitage’s front gate.
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 Straight ahead in the courtyard is the main hall at the hermitage.
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 A look across the front of the main hall at one of the monk study halls.
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 Inside the main hall is this majestic statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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 To the right of her is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). One of the people that works at the hermitage was dutifully cleaning around all the altar statues and paintings when I arrived.
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 As you step out of the main hall you’ll see the monk’s dorms to your right and up the hill.
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 A trail to the left of these study halls is the twin ancient pagoda at the hermitage that also dates back to the 10th century.
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A look up at the clearing sky above a study hall.

Cheonwangmun: The Four Heavenly Kings of Korean Temple Gates

n657235703_3842910_1449A pair of two of the more famous Four Heavenly Kings at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. On the left is Gwangmok Cheonwang and on the right is Damun Cheonwang.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Whenever you enter a larger Korean temple, you’re sure to be met by the ferocious and intimidating stares, with eyes bulging and their teeth gnashing, from four figures inside of a temple gate. So who are these four figures, what are their names, and what exactly are they doing at the temple?

n657235703_3842912_2075The other pairing at Bulguksa Temple. On the left is Jigook Cheonwang, and on the right is Jonjang Cheonwang.

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One of the demons that is trampled under foot by the Four Heavenly Kings for not obeying them at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju.

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And yet another slightly more optimistic demon at Bulguksa Temple that is trampled underfoot. This one seems a bit happier than the first.

The Four Heavenly Kings are Hindu in origin. And in India they are known as Lokapalas. They are said to stand at the four cardinal points on Mt. Sumeru and serve King Sakra, who resides in the Palace of Correct Views at the summit of the mighty mountain, which is the centre of the universe according to ancient Buddhist cosmology. And according to the same ancient Buddhist cosmology, they in fact stand approximately 750 feet tall and live 9 million years. They are said to have helped Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian prince that became the Historical Buddha (Seokgamoni-bul), to leave his father’s house on the night of his renunciation of all things worldly. The four Heavenly Kings lifted up the horses hooves, as Siddhartha Gautama scaled the palace walls with his horse. These Four Heavenly Kings continued to serve Siddhartha throughout the rest of his earthly life.

The purpose of having these Four Heavenly Kings in the second gate, Cheonwangmun (in Korea), is to protect Buddhism and the Buddha’s teachings, as well as embrace the religion, as they vowed to do. Their ferocious looks reflect their duty to force unruly spirits to submit to their will. And for those that are unwilling to submit to their will, they trample opponents of Buddhism under their feet. Also, they are there to focus the minds of temple visitors. So their ferocious expressions encourage people to bow to them, and to rid a visitor’s mind of bad thoughts. If your mind is not peaceful and pure enough to enter into the Land of Buddha, which is the inner sanctuary of the temple grounds, then they might not let you enter.

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One of the most descriptive renderings of Damun Cheonwang, the northern guard with a pagoda in his hand, at Pyochungsa Temple near Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

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Gwangmok Cheonwang, the guardian of the western quarters with dragon and red pearl in hand. Again, this intense statue can be found at Pyochungsa Temple.

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Jonjang Cheonwang, the sword bearing guardian out of the south, from Pyochungsa Temple.

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And finally, the lute playing Heavenly King of the east: Jigook Cheonwang.  All four of these amazing statues can be found at Pyochungsa Temple.

So you now might be wondering if these Four Heavenly Kings have names.  And who exactly is who. Damun Cheonwang (Vaisravana in Sanskrit) guards the North. And he’s the one that holds a pagoda in his hand. He is recognized as the leader of the other three guardians. The pagoda symbolizes a stupa, a reminder of death and spirituality. The base represents the earth, while the dome represents the heavens. The second Heavenly King is Jonjang Cheonwang (or Virudhaka in Sanskrit). He holds a sword in his hand and guards the South. He is said to have the power to multiply his sword so that he can always outnumber his opponents. Jigook Cheonwang (Dhritarashtra in Sanskrit) holds a lute in his hands and protects the East. With the strings of the lute he controls the weather, like wind, thunder, lightning, and hail. The last of the four Heavenly Kings is Gwangmok Cheonwang (Virupaksha in Sanskrit) is the guardian of the West, and he holds a dragon in one hand and a jewel in the other. Unfortunately, the meaning of these symbols has been lost to time.

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These tall and slender Heavenly Kings are from the famous Tongdosa Temple. In this picture is lute playing Jigook Cheonwang.

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In this picture is the sword bearing Jonjang Cheonwang from Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan.

Besides the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, you can also see these four in the corners of temple halls. Specifically, you can see them in temple murals where a variety of looks can be observed. The reason there are such variations in the Four Heavenly Kings’ looks is that they varied between Goryeo and Joseon style paintings. In fact, even within the history of Korean Buddhism, the objects in which the guardians have held through the Ages have changed as well.  So the next time you see one of these murals, look for the guardians, and see just how different they look from our own present Age.

 The next time you visit a Korean temple and you see these Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, or painted on a temple mural, make sure you clear your mind of bad thoughts, or else they might not let you travel any further inside the temple that you paid your Won to see.

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The leader of the four, the pagoda holding, Damun Cheonwang from Tongdosa Temple.

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And finally, the dragon clutching and pearl holding, Gwangmok Cheonwang, again, from Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Gyemyeongam Hermitage – 계명암 (Busan)

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The beautiful view of Beomeosa Temple from Gyeomyeongam Hermitage in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Continuing on our tour of the temples that are to the right of Beomeosa Temple in Busan, my wife and I decided to go to Gyemyeongam Hermitage (계명암). It’s a hermitage that I’ve long admired from afar. You can actually see the hermitage during the fall, winter, or spring, from the Beomeosa Temple complex. Facing Busan, and looking left towards the neighbouring mountain, you can see the hermitage pretty much anywhere from  Beomeosa Temple.

Gyemyeongam Hermitage, in English, means Rooster’s Crow Hermitage; and strangely enough, as my wife and I were walking up the mountain, we actually heard rooster’s crowing at the base.

To get to the scenic hermitage, you first have to climb a 500 metre long trail up the side of a mountain. At times, this trail can be a bit steep, so make sure you pack proper footwear. As you first approach the hermitage, perhaps out of breath from the climb, you’ll notice a beautifully compact Iljumun Gate. Passing through this weathered gate, you’ll start to see some of the panoramic views of Geumjeongsan Mountain, as well as the valley below, through the trees. Continuing to walk down the temple trail, you’ll come to the hermitage’s courtyard. To the left is the monk’s dorms and study hall.  Beside that is a strangely built main hall.  Well, I should qualify that. The main hall is actually beautiful, what is strange is that there’s been an extension added on to the main hall for the numerous visitors that come to the hermitage everyday. This extension isn’t beautiful at all. It almost seems haphazard the way that it was slapped onto the side of the main hall. Inside the main hall, there’s a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) as the main altar piece. Uniquely, there are four paintings inside the main hall depicting various actions of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of the main hall is a compact shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal with stone scrolls with Korean writing on them.  Further to the left, and a bit up the mountain, is a rock outcropping that you can reflexively sit upon, while viewing the valley and Busan down below. To the right of the main hall is a beautiful little shrine dedicated to what looks to be Chilseong. Strangely, on the exterior walls of the hermitage buildings, there is only Korean writing.  There are no murals or large paintings adorning any of the walls.  However, inside the shrine hall, on the left wall, is an unbelievably realistic painting of a white tiger.

But the main reason you’ve probably made your way up the side-windingly steep mountain is to see the views down below. And trust me; the beautifully views of Beomeosa Temple alone are worth the climb. But when you add into the mix the beautiful views of Busan (on a clear day), the other hermitages and small farms in the valley down below, as well as the towering Geumjeongsan mountain range that surrounds you at every turn, and you’ll understand why Gyemyeongam Hermitage is well worth the effort to get to!

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Gyemyeongam Hermitage in one of two ways. In both scenarios you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple. Instead of walking left towards the Iljumun Gate, continue to hang right towards the hermitage. You’ll pass by Beomeosa Temple, which will be to your left. There will be a sign halfway between the temple and the hermitage, which will read 계명암,continue to follow these signs as they lead you right of the main temple. Eventually, you’ll come to a small parking lot. The path will fork like a “W.” trail to the right is Gyemyeongam Hermitage. There’s a large metal sign, as well as a signpost, pointing you in the direction of the trail that leads you up to the hermitage.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

View 계명암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. For the panoramic views alone of Beomeosa Temple in the valley below, and the giant Geumjeongsan Mountains above, this hermitage rates as highly as it does. But when you add in the beautiful shrine hall to the right of the main hall, you’ll know why the hermitage rates as high as it does. The one draw back to the hermitage is the slapped together main hall extension. However, inside this building, as you collect your breath, it’s a peaceful atmosphere. So if you have the time, and the strength, I would recommend you seeing this hermitage if you’re already visiting Beomeosa Temple.

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The sign that leads you up to 계명암 (Gyemyeongam Hermitage). It’s located in the parking lot.
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The start of the long climb up to the hermitage.
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The side-winding 500 metre path that leads up to Gyemyeongam Hermitage.
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Finally, we’re at the top, with a view of Iljumun Gate in the distance.
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The first gorgeous view of Geumjeongsan Mountain from the hermitage.
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A look at the makeshift addition to the main hall.  A bit haphazard on the outside if you ask me.
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The beautiful Gwanseeum-bosal shrine to the left of the main hall. If you look close enough you can see the unique twin statues with Korean writing on them.
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As you look behind the main hall, you can see just how closely it’s set into nature.
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A view inside the main hall with a smaller sized Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) as the main altar piece at the hermitage.
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Two beautiful Gwanseeum-bosal paintings to the right of the Gwanseeum-bosal statue.
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A look at the shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), with a older looking pagoda in the foreground.
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The main altar piece is a statue of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) with a pink bowl of medicine in his left hand.
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On the far left wall inside the shrine hall is this beautifully realistic painting of a white tiger.
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A look through the shrine hall door at the towering mountains that surround Gyemyeongam Hermitage.
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A look up at the mountains and trees that surround the hermitage at every turn.
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And the highlight to this hermitage is definitely the view of the city and valley below.
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Down in the valley you can see both Beomeosa Temple and the associated hermitage to the left of the temple.
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A unique look at Beomeosa Temple.
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And finally, the long path that leads down to the base of the mountain.

Iljumun: The One Pillar Gate

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The One Pillar Gate (Iljumun, in Korean) at  Tongdosa  Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. This is one of the finest examples of this type of gate throughout Korea.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The first thing you are greeted by at a Korean temple, besides maybe the monk stupas out in front is the temple’s first gate. This gate is the first of three. So what does the gate look like, and why exactly is it there?

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The Iljumun Gate at Beomeosa Temple as it first comes into view.

 The gate itself is very simple in design. It’s made up of a tiled roof supported by either two or four single pillars in a straight line. This differs from a typical structure that has four pillars in each of the structures corners. A wooden tablet is placed at the centre of the gate with the name of the temple and the mountain it rests upon written in Chinese characters. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like at Beomeosa Temple in Busan, but more often than not this wooden tablet spells out the temple name in traditional Chinese characters. The exception,  Beomeosa Temple, instead of identifying the temple’s name actually reads “Chogye Gate.” Other written expressions that appear on the Iljumun Gate are “Head Family of Buddha,” or “Great Monastery of the Meditative Realm.” This is done to elevate the temple’s status. But again, more often than not, the gate’s wooden tablet simply identifies the temple’s name.

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A view of The One Pillar Gate at Beomeosa Temple in Busan. Another great example of Korean craftsmanship on the Ijumun Gate.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Another of the better looking Iljumun Gates in Korea.


The significance of having the One Pillar Gate (Iljumun) where it is in the temple is that it represents the viewpoint of the Buddha Dharma. So what do I exactly mean by this? Well, when you look at the two to four pillars in a row, they actually appear to be one. What this means is that the world is illusionary. That things aren’t as they appear. So this is the symbolic first step towards enlightenment, and the first step towards your journey of a pure mind. And the closer you get to the centre of the temple, the greater your understanding will become.

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The Iljumun Gate at the world famous Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.

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The ancient Iljumun gate at Songgwangsa Temple near Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.

Great examples of the One Pillar Gate (Iljumun, in Korean) are to be found at Beomeosa Temple in Busan, Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do, and Songgwangsa Temple in near Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.

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 The colourful Iljumun Gate at Seoknamsa Temple in Eonyang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The beautiful and bright One Pillar Gate at Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju.

So the next time you approach the One Pillar Gate, take a look from the side and see all two or four pillars line up in a row. This will not only give you a beautiful new view of the gate, but it’ll give you a better understanding of the symbolic importance of this stately gate.

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And last, but certainly not least, is the Iljumun Gate at Hwaeomsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, in Jeollanam-do. If you look closely enough, you can see the stone dragons slithering up the side of the twin pillars.

Chungryunam Hermitage – 청련암 (Busan)

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A Biseon dancing around in the statue courtyard with a golden Buddha at her back at Chungryunam Hermitage, near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Continuing on our visit to Beomeosa Temple, and the hermitages to the right of the temple, we decided to go to Chungryunam Hermitage (청련암). Actually, we had always intended this to be our first hermitage to visit, but we spotted Jijangam Hermitage along the way.

Chungryunam Hermitage means Blue Lotus Hermitage. And it’s the closest hermitage to Beomeosa Temple. As you first approach the hermitage from the hermitage’s parking lot, you’ll notice some beautiful Roses of Sharon and blue chrysanthemums in full bloom. Past these flowers are a pair of stone guardians at the entrance of the temple. What is most impressive about the hermitage is the U-shaped enclave that houses numerous statues, which you will see as you climb a set of stairs. To the right is the Seonmudo Hall of martial arts. Like Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju, Chungryunam Hermitage also practices the ancient martial art. Walking past the twin Haetae, mythical creatures that both consume and control fire, you’ll stand at the foot of the statue enclave. In the centre of this enclave is a golden Buddha. Surrounding this golden Buddha are various Bodhisattvas, Guardians, and Biseon. At the back of the enclave, perched on the concrete wall, are two large standing statues. The white one on the left is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), while the contemplative one to the right is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). To the front of the statues are twelve smaller sized zodiac statues. And at the very front of the statue enclave are Biseon dancing around, with Guardians protecting all, including a beautiful green coppered incense burner with a dragon base.

To the left of this statue enclave is the main hall. The main hall, much like Golgulsa Temple, sports numerous highly original paintings. There are a twin set of paintings adorning the external walls of the main hall. On top are various paintings depicting the various incarnations of the Buddha, while on the bottom there are various pictures associated with the Seonmudo martial arts. Inside the main hall, on the altar, is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light). On either side of Birojana-bul is Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). All three are backed by a pair flaming golden nimbuses. To the left of the main altar is the Yeongsan Assembly painting; and to the left of that is the guardian painting with Dongjin-bosal (The Protector of the Buddha’s Teachings) at the centre of the painting.  Uniquely, there are dozens of smaller sized black statues adorning the left wall. In front of the hermitage, there is a uniquely designed stone pagoda much like the one at Golgulsa Temple. There seems to be a lot these two holy sites have in common. Behind the main hall, there’s a smaller sized shrine hall that is also illustrated with paintings depicting various acts and practices of Seonmudo. To the far left, there’s the monk’s study hall and dorm. The exterior of the monk’s dorm and study hall are paintings of various Buddhist saints. In front of this holy structure, there’s an impressively intricate stone lantern with a mythological bird adorning the top of it.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Chungryunam Hermitage in one of two ways. In both scenarios you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple. Instead of walking left towards the Iljumun Gate, continue to hang right towards the hermitage. You’ll pass by Beomeosa Temple, which will be to your left. There will be a sign halfway between the temple and the hermitage, which will read 청련암,continue to follow these signs as they lead you right of the main temple. Eventually, you’ll come to a small parking lot. The path will fork like a “W.” The hermitage to the left is Chungryunam Hermitage.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

View 청련암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Chungryunam Hermitage has a lot to offer the Korean temple adventurer. First, it has beautiful flowers that welcome you to the temple like the blue mums and lavender Roses of Sharon. Past these flowers is an amazing enclave of statues depicting various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Guardians, and Biseon. To the left of this is the main hall, which is decorated with some extremely unique and rare paintings, much like the ones that illustrate different practices of the Seonmudo martial arts. Another highlight to the hermitage is the intricately designed stone lantern in front of the monk’s dorms and study hall. So if you have the time, and the inclination to see something beyond Beomeosa Temple, I highly recommend you check out Chungryunam Hermitage!

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The path that leads up to the courtyard at Chungryunam Hermitage.
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The beautiful blue and purple chrysanthemums that were in bloom at the entrance to the hermitage.
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A view of the enclave that houses numerous Buddha, Bodhisattva, Guardian and Biseon statues.
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A better look at some of the statues, including a golden Buddha.
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The gate that leads into the statue enclave.
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Yet another angle of the beautiful bronze statues.
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The golden Buddha in the background is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).  Because he has so much time, 5,670,000,000 years until his incarnation, he sits contemplatively.
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On the left is the white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Buddha of Compassion), and on the right is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).
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In the centre sits a golden Buddha on a lotus chair.
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A better look at the beautiful Buddha statue at Chungryunam Hermitage.
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The elaborate incense burner that fronts the enclave.
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A beautiful view of the neighbouring mountains, and the hall dedicated to the practice of Seonmudo.
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A ferocious lion protects the main hall, with the unique pagoda and the monk dorm in the background.
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The main hall at Chungryunam Hermitage.
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A guardian painting by the door on the right side of the main hall.
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A meditative painting on the exterior walls of the main hall.
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A painting symbolizing the insight and enlightenment arrived at during meditation.
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A cartoonized version of the unique pagoda in the hermitage courtyard that is also at Golgulsa Temple. It has something to do with the practice of Seonmudo martial arts.
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A scary and fierce painting adorning the left side wall at the hermitage.
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Another of the guardian paintings on the left side of the main hall.
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A shrine hall behind the main hall. It’s decorated with paintings illustrating the practice of Seonmudo.
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The main altar at Chungryunam Hermitage. In the centre is Birojan-bul (The Buddha Cosmic Energy). On either side is Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power. All three are backed by a twin pair of flaming nimbuses.
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To the left of the main hall is the guardian painting. To the left of this painting are rows of tiny Buddha statues.
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And in front of the monk’s dorm is this beautifully ornate stone lantern.

An American Buddhist Monk in Korea

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Hello Again Everyone,

When people think of a foreigner in Korea they usually think of an English language teacher, a soldier, or a professor.  However, there are several people out there in the foreign community in Korea that contribute a lot more to Korean society than what you might imagine.

I’ve been very lucky that in my time in Korea I’ve met a lot of interesting and inspiring people, but none more so than the Buddhist monk Chong Go Sunim. By chance, he discovered my blog, and ever since then we have been emailing each other back and forth.

To let you know a bit more about Chong Go Sunim, he’s a Buddhist American monk that has been living in Korea for the past 17 years. He had been practicing Buddhism in the U.S.A. for many years on his own; but according to him, he wasn’t making much progress. Eventually, he met and listened to the Korean monk Daehaeng Kun Sunim. And as he describes it, “It was as if I’d been looking at a dirty painting, with only a small clean spot in the middle. When I began listening to Daehaeng Kun Sunim, it was as if the clean spot had suddenly become much larger and I could see what had been hidden. What she showed me seemed exactly what should be there, but had been unable to see for myself.”

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to ask him a couple questions about what it’s like being an American living in Korea as a Buddhist monk.  Here are the questions I asked him and their corresponding answers:

Q: 1. Tell me a little about yourself (i.e., where you’re originally from, etc.)

A: I’m originally from eastern Oregon and Washington. I lived and went to school there, until I came to Korea when I was 25.

Q: 2. When and why did you first become interested in Buddhism?

A:  I was probably about 12 when I first became interested in Buddhism, and one of the things that impressed me were the rock edicts of the Indian king, Ashoka. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he was encouraging people to treat each other well, and said that he who slanders another’s religion slanders his own. There was a sense of inclusiveness that really impressed me.

Q: 3. What idea/teaching of Buddhism would you say is the most important part?

A: Letting go of “me” and “mine,” remembering that we’re not the ones doing things and instead relying upon our inherent Buddha-nature, and not giving into the desire to blame or criticize others.

The question is a bit like saying “Which finger could you do without?” “Umm, they’re all kind of useful, actually.” But these are three really huge, if someone diligently tries to apply these; they’ll definitely see good results.

Q: 4. Why did you want to become a monk?

A: Basically, I wanted to do this spiritual practice more than anything else.

Q: 5. Why did you decide to move to Korea?

A: I was very impressed with the quality of monks and nuns from Korea, and the teacher I felt the most connection with also came from Korea.

Q: 6. Presently, what are you working on in Korea?

A: As a part of my practice, I’m working with the Hanmaum International Culture Institute on translating the works of Seon Master Daehaeng.

Q: 7. What are your future plans?

A: I’ll probably get a cup of coffee, and then go have some dinner.

So the next time you too narrowly or stereotypically think of what foreigners are doing in Korea, and how they contribute different things to Korean society, think of Chong Go Sunim.

For more information on Chong Go Sunim, you can check out his blog  Wake Up and Laugh.