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Seokbulsa Temple

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We’ve heard people claim that Seokbulsa is not just the best Buddhist temple in Busan, but the most lovely in all South Korea. Although we’re in no position to judge, Jürgen and I are in agreement that Seokbulsa is the most amazing temple we’ve seen during our three months here.

Seokbulsa-Temple

Found high up Mt. Geumjeongsan, Seokbulsa (석굴암) is difficult to reach, but well worth the effort. We began our journey by returning to the cable car we’d ridden during our first ascent up the mountain, on one of our very first excursions in Busan. Back then, we had been visiting the Geumjeongsanseong Fortress, but this time we headed off in the opposite direction. An easy, downhill path led us through South Gate Village and then followed a stream for a couple kilometers. It was a beautiful walk through the woods, fairly crowded with other hikers.

Eventually, the path ended at a T, and we immediately knew that we’d have to take a right to reach the temple. No, we’re not master navigators, nor did we have a map — there just happened to be a gray-clothed Buddhist monk sitting on a stone, up towards the right, bald head buried deep in a book. When you’re searching for a temple, a monk in the woods is a good sign you’re on the right track.

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The final twenty minutes of our journey was steeply uphill, and very difficult. But the sight that awaited us made up for the sweat. Seokbulsa is a small temple lodged unforgettably into the side of a mountain. There are a number of buildings and cave altars to explore and, probably because of how hard it is to reach, not many other people around to detract from the experience. In fact, we were completely alone during our visit.

The altar buildings are impressive, and from the courtyard you have a superb view over Busan, but the highlights of Seokbulsa are the massive, 30-foot Buddhist figures carved out of the mountain rock. I don’t know who any of them were, Bodhisattvas of some sort, but my ignorance didn’t make them any less incredible. Past the figures, you can visit a small altar and squeeze through a narrow opening in the rocks to another cave where candles have been set.

Our trip to Seokbulsa was the only time we’ve experienced that sense of adventure that went hand-in-hand with exploring the ancient Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka. Not only is the temple itself worth the effort of hunting down, but the beautiful hike and entertaining cable car ride combine to make this one of the most rewarding excursions in Busan.

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July 26, 2012 at 12:59 am Comments (7)

Samgwangsa Under a Blanket of Lanterns

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Set at the foot of the Baegyangsan Mountain in central Busan, Samgwangsa is a massive temple with enough room for 10,000 worshipers. And there were approximately that many present when we visited on a balmy May evening shortly before Buddha’s birthday.

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We had initially toured Samgwangsa a few weeks earlier, while the lanterns were still being set up. It was the first Buddhist temple we’d been to in Korea and impressed us with both its size and location. As was the case in Sri Lanka, Korean temples seem to be set in places of extreme natural beauty. Samgwangsa boasts an incredible view over Busan, and hiking trails can be found in the mountain forest behind it.

Built in 1969, Samgwangsa is not the most ancient or traditional of temples, but that doesn’t make it any less inspiring. The main prayer hall is stunning; large and intricately decorated with hundreds of small Buddha statues lining the walls. There’s a nine-story pagoda dedicated to the future reunification of Korea, and a giant bell in the courtyard. Within the complex’s various buildings, men and women were either worshiping or working. I’m not sure if this is true, but Samgwangsa seems to house a large number of senior citizens; we passed a few rooms with older women sitting cross-legged on the floor watching TV.

I’m glad we had the initial visit, because the temple was unrecognizable when we returned during the lantern festival, buried under a blanket of light. The lanterns, strung up in unbroken lines throughout the complex are each paid for by a family, who get to write their names and wishes on them. This practice dates back centuries; in Korea, lighting a lantern symbolizes a dedication to committing good deeds, and shining a light on the world’s darkness. Whatever the reasoning, the glow emitted from thousands of colorful lanterns is majestic.

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May 29, 2012 at 6:44 am Comments (4)
Seokbulsa Temple We've heard people claim that Seokbulsa is not just the best Buddhist temple in Busan, but the most lovely in all South Korea. Although we're in no position to judge, Jrgen and I are in agreement that Seokbulsa is the most amazing temple we've seen during our three months here.
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