Sunday, February 27, 2011

Representative Korean Buddhist Temples

Way to the Temple—the Way to the Buddha

A great place to experience Korean Buddhism firsthand is at one of the many temples scattered across Korea. Everyday, Korean Buddhist culture meets the modern world at the gates outside every temple. But these temples are not merely tourism and sightseeing spots; rather they are fully functioning places of learning and spiritual practice that carry out the 1,700-year-old teachings and traditions. Everything in a temple has meaning which helps provide visitors with an introspective, calm, peaceful, and meditative atmosphere. Outsiders can also find solace, refuge, and rest at a temple as they are filled with sanctity, purity, and authenticity.

Korean temples are filled with symbolism. The layout follows a precise and meaningful system based on ancient Indian cosmology that places Mt. Sumeru in the middle. The temple represents the way to the Buddha, which is also the way to enlightenment. Although followers will explain Buddha is everywhere and anywhere, for cosmology sake, he resides at the summit of Mt. Sumeru. Thus, the altar where the Buddha statue sits is called the Sumeru altar. The journey to enlightenment from Jambudvipa (Kor. Namseombuju), begins with Indian cosmology.

Mt. Sumeru is surrounded by nine mountains and eight oceans. The last ocean has a continent in each cardinal direction. We live in the southern continent of Jambudvipa. Above Jambudvipa are heavens that represent the realm of desire. The summit of Mt. Sumeru is the highest point; therefore, visiting a temple is a symbolic journey from Jambudvipa to see the Buddha at the summit of Mt. Sumeru. Buddhists believe visiting a temple is like climbing a mountain where goals must be kept in mind and one must go forth resolutely.

Representative Korean Buddhist Temples
The 2,500 year history of Korean Buddhism has given rise to many large temples. Among them, the Three Jewel Temples are the most famous and largest Korean Buddhist temples. The three jewels in Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Three Jewel Temples represent each aspect: Tongdosa Temple represents the Buddha because there is a famous stupa (or pagoda) housing relics of Buddha from China; Haeinsa Temple represents the teaching or Dharma, because there is a large number of Buddhist scriptures; and Songgwangsa Temple represents the Buddhist community or Sangha, as about fifteen Korean patriarchs have come from this temple.
                                                 Tongdosa Temple

Tongdosa Temple was built in 646 by Master Jajang during the reign of Queen Seondeok. One of the great monks in Korean Buddhism, Master Jajang, carried Buddha's relics from China and he enshrined them at Tongdosa Temple. As a result, unlike other temples, there is no statue of Buddha in the Main Hall. Instead, Buddhists worship the Stupa.

                                     Tongdosa Temple

The Diamond Precepts platform is behind the Main Hall. On the platform is a bell-shaped stupa surrounded by a stone barrier. The gate is finely decorated with dragons, clouds and two protector guardians. There are protective deities on the four corners of the platform. The ball-shaped stupa is decorated with lotus patterns, lotus blossoms, lotus petals, the Four Virtues and gods on the base and upper parts. In front of the stupa lies the lovely Nine Dragons Pond. Originally very large, the pond was home to nine dragons.

                                            Haeinsa Temple
Haeinsa Temple is the second representative temple. Its name means "reflection on a smooth sea." It is the description of deep meditation in the Avatamsaka Sutra. Originally, Haeinsa Temple was a small hermitage built by Master Sunung and Master Ichong at the time of their return from China in 802. The wife of King Aejang was sick, and the two monks had helped to cure her. The King built Haeinsa Temple in honor of the monks. The temple has since been enlarged. Behind the Main Hall are two buildings that were constructed in 1488 housing the wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and the Buddhist scriptures. The Tripitaka Koreana was originally carved in the 11th century in a temple on Ganghwa Island. The possession of these wooden blocks was said to protect the country against invasion.

However, the blocks were burnt by Mongol invaders. In the 13th century, production of a new set of blocks was undertaken at the order of King Gojong. It took about 16 years to carve 52,330,152 characters on 81,258 blocks. These were transported from Ganghwa Island on the heads of nuns to Haeinsa for safe-keeping.

 Songgwangsa Temple
Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple” and it was established on Mt. Jogye by Master Jinul (1158-1210). In 1190, Jinul created a “Concentration and Wisdom Community” for practicing Buddhism together. Searching for the ideal location, he carved a crane out of wood, which he then released. The crane flew away and finally landed in the place where Songgwangsa Temple is today. The Master's Portrait Hall was built and the temple came to represent the Sangha, the followers of Buddha.

Jinul's Buddhist philosophy created an ancient Buddhist debate that continues today. He believed that enlightenment could be quite easily reached, but that practice must continue afterwards in order to get rid of the habit energies. This is called the Sudden Awakening and Gradual Cultivation as opposed to Sudden Awakening and Sudden Cultivation, wherein after a struggle to reach the difficult stage of enlightenment, cultivation is no longer necessary.

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