Korea's Religious Places - 1. Buddhism
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|Introduction||1. Buddhism||1) Characteristics: A Who's Who at a Buddhist Temple|
Buddhist temples in Korea are older than the structures of the rival Confucianism, and of course, much older than Christian buildings. Buddhist temples date mostly from the Unified Silla period (668–935). Some are newer, dating from the Goryeo period (918–1392), but there are many that go back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE–668 CE). Buddhist temples are by far the most colorful religious buildings and often the most popular tourist sites in Korea. They are set in beautiful mountains, which, if one understands Buddhism, are part of the temple grounds. Indeed, the Buddhist conception of heaven is a mountain, so it is only appropriate that mountains and earth are sacred space. The temple is only the center of the space; the whole mountain is sacred.
Architecturally, Buddhist temples are the most attractive of the religious sites in Korea. Throughout Korea there are large, colorful buildings that are easily identified as Buddhist temples. The most dramatic are arrayed in large compounds typically located in beautiful mountain valleys. For example, perhaps the most iconic of the Buddhist temple compounds is Bulguksa Temple, on the outskirts of Gyeongju. The compound is in the lower reaches of a mountain, Mt. Tohamsan, and has several buildings and remote hermitages, the most famous of which is Seokguram Grotto, which holds a ten-foot-tall granite carving of the historical Buddha. Photographs of the temple, its staircases in the front of the complex, and the stone image of Seokguram Grotto are some of the most photographed images in Korea, and often find their way onto tourist brochures and calendars.
Bulguksa Temple may be the most visited and most photographed of the Buddhist temples, but there is a special category of three temples that are considered the “Three Jewel” temples of Korea. The three jewels is a reference to the core concepts of Buddhism, which are the Buddha, the dharma (the law or doctrine), and the sangha (the monastery and the monks). Tongdosa Temple is the temple of the Buddha, and this is revealed in that the main hall does not have an image, but rather has a large window that looks out on a small pagoda that holds one of the jewels from the cremation of the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, who was the prince Siddhartha Gautama of India. Haeinsa Temple, where the 80,000 wooden printing blocks used to print the Buddhist scripture are located, is the temple of the dharma. Songgwangsa Temple, the largest monastery that specializes in training monks, is the temple of the sangha.