In October 2014, students in Terminale ES and L visited Busan, the second largest metropolis in South Korea. For four days we’ve been visiting various interesting places that show Busan is a globalized territory in order to understand more about its geography and its process of globalization.
We visited a unique temple, named Yonggungsa (龍宮寺), located on the cliff of Bunhwang Mountain. Unlike other temples which are usually hidden deep in the mountain, this one allows visitors to inhale the fresh breeze of the ocean and the earthy air of the trees. It is specifically located on the east coast of Busan, in Kijang District. Its name means the dragon(Yong龍) palace(gung 宮) temple (sa 寺). It is considered one of the three sacred places (Gwaneumseongji) of the Great Goddess Buddha of Mercy (Gwanseumbosal). The motto of Yongungsa is especially popular as it is said that “if you pray with all of your heart, at least one your wishes will come true. “
To fully understand the globalization process of the temple, we will have to take a look at its historical backgrounds, architectural structure and its attractiveness.
The creation of Yonggung temple started with the great monk, Naong’s dream. While he was practicing asceticism in Bunhwang temple in Gyeongju, the kingdom was struck by great famine and drought. All they had were desolated crops growing nothing but resentment in them. During this disastrous period, people were panic-stricken and hopeless. However, on one night, in Noang’s dream, the East Sea Dragon told him that if a temple is built on Bunhwang Mountain and if they pray there, they will once again live in time of peace. His utter faith in his dream led him to the ideal area located on that mountain to build a temple. The mountain facing the sea would allow people to pray in the morning and get their answer from the sea dragon in the evening by facing the sea side. Naong named the temple after Gwanseumbosal’s (known as the Great goddess Buddha of Mercy) absolute divine power. It was built in 1376.
Unfortunately, during the Japanese invasions in Korea (Imjin war 1592-1598), the temple was nearly destroyed. It was only in the 1930’s that it started to be reconstructed by the monk Ungang of Tongdo Temple. After that all of the head monks of Yonggung temple took over to rebuild and to take care of it. In 1974, Jeong-am who was assigned as the new head monk, he magically saw the Great Buddha of mercy wearing a white gown flying on a dragon heading up to heaven during his 100 days of prayer,. That is why the temple was renamed to Haedong Yonggungsa.
Haedong Yonggung temple is located near the sea unlike other temples which are located in the mountains.
This temple has a main sanctum, a cave sanctum (Gulbeopdang), a dragon sanctum (Yongwangdang) and many other sacred halls. The monk Jeong-am established the main temple in the 1970’s. For example, the dragon sanctum is located on the right side of the main temple, but also it is also located in the center of Yonggungsa.
In front of the main temple, there is a three story pagoda with four lion statues (sasaja). Before the Japanese arrived, the temple used feature a 3 meter-high rock, which was destroyed. Its name was the Mirko rock, and it was used to build the three story pagoda, Sasaja. These four lions symbolize, pleasure, rage, misery, and contentment.
One step, two steps, three steps… twelve steps…. Sixty steps… Isn’t it getting hard to breath? Aren’t you starting to sweat? If want to see the temple, you are going to have to go up the 108 steps that remind us of the “108 sacred prayers of Buddhism”. Even though it’s challenging, you will eventually enjoy the meditative walk! You will feel a spark of pleasure and live for 108 years.
On our way back down, we saw 12 animal statues symbolizing the twelve Chinese zodiac signs. Each animal is related to a year. For example, 2014 was the year of the horse and 2015 is the year of the lamb. Many visitors pray and donate money to their animal related to their year of birth in order to wish for a better year.
Then we saw other statues, such as, Gyotong-anjeonggiwon, which means “traffic safety”, and our class took pictures in front of it. Our wish came true! We had a safe trip! Hwanggeumdwaeji, which means “gold pig”, if we pray on this statue the prayer, will bring us fortune for money.
Sowon seongchwi signifies “wish fulfillment”. If you manage to throw your coin in the bowl, your wish will come true. Finally, Deugnambul is one of the most famous statues in this temple because of its special meaning. Deugnam means “to have a baby boy”. Legend says that if a couple touches the Deugnambul’s belly, they will have a son.
The colors were used very precisely. In 1970, they tried to reconstruct the temple so that it looked exactly like it was in the 14 century.
Every year Yonggung temple attracts more and more visitors who are not only from Busan or Korea yet also from all around the world. We’ve realized that especially many Chinese and Japanese tourists visit it. Taxis and the bus 181 are the two methods to arrive at the entrance of the temple. All visitors pass through a stream of little souvenir shops selling Korean traditional objects such as wooden utensils, carved figures, bracelets and lots more, along with the restaurants cooking Korean traditional food, drinks and dessert. Yonggung temple is in fact a prominent sightseeing area for tourists in Busan.
The 8 sceneries or shall we say the 8 “faces” of Yonggungsa will definitely exhilarate your day. Firstly, for those who are early birds, the sunrise seen from the temple is simply breathtaking because of its deep red-orange glow. Secondly, for those who are night walkers, descending from the 108 stairs on the full moon will give you a sense of redemption because of the pure white glow of the moon. You can even listen to the bell ringing at dusk which is melodic. Moreover, those who accidently end up at the temple on a foggy day, it is your lucky day. When you are surrounded with the cloudy fogs, you will truly believe that you are in a dream because of the mysterious and magical. Furthermore, on Buddha’s birthday, a long queue of bright lanterns will guide you on a beautiful path heading to the temple. From Sirangdae, you can see an endless view of the emerald sea. Listening to the strong waves hitting the rocks is euphoric. Last but not least, during spring, cornucopian cherry blossom trees flourish along the entrance path kindly intoxicating visitors by their florid scent. Yonggungsa’s 8 sceneries show its absolute divinity and perfection. It is not a seasonal tourist destination so it constantly attracts visitors.
Yonggungsa differs from other temples because of its unique design, location and monuments.
Its graceful and diverse monuments enlighten the uniqueness of Yonggungsa. The golden pig statue Deugnambul , the 108 stairs, and Traffic and the Safety pagoda are not to be found in any other temples. No other temple has a better view than the Dragon palace temple.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is in fact the most unique temple in South Korea. Its eight sceneries, eccentric statues, the easy access to the temple and its unusual location near the sea lure many visitors not only from Korea yet also from all around the world allowing Busan to become more touristic and globalized.
Aïssatou Ndoye, Connie Shin and Iris Lee TES/L
Photos taken by Connie Shin and Youjin Lee