Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Haedong Yonggungsa, the Temple by the Sea

View of the temple grounds and the shoreline from the top of the hill.
Most Buddhist temples in Korea are nestled away high up in the mountains, but Haedong Yonggungsa (1), standing sturdily on a rocky shoreline on the northeast side of Busan, is down by the sea. It was first built in the 14th century, destroyed during the Japanese invasion, and reconstructed eighty to forty years ago.
My parents at me in front of Haedong Yonggungsa
So what's the story behind it? My knowledge of Buddhist mythology is paltry, but I learned that the Goddess of Mercy lives by a southern sea and, in some iterations, rides on the back of a dragon (용/yong), perhaps the famous Dragon King of Korean folklore. This dragon king may or may not have appeared to a faithful monk in a dream during a time of severe drought, telling him that if he built a temple in a certain location and prayed, he would send rain.
Goddess of Mercy statue at Yonggungsa
So, I guess that's what happened! The temple continues to a be a popular tourist attraction. It gets thousands of visitors a day, all crowding along the bridge to toss coins into wishing fountains, lounging on the rocks to listen to the waves crash, exploring the small grotto, or just walking around the rather small temple grounds. There are nice beaches and hiking trails nearby, currently bursting with azalea flowers and royal cherry blossoms, because April's beauty just knows no bounds. When I came with my parents, we spent a good hour just walking around the temple, taking photos and taking in the scenery. There isn't much to do in the area besides visit the temple and a fishing science museum next door. As Buddha's Birthday (2) approaches, however, things will only get much busier around there!
I'm very curious to know what "fish liberation" is.
- - -
(1) 해동용국사 = 海東龍宮寺 = East Sea Dragon King Palace Temple
(2) 석가탄신일 celebrates the traditional birthday of Buddha, and beginning a month earlier, colorful lanterns are hung all around the nation's temples. In this way, it's a bit like Christmas.

Directions to Haedong Yonggungsa: from around Haeundae (Haeundae subway station/Haeundae bus stop are good), take bus #181 and get off at Yonggungsa/National Marine Science Research Center (용궁사국립수산과학원) -- 19 stops, 30 minutes, and 1,200KRW. From the bus stop, go back behind the restaurant and follow the arrow on the giant rock sign: take the upward-sloping path for about ten minutes, past the parking lots and into the temple grounds. Or just follow the crowds of people. Or follow the lamps if you're visiting around Buddha's birthday in the spring.

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These buddhi caught my eye, as I am about to begin my graduate studies this fall... 복전함 = fortune telling?