Buseoksa (Temple)

9 May

My small city in Korea, Yeongju, is famous for 3 things:

1. Apples: The clean rural country air combined with fluctuating temperatures provide the perfect conditions for growing sweet large apples. They do cost about R70 for 3 apples though. I’ve tasted one (for free) – it was nice but not worth its price!

2. Yeongju is said to be the hometown of Confucius – but because the Korean language doesn’t have articles (the, a, an), it is very difficult for Koreans to understand the difference between “The boy” and “A boy”. Therefore, they have splashed all over the tourists maps (although there aren’t any tourists in Yeongju) that Yeongju is THE hometown of Confucius. Actually – while it may have been A place Confucius visited during his life and although he may have lived here for a few months while setting up his Confucius school, it is by no means, THE hometown of the spiritual leader.

3. Buseoka Temple

This is truly beautiful and Yeongju may legtimately have this claim to fame.

The temple is about 40 minutes outside of Yeongju and to reach the site, you must drive through rural mountains, apple orchards and dairy farms. Like most Korean temples, it is situated in the mountains with the most important buildings built higher on the mountain. It is the oldest temple in Korea, dating back to the 600s – built during the Silla dynasty. Dynasties seem particularly important to Korean people and they all know their history very well.

My husband shares an office with an English teacher called Mr Min and, because their only son lives in Japan, Mr and Mrs Min took us to the temple to celebrate “children’s day.” We arrived early in the morning, on a beautiful clear spring day, to fields of blooming azaleas and avenues of green maple trees. Reaching the temple requires a journey up the 108 steps – according to their belief, mankind is tormented by 108 sins. Symbolically as you climb the stairs, you shed a sin with each step (I wish it was that easy).

The oldest temple is completely original, with only peeling paint to indicate its age. Inside sits the oldest clay and gold-coated Buddha  in Korea and the temple is still used by devoted Koreans who travel far to visit the place of worship.

Next to the highest temple is a “floating rock”. The legend says that lady Seonmyo first met Priest Uisang just before he went to China to study. When Uisang told her he would go back to his country, she jumped into the sea and drowned. She returned a dragon. She followed Uisang to be with him and to protect him. When he returned to build the temple, a crowd of protested gathered to stop him. The dragon roared up, lifting stones into the air to protect her beloved. It is said that the one stone remains floating as a constant protection over the temple. Because the wide flat stone still floats above the ground, the temple was named Buseoksa (floating rock). It is believed that if you move a thread around the rock, the thread will pass through under the rock – to prove it is floating indeed.  

 Outside one of the temples, a tree grows. When Uisang left for India, he planted his cane into the ground and said, “This cane will grow roots and grow branches and leaves”. Now stands a beautiful but small Seonbihwa tree. It has since been caged in since Koreans believed that drinking water off the plant would help them conceive sons.

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