A Day at the Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple in Busan

by - 30 April

Busan is a dynamic city of exceptional beauty. With the ever-smiling people, amazing sceneries, beautiful attractions, blue beaches, towering modern structures, sumptuous delights and fresh seafood, the metropolis of Busan truly is one of the representative cities of Korea.

On the first day of our familiarization tour in Busan, we visited the picturesque Gamcheon Culture Village 감천문화마을 and the historic Taejongdae 태종대 which are both amazing and breathtaking places. We even toured the old town center of the city, from its famous traditional fish market to a short hiking trail on Mount Cheonma. The entire Korea.net team simply enjoyed seeing the beautiful night views of the stunning Busan cityscape.

The next day, we headed to some of the most interesting attractions in the port city, one of the places being is the blessed temple of Haedong Yonggungsa 해동용궁사.

Great view of the Buddhist temple of Haedong Yonggungsa as seen from the viewpoint area near the coast. © Jeon Han, Korea.net

A temple dedicated to Buddha, the Haedong Yonggungsa is one of the few temples on Korean peninsula to be built on the coast as most of such can be found in the mountains. It was constructed in 1376 by the great Buddhist teacher Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty.

At the main entrance of the temple complex, visitors will find themselves in rows of shops selling various kinds of local delicacies and products. As you walk along the pathway leading to the entrance, you will be welcome by the stone sculptures of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac which appear to be guarding the temple. Our tour guide asked us about our birth year to know our animal signs and earth snake is my zodiac. It was nice to see flocks of people taking their photos right next to their respective zodiac and I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to get myself as well a souvenir photo with my guardian.

The main arc of the temple is adorned with a pair of golden dragons meticulously designed to form the pillars. I don’t know what the real purpose of these dragons are but in Korean mythology and folklore, they served as guardians of the place. Besides the delicate arc, a stone pagoda will also greet all visitors upon entering the temple grounds.

The welcome arc of the Haedong Yonggungsa intricately designed with two golden dragons.

Just before going down to the sanctuary, about 108 stone steps welcomed us. According to our tour guide, these steps symbolize the 108 sacrifices a person has to face in his life before reaching enlightenment. The tradition is that you have to take all of the steps so as for you to overcome all sufferings in this life.

Stone stairs of 108 steps heading down the Buddhist temple of Haedong Yonggungsa.

A few steps from the temple entrance, a smiling Buddha with a big fat belly welcome visitors entering the stairway. The Buddha is said to bring good luck and help devotees by granting their desire for a son by rubbing his belly.

Korea.net Honorary Reporter Elena Kubitski tries out the customary tradition of rubbing the belly of the ‘Buddha of Sons’ for good luck. © Jeon Han, Korea.net

A timeworn footpath lead visitors to the complex of the Haedong Yonggungsa. © Jeon Han, Korea.net

Halfway down the 108 steps, we made a stop at the viewpoint area from which great views of the temple can be appreciated. With the beautiful soothing sounds of the waves crashing through the limestone boulders, it truly was a perfect spot to have a scenic view of the whole temple and watch the beautiful setting of the sun over the ocean.

Continuing our journey back down the stairway, we then reached the pretty attractive Half Moon Bridge which is a few steps away from the main temple. The beautiful stone bridge offers a magnificent view of the sea cliff and Busan’s clear waters. Moreover, there are also a number of images featuring the many faces of Buddha and a wishing Buddha down the bridge facing towards the open sea.

A narrow passage lead visitors to the main Buddhist temple.

There really is a great feeling of joy when you reach and finally see the Haedong Yonggungsa yourself. The sacred place is actually a complex consisting of landscapes, structures and pagodas devoted to Buddha in which the Daeungjeon is the main sanctuary decorated with traditional Korean Buddhist designs and intricate wooden dragon sculptures. The beautiful Yongwangdang Shrine, a unique Buddhist sanctum, a golden Buddha and three-story pagoda with four lions which signifies joy, anger, sadness and happiness are also located in the temple area where one can solemnly offer their prayers.

Crowds of devotees flock to the Haedong Yonggungsa.

Every day, thousands of people pay their visit to the Buddhist temple. One proof of this was the crowd of people appreciating their temple stay along with their friends and or families when we arrived inside the main grounds. After our tour guide gave us some instructions regarding our visit time, I made sure to make time to pray inside the temple’s main sanctuary.

Colorful, intricately designed Daeungjeon serves as the main sanctuary of the Buddhist temple.

Decorated with intricate designs, the Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary is the central attraction of the Haedong Yonggungsa where worshippers offer their prayers and requests to Buddha.

As a sign of respect, visitors take off their shoes before entering the main sanctuary of the Haedong Yonggungsa temple.

Upon entrance to the main sanctuary, you will be filled with a sense of tranquility while the incense burns and the Buddhist monks chant their prayers. This was my first time to pray inside a notable Buddhist temple which has a beautiful sanctum and a very solemn ambiance. Although I don’t have an actual experience on how to appropriately pray in a Buddhist temple, my personal observations inside the main altar and a little bit of knowledge gained from historical period dramas presented an opportunity and a great experience for me. I am not a follower of Buddhism, but if I have the rare opportunity to visit a sacred sanctuary such as this, I make sure to pray and at least pay my respects to the religion.

Buddhist monk chant prayers in the temple’s small shrine. © Jeon Han, Korea.net

After offering my prayers, my feet led me to the viewing platform of the shrine just a few steps away from Daeungjeon where a large statue of the goddess Buddha stands tall and in which you can see the whole complex in a spectacular setting nearby Busan’s north-eastern coast.

Besides, the temple place also features the Gulbeop Buddhist Sanctum, a unique altar enclosed in a cave. Even though I haven’t visited the site myself, it’s said to be one of the interesting sites in the temple where in visitors can offer their prayers. As it’s a cave, there’s as well a natural spring flowing inside it from which you can sample the said solemn water.

The temple is traditionally visited every celebration related to Buddha, particularly on his birthday when the place is ornamented with thousands of lit paper lanterns. Also, it’s a popular spot among Koreans on New Year's day where they gather to make a wish as they witness the first sunrise of the year, as well as during the springtime when all the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Aside from the many stands located in the entrance, there are also shops in the vicinity of the temple in which various Buddhist articles and souvenirs are being sold.

While visiting the temple brought peace to my mind, I considered our short temple stay a wonderful blessing as Buddha allowed us all to see, visit and pray inside the sanctuary of the Haedong Yonggusa with new hopes and a beautiful experience to cherish.

"Haedong Yonggungsa: praying for the first time in this great Buddhist temple," December 2016 was first published in the Korea.net blog. Some of the photos used herein are from the official Flickr page of the Republic of Korea which are for general educational and informational purposes only. All other forms of media included in this article are property of Annyeong Korea and protected under applicable copyrights.

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