Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hwaeomsa Temple

We all got in two buses and went to Hwaeomsa Temple this morning for about three hours. This is pretty ironic because it is the temple that I was accidentally taken to by the overzealous bus driver two days ago.

The temple is high up a side valley and is made up of three large courtyards separated by gates in a long rectangle with the buildings being ordered from least to greatest importance by their position. The more important the more gates there are and the more stairs you have to climb to get to it.

The monks who live in the temple live in the second courtyard. to get to their quarters on the main path you pass through the second gate house which has four giant figures staring down at you.
Each monk has a sliding door and a small room to call his own.

All the stairs are divided into three sections and apparantley the middle portion is reserved for the King or a god. Needless to say a few of the Canadians walked up the middle stair
Inside the third courtyard are about eight temples with the main one directly in front of you but interestingly obscured from sight by the lesson hall. I am not certain what the symbolism of this might be but considering how intricate everything elese is I am sure the placement of the building is pertinent.
The main temple was placed length wise towards people coming up the main stairs and while we were there a fairly intricate service was going on with seven or eight monks leading the chanting congregation.

It seemed to be a feast day of some sort or perhaps the temple is just a very liturgically active place but all three of the main temples had monks conducting services.

There were half a dozen of these stone pagodas which are the oldest buildings in the monastery; everything else was burnt to the ground by the japanese in the late 1500's. Each temple had a few giant gold Buddhas and like every other religous site I have ever been to a few old ladies paying their respects.

My favourite aspect of the temple was their method of roof upkeep. All the buildings are covered with tiles and those tiles are rather heavy, expensive, and numerous. So to cover the costs there is a tradition of donating a tile to the temple. You write your "best wishes" on the convex surface of the tile which is the placed facing th inside of the temple or building. I found it very charming and a nice way for the people to participate in the temple's fundament.

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