CONTRIBUTED BY LAUREL ANDERSON
In my free time, I’ve been running around, exploring, and doing lots of learning about my new environment. I’ve seen many temples, and interacted with new people from different cultures. Tried new foods and maneuvered through of challenging situations. Learned new skills and navigated new spaces. Mistakes made, lessons learned.
I did this as a level 90 Warlock named Ambrai with pointy ears, magic spells, minions to summon, and a flying horse with a glowing mane and tail. My name is Laurel Anderson and I play World of Warcraft.
This isn’t a post about that.
This is a post about a thousand year old temple that I saw this week called Bongwonsa Temple.
I feel like there’s something incredibly ironic, or maybe, perfect, about the fact that I spend my free time doing EXACTLY the same thing that I do in my “real life”. So much so that if you read that first couple of sentences you’d think that I was just describing my life here in Korea.
I can say honestly that I’m a lot more adventurous online gaming than I am in real life. So accepting a spur of the moment invite to a temple with my toddler was, for me, a big deal.
Can I just say, I am so glad that I decided to go!
Here’s the skinny on Bongwonsa Temple, history style:
Located at the skirt of Ansan Mountain in Bongwon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul,
The temple was founded at the ground of Yeonhui palace, (now Yonsei University) and named “Banyasa” by Great Master Doseon in 889 A.D., 3rd year of Jinseong Queen, the 51st of Shilla Dynasty.
It was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, and later in 1748 (it was rebuilt and renamed “Bongwonsa” by two Buddhist monks, Chanjeup and Jeungam. More history on the temple.
Here’s the haps about my visit:
Visiting the temple was beautiful. This was the first temple I really got to explore, in detail, and in daylight. The weather was gorgeous, clear, sunny, and my company was fantastic. The temple was decorated for Buddha’s birthday, so we saw hundreds of colored lanterns hanging around the grounds.
There are about 15 different buildings to see including a Large Buddha Hall, a 3000 Buddhas Hall and a gorgeous bell tower. The buildings are decorated in gorgeous traditional red, green and turquoise colors.
We spent a lot of time sitting outside, enjoying the view, and watching my daughter explore. She was fascinated with the stone fountain. Traditionally, fountains can be found at temples for ritual purification, hand washing or even drinking. This one was quite large, beautifully designed and had several dippers available for use. My daughter enjoyed her own version of a purification ritual, eventually involving her entire body.
There are about 50 monks who live on the premises. Here one is enjoying watching my daughter.
9 Dragon Statue: the number nine is significant and auspicious in Korea, and dragons were said to have 81 (9×9) scales on their backs, representing yang essence.
The halls are open to the public. We took off our shoes and left them outside of the buildings. There are prayer mats available inside the halls, and pictures are allowed inside and out. The temple wasn’t busy the day we visited, but there were a few other people in the temple taking pictures as well as praying.
The first building on the left after entering is The 3000 Buddhas Hall and is by far the most impressive in size. It stands about three stories high and it is interesting to note that no nails were used on the building during the original construction or the restoration in 1991. It is the largest wooden building in Korea. This hall is where we spent most of our inside time. My toddler loved looking at all of the statues (3,000 of them!) and the giant gold Buddha in the center. The hall was incredibly peaceful.
There were only a few other visitors around that day, so we had the hall to ourselves. The vibrant colors of the ceiling were amazing, and when I pointed to my daughter telling her to look up, her response was simply to say “Wow!”
We didn’t have a long visit, but I am incredibly eager to return. In doing more research on the temple I found out that they celebrate the Yeongsanjae Ritual every year. The Yeongsanjae Ritual is a realistic reenactment of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni’s delivery of the Lotus Sutra on Mt. Grdhrakuta, which is the most sublime and important among the Buddhist rituals. It is designated as a Korean Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 50, rehearsed here in Bongweonnsa Temple every year. Yeongsanjae”, one of the Buddhist rituals and also the Important Intangible Cultural Properties No. 50, takes place at Bongwonsa on June 6. Buddhist arts such as Beompae (Buddhist temple music for rituals) and dancing. Also, during summer time, “Seoul Lotus Flower Culture Festival” takes place, so visitors can enjoy the beautiful lotus flowers which are a symbol of Buddhism.
I definitely plan to go back in June to see this amazing ritual. There were flowers blooming, but I didn’t see any of the famous lotus blossoms. I will have to go back when I have more time. This trip was specifically to see the lantern decorations for Buddha’s birthday. Lotus lanterns cover the entire temple throughout the month which are often flooded down and into the street.
Website: http://bongwonsa.or.kr/eng/sub1/sub1.html (English and Korean)
Phone Number: 02-392-3007~8
Cost: Admission is free
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Address: Bongwontemple. San1. Bongwon-Dong. Seodaemun-Gu. Seoul, Korea
서울특별시 서대문구 봉원사길 120 (봉원동)
Directions: Sinchon Station (#240) on Line 2, Exit 3. Then, take bus No. 7024 directly to Bongwonsa. Or, from the back gate of Ewha Womans University, simply walk north alongside the main road until you reach an intersection underneath the freeway. From there, go up the hill 500 meters.
Small tea service shop as well as a small gift shop on site.
No stroller rental
No pets allowed