The ice on the tops of the mountain was glistening in the evening light, but the air was still as cold as if the sun had just risen. Several birds were quietly singing and darting across in the chilly air and in the distance a Buddhist monk was heard chanting. Anytime of the year is a good time to visit Beomeosa Temple, but during a quiet Sunday in the midst of February was nigh on perfect.
Beomeosa Temple sits upon Geumjeongsan Mountain and has done so for over 1300 years, though the temple was sacked during a Japanese invasion in 1592. Reconstruction of the temple took several years but was restored in 1713 and has stood further Japanese invasions ever since.
Built in 678, in the 18th year of King Munmu’s reign by ‘Venerable monk’ – Uisang it was originally much larger with over 360 rooms housing over a thousand monks, but as mentioned, some were destroyed by the foreign hordes. At its time of completion it was one of the ten largest temples in Korea related to the Hwaeon sect (a Chinese form Buddhism), but along with other temples has since been converted to the Jogye order, (a more recognized Korean interpretation of Buddhism).
Seeing these cracked, but magnificent buildings and the intricate designs that lay upon them, you can feel the intensity of what the Buddhist monks living within must have felt whilst their sworn enemy was approaching.
It is such a quiet temple during the winter season that you could spend all day lurking around these ancestral halls. For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City in Beijing will understand what it is like to find yourself amongst rare and perhaps forgotten ornaments. Some pieces are incredible including roughly 50 portraits, 23 Buddhist tablets and over a thousand pieces of recorded text. If you understand Korean then your time will be well spent.
Seeing this marvelous sight is one thing, but to experience it first-hand is something else. Luckily anyone wishing to find out exactly how the Buddhist monks survive whilst living here can partake in a temple stay. For about 50,000 won you could enlist in a one night/two day Buddhist meditation session where you will learn how to channel your energy, understand their teachings and become more in tuned with yourself. This is not something to be rushed into and not to be taken lightly. Starting at 1pm on a given Saturday you then change into your Buddhist garments, given a tour, taken for a light meal, then you begin a grueling two-hour silent meditation period. Absolute silence and stillness is required to set yourself free and become one with your thoughts, and if you’re in need of a toilet break then you’ll just have to cross your legs a little tighter and become detached from your being. That may sound easy for some, and perhaps it is, but waking at 3am to hike up Geumjeongsan mountain in the blistering cold in nothing but the clothes you slept in will definitely sort the men from boys, or more importantly those who remembered their winter jackets and those that didn’t. Further meditation and some light breakfast is handed out on your return and thereafter you can listen and converse with your fellow ‘enlightened ones’ and discuss the teachings of Buddha, of Dharma and of why you thought this would be better than your average Saturday night.
Geumjeonsan Mountain is worth a look too and the fortress of the same name is worth a visit especially in the misty evening rain. Built at the beginning of the 1700’s by King Sukdong to protect against foreigner invaders in particular the persistent Japanese. It varied in height from 1.5m to 3m and stretched along for 8.2km and was the largest fortress of its kind in Korea, unfortunately through years of being forgotten it suffered and now only 4km is still standing. The fortress encompasses the whole mountain peak, which itself stands at 801m, making it the tallest mountain in the region. At the summit stands an enormous rock and atop of the rock lies a spring, the Golden Spring. Legend says: “A golden fish once rode on five-clouds and descended to this fountain from the Brahma heaven to play there. Thus, the mountain on which the fountain was located was named Geumjeong: The Gold Spring.”
Whether or not a goldfish descended from heaven or not is not important, but what is important is the history of such remarkable places, which anyone can come and view. There are just so many hidden treasures enshrouded in these endless mountains of Korea that show us completely the footprints of their history.
Directions: Take bus #90 at Beomeosa Station. Get off at Beomeosa and walk to Sanseong.
For information on the Temple stay:
or you can call 051 508 5726