Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Vacation Part 4: Haein-sa

Sorry it's taken so long for me to update - for nearly a week now I've been in a constant state of packing, organizing, cleaning, and moving. This in an attempt to have my last week in Korea (for a year) be a relaxing one and free of worry. More on that later.

In the meantime, Haeinsa...

I had my sights set on seeing this temple back in my Suwon days. I'm not a Buddhist, but I'm curious about the history and the teachings and I happen to be living in a part of the world where millenia-old relics are available to view, or walk-through and I'm going to darn well take advantage.

First let me say that getting there was a challenge. We basically planned to move from Namwon to Haein-sa with necessary bus transfers at Geocheong and Hapcheong where I was told there were frequent buses up to the temple. Not true, it turns out, so rather than wait half a day, we ended-up taking a direct bus to Haein-sa from Geocheong. For anyone planning to visit the temple in the future, go from the express bus terminal in Daegu. Just trust me.

Haein-sa is located in the mountains of Gayasan National Park - a tiny little national Park just an hour West of Daegu. The temple itself is fairly unremarkable in terms of its appearance (though there are some lovely mountain views), but what makes it one of Korea's three "jewel temples" is that fact that it holds the Koreana Tripitaka - the 80,000+ wooden printing blocks completed in the mid 1300s that canonized the entire Buddhist writings then in use.

The blocks were carve in Chinese of course and carved in reverse as to allow for proper transfer during the ink-printing process. That's a lot of whittling time. By gum!

The blocks (an obvious national treasure) are currently stored in another national treasure: the Janggyeong-gak, a square arrangements of wooden buildings consisting of shelving that begins about a meter off of the floor and the floor is made of sand containing powders to keep-away insects and to maintain a proper level of moisture in the building.

The wood itself looks like it did the day it was carved. The trees were cut, soeaked in sea water for three years, then in fresh water for three years, then dried for three years before carving began. The result is the world's largest and most complete and error-free canon of the East Asian Buddhist text. Buddhists from across the world make pilgrimmage here.

Of course the blocks mean little to me aside from their historical worth, but it's hard not to be impressed by them all. What adds to the aura of the bulding are the fact that they can't be entered - only peered-through. The wooden slatted windows help to allow for air-flow and as tempting as they are to stick your camera lens through, you're own eyes and memory will have to suffice as no cameras are allowed in use withing the courtyard of the Janggyeong-gak. This, I understand, as without the ban there would be a never-ending swarm of people like me blocking the windows with cameras. Rain started falling through and I managed to sneak away from the guards long enough to take a couple of photos of the buildings themselves. Nothing like having a Canon G11 at your displosal - it's small size and swivel screen allow for some pretty stealthy stuff. Security in high here though - as it should be. Lest we forget the Namdaemun gate arson of a few years past. You don't have to be a Buddhist to feel at least a sense of awe at the history and artistry maintained at Haein-sa.

Gayasan National park is well worth thr trip for anyone heading south and though are day was mercifully cool, it would even be better in the fall. The temple admission is a minimal charge and there are restuarants and cafes along the path not too far away, and tastefully done.

And that was how we capped-off the trip - a cool and calming trip to the "Temple of Reflection on Smooth Sea". A pleasant and scenic bus ride to Daegu, a boarding on the KTX, and a trip home to Seoul. 5 Nights, 6 Days. Gang ho-dong, eat your heart out.

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