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Reisebericht: Buddha's Birthday at Bongamsa Temple
If you want to see Bongamsa temple, you first have to become a monk. They don’t let anyone else even come near – unless you go there on Buddha’s birthday. In 2013, 17 May is the only day the temple opens its gates to the public and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity!
Founded in 897 AD, Bongamsa is one of the “Nine Mountain Schools of Zen”, the oldest centers of Zen meditation in Korea, which were designed to suit an ascetic life. At Bongamsa the monks meditate for more than eight hours a day and don’t want to be disturbed. Far from the madding crowd, they lock themselves up in a remote valley in North Gyeongsang Province (경상북도) at the foot of the 998m-high Mt. Huiyangsan (희양산).
Lanterns in all colors, decorated with Buddhist symbols, show you the way along a crystal-clear stream that runs through a lush green forest in Mungyeong (문경). After a pleasant walk through this beautiful scenery you arrive at the temple entrance.
Only a few steps more and there it is: A sea of white lanterns hanging from scaffolding, surrounded by ancient temple buildings, with the impressive granite peak of Mt. Huiyangsan in the background. Take your time to soak up the atmosphere and the energy. For a donation you can get a paper streamer to write a wish on and stick it to one of the lanterns.
To celebrate Buddha’s birthday, you will be offered a free lunch consisting of bibimbap, rice cake and seaweed soup. There aren’t enough tables for all the guests, so bringing a picnic blanket would be a good idea.
Then take a short walk to Baegundae, an idyllic spot used by the monks to relaxe and meditate. There, a pristine stream passes the relief of a Boddhisattva that was carved into a rock in the late Goryeo era and boulders decorated with Chinese characters. Of course this day is busy with lots of visitors but very enjoyable even so. You can imagine the tranquility of the place when the monks are by themselves again.
To get there, don’t take a bus to Mungyeong but to Jeomchon (점촌), e. g. from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, near Gangbyeon station. From Jeomchon City Bus Terminal buses depart to Bongamsa at 7:50 am, 8:30, 9:50, 11:50, 12:30 pm and 1:50. The trip takes about half an hour and the bus drops you off at the main road. Shuttle buses connect the stop with the temple but it’s much nicer to walk. If you travel by car, put this into your navigation system: 경북, 문경시, 가은면의, 희양산문. Keep in mind to dress appropriately (no mini-skirts, short pants, sleeveless shirts etc.).
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