Tiny Monks, Big Temple

If any monks still live at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple–an ancient and sprawling holy site on Busan’s Northeast coast–they kept a low profile on the hot Saturday afternoon I visited.  I don’t blame them–a few hundred camera-toting tourists descending on the grounds doesn’t spring to mind as ideal company for a meditative moment.

But I did spot these guys taking refuge… 

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They appear to be engaged in a study session of sorts.  I guess if you’re going to devote your life to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, learning the ropes on a shelf built into a rock wall beneath a massive metal dragon is the way to do it.

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First built in 1376, Yonggungsa is teeming with holy relics worth the trip there, including a giant gold Buddha, a three-story pagoda guarded by lion statues, five stone towers that look like ancient lighthouses, and a tall beauty called the Seawater Great Goddess Buddha, who overlooks the shiny blue surface of the East Sea.

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Accompanying the 108 steps leading down to the main sanctuary is a melodic stream of sutra chanting that keeps floating through discreet speakers once you’ve descended.  Combine that sound with the seafront view, and this may be one of the sweetest Buddhist sites in South Korea.

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And did I mention it’s poised on a massive rock jutting out of the sea?

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Yonggungsa Temple is just a hop, skip, and a couple bus rides away.  (About an hour from Busan station.)  I recommend.

Find directions here.

Check out more photos here.

And if you venture there and spot the tiny monk dolls, please send me a comment!

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