After the Beach, the Temple

In the Rough Guide to Korea, my guru Norbert calls Yakcheonsa one of Jeju’s most magical experiences.  The best time to arrive, he writes, is 7 pm on a summer evening, when “worshipping locals chant under the interior glow with their backs to the sunset.”

So I hiked a staircase at the end of Jungmun Beach, grabbed a cab from the Hyatt hotel, and missioned to the temple, which was built in the 1990’s and, according to Norbert, is considered one of the most impressive in the country, despite its less-than-historical 20th-century roots.

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In a smaller sunlit hall to the left, these guys sat perched…

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over 500 Buddhist figurines stacked on wooden shelves, each handpainted with a different face.

I even spotted one with two faces.

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Inside the main hall, locals did indeed chant, though on this particular evening the crowd was made up mostly of Korean schoolchildren, attending Yakcheonsa’s Buddhist summer camp.

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In the back row, sitting on a red satin floor cushion, I listened to the head monk school the kids on how to meditate, gleaning what I could from his gestures, since the lesson was in Korean.  Beside me, a woman folded one leg into her lap and one palm over the other, showing me the correct position before closing her eyes in silence.  Outside, the sun fell.  And the waterfalls, and the beach, and the hot night.  I listened to the monk’s footsteps as he walked between the rows of children, rapping their shoulders with a long stick if they lapsed in concentration.  Two boys cried.  I opened my eyes, and a bird sailed in and landed on a pillar, to the left of the gold Buddha, above the bowed heads and the cushions and the candlelight.

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Get there: You can cab to the temple from anywhere in Jungmun, but if you want to to walk, it’s about a half-hour from the nearest bus stop.  Ask a local for directions and take a slow stroll along the quiet country roads.

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4 thoughts on “After the Beach, the Temple

    • I think it was more embarrasment than pain…he demonstrated the motion of the stick on shoulders beforehand, and it didn’t seem painful. I’ve heard of this method before as a form of teaching meditation, think it is somewhat common? Still, I was glad not to be on the receiving end!

  1. This is a beautiful temple with the warm glow of lights and
    the sun setting gently at 7p.m. I wonder if the children do a
    meditation every night at 7p.m., and if it is always at this
    particular temple.?

  2. Wow, it looks like someone had just seen Kuato from, “Total Recall,” when they made the two headed statue since the film came out in 199o.

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