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Busan Day 2: Headong Yonggungsa Temple

Busan was a dream. A beautiful kaleidoscope of so many wonderful places and things to look at that I almost got dizzy. After an evening of getting settled and a night with interrupted sleep (kids), we woke eager to get out and about. Boy, did we have a DAY. Let me tell you. It was the kind of day that ended with happy, satisfied smiles and The Babe looked to me and said, "Today was a good day."

It started with a morning visit (would suggest as it gets more crowded throughout the day) to Headong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사). It was the most beautiful temple we've been to yet. This temple came highly recommended online and offline. I've seen so many reviews about this place that I figured it HAD to be as good as it was said to be. Oh man. Nope. It was even better.

The entrance to the temple is protected by the twelve dieties of the oriental zodiac standing guard. Tall pillars of stone with human bodies and animal heads, they make an interesting first impression. They are there to remind us to examine ourselves closely. The nine story pagoda and beautiful golden dragon gate are also leading the way. My eyes didn't know which to take in the longest.

As we walked passed the deities, through archways, tunnels and around corners of bamboo and stone lanterns, I kept expecting to turn and see the temple and the sea. The anticipation almost made it more exciting and when the temple finally sprawled out on the seaside cliff before us, I felt my jaw drop in awe. I felt tears hit my eyes as I soaked in the fact that I really am here. This isn't just a dream. I'm fulfilling my childhood wishes by exploring the world and diving into cultures as I've craved for so long.

I was so overcome with trying to take in the view that I completely missed a left turn leading to a shrine and more sprawling cliff views and backdrops. The Babe came and corrected my mistake and, boy, was I glad I didn't miss out. Lucky for us, there was another English speaking fellow who offered to take a picture of our family. It is rare for this to happen these days as I only speak a little Korean (coming along slowly but surely thanks to my amazing teacher) and COVID 19 has made many people hesitant to offer assistance. Needless to say, I was very thankful.

After exploring the lower cliffs, we walked across the bridge and stopped to make wishes and hope for good fortune. G especially loved throwing coins in the fountain. I may have possibly thrown my first coin toward the fountain only for it to land in the rocks below. I don't know if this bodes well for me, but I made my second coin in the middle pool, so maybe the fortune of each will balance out.

We walked around the temple and admired the many statues and artwork. Even the littles were enjoying all the sites and beautiful colors. The temple itself was originally built in 1376 and was called "Bomun" which indicates absolute and limitless power of the Goddess of Mercy. You see, due to drought and famine, the people of Korea began to reject Buddhism out of anger at the Gods. Naong Hyegeun (who was a great Master that helped lay the foundation for Buddhism in the Joseon Era) had a dream (legend has it) of a sea god who told him to build a temple on the outer edges of Bongrae Mountain and to pray there. The god told him if he did this, the people would again have happiness. Naong followed his dream and arrived at the place where Heading Yonggungsa is now located.

The temple was later destroyed during the Japanese invasions in the late 1500's. It fell into ruin until the early 1930's when a monk by the name of Ungang began to reconstruct the area. Later in 1974, Jeong-am, the new head monk of that time, was practicing 100 days of intensive prayers when he had a vision of the Goddess of Mercy (here she is again) cloaked in a white gown and riding on the back of a dragon radiating a multi-colored light. It was then renamed "Headong Yonggungsa Temple" which means "Korean Dragon Palace Temple." If you pay attention you will find dragons everywhere. Setting up this post, I actually noticed dragons in the photos that I didn't even notice when I was standing there. I want to go back and see it again just to take in all the details.

We enjoyed reading and learning about this history on the plaques around the area which were very helpful. Sometimes Korean doesn't translate well and the translations of historical land marks get lost on me due to misplaced words or the use of phrases we don't have in English. That is not how I felt here. Knowing the history, the symbols and statues have much more significance to me now.

Listening to worshipers pray and the chanting of a monk inside the temple made me want to stop and to listen. There is something beautiful about witnessing the belief in others, watching their dedication and hope as they put their faith into action. As we listened to these prayers we stood before the giant golden statue of a very happy Buddha and felt engrossed in this foreign land.

I wanted a better picture, but the littles were all over the place and were ready to ascend the bamboo covered steps upwards to see the statue of the famed Goddess of Mercy. She is beautiful looking out over the ocean and seeming to embrace the temple in her line of sight. Tall and proud in her gown of white I can almost visualize the dreams those great monks must have had all those years ago.

(Click on the image above to see more.)

The "Temple by the Sea" is a beautiful place where I felt at peace surrounded by the elements of the ocean and the mountains. There is something about being sandwiched between the two with the blue sky above that gives a feeling of balance. It is a place where a belief in something bigger than all of us was restored and culture persevered.


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