Paradise at Beomeosa Temple
By Ling Xuan & Narom Chea
There’s a Chinese saying that “most famous mountains house many monks.”This rings true in South Korea, with numerous temples nestled in its scenic mountains. Koreans have an innate affinity with Nature and traditional culture; their rustic temples are simple and refreshing complements to the natural environment, evoking a sense of painterly harmony.
Water, Well and a Fish
The Beomeosa Temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Busan set in Nature. It has a history of more than a thousand years and is built on the slopes of the famous Mt. Geumjeongsan.
The origin of the temple was recorded in a Korean geography book as follows: “There is a well on the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan and the water of that well is gold. The golden fish in the well rode the colorful clouds and came down from the sky. This is why the mountain is called ‘Geumsaem’ (gold well) and the temple is named ‘fish from Heaven.’”
The Magnificent Three Gates
It was a brisk day, the perfect autumn day to visit Beomeosa Temple. Rich-hued leaves and an earthy scent greeted me at the foot of the mountain. The ambience was tranquil. An air of refined and dignified quietude surrounded the austere monastery. I instantly felt peaceful and happy even before entering the temple.
Ascending the mountain steps, I wandered through the three main gates of the temple: Iljumun (One-Pillar Gate), Cheonwangmun (Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings) and Burimun (Gate of Non-Duality). Built in 1614, the One-Pillar Gate, when viewed from the side, gives the impression of being supported by a single pillar – powerful symbolism of the one true path of enlightenment which uplifts all the world.
The second gate, Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings, was constructed in 1699 and shelters the kings who stand vigilant guard at the entrance to the temple.
Also built in 1699, the final gate before entering the temple is the Gate of Non-Duality. It symbolizes the oneness of the Buddha’s realm and the human world.
Walking through these gates, I was struck by their majesty, by the compelling metaphors that echo through the centuries.
Welcomed by a Refreshing Aura
Along the footpath, there were some large rocks on which charming little monk figurines were perched. As explained by the resident monk, these vivid lifelike figurines reflect the daily rituals of the monks living in the temple.
A figurine was chanting while keeping rhythm by beating on his temple block (a percussion instrument), another was passionately reciting mantras, and yet another was sleeping soundly. Looking at these, I was drawn into appreciating the expansive, peaceful joy that monks experience in their daily lives.
Strolling along the path under the shade and against the light breeze, I came across a forest of towering green bamboo. Indomitable and swaying in the wind, it was a sight of pure beauty evoking infinite vitality, strength and hope. The core of the bamboo is hollow, which in Buddhism signifies an open mind and a noble, virtuous heart. It is also a reminder for practitioners that everything is illusory; one has to keep a broad mind. Gazing up at the canopy of bamboo, a sense of awe swelled in my heart at its simplicity and unwavering strength. I stood there for a long while, time passing unbeknownst to me.
Taking a quiet route away from the temple led me to a serene spot populated by age-old trees, pure streams, and ancient vines. It was an untouched paradise. The majestic vines stretched far upwards, seemingly striving for a realm beyond this world.
At this point, I recalled Grandmaster JinBodhi’s words: “Be at one with Nature; I am the tree, and the tree is me.” I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and imagined myself merging with the tree, melting into Nature, appreciating the space between Heaven and Earth. Master’s voice sounded in my mind: “In a matter of moments, one will feel the elegance and tranquility of the tree. Its fragrance will seem to emanate from one’s body.”
I sat on a large smooth stone, savoring the fragrance of fresh air and soil, blissful to be embraced by this immense beauty. It was a good respite from the hustle of city life. Here, devoid of artificial opulence, I could let go of worries and desires, connect to Mother Earth, embrace Nature with body and mind, and purify my soul.
Bask in a Cultural Experience
The Beomeosa Temple offers temple stays for visitors. After changing into comfortable clothes provided by the temple, we started our first experience: practicing 108 prostrations in the main hall facing a Buddha statute. The monks explained that while lowering our bodies in prostration, we cultivate humility and gratitude. Though drenched in sweat as the practice drew to a close, a great sense of relief and ease, and a deep sense of gratitude to Buddha, bodhisattvas and Mother Nature, overwhelmed me.
We also practiced the temple’s static meditation method, a way to achieve calmness in body and mind, thereby eliminating our troubles and delusions. Led by a resident monk, we sat cross-legged and meditated in silence. The posture may be simple but after a while, my legs felt numb and uncomfortable. It dawned upon me that being still is far more difficult than being in motion.
I particularly enjoyed the monastic meals, referred to as Baru Gongyang in Korean Buddhism, which translates as “wooden bowl offering.” These meals are viewed as sacred rituals of Buddhist practice. Everyone was given four bowls to take just enough water, rice, garnish, and pickle soup. This process was orderly, we remained silent during our meal, and not a single drop of water or grain was wasted. These simple vegetarian meals taught me to cherish each morsel of food and appreciate the basic but important principles of humility and frugality.
The Beomeosa Temple experience made me feel like a new person. Glowing with gratitude, I gave thanks for the exquisite gift of total spiritual and physical renewal. With an enriched heart, a clear mind, and a fully recharged body, I was ready to return to my daily life and to face each new day with the same tranquility and fortitude I felt during the mystical experience.