SEOKGURAM

We see Buddha figures in the lotus position or even close-ups of their visages.  What often strikes me is the visages, always serene, are seldom weak.  The art of achieving this has evolved over many centuries.

So it was with the Buddha of Seokguram in the region of Bulguksa in the south-east of the Korean peninsula.  We took a two-hour trip on the highway from Daeso, where I was teaching, to reach this place of pilgrimage and history amongst hills and mountains.  Here, in the Three Kingdoms period (circa 500 c.e. to 1000 c.e.), the Korean culture went through a remarkable renaissance.  There is, for example, one of the world’s oldest observatories, amongst other things.

At Bulguksa itself there are temples and places of learning.  At the entrance of these temples there is, as with many sites in South Korea, the information board telling visitors that Bulguksa, established in 800 c.e., was razed to the ground by the invading Japanese in the 1590s and it was rebuilt in the 1700s.

Bulguksa entrance gate (Note Chinese, rather than Korean, inscription) 

 

Temple entrance with visiting students

 

Artwork in temple

Away from the tourists and the pilgrims, in a quiet hillside some kilometres further, we visited Seokguram.  It is an undramatic enclosure partly underground, having been strategically buried to hide the Buddha figure from the plundering invaders.

Unimposing entrance to Seokguram

The figure itself — the Buddha in a lotus position — is said to have been carved in the 600s c.e., the more remarkable as Buddhism had only reached Korea from India some three hundred years before.  Today it is one of the most revered in Asia, not least for its classic simplicity.

Sakyamuni Buddha, Seokguram

It is necessary, they said, to keep pilgrims and visitors away from the figure itself with glass panels.  The viewing walkway from which we could see the figure under the brick cupola was tightly packed with people.  The figure itself, three and a half metres of white granite, struck me as being simply conceived, unadorned and majestically pure.   On the lap lies the open hand of healing.

Buddha, the healer

I was moved seeing an old woman, wizened and bent, in the glow of her reverence for the imposing figure.  Tears fell over her smile.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

Late-2007.  Written Dec, 2017

 

Source

Ancient History encyclopedia online.

 

Images

Entrance, temples, artwork – my photos

Seokguram images  –  sources lost

 

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Will will travel

I am a part of all that I have met

Ek is deel van alles wat ek ontmoet het

Je fais partie de tout ce que j’ai rencontré

Είμαι μέρος όλων αυτών που έχω γνωρίσει

Soy parte de todo lo que he contrado

Ich bin ein Teil von allem, was ich getroffen habe

나는 내가 만난 모든 것의 일부이다.

Sono parte di tullo quello che ho incontrato

Ik ben onderdeel van alles wat ik heb ontmoet

Namibia from space

 

I am a part of all that I have met; 

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ 

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades 

For ever and forever when I move. 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, 

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! 

From Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2017

 

Sources

The earth

me

 

Images

Space Panorama NASA 1969

 

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

 [The first in a series of three postings]

I have days that I’d put on  a pedestal.  Years on they shine in my head.  Among such days I have the three that I spent at the temple of Yuongpyongsa in South Korea.

The arrangement is called “Temple-Stay” which takes places throughout South Korea.  You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.  In fact, they are surprised if you are.

                               Far from all things

                                    The temple

Yuongpyeongsa (yes, say it: yoo-ong-pee-ong sah where “sa” indicates temple) is even further from anything than is the Magoksa temple and for the same reason:  the Confucian authorities persecuted Buddhists in the Middle Ages.  The inheritance is the silence in the verdant green hills, so characteristic of Korea.

                            In a post-chant state

On arrival I received a monk’s robe which I wore for three days.  There were six of us, amongst whom a mother and her teenage daughter, Catholic and living in Minnesota, stayed at a temple once a year to honour their ancestors.

                            The cell

The cell where I slept was more of a passage, though the futon I slept on was remarkably comfortable.

At four o’clock in the morning I was called and we made our way through darkness in the warm glow of lamps to the main temple.  Here I experienced two hours of chanting, an unusual experience.  Language-wise, I couldn’t participate and my initial reaction was resistance.  Gradually the resistance eroded until I couldn’t hear the chanting anymore;  I became it.

Glass sphere reflecting the temple

As the sun came over the hills it was time for purifying exercises – stand; down on the knee; forehead on the ground; sit back on knee; stand.  Do this one hundred and eight times.  I cracked at  thirty.

Then I limped to breakfast.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs  

 

 

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

 [The second in a series of three postings]

To get used to Korean cuisine is to risk addiction.  It is the subtle herbal taste that they achieve with the traditional use of fermentation pots.  This is especially true for ghimchi, cabbage, which may be prepared in literally hundreds of ways.  As cabbage was my least favourite vegetable this was a small revolution in my dietary history.  Pork is popular but in the monastery where I was, the food was vegetarian, and not less tasty.  Years later when I ate Korean food in Cape Town again, I was catapulted into the aromas and the tastes of that remarkable food.

Canteen verandah

Fermentation pots

In the course of the day we met a nun, a sinewy woman with a natural radiance.  She took us for a walk in the forests, pointing out the small wild flowers by the path.  These, she told us, are not indigenous to the Korean peninsula.  They were sown by the hands of American soldiers during the civil war of the early 1950s.  Would that that had been all they left behind.

I took the opportunity to photograph the extensive paintings on the walls of the temple.  I was especially charmed by the series portraying Buddha and the cow.  There was one of a dragon which, I discovered to my surprise, is much loved in the East as a symbol of just kingship.

Temple art

Temple art: the dragon as just king

Buddha and the cow

The Buddhism of South Korea is mainly Zen and this would take much to explain.  The ideal, as I understand it, is to diminish resistance within oneself and to contemplate the Great Nothing.  I can’t expect a non-Buddhist to grasp this.  On the wall was the Zen symbol.

The Great Nothingness

On Sunday morning we were invited to the head monk for tea, far more than a social event.  He spoke to us through a translator about the ritual of tea drinking, which I found fascinating, but, I confess, that for me the green tea they drink is tasteless.  In turn, they hate Western tea.  He also spoke about the lotus flower, also a revelation for me.  The lotus is a symbol throughout Asia, for Hindus, Buddhists and some Muslims.

L O T U S

He himself, a thick-set man, winked at us:  on scattered occasions he takes a slice of pork and even a tot of whisky.  On a shelf in his study there was a figure of the Emaciated Buddha before the revelation he had under the Bo-Tree:  there needs to be balance between flesh and soul; you are not more spiritual if you disregard the body.  Yet, the Emaciated Buddha, he said, has a message for humankind.  Something to ponder.

Emaciated Buddha under the Bo-Tree

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs

 

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

[The third in a series of three postings]

The last morning I photographed the gardens, the temple, the main figure of the Buddha.

Buddha in leaves

The nun came to chat again and pointed out an old monk engrossed in a meditation on the periphery of the temple grounds.  He’s over ninety, she said.  I watched him and felt the centuries of Buddhism in the course of his meditation, a history from 300 a.d. when Buddhism was initially brought from India.

Meditation course for an old monk

Walking centuries

I came upon a Tao rock which belongs to a spiritual belief far older than Buddhism or Confucianism.  This kind of rock is a symbol of Chaos Becoming and is central to Taoism practised in China, probably from prehistoric times.

Chaos Becomes

My visit to Yuongpyeongsa was a kind of farewell to my stay and teaching in South Korea.  This visit was in May when spring is rising and nature is at its most beautiful.  For Buddhists, nature is at the heart of their spirituality, the reconciliation of Earth and Spirit, of soul and body.  They see the world in a grain of sand and the universe in a drop of dew.  For this reason everything is sacred and part of the spirit, of healing and growth.

These days burgeon in me.  Years later.

The universe in a drop of dew

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAMSUNG – light and shadow

My Samsung camera, my Samsung app, my Samsung laptop, my … the list goes on.  An enterprising company with creative energy bristling, but behind the bustling surface, there is a history of light and shadow.

A Samsung customer with his camera

A Samsung customer with his camera

Samsung as a company was founded in the late-1930s with  Korea different to what it is today.  The Japanese had back in 1905 begun negotiations with the Korean government and by 1910 the Korean authorities signed away their independence – an industrialized nation had come to “help” an agrarian nation, one known in its isolation as “The Hermit Kingdom”.

Within the first decade, resistance to the occupation began and with it, the first martyrs.  The resistance went underground, increasingly influenced by the rising ideology of communism.

Samsung was established by Korean enterprise and money, supported by the Japanese.  The Koreans involved were considered by the resistance as collaborationist and denounced as capitalists, to be overthrown.  The resistance was inspired by Mao Tse Tung’s march to power, as well as the apparent successes in Stalinist Russia.

Propaganda painting of the new world icon

Propaganda painting of the new world icon

The Second World War intensified the resistance to the Japanese, especially too, after thousands of Korean women were taken to be “comfort women” for the Japanese soldiers.  In August, 1945, the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought unconditional surrender from the Japanese, and Korea’s colonial masters were banished.

The division in the society, however, had solidified, and the resistance derived impetus from the victory of Mao Tse Tung in 1949.  In 1950, with military support from China and Russia, the communists declared war on the Korean government and invaded from the northern territory.

Montage of Korean War

Montage of Korean War

A Country Divided

A Country Divided

The Korean civil war was one of the worst of its kind.  One million two hundred thousand lives were lost within three years. (Compare Iraq war: 500,000 deaths from 2003 – 2011).  Twenty-four nations, including South Africa, supported the Korean government in pushing back the communists who had taken the entire peninsula with the exception of Pusan, the coastal city in the south.  The Americans would play the biggest role. In 1953, a ceasefire was agreed upon between the two regions, north and south, but a formal peace treaty has never been brokered.

War Memorial, Ichon, West Seoul: the names, the names

War Memorial, Ichon, West Seoul: the names, the names …

Samsung survived.  In the south, that is.  In the West we know that.  Many of us have had a Samsung product.  The Japanese know it – the drop in their profits might well reek of a distant  revenge, ironically.   This company, the biggest of its kind in the country, is one of the main reasons why South Korea has been so successful in the world, placing them, in 2010, 13th amongst wealthy nations.

Samsung Town, Seoul

Samsung Town, Seoul

The Chinese and Russians have now developed Samsungs of their own, so to speak, and abandoned North Korea, the new “Hermit Kingdom”, a medieval serfdom, the most closed society on earth.

When does healing come?

                       When does healing come?

How inanimate objects – a fridge, a microwave oven, a cell phone – have grown out of a history of light and shadow!

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, France  

November, 2016

Sources:

Andrew C. Nahm:  Tradition and Transformation. A History of the Korean People.

Wikipedia:  History of the Korean civil war (1950 – 1953)  

Statistics on deaths in Iraq war:  PLOS Medicine Survey, quoted by Wikipedia.  The reader is cautioned that such statistics come amidst controversy.

Images

Samsung customer wcamera and Will  –  Will

War Memorial, Ichon, Seoul – Will

Mao  –  source lost

War montage  –  Wikiwand

Map  –  ae.americananthro.org

Samsung Town – Seoulsessions.wordpress.com

Dangerous Border – earthnutshell.com

Churches in South Korea

If one knows that Korea was once called “The Hermit Kingdom”, seeing the number of churches comes as a surprise.  Almost 27% of South Korea’s population belongs to a church.  Protestants are estimated at 8.1 million, while Catholics, with a history of 350 years, are estimated at 5.6 million.  Buddhism, still numerically stronger, has a history of 1,700 years.

What struck me in the various regions was the contrasting styles in the architecture of the churches, most of which are creatively modernist.

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An a-shaped church, West Seoul

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A Presbyterian church, Insa-Dong area, Seoul

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A cathedral, central Seoul

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An Evangelistic church, Jongno-gu, Seoul

With the churches, there is art, always memorable and moving.

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A Christ figure, Chinese Presbyterian Church

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A stained-glass window, Presbyterian Church, Samseong, South Seoul

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A station of the cross, Cathedral, Myung-Dong

Food for thought … In my stroll through Samseong, I saw the reflection of the church first …

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A reflection, Presbyterian Church, Samseong, South Seoul

© Will v.d.Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

July, 2007 – June 2008.

Images: Will

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