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

Les Semboules, Antibes

Late-2007.  Written Dec, 2017



Ancient History encyclopedia online.



Entrance, temples, artwork – my photos

Seokguram images  –  sources lost



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

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

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017


My photographs







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.

An a-shaped church, West Seoul

A Presbyterian church, Insa-Dong area, Seoul

A cathedral, central Seoul

An Evangelistic church, Jongno-gu, Seoul

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

A Christ figure, Chinese Presbyterian Church

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

A station of the cross, Cathedral, Myung-Dong

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

A reflection, Presbyterian Church, Samseong, South Seoul

© Will v.d.Walt

July, 2007 – June 2008.

Images: Will

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