Songgwangsa (송광사) is considered one of the three jewels of Korean Buddhism. Originally founded in 867, it was established in 1190 by Zen Master Jinul as the temple it is now. Signifying the “sangha” of three Buddhist jewels, it symbolizes “community”. Though smaller than the other two significantly larger temples that comprise the trio, Songgwangsa is nevertheless a beautiful place for inner reflection.
After a brief hike up a dusty mountain path, we reached the temple grounds, accessed by narrow covered bridges. My dad, who is obsessed with visiting all the Buddhist temples, had a lot of fun taking pictures of me and of the buildings.
The main temple building was quite small, compared to some of the other Buddhist temples we had visited all over the world. My knowledge of Chinese characters isn’t good enough for me to read exactly what the plaque says, but the first character (upper right hand corner) means “big”. So I’m assuming this is the big, main, prayer hall. There were people praying inside, and access was limited to a small side door (the big central doors don’t open unless it’s a special day). We didn’t want to disturb people, so we didn’t go inside.
Ancient Korean architecture has always held a special spot in my heart. I’m not sure what it is about it, but the tiny little reliefs painted painstakingly on all the wood panels, meticulously maintained over the centuries, makes me feel happy and proud that my home-country has decided to preserve its heritage with such responsibility.
Of course, that’s not to say that other countries are terrible with maintaining monuments of historical significance. There’s just something about Korean temples that feels different from say, going to the Notre Dame in Paris, or the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It’s just a strange feeling, considering I’ve never actually lived in Korea for more than a year (despite my citizenship and the fact that I’ve been there practically once a year every year of my life).
My next post will be the final installment of our trip throughout Korea. There will be a few more posts about some other things I did in Seoul, but after that, it’ll be back to the US.