A visual masterpiece overlooking the East Sea, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a unique complex that stands in contrast to the typical temple located among mountain ranges. From the fresh sea-salt air, to the exquisite statues and structures that can be found within the complex, here are Five Reasons to Visit Haedong Yonggung Temple.
Location, Location, Location
Many Hindu and Buddhist complexes factor in the number 108, and visitors – knowingly or unknowingly – experience this. Haedong Yonggung is no exception. In Buddhism, the number 108 has several meanings. It is the number of earthly desires mortals have, the lies they tell, and the delusions they harbour. In the seaside temple, there are 108 steps leading to the centre at Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary.
One of a few seaside temples in all of South Korea, Haedong Yonggung occupies part of the rocky cliffs that make up Busan’s northeastern peninsula. Its unique location provides stunning views of the sunrise and sunset, which is one reason that attracts scores of visitors to the distant temple.
Two Divine Visions
Like countless places of worships, the temple was built as an answer to social struggle and human suffering. A drought plagued the entire country, leading to failed crops and a terrible famine. Feeling betrayed by the gods for not providing rain, the people started to turn away from Buddhism, which was already struggling under rampant corruption within the religious community.
According to legend, the idea came to Meditation Master Naong Hyegan in a dream. Visited by a sea god, Naong was told that if he built a temple on the edge between a specific mountain and the sea and prayed there, the people’s sufferings would be lifted. And so the now former royal consultant set off on his task. When he reached the site, Naong felt the auspicious energy of the environment. In accordance to the principles of pungsu-jiri-soel, the Korean principle of harmonising all aspects of nature, in 1376 he began work in earnest. The mountain that the sea god specifically noted was dubbed Dongrae, a reference to the pure state of mind that is gained through total isolation. The temple was called Bomun, in honour of the Gwanseum-bosal, the Goddess of Mercy.
Hundreds of years later, in 1974, a deity appeared once more. Jeong-am, newly appointed as the temple’s head monk, was dedicated to his practices of jeong-geon kido (“100 Days of Intensive Prayers”). In his devout worship, a vision of the Goddess of Mercy came to him. Dressed in a white gown, the goddess appeared on the back of a dragon. Behind them, a colourful stream of light shone brilliantly. When his intensive prayers were complete, the complex was given its current name, which means Dragon Palace Temple.
The Twelve Zodiac Statues
Before entering the temple complex, visitors are met by a neat row of statues. These are the Twelve Deities of the Oriental Zodiac. Representing the ultimate truth of the universe, the physical stone statues originated from China. Guardian deities who protect mortals, the anthropomorphic statues have human bodies and are differentiated by their animal heads.
In Buddhist legend, Gautama Buddha, the Founder off Buddhism, requesting an audience with all the animals of the world before he left this earth. All of twelve came to see Gautama. As a reward for their devotion, he named a year after each of the animals, resulting in the ever-revolving zodiac years. The years were given in the order of their arrival, with the rat arriving first and the pig last to give Gautama his well wishes.
An Abundance of Wishing Opportunities
Speaking of wishes, Haedong Yonggung has many opportunities for visitors to toss a coin and shut their eyes tight.
Walking the 108 steps that lead into the temple, visitors are greeted by the sight of miniature Buddhas. Just past the grand entrance gate sits a squat Buddha statue. Bald and beaming, the statue’s tummy is darkened from years of hopeful patting. He is the “Buddha of Granting a Son”. Further along, a series of Buddhas are comfortably protected underneath a makeshift tin roof. At their feet are rosaries, coins, and small gatherings of wildflowers. They are the “Buddhas of Academic Achievement”.
A staggering three-section wishing pond holds three shallow wells and two smaller basins. Visitors aim for the smaller basins, each held by a statue of a monk, equating the challenge with greater chances of their wishes coming true. Throwing your offering over an ornately carved stone bridge, another popular choice for aiming your coin is the farthest well. In the middle of it stands a statue of Buddha, glowing in its gold painted exterior. A towering stone wall surrounds the right side of the pond. Situated on top of the wall, twelve monks and a rabbit observe the scene below, watching as hopes and dreams fall into the small space.
Past the bridge are three notable golden figures. A larger-than-life statue of Maitreya Buddha, a figure that will appear in the future to succeed Gautama, sits comfortably with a cheery smile on his plump cheeks beside Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary. Close to Maitreya are two golden pigs. Comparably rotund and content, the happy pair are said to bring good fortune to those that pet them.
All around the complex, miniature monks sit on rocks and tree branches, similarly decorated with offerings of money and religious relics. A great portion of these monks can be found behind the statue of the Goddess of Mercy.
The Goddess of Mercy and the Beautiful View
A steep incline of stone steps guide you up to the grand sight of Gwanseum-bosal. Intrigue surrounds this monument. Very little snow has settled among the goddess in the temple’s long history, and arrowroot flowers still grow here in the cold winter months. Three days after it was settled, it is said that stunning lights, similar to those from Jeong-am’s vision, appeared out of nowhere and bathed the goddess in their brilliance.
From the Goddess of Mercy’s platform, visitors can also experience a full view of Haedong Yonggung and the surrounding East Sea. For lovers of panoramic views, the Goddess of Mercy statue, and the sunrise viewing platform, are top of the Busan to-do list.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Long Journey Ahead
Approximately an hour away from the city centre, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a popular site that can be reached by public transportation or taxi. If you show metro workers, bus drivers, or taxi drivers a map or the Korean for the temple name, they will happily point you in the right direction.
Feed Your Snacky Mood
Visited by Koreans and foreigners alike, local businesses thrive in the immediate vicinity. You can purchase fresh smoothies, grilled and skewered meat, sweet fruit, and much more to keep that hangry mood at bay.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
For the sake of your safety, leave fashion for the day, at least where your feet are concerned. The steps are steep at parts, the trail diverges onto winding dirt paths, and the bridge connecting the steps to the temple complex is a perfect circular curve. While great for photos, it can be a bit of a challenge for the feet.
A site that offers visual marvels both manmade and natural, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a great place to visit for all that appreciate art, architecture, cultural history, and sheer grit and determination of our ancestors!