Living in Dongtan allows me to easily get to Hwaseong Fortress, Yungneung and Geolleung, and Yongjusa Temple. Although I’ve already been to Yongjusa Temple, I decided to visit it again on Buddha’s Birthday last year.
Yongjusa Temple (용주사) means the dragon jewel temple. It was originally built in 854 AD under the name Garyangsa Temple. The temple was destroyed by fire during the second Manchurian invasion of Korea. In the late 18th century, King Jeongjo had it rebuilt in honor of his father, Prince Sado. Legend has it that on the night before construction was completed, King Jeongjo dreamt of a dragon soaring up into the sky and receiving the Pearl of Truth, the wish-fulfilling jewel. Hence the name Yongjusa.
Before entering the temple, you go through the Varja Gate (Gumgangmun) and encounter the Four Heavenly Kings. They hold a sword, a dragon and a wish-fulfilling jewel, a trident and a stupa or pagoda, and a lute. They protect all beings and fight evil. People bow to them to gain protection from selfishness and any wrong-doing.
One of the things that makes Yongjusa Temple unique is that it has a Hongsalmun (홍살문), which is a gate that is commonly found in royal burial grounds or administrative offices.
Before entering the main courtyard of the temple, people bow to the stupa or stone pagoda in front of Cheonboru Pavilion and to the sacred bell to the left. The Cheonboru Pavilion (천보루) is actually a gate tower that was built in 1790 and is No. 36 of Gyeonggi-do’s cultural properties.
Buddha’s birthday is on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month. It is the most celebrated day of the year for Korean Buddhists. Temples throughout the country are decorated with countless colorful lanterns and special events are held. At Yongjusa Temple, the courtyard in front of the main Buddha hall, Daeungbojeon (대웅보전) was full of chairs for people to watch the bathing of the baby Buddha ceremony.
There are two other stone pagodas in the temple grounds where people pay their respects. One in front of Hoseongjeon (호성전) and another behind it.
Other items of note at Yongjusa Temple are the Beomjong (범종) and the Bumoeunjunggyeong (부모은중경). The Beomjong is a copper bell that was cast in the early 10th century. Beom (범) means the truth and every being in the universe. Hearing the sound of this bell enables one to escape evil passions through wisdom. The Bumoeunjunggyeong are books written by King Jeongjo on the subject of filial piety.
On Buddha’s birthday, various tents were set up to provide visitors with other things to see and do while at the temple. Visitors can write their wishes on roof tiles or write them on paper to be hung on the lanterns. Some tents sell souvenirs while others let visitors make them.
Also, lunch was provided for free for all visitors! We were each given a bowl of delicious bibimbap, a bowl of seaweed soup, and a bag of tteok (rice cake).
Here’s a video of Buddha’s birthday at Yongjusa Temple last year:
There are numerous temples in Korea and throughout the world. Whatever your religion or belief, I highly recommend visiting a temple on Buddha’s birthday.
If you’re interested in going to Yongjusa Temple by public transportation, the fastest way to get there is via Byeongjeom station on Subway Line 1. From the station, walk to the bus stop behind the station and ride green bus 34, 34-1, 44, 46, 47, or 50 to the temple (10-15 minutes). If you have more time, check out the royal tombs (Yungneung and Geolleung) nearby.
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What are your plans on Buddha’s birthday?