Within a dilapidated and ill kept temple hides a beautiful secret.
In honor of my blog surpassing the 1000 views mark, this Sunday Series will be about Seonggoksa, the temple of a Thousand Buddhas. About a 30 minute motorcycle ride outside of the historic Baekjae Mecca of Gongju, its remote and mostly unmarked location among the back roads and mountains had me convinced several times I was lost. It was only after cresting the peak of a large hill that I saw in the distance a towering Buddha statue, reaching over even the tallest pines, that I knew I was headed in the right direction. There is nothing romantically ancient about this temple, and from what I read about it, it had a wearisome 12 years of construction and because of that there is little uniformity among the buildings. It is ill-kept and poorly maintained and despite construction being completed as recently as 1995, none of the buildings looked like they were completed before the 70’s. Peeled paint, shattered windows, discarded relics, all littered the grounds, and with the exception of a solitary monk puttering about on a tiny scooter, the temple grounds were deserted. So, why would anyone visit this decrepit mausoleum of a shine? Because the name “Temple of a Thousand Buddhas” is a misnomer; it has not just a thousand, but rather well over a hundred thousand of the statues.
It was the hazy end of September, and the air was still rich with the din of summer. The haphazard layout of the temple often had me circling through the surrounding greenery only to re-emerge on the other side of the site I had just left. The statues ranged in both size, some towering monoliths, some hand held mementoes, and color, from a deep brown bronze to a rich and earthy stone, with glinting golds and decaying greens. My favorite area of the shrine had a large seated bronze Buddha surround by hundreds of tiny bells, with small fish forged as the clapper, swimming back and forth in unison, filling the air with gentle chiming and they submitted to the will of the wind. In a large semi circle around this soaring centerpiece were a thousand shimming gold Bodhisattvas standing and glinting in the bright afternoon sun. Each one of the man size statues was just ever so slightly different, and the scene was so vast that it expanded well beyond your field of vision, making it much too immense to comprehend in a single glance. I didn’t feel the serenity I normally felt when I visit a Buddhist temple, there air here was empty of incense and prayer, the grounds were not well kept and often simply dilapidated, it shirked the classic wooden shines for concrete coverings, but what I did feel was a sense of adventure. A feeling of exploration in a forgotten place, almost as if I was the one rediscovering it, statue by statue and shine by shine. More than once I came upon a small clearing, completely overgrown. Standing alone in the glade, me on one end emerging from the woods, and a fat smiling Buddha sitting alone on the other end, hot in the late summer, the endless done of insects on the wind, there were stood, together in silence; a secret meeting that might never happen again.
Camera: Nikon D3100, 18-55mm lens
*Note click images or view gallery for both more photos and higher resoloution.