Thursday, February 19, 2009

4. Laughing like a happy Buddha

Woljeongsa Temple
Thursday was a day off, and a day to venture outside of the racing world to see some Korean culture. A few buses and a taxi later, Lanny, Tracy and I arrived at the Woljeongsa Temple.
One of the most holy Buddhist sites in Korea, the Temple has a 1300 year history. In an hour, we saw merely a small part of this complex which consists of 60 temples, hermitages and a museum, all nestled in the Odea National Park. The main historical artifacts of this Temple are the seated Medicine Buddha, who appears to be giving an offering to the 9 story stone pagoda.
It was cool and quite here, and in the background you could hear the rhythmic sounds of a meditation session in the Main Hall. Various other Halls also had shoes lined out the side, and their doors closed. To have only ever read about the Buddhist religion and growing up in a Catholic school, to feel, see, hear and touch the real thing was quite special.

The "hipped" and gabled rooves and their intricately crafted and painted eaves were beautiful. Every availible log or paneled space was devoted to a painted story, bodhisattvas (one who has found Enlightenment, but has remained on Earth to helps other achieve this state, similar to saints), symbolic flora and fauna, and decorative designs.

"For peace, health and happiness for my family." Tracy and I leave a rock - a wish - on this growing alter.

The detail and the colors of the Temple were fantastic. As you walked closer to the walls and spent time looking into the eaves, the details almost multiplied.

It was invigorating to experience a cultural site so different from what I have seen in Europe and in North America. Religious sites, like churches, usually dominate the cultural exursions that I take when traveling, and this is the first time that I have been to a genuine sacred Buddhist site. In contrast, two weeks ago I stood Siegsdorf's (where I was for the Pre-Champs training camp and the stomach bug) Catholic church with heavily decorated altars, walls and ceilings, and the week before that in Zurich a stone, spartan Protestant church built during the Protestant Reformation (16th century).

We watched and happened to follow a family and their small son (see his shoes above) giving offerings and prostrating towards various Buddhas and bodhisattvas. We completely distracted him from following his parents, as hard as he was trying, bending and bowing is not as easy when you are only two feet tall and bundle in winter clothes. I wish I had captured his smile in there. It was priceless to watch his bouyant joy and his devout parents, all within the gaze of a massive gilded Buddha and alter.

Some parts were serious and contemplative if you spent time there, but others, to the western eye were just funny and a welcomed site to see after the sterile hotel and resort we are staying in. Plus, its the first place that doesn't smell like fish:)
I could have spent all day there and am bummed my camera died, becuase the creativity, design and effort put into this place was refreshing and enjoyable to experience. I've read more about Buddhism in the past couple of years (Zen and the Art of Archery and Buddha In The World) lately because I like the perspective it brings to the sport that I am doing. I find there is a constant tension between serving your self and serving others, achieving fame and success, but also find content in your best effort no matter what the result. And, being in the "zone" is almost a form of being enlightened. It is not a chance state, there are so many ways to reaching it that take time, awareness, patience and discipline. The right way.
After a short taxi back to a hotel, we had some time to kill before catching a bus back to our hotel. We came across some Korean delicacies in the hotel lobby, like this Ginseng drink below. Look closely and you can see the whole root in the bottle.

And with nap time approaching, potentially low blood sugar by this point in the day, combined with a giddiness from getting out of the hotel, we seized the opportunity to make fun of the empty pool outside the hotel. Cannonball?

Lanny and Tracy - thanks for joining me!! And thanks for all your photos! -H

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