Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju __ Gwon Jung-seo

Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju
Embrace the Hall of the Buddha of
Immeasurable Life with Both Arms
Gwon Jung-seo | Culturologist

 

 

 

Is the world of Hwaeom (Skt: Avataṃsaka/ Chi: Huayan), adorned with flowers, just a place of beauty? Here, beauty refers to inner beauty. Millions of flowers of diverse shapes and colors, radiating fragrance, attract insects like bees and butterflies in order to bear fruit. Likewise, bodhisattvas do good for all sentient beings by radiating the fragrance of action called Hwaeom to cultivate themselves and attain Buddhahood. This is the very reason that Uisang established Buseoksa Temple in 676 in Yeongju.
Thanks to the name plaque on the Hall of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Kor: Muryang-sujeon; hereafter “the Hall”), many people associate Buseoksa with Amitabha Buddha, and also because of its stone stairs and its layout that represents the nine levels of Buddhist paradise that comprise the Pure Land. However, this prominent temple is celebrated as the first place the Hwaeom School was introduced in Korea. Only those who don’t understand the essence of Hwaeom connect the temple to the Buddhist paradise. Its founder, Uisang, enshrined only Sakyamuni Buddha (Buddha’s transformation body) in the Hall; however, Hwaeom thought and the temple’s spatial structure represent Vairocana Buddha (Buddha’s Dharma body). And lastly, the Hall’s name plaque represents Amitabha Buddha (Buddha’s reward body). As a result, the Hall may be said to enshrine all three bodies of the Buddha. Like Uisang’s Song of Dharma Nature (Kor: Beopseongge), the Hall embodies the subtle truth of the maxim “one is many and many is all,” and exudes the magnificence suited to Hwaeom’s principal temple.
I will now explain in more detail how the aesthetics of Hwaeom philosophy Is the world of Hwaeom (Skt: Avataṃsaka/ Chi: Huayan), adorned with flowers, just a place of beauty? Here, beauty refers to inner beauty. Millions of flowers of diverse shapes and colors, radiating fragrance, attract insects like bees and butterflies in order to bear fruit. Likewise, bodhisattvas do good for all sentient beings by radiating the fragrance of action called Hwaeom to cultivate themselves and attain Buddhahood. This is the very reason that Uisang established Buseoksa Temple in 676 in Yeongju.
Thanks to the name plaque on the Hall of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Kor: Muryang-sujeon; hereafter “the Hall”), many people associate Buseoksa with Amitabha Buddha, and also because of its stone stairs and its layout that represents the nine levels of Buddhist paradise that comprise the Pure Land. However, this prominent temple is celebrated as the first place the Hwaeom School was introduced in Korea. Only those who don’t understand the essence of Hwaeom connect the temple to the Buddhist paradise. Its founder, Uisang, enshrined only Sakyamuni Buddha (Buddha’s transformation body) in the Hall; however, Hwaeom thought and the temple’s spatial structure represent Vairocana Buddha (Buddha’s Dharma body). And lastly, the Hall’s name plaque represents Amitabha Buddha (Buddha’s reward body). As a result, the Hall may be said to enshrine all three bodies of the Buddha. Like Uisang’s Song of Dharma Nature (Kor: Beopseongge), the Hall embodies the subtle truth of the maxim “one is many and many is all,” and exudes the magnificence suited to Hwaeom’s principal temple.
I will now explain in more detail how the aesthetics of Hwaeom philosophy by the Anyangnu Pavilion in the distance, seeing it framed by the pillars of the Bell Pavilion, like a photo in a picture frame, but in three dimensions. I gasp unconsciously at the beauty of Anyangnu Pavilion, which appears to float in the air, and the Hall which shyly reveals itself to me. Some ancient poets gave Anyangnu the more graceful name Pungheon (lit. “Wind Baluster”) to express their impression that Anyangnu seemed to sway this way and that in the wind.
Climbing the stairs of Anyangnu Pavilion and standing on the highest ground where the Hall sits, I notice the stone lantern, a beacon of Hwaeom, built during the Unified Silla Dynasty. I marvel at its perfect yet simple proportions. Literally translated as the “long illumination lamp,” the stone lantern radiates the light of wisdom to all beings and guides them to greater wisdom. The four bodhisattvas around the light chamber have smiles of joy like those of a child.
The most beautiful building at Buseoksa Temple is the Hall (of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life), built during the Goryeo era. It is not overly extravagant, but it has survived for a millennium, revealing a simple beauty, like the freshly-washed face of a beautiful woman. Thanks to the book Leaning against the Entasis Pillar of Muryangsujeon Hall in Buseoksa, by celebrated writer Choe Sun-u, many people have taken a renewed interest in the Hall’s entasis pillars, whose diameter gradually expands in the middle and narrows toward the top. However, it is not so easy to fully appreciate the profound architectural elegance of the Hall, subtly expressed through such structural characteristics as entasis pillars, double eaves, varied pillar heights for balance, and the pillars’ slight inclination toward the building for stability. A simpler way for me to appreciate the architectural beauty of the Hall is to stand before the stone lantern and spread my arms to embrace the Hall in my heart; I embrace the Hall as it is. Neither too large to overwhelm me nor too small to seem insignificant; neither excessive nor lacking, the Hall radiates dignity. My eyes easily take in the full height and width of the Hall without having to turn my head. To feel the beauty of the Hall like this requires no words. With the Hall in my heart, I feel that even a humble sentient being like me can embrace the Buddha. What a vast and indescribable joy!
Still beaming with joy, I enter the Hall. Its pillars are like sentinels guarding Sakyamuni Buddha. Its clean and simple interior exudes the wondrous beauty of the Lotus-Treasury World. The Flower Adornment Sutra records the teaching Sakyamuni Buddha gave on the 14th day after his enlightenment, still seated on the very spot where he had attained it. The Sakyamuni Buddha enshrined here performs the “earth-touching mudra” as he teaches the Flower Adornment Sutra. The statue itself was crafted in mud during the Goryeo era. He is seated and facing east in the same posture as when he attained enlightenment. Indians regarded the east as the supreme direction, and it is said that the Buddha was facing east when he attained enlightenment and always sat facing east when he taught major teachings like the Flower Adornment Sutra and Lotus Sutra. Some people argue that the Buddha enshrined here is Amitabha Buddha, but that argument goes against Hwaeom doctrine.
The view of the distant mountains in the south, seen from Anyangnu Pavilion, demands admiration. I feel like I have experienced the “ocean of Hwaeom,” with the distant hills, both high and low, surging in waves to pay respect to the Buddha. The beauty of the distant mountains, bowing down to the Buddha, lets me feel deep inside the truth that “eternity can exist in a single moment.” Buseoksa Temple embodies the principle that says, “The perfect and interfused nature of the Dharma is nondual.” It is where sentient beings can embrace the Buddha and the Buddha embraces them. When I realize that the person sitting beside me is a Buddha, I suddenly come to my senses and ask myself, “Why have I sought the Buddha elsewhere?” Hwaeom, the world of Vairocana Buddha, which is adorned with countless flowers, is none other than this world where countless human beings live and suffer. Buseoksa embodies the truth that myriad phenomena are Buddhas… through Hwaeom.
Gwon Jung-seo is an expert member of the Gyeonggi Cultural Alliance and a Dharma instructor of the Jogye Order.

 

 

 

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