Toward the “Luminous Buddha” along the Colorful Forest Path Filled with the Joy of Dharma
Girimsa Temple on Mt. Hamwolsan in Gyeongju
Eunjeok | Freelance Wrter
Autumn sunlight is noticed by the mind before the body. Its warmth touches the mind one step ahead of the skin. Then there is the autumn wind. It dutifully collects the fragrance of the flowers drifting in the air before infusing it into the fruit.
Back in summer I was very worried that because the summer was so hot, the leaves might all be burnt brown, which turned out to be a needless worry. In fact that may be the reason this year’s fall foliage looks even more beautiful than ever.
Fall’s colorful foliage sings the song of life to beautify this world which is inherently the “Pure Land of calm light.” Because the origin of their brilliant colors is “light,” fall leaves represent “emptiness” just as they are. Our Earth is full of the joy of Dharma at this moment, and fall is the perfect season to encounter a Buddha.
In “The Extraordinary” section of Samguk yusa (Legends and History of Korea’s Three Kingdoms) Vol. 2, there is a story about a Manpasikjeok (magic flute with incredible power). In the 2nd year (682) of the reign of Silla’s King Munmu, the king went to a small mountainous island in the sea near Gameunsa Temple. There he received a jade belt and some bamboo from a dragon to make the magic flute. On his way back to the palace, “the king stopped his wagon and had lunch by a stream located west of Girimsa Temple,” the legend says.
Girimsa has existed for over 1,000 years. It is said that the temple was established by an Indian monk named Gwangyu who then named it Imjeongsa Temple. Later, in the 12th year (643) of the reign of Silla’s Queen Seondeok, Wonhyo rebuilt it and renamed it Girimsa. The name is a combination of two characters: one from the Jetavana Monastery (Giwon Jeongsa in Korean) where Buddha resided the longest, and another from Imjeongsa.
Girimsa’s temple compound is divided into two sections. One is the area around the Hall of Great Tranquil Light (Treasure 833), which is the Main Buddha Hall, and the other is an area to the west where the Hall of Three-thousand Buddhas and Sacred Treasure Museum are located. Most structures in the latter area were built after the late 1970s. But visitors can still see that all the Buddha halls and structures are well integrated with historic accuracy. This is partly because buildings around the Main Buddha Hall area are characterized by simple architectural beauty with gabled roofs, and the traditional five-color decorative cosmic designs (dancheong) are much faded. It is evident that the resident monks intended to preserve their ancient heritage into the modern era even as the temple expanded.
At present Girimsa is a branch temple of Bulguksa Temple, but during the Japanese occupation, it was one of 31 headquarters temples, which included Bulguksa. In other words, the status of the two temples was reversed. However, not all is lost for Girimsa. Though it is in Gyeongju, one of the major tourist destinations in Korea, Girimsa retains the simple allure of a quiet mountain temple. That is why Girimsa looks most splendid in fall when colorful fall leaves add glory to its surroundings.
The forest path connecting Girimsa’s One Pillar Gate and the Gate of Four Heavenly Kings is marvelously lit by the radiance of the Dharma body of the Buddha. It truly is a forest path of truth leading to the Buddha of radiance.
Photos | Uoo Tae-ha (Photographer)