A Buddhist temple by the sea. I feel as though I, too will be free of petty worries and worldly pleasures if I lived here as a nun.
Most temples are actually built on mountains or hidden deep in them. Haedong Yonggungsa is an anomaly in this sense. Naong built the temple in 1376, in a time where the nation was strife in drought and famine. He had a dream where he was told by the East Sea Dragon that if he built a temple on the Bunhwang Mountain, peace will return. This led him to find this exact spot where visitors can pray towards the mountains in the day, and receive answers from the sea in the evening. During the Japanese invasion in 1590s, this temple was destroyed. 350 years later, monk Ugang of Tongdo Temple started reconstructing the temple.
Today, the temple is popular with both locals and tourists, especially on Buddha’s birthday where lanterns are put up across the whole compound. To get to this temple, you can either get a cab or take bus 7 or 181 from Haeundae Station. Our cab ride was about 20 minutes and cost 9,500won – a much better option as from the bus stop you still need to walk quite a distance uphill to reach the entrance. From the outside, you will see a lot of vendors selling street food, souvenirs or clothes. Walking in, you will past sculptures representing the 12 Chinese zodiacs.
After that, be prepared to climb down (and eventually back up!) 108 flight of stairs. These stairs are reminder of the 108 sacred prayers of Buddhism – an exhaustion that is supposed to turn meditative and contemplative (For example, why put yourself through this? Because life’s like that.) There’s a lot of other symbolism in and around the temple. Deugnambul (Buddha of Granting a Son) is one of them. If a couple touch it and wish hard, they will be granted a baby son. There is also a cave in front of the temple, “a uniquely designed Buddhist sanctum”. Buddhist sanctums are only found in older temples and around East Asia. They are normally used to enshrine Buddhas and also to hold important ceremonies of worship and praying.
If you ask me if this temple is worth visiting? I would say yes. On one side, it is just another temple among hundreds (or thousands) of temples in Korea, but on the other side, it is a temple by the sea! This is reason enough to travel 30 minutes off Haeundae for a 1 hour visit because temples by the sea are a rarity.