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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bulguksa Temple - a masterpiece of beauty and Buddhist belief

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This ancient temple complex is an exquisite example of Far Eastern religious art. It is a survivor: it has endured fire and war, and stands today embodying beauty, grace and equanimity.

The Temple of Bulguksa is the grand centerpiece of a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance. Built in the year 774, Bulguksa has been inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List as a masterpiece of Far Eastern Buddhist art. The temple complex is not only an outstanding example of religious architecture of the region, but also of the material expression of Buddhist belief.

As the name indicates, Bulguksa was designed to be an illumination of the blissful state of the Buddha in the present world. It was intended to embody the happy land where the mortal being is released from the suffering of life by following the teachings of the Buddha or the Lotus Land, as promised in the Avatamsaka Sutra. This embodiment of the Lotus Land offered the theoretical foundation for the construction of the temple. Thus, the purpose of the temple design was two-fold it was to be faithful to the teachings of the Buddha, and it was to be beautiful.

Among the many treasures of Bulguksa, the distinguished pair of pagodas in the main courtyard has a unique and unparalled history. The two dynamic and distinct stone pagodas, standing some 100 feet apart, have survived for over 12 centuries, withstanding the flames of war that engulfed and destroyed all of the temple's original wooden structures. None of the some thousand stone pagodas scattered across Korea excel them for their profound philosophical depth and aesthetic charm. They are a perfect pair, as the princely dignity and simplicity of the Seokga Pagoda dramatically enhances the complexity of the lavishly decorated Pagoda of Many Treasures.

The Seokga Pagoda is also called the "Pagoda without Reflections", denoting the sad legend of Asanyeo, wife of the Baekje mason, Asadal, who built the pagoda. The poor woman came to Gyeongju to see her husband as years had passed without any news from him. As no outsiders were allowed into the holy building site, she was told to wait by a pond near the temple until the completed pagoda cast a reflection in the water. She waited in vain.?No reflection appeared, and she finally threw herself into the pond.

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