Daeheung Temple ― a Weekend Retreat
This is the fourth in a series of templestays. ― ED
By Roger Shepherd
On a late September's afternoon, I traveled down to the southwestern corner to see Daeheung Temple (Daeheungsa) near the small city of Haenam, South Jeolla Province.
It was early in the morning as I walked up the two-kilometer sealed road that leads the visitor to Daeheung Temple.
As I had traveled from the northern parts of South Korea to be here, I could see and feel instantly that this southwestern corner of Korea was a sub-tropical zone, especially at this time of the year, where the weather in the north was beginning to turn cooler.
Here the air was still humid, and the roadside interior was lined with ferns, bamboo, and evergreen summer maple, cherry and camellia trees, allowing its visitors to take in the aromas and form a pious mind. This area also marks the entrance to Mt. Duryun Provincial Park, a small boutique styled park with a mountain rimmed landscape that adorns Daeheung Temple and its 10 hermitages.
On my first evening at the temple, a tea ceremony took place led by Ven. Moo In. There he emphasized to the 50 students and teachers of Gwangju's prestigious Chosun University, the unique geographical location of Daeheung Temple and its relationship to the Korean tradition of ``pungsu-jiri,'' (feng-shui) or geomancy as it is known in the West.
In Korea, it can be interpreted as the study of topography in search of powerful places that emit vital energies for the good health and prosperity of those humans that are fortunate enough to live in a zone that houses these energies.
Ven. Moo In spoke how Daeheung Temple was placed strongly in accordance to these topographical intuitions.
The ridges of Mt. Duryun Park that surround the temple form a semi-enclosed perimeter with the main ridge supporting the highest feature of Mt. Duryun at 703 meters.
This peak represents the black tortoise, the rocky western ridge represents the white tiger and the winding eastern ridge represents the blue dragon. The most striking thing about this geographical aspect, is that the three features, when viewed from the front entrance to Mt. Daeheung, look like a giant sleeping Buddha with his hands on his belly.
This well photographed sight was also pointed out to us by Ven. Moo In. The Daeheung Temple site provides open sunny views with a stream running across it completing the pungsu-jiri effect.
Most temples in Korea are built and located in such a way so as to receive the magical energy of its surrounding landscape.
The mountain from which they are constructed upon will have what's known as three ``hyeol'' - an upper, central and lower plateau. The ``gi,'' or energy lines will run down the southern slope, through all three hyeol, with most major monasteries built on the lower hyeol, and its hermitages scattered over the central and upper hyeols.
The upper hermitages supposedly have higher refined levels of spiritual energy, allowing those that live in them closer access to the energies of the mountain and heaven. The lower level purports a more balanced and powerful energy, hence the construction of large temples at the foot of the mountain.
There's also clearly a logistics and accessibility attachment to the construction of large temples at ground level as well.
The exact date of Daeheung Temple's construction is unknown, giving it a wider definition of discovery.
It is assumed to have been built during the reign of King Jinheung (540-576) of the Silla Kingdom, one of the kingdoms of the three kingdom period. It is now the head temple for the 22nd District of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and it is also a major Zen Center of Zen and Buddhistic Philosophy.
One of its more famous monks was Ven. Seo San of the late 16th century. In 1592, and against the traditions of Buddhism, he rallied together monks to become warriors to help the Joseon Kingdom king of that time repel the invading Japanese forces.
This occurred during a period when Confucianism was the predominant form of government; Ven. Seo San's actions helped Buddhism regain some credibility under this regime.
As Daeheung Temple is located inside a small provincial park, it might be worth adding a day hike to your temple stay visit. Augmenting this might be the fact that some people may have to travel far to get to Daeheung Temple, so a full weekend excursion should be considered.
From the temple grounds there are a couple of well marked trails that take the walker up to the ridges of Mt. Duryun. The hiking trails are beautiful and easy to walk, and pass through subtropical green broadleaves and temperate deciduous broadleaf trees.
They also pass by some of Daeheung Temple's hermitages, one of them containing the very impressive 8th century Goryeo or Silla period carving of the Maitreya (Future) Buddha at Bukmireuk-am (Hermitage).
This incredible masterpiece is carved onto a four-meter slab of rock that stands about five meters wide. It is housed inside the prayer hall of Bukmireuk-am, which was built around the carved image. When one stands at the entrance to the prayer hall, they are instantly overcome by its impressive monolithic appearance.
On this particular carving the Buddha's symbolic hand gesture or ``Mudra'' symbolizes the expulsion of devils. After reaching the small flat summit area of Noseung peak, you clamber over to Mt. Duryun where you can get long-distant views of the sea inlets to the east, south and west.
On your way down you can complete the pleasant circular walk by passing through the hermitage of Ilji-am, just above Daeheung Temple.
At this site you may have an opportunity to meet the Ven. Moo In, who runs the templestay programs and who is the temple's resident monk. Ilji-am, a beautiful hermitage with great views to the north and west, is also a small tea plantation area.
The site was built in 1824 by Master Cho Eui (1786-1866) who became fascinated with tea culture. He cultivated tea at this temple for the next 40 years. He became one of Korea's great founding tea masters and he wrote various books, guides, and poems on drinking and making tea, which cultivated tea into a form of art and culture.
One of his more famous quotes was ``Tea is like a perfect gentleman whose nature has no evil.'' Ven. Moo In is just one of a long line of monks who have resided at Ilji-am. He like others before him are continuing with the tradition of making fine Korean tea at this well placed hermitage, and apart from being able to taste the teas produced here, you can also pay a small fee to sleep in one of the beautifully crafted traditional cottages that exist on the site.
Perhaps this is the best way to visit Daeheung Temple, a temple stay visit enhanced with a day hike through the panoramic mountain landscape of Mt. Duryun, and then the next night with an overnight visit to Ilji-am, where you can relax your tired body and enhance your mind with fine tea and great views, all under the mountain energies of the white tiger and blue dragon that empower Daeheung Temple.