Posted by: rbbadger | May 6, 2009

Buddhist statuary of Bongeunsa

If you visit a Chinese Buddhist temple, you might see the image of a really fat Buddhist monks who seems to be laughing.  This it the Chinese version of Maitreya, the Buddha who is yet to be born.  Maitreya Buddha, who according the Mahayana Buddhist cosmology, currently resides in the Tusita Heaven, will be born at some point, become enlightened, and save all sentient beings.  Maitreya Buddha was, and presumably still is, a favourite in Korean Buddhism.  In the 1980s, the abbot of Bongeunsa decided to build a massive statue of Maitreya Buddha on the temple grounds, a project which took about ten years to complete.  The Korean version of Maitreya is not fat nor is he laughing.  Rather, he looks reflective.

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This is the largest outdoor Buddha in Korea.  Before you leave the temple, you encounter the image of another popular figure in Korean Buddhism, namely Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, known in Chinese as Guan Yin and in Korean as Gwan Eum.  Sometimes, the lines between Buddhism and Daoism get blurred, as both Buddha and Guan Yin are honoured in Chinese Daoism and Chinese Buddhism.  She is also honoured in Korean Shamanism as well.  In Daoism, she is known as the goddess of mercy.  In Buddhism, she is honoured as a bodhisattva, a highly enlightened being who forgoes final entrance into Nirvana to help and aid sentient beings. 

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Around the temple, you will see a number of stone lanterns.  A smaller lantern will be placed inside to illuminate the path to the main Buddha hall.  The monks arise in the very early morning hours for chanting.  While the temples do have electricity now, historically they did not.  Thus the need for such lanterns.

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Finally, after passing the gate of the four guardians, you will see some tombstones.  These contain the ashes of certain eminent monks or perhaps extremely devoted laypeople.  While many Koreans are buried, cremation is the favoured method for the disposition of human remains in Buddhism.  Today, when monks die, the body of the deceased monk is taken to a mountain in a remote area and cremated.  Monks from neighbouring temples and many laypeople who may have been close to the deceased monk come to witness the cremation. 

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