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[Opinion] Ah! Naksansa

Posted April. 06, 2005 23:32,   


Looking at the thousand-year-old temple Naksansa being burned to ashes, I was pained as if my own body was being burned to the ground. It must have been as painful as losing a birthplace for many people, who went to the temple for the soothing comfort it offered whenever they felt sad and gloomy. Just what kind of a temple was Naksansa? It is Korea’s first sacred temple for Avalokitesvara, which was built by the great Buddhist priest Euisang, who founded the non-Zen Buddhism of Hwaeom of the Shilla Dynasty in 671 after studying in China during the Tang Dynasty.

Naksan is a transliteration of the Sanskrit “Potalaka,” which means the place where Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva always resides. Just as Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, or Guan Yin as it is called in East Asian Countries, is known to lend an attentive ear to the pained voices of the world, the temple of Naksansa was a mother to Korean Buddhism. The temple also has to do with the establishment of Joseon since it is said that the first king of Joseon Taejo Lee Seong-gye’s grandparents offered sacrifices at Naksansa for their children. Because of such affinity, the royal family of Joseon sent administers to the temple during spring and fall and rendered many services to the temple by building walls around it among many other efforts. The copper bell at the temple (National Treasure No. 479) that was lost to the fire was given as an offering by King Yejong in commemoration of his father Sejo.

Fortunately, Hongryeonam, a small hermitage known for its great miraculous prevalence for prayers, and Euisangdae, a pavilion where the Great Priest Euisang mediated, avoided the misfortune. Hongryeonam was given its name when it was built in the region where a red lotus suddenly came into a bloom in front of the priest Euisang’s eyes during his continuous prayer of seven days and nights. With a hollow made on the floor of the structure, one can enjoy a rare view of the waves of the East Sea when the plank is opened. The hexagonal pavilion of Euisangdae was built by priest Manhae, Han Yong-woon.

Naksansa seem to have a deep karma with fire. After it was rebuilt under the rule of King Sejo of the Joseon Dynasty after being completely burned down during an invasion by the Mongolian forces, it was again reduced to ashes during the Manchu War of 1636 (Byeongja Horan) and the Japanese invasion in 1592 (Imjin Waran). However, being burned down by an event beyond human control and being burned down by an accidental fire are starkly different. It forces us to think whether we should be suspicious of the time or whether the priests have accumulated enough virtuous deeds.

Oh Myeong-chul, Editorial Writer, oscar@donga.com