On my second day in Gangneung 강릉시, I traveled to Jumunjin Fish Market 강릉 주문진수산시장, where people travel around the country to purchase the fresh and dried fish that the market is famous for. It is a haven for those who enjoy smoking up the atmosphere of a place with an odd, fishy smell, the sights of people cleaning fish and bringing them in from the port, and everyone going about their life in this seaside fishing town. This was the first time I got to test out my new film camera, and the results blew me away.
I have started to really enjoy walking around with my camera and capturing the everyday life of people. Even On days that I’m low energy and bored, I end up seeing a different side of life in Korea that I would have missed if I stayed in a coffee shop all day.
After a lazy morning in Jumanjin, I hopped on a bus and rode up to Naksansa Temple 낙산사, where I was left on the side of the road near an E-mart 24 convince store, which made me panic for a minute until I realized that it had doubled as the bus station.
A 20-minute walk later, I made it to the temple. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the temple, but it wasn’t what I ended up experiencing.
Initially, I was bummed out about the temple mostly being a new build after a forest fire several years ago, but that disappointment did not last long. Naksansa Temple probably has the best explanations and detailed information about Buddhism and the temple I have found yet in Korea.
From the historical importance of the temple to the meanings of pagodas, temple guardians, and the history of Buddhism in Korea, Nakasansa is the temple has a wealth of information.
One of the three things I learned that has helped me understand Korean Buddhism is that Buddhism originally entered the country during two different dynasties and then again with Colonial Japan. This small piece of information was an epiphany for me. I had noticed three different styles of temples in my travels. Some of the differences were subtle, like the depictions reminiscent of Indian art, while others felt more Chinese or Korean. I initially thought it was related to the sect of Buddhism practiced at the temple, but it was more than that.
The second thing I learned was that Buddhists were exiled to the mountains in favor of Confucianism and Confucius’s ideals during the Joseon Dynasty. This is why many temples have quite the hike to get to in Korea. For those who watch Korean historical dramas, you may be wondering about some of the ritual practices portrayed during the Joseon period by the royalty. After a bit of research, I found out that because Confucian beliefs lacked spirituality, many people, especially women, either practiced Buddhism in secret or would seek a way of changing things through Shamanistic practices that are still strong to this day in Korea. In fact, all the Korean presidents have a Shaman that the council with, which Koreans have mixed feelings about.
Lastly, I learned the meaning or purpose of pagodas and temple guardians. Pagodas are believed to and often do house relics of Buddha; some traditions even believe it’s his spirit that has been infused with an object stored in it. They are a physical representation of Buddha himself. On the other hand, Temple guardians do precisely what their name is, but they come from the four Hindu gods of the directions who came down from the heavens to protect Buddha while he meditated to reach enlightenment. I learned of Buddhist philosophy in my high school world religions class. Still, I had never realized how important the link between Buddhism and Hinduism was nor the purpose of temple architecture like the pagodas.
Nakasansa temple was very enriching. I left feeling more at was and with a better understanding of Buddhism. I would love to do a temple stay there because I feel like it would be educational, focusing on Buddhism’s history and spirit. In contrast, some temple stays I’ve looked at completely submerse you in a monk’s way of life or are entirely touristy where you end up doing lots of art projects. Personally, I want a mix of the two to help me better understand Buddhism. Nakasana Temple is a must-see if you’re ever in the Gangneung and Sokcho area.
Jumunjin Fish Market 강릉 주문진수산시장 – FREE – 4-1, Sijang 1-gil, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do – 강원도 강릉시 주문진읍 시장길 38 (주문진읍)
Naksansa Temple 낙산사 – 5,000 krw – 100, Naksansa-ro, Yangyang-gun, Gangwon-do – 강원도 양양군 강현면 낙산사로 100
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