Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was serene until the gunfire started.
The noise shocked me, a cacophony that drowned out the crashing waves. The ground shook as a helicopter formation roared overhead.
Startled, the worshipers looked for the violence’s source. The calm was ruined and we wanted to find the perpetrator.
Another eruption, but this time we were expectant. A blaze of fire was visible on the horizon, as smoke spewed from a large grey shape.
The Korean Navy was shooting at something. Or someone.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Haedong Yonggungsa is a Buddhist temple in Busan, Korea’s second biggest city. The temple’s unique because it’s located beside the ocean. Most Korean temples are in the mountains.
Built in 1376, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was the creation of the Great Monk Naong. Korea was devastated by famine, and Naong had a vision from a sea god who said that if he built a temple here and prayed, Korea’s suffering would end. Worshipers have continued this tradition, facing the sea as the salty breeze ruffles their hair.
The temple’s condition is good considering the sea’s weathering effects. There’s been much restoration work, and inevitably this was happening when I visited. An ugly crane doesn’t make for nice photos.
Despite this, I was still impressed by the temple’s beauty. In particular, I loved the stone stupas balanced precariously on the cliffs. There was no explanation why they were here, but they looked great. Tiny buddha statues had been placed at their bases, and some were nestled in the tightly packed stones.
Built on the rocky shore, I was amazed that Haedong Yonggungsa Temple hadn’t fallen into the ocean during its long history. Unfortunately, it was the victim of other events. Notably, it was razed by the Japanese, but was rebuilt in the 1930s.
Today, the main threat comes from North Korea. That’s why the navy was doing maneuvers. Happily, today’s gunfire was just a drill. But it was a chilling reminder that even at peaceful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, the scourge of war still haunts the Korean Peninsula.