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Meaning and Symbolism Found in Korean Temples print

Way to the Temple—the Way to the Buddha

A great place to experience Korean Buddhism firsthand is at one of the many temples scattered across Korea. Everyday, Korean Buddhist culture meets the modern world at the gates outside every temple. But these temples are not merely tourism and sightseeing spots; rather they are fully functioning places of learning and spiritual practice that carry out the 1,700-year-old teachings and traditions. Everything in a temple has meaning which helps provide visitors with an introspective, calm, peaceful, and meditative atmosphere. Outsiders can also find solace, refuge, and rest at a temple as they are filled with sanctity, purity, and authenticity.

Korean temples are filled with symbolism. The layout follows a precise and meaningful system based on ancient Indian cosmology that places Mt. Sumeru in the middle. The temple represents the way to the Buddha, which is also the way to enlightenment. Although followers will explain Buddha is everywhere and anywhere, for cosmology sake, he resides at the summit of Mt. Sumeru. Thus, the altar where the Buddha statue sits is called the Sumeru altar. The journey to enlightenment from Jambudvipa (Kor. Namseombuju), begins with Indian cosmology.

Mt. Sumeru is surrounded by nine mountains and eight oceans. The last ocean has a continent in each cardinal direction. We live in the southern continent of Jambudvipa. Above Jambudvipa are heavens that represent the realm of desire. The summit of Mt. Sumeru is the highest point; therefore, visiting a temple is a symbolic journey from Jambudvipa to see the Buddha at the summit of Mt. Sumeru. Buddhists believe visiting a temple is like climbing a mountain where goals must be kept in mind and one must go forth resolutely.

1. Paradise Bridge to One Pillar Gate 2. One Pillar Gate to Gate of Non-Duality 3. The Dharma Hall and Buddha
4. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Dharma Halls 5. Buddhist Paintings 6. Stone Stupas and Lamps

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