Haeinsa Temple, South Korea: My Childhood Ritual
“From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust, God watches them play and forgets the priest.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
Haeinsa (Temple of Reflection on a Smooth Sea) is a remarkable sanctuary I used to visit often with my mother while I was growing up in South Korea. It was a natural progression for me to accept and practice Buddhism as a result of my family traditions. In fact, I enjoyed my experience attending the ceremonies and experiencing the beauty of the temples; especially this special one.
Not only is the temple an important architectural figure in my personal life, but also Haeinsa is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea, representing Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings). First built in 802, Haeinsa has gone through several renovations occurring in the 900s, 1488, 1622, and 1644. Janggyeong Panjeon, the storage halls of the temple that house important Buddhist doctrines, were designated a Korean national treasure in 1962. It is surprising and fortunate that this huge wooden storage facility survived the Japanese invasion of Korea and a bombing during the Korean War, as well as numerous temple fires.
Many of my travels take me to places for my work and exploration, but this trip was closer to my heart. As a young boy I was naïve to architectural language. I simply enjoyed my five senses entertained by burning incense, the burgeoning pine forest with dark charcoal tile roof lines, chanting awakened with prayer bells, organically grown prayer foods, and the carved treasures my fingers couldn’t help but touch. After many years of practicing architecture and design, I expected to notice things differently. Surprisingly and reassuringly, I felt the same way I did as a young boy on my first day visiting the temple.
I would like to share some highlights from the trip. Perhaps it will inspire you to revisit some spiritual or magical places from childhood, too.
All photos by D.B. Kim.