It is common for Korean University students to go on a tour abroad to enlarge their experience during a vacation. But most of them do not know about scenic spots and places of historic interest of our own country. In this connection, I would like to suggest a visit to a Buddhist temple once in this autumn.
A visitor to a typical temple, built in Korean traditional style, will pass through triple gates, which are different from each other in both shape and size, to reach the Main Hall.
Among the three, the first gate the visitor meets is the "One Pillar" Gate. This gate, in fact, has four pillars, nevertheless it is called "One Pillar" because the pillars appear to be one. The four pillars are set up in a straight line to symbolize "One Mind." This gate, a barrier-gate to an eternal truth, is the borderline between inside and outside of a temple. Passing through the gate means that the visitor is carried from the mundane material world of human beings to the spiritual world of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Usually, there is a tablet on the upper part of this gate containing the watchword "Ib-cha-mun-lae Mak-jon-ji-hae," which means that those who cross this gate must not judge anything according to a measure of secular knowledge.
Then the visitor passes through the second gate, the "Four Guardians" Gate. Here the four protectors of the sacred teaching of the Buddha greet the visitor. The four Guardians all bear an awesome countenance and trample the opponents of Buddhism under their feet. Each of them represents one of the cardinal directions.
The Guardian of the East, holding a dragon in one hand and the jewel of life in the other, is Chigook Cheonwang; the Guardian of the South with a lute is Chonjang Cheonwang; the Guardian of the West, bearing a sword, is Kwangmok Cheonwang; and The Guardian of the North, carrying a reliquary, or a pagoda in his hand, is Tamun Cheonwang. These distinctive features, especially the thing in their hands, represent their function as protectors of Buddhism and the Buddha's teachings. It's common for people to show fear in front of them because of their dreadful appearance. However, if we think over the function of the Four Guardians, they deserve our worshiping with joined hands.
Finally, the visitor crosses the third and last gate, the "Not Two" Gate. The meaning of this gate is that, though the visitor is passing from the secular realm into the sacred realm of the temple, these two worlds are not different from each other, they are not two, non-dual. For this reason, this gate, sometimes a two-storied one, is also called Nirv a Gate.
After crossing "Not Two" gate, the visitor meets the Main Hall, which is usually called Taeung-jen or Taeungbo-jen (Great Hero Hall). The central figure in the Main Hall is usually Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha (Seokgamonibul in Korean).
Before visiting a temple, if we are familiar with the historical background of the central figure, the structure of the temple compound, the property of the temple, and so on, our visit will be more meaningful.
Chang Ae-soon email@example.com
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