Naksan-sa

Temple in Naksan Provincial Park

This temple was originally established in AD 671 and enjoys a glorious perspective overlooking the sea. Also facing the sea is a majestic (but modern, dating to 1977) 16m-tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Gwaneum (관음), presiding over the East Sea from a promontory. The temple has fallen victim to the forest fires that have periodically swept by, razing the temple buildings (most recently in 2005).

Immediately below the statue is a small shrine, with a window strategically constructed so that a kneeling devotee can look up and gaze upon the statue’s face. Further down a side path is a pavilion with a glass-covered hole through which you can see the sea cave below. From 11.30am to 1.30pm, complimentary vegetarian meals are served at the temple cafeteria; leave a donation by the shrine in the kitchen if you wish.

Most of the temple complex has been stoutly rebuilt since the last fire and the surrounding pine forest is recovering as well. A monument of colourful temple hall roof tiles that survived has been preserved in a huge mound, which serves as a moving tribute to the former temple.

The 16m-tall statue is known as the Seawater Gwaneum (해수관음). Gwaneum's full name in Korean is Gwanse'eum Bosal (관세음보살), the sounds of which derive from her Chinese name 觀世音菩薩 (Guanshiyin Pusa), which literally means 'the Bodhisattva who listens to the sounds of the World'. She is therefore a goddess (more strictly a bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be) who lends a compassionate ear to those who come to her needing sympathy. She is also known as Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin, and is worshipped in China, Vietnam, Japan, Cambodia and other nations. In Tibet, she is manifested in earthly form as the Dalai Lama.

There is a very good homestay here, if you would like to spend the night and also, if you are inclined, find out about Buddhist practice (though that is voluntary).

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