The sheer size of Yakcheonsa is the first thing any visitor will notice. As the largest temple in Jeju, it covers over 122,100 square meters. Yakcheonsa, which means ‘temple where medicinal water flows,’ was built in 1981 by Buddhist monk Hae-in. He founded the temple after visiting the small cottage that was originally found on the site.
Built in a similar style to palaces and temples in Seoul; the temple grounds include a pond thought to contain mythical medicinal water where many visiting Buddhists stop to drink, inspired by the mysterious stories they have heard. The sound of chanting flows from speakers placed on poles and in trees throughout the complex. Monks practice the Jogye order of Buddhism, a school of Korean Buddhism which dates back to over 1,000 years, and can be seen strolling around the temple grounds in their traditional grey robes.
Visitors to Yakcheonsa will have plenty to explore. The main temple has multiple floors and balconies that overlook a beautiful three-meter-tall Buddha, contained in a large prayer hall. The main temple is filled with murals of Buddhist legends. Additionally there are several smaller buildings. The hall of the 500 Arahan is a smaller building near the temple’s main gate, filled with statues of 500 Buddhist disciples; each depicting the disciple's unique personality. It also houses a slightly smaller statue of Buddha surrounded by lotus flowers under a pair of intricately carved, protective dragons. A quick walk up a small hill to the left of the hall will lead visitors to the hall of the Three Sages, a one room sanctuary decorated with candles and prayer mats.
▲ Legend has it that the flowing water at Yakcheonsa possesses medicinal qualities. Photo by Veronica Fortune
Like most temples in Korea, Yakcheonsa is open for temple stays and there are temple tours available. Temple stays are offered every first and third weekend; a longer three-day traditional culture program is offered every forth Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The temple also offers a Temple Life program, which takes place over two hours and is great for those with busier schedules.
During a temple stay visitors can experience the things that make up the essence of temple life, including the important practice of paying homage to Buddha and wishing for all living things to become Buddhas. Other things on the itinerary include joining the monks for carefully planned, shared vegetarian meals, participating in a tea ceremony, two types of meditation, sitting and walking. The temple stay concludes with calligraphy carving- a traditional form of carving done on stone or wood, and creating rubbing patterns on paper with Chinese ink.
Currently Yakcheonsa forms part of two Olle trekking trails; the start point of Olle 7 and the finish point of Olle 8. This offers an alternative way to experience the beauty of Yakcheonsa’s surroundings as well as the serenity of the temple itself. A visit in the evenings can be even more worthwhile as around the time of sunset the monks begin their evening chants; creating a truly awe-inspiring experience for the visitor.
Yakcheonsa is located east of Jungmun near Wolpyeong harbor and can be reached easily from Jeju-si by the 600 bus from the airport, or from the main terminal. From Seogwipo take a bus heading in the direction of the World Cup Stadium.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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