This is the sixth and final blog by Paul Courtright as his personal revisit comes to an end.
Every foreigner who spends a few years in Korea ends up with their favorite Buddhist temple. It may be the small temple near where they live or it may be a larger, more well-known temple they visited frequently. Well, I cheated. I have two favorite temples: 송광사(Songgwangsa) and선암사(Sunamsa). They are separated by a 7 km hike in 조계산(Jogyesan Provincial Park) near to 순천where I worked for a while. Why my favorite? The sounds, the smells, the peace and quiet, and, of course the beauty of the temple grounds themselves. I skipped class on Friday, hopped on an intra-city bus and made my way to 송광사for the first time in almost 38 years. This blog could simply be a bunch of pictures (mostly of roof lines, my favorite) but that would not capture the smells—pine trees, incense, old wood, and charcoal and the sounds—the gurgling stream, the 목탁(wooden instrument), and the melodic chanting. 송광사had it all.
Getting there was a bit of a slog. I relied on Googlemaps for instructions and, by and large, it worked but one item missing from the instructions was an hour-long walk--and I’m a fast walker--to get from the last bus stop to the temple. The guy who sold me the ticket said: “It’s near.” I enjoyed the walk but I would not call a one hour walk “near”. Add another 30 minutes and I could have walked between the two temples!
Was I disappointed with 송광사on Friday? Well, a bit. I can’t blame the monks. It’s a working temple and there are many areas used for study and living. In the intervening years since I was there last there’s been a huge influx of tourists and the monks have had to close off areas of the temple grounds if they are to have their own peace and quiet. I could not explore to my heart’s content as I could so long ago.
Would I go back? You bet. But, I’d change my schedule. I would arrive at one of the two temples in the late afternoon and spend the night nearby. That would allow time to be in the temple grounds in early evening and then early morning, when light is the best. I’d hike in the morning to the other temple. If I had all of the time in the world, I’d spend the night there. The sights, sounds and smells have always captured me—and they still don’t want to let go.
Maybe next year?