Monthly Archives: February 2011

Arts & crafts Buddhist culture history Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines

Zen Legends- Part 2: Bodhidharma (달마) and the Severed Arm of Dazu Huike

Continued from part 1…

Painting of Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike, Heungryusa Temple

Painting of Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike, Heungryusa Temple

Usually built in the mountains, a lot of folks enjoy visiting Korea’s Buddhist Temples for their relaxing atmosphere and serene architecture.  Appropriately, most temple buildings are decorated with mystical portraits of Bodhisattvas, pastoral images of the Ox Hearder Parable, or scenes from the life of the Buddha.   Occasionally though temple visitors come across violent or gruesome paintings that clash with the otherwise tranquil vibe.  In one such image, you might find a monk bowing before a grumpy-looking figure seated in a cave, offering him a severed arm on a leaf!  This bizarre and unsettling image actually depicts a famous legend about the Bodhidharma (달마), the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism (Kr. Seon or 선, Ch. Chan) and the awakening of his successor, Dazu Huike. read more »

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Arts & crafts Buddhist culture history Stories, legends & people

Zen Legends- Part 1: Why the Bodhidharma (달마) Came From the West

Portrait of the Bodhidharma (from atlantica.hangame.com)

Portrait of the Bodhidharma (from atlantica.hangame.com)

In Korean Seon (선) Buddhism (Ch. “Chan”, Jap. “Zen”) practitioners often meditate on paradoxical or nonsensical riddles known as koans (공안 or “ kong-an” in Korean) to gain insight into the nature of thought, perception and reality.  One of the most famous of these riddles is “Why did the Bodhidharma (Kr. “Dalma” or달마) come from the west?”  The Zen master Zhaozhou answered, “The cypress tree in front of the hall.”  I‘m not sure about that myself, but thankfully the mundane answer is a bit more simple.  read more »

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Arts & crafts Gyeongju Shamanism tips for tourists Wierd Gyeongju

Wierd Gyeongju: Mr. Seo, Penis Carver of Mt. Namsan (남산나무꾼)

Penis Carver, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

Penis Carver, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

There are many times in this country when I’ve wished I had a better grasp of the Korean language.  Standing in Mr. Seo Seung-am’s workshop at the foot of Mt. Namsan (남산) was definitely one of those times.  On display all over the shop are literally hundreds of hand-carved wooden penises.  There are big ones, small ones, some with faces, and some with breasts.  There are penis coat racks, penis hiking sticks, penis hat racks and penis chairs.  Heck, some of the penises even have penises.  I would simply like to ask Mr. Seo “Why?” read more »

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Exploring the Mysteries of Mt. Nangsan (낭산)

Mt. Nangsan, Gyeongju

Mt. Nangsan, Gyeongju

If you’re visiting the Gyeongju National Museum and happen to look east over the highway you might notice the outline of a hill on the far side of the train tracks.  From the looks of it you wouldn’t guess this low ridge (often describe as looking like a silkworm) was in fact considered one of the most sacred mountains of the Shilla Dynasty. As such, it’s home to numerous ancient relics and features in a number of stories and legends from the Shilla Era. read more »

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Winter News: Martial Arts Demos, AREX and More

Seonmudo Demo, Golgulsa Temple (photo by Andrew Peet)

Seonmudo Demo, Golgulsa Temple (photo by Andrew Peet)

If you’ve not seen the signs around town recently, Golgulsa Temple (골굴사) has started hosting daily demonstrations of Seonmudo (선무도), or “Zen Martial Arts.”   Golgulsa has been the center of a Seonmudo revival over the last few decades, so the demos are free and are scheduled for both 11 am and 3 pm every day except Monday.  I’ve visited Golgulsa many times over the years and have had the pleasure of seeing a few demos before (in fact I posted a video of one back in August).   But my brother-in-law was visiting last week, so we stopped by to check it out on our way back from King Munmu’s tomb at the coast. read more »

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