Category Archives: Stories, legends & people

Downtown East Sea Geumcheok-ri Gyeongju history Hwangnam-dong Korean culture photography Ruins & remains Stories, legends & people tombs

“From Fusan to Wonsan by Pack-pony” by Rev. H. O. T. Burkwall: A Turn of the Century Missionary’s Travelogue of Gyeongju

Old Photo of Silla-era Royal Tombs, Gyeongju

Old Photo of Silla-era Royal Tombs, Gyeongju

In the course of my Masters research, I’ve sometimes run across interesting tidbits of Gyeognju history that are completely off-topic which I file away for future blog posts.  Here is one such tidbit: a brief  travelogue written by perhaps one of the earliest westerners to visit Gyeongju; the awesomely-named missionary Rev. H. O. T. Burkwall.  Rev. Burkwall’s account was printed in the January 1903 edition of the “Korea Review” (pp. 18 – 22).  The “Korea Review” appears to be one of the earliest English-language academic journals devoted to Korean culture, history, religion and literature and was published between 1901 and 1905 by the Methodist Publishing House in Seoul.  For those interested, .pdf files of the whole 5 year run of the “Korea Review” are currently hosted online by Royal Asiatic Society of Korea. read more »

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Silla Buddhism: New Translations of Masters Wonhyo (원효) and Uisang (의상) in the “Collected Works of Korean Buddhism”

Wonhyo's Awakening, Seonggwangsa Temple

Wonhyo’s Awakening, Seonggwangsa Temple

Maybe only Korean history enthusiasts or Buddhism geeks like me get excited over this sort of thing, but last year saw the publication of a document of great significance for western scholars of both Korean history and East-Asian Buddhism.  In the summer of 2012 the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism released a critical edition of the Hanguk Bulgyo Jeonseo, or “Collected Works of Korean Buddhism,” translated into English.  Not only that, but all 13 volumes are free to download in high-quality .pdf format.  Two volumes of this publication in particular concern the lives and work of the Silla Buddhist Masters Wonhyo  (원효) and Uisang (의상) and are thus significant contributions to the western study of Buddhism during Gyeongju’s famed Silla Dynasty.  read more »

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Buddhist culture East Sea Gyeongju hiking history Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines tips for tourists

Going to the River: Girimsa Temple (기림사) and Yongyeonpokpo Waterfalls (용연폭포)

Yongyeonpokpo Waterfalls, Girimsa Temple, Gyeongju

Yongyeonpokpo Waterfalls, Girimsa Temple, Gyeongju

About a month ago a friend on on Facebook asked where around Gyeongju you can “go to the river.”  Unfortunately I’ve been a bit distracted with writing my Master’s thesis over the last month, but I hope to post on a few places to “go to the river” around here while there’s still some of the summer left. There are actually a number of nice swimming holes and lovely picnicking spots by the rivers around Gyeongju which we go to almost every weekend, if the weather’s nice. read more »

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More Dangsan Namu (당산나무): KTV Documentary in 4 Parts

Since we’ve been on the subject of Dangsan Namu (당산나무) lately, I posting a KTV documentary I found on Youtube about Korean Dangsan Namu.  The documentary is in 4 parts, though unfortunately only the first and second seconds have English subs.  Even so, parts 1 and 2 are enough to a give a sense of the rich variety of legends surrounding the Dangsan Namu in Korean folklore.  Part 2 even includes details on the traditional village ceremonies honoring the Dangsan Namu on Daeboreum (대보름), which I talked about a few weeks ago.   Unfortunately my Korean’s not good enough to make much sense of the Korean narration in parts 3 and 4, but I’m including them below anyways.  If any Korean speakers would like to chime in with a summary in the comments section, I’d definitely appreciate it ;-) read more »

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Arts & crafts Buddhist culture Gyeongju history Statues & carvings Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines Wierd Gyeongju

Wierd Gyeongju: The Wooden Fish Knocker of Bunhwangsa (분황사) Temple

Wooden Fish Knocker, Bunhwangsa Temple, Gyeongju

Wooden Fish Knocker, Bunhwangsa Temple, Gyeongju

As one of the few architectural structures left standing from the Silla Dynasty, Bunhwangsa (분황사) Temple is one of the “must see” historical sites in Gyeongju.  Built in 634 C.E. by order of the legendary Queen Seondeok (선덕여왕), Bunhwangsa is most famous for its three-tiered pagoda.  Originally built as seven or nine tiers, the pagoda was badly damaged during both the Mongolian Invasions of the 13th century, when the neighboring Hwangnyeongsa Temple (황룡사) and nine-story pagoda were burned to the ground, and again during the Hideyoshi Invasion of 1592.  Curiously, the pagoda was built in “imitation brick” style, meaning that Silla workmen actually took the time to carve stones into the shapes of bricks to imitate the brick pagodas then fashionable in China.  Seems to me like it would’ve been a lot easier to make it out of actual bricks, but I’ll leave the debate over that minor detail up to the historians. read more »

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Gyeongju history Stories, legends & people

A Pictorial Timeline of Gyeongju History

Photo of 3-Tiered Pagoda of Bunhwangsa Temple (from www.gjucc.co.kr)

Photo of 3-Tiered Pagoda of Bunhwangsa Temple (from www.gjucc.co.kr)

As part of another project I’ve got in the works at the moment, I put together a brief timeline of the history of Gyeongju which I’m posting it here with some photos. I hope that clearly and concisely portrays the dramatic thousand year rise and fall of the Shilla Dynasty and is subsequent rediscovery and preservation in the 20th century. It’s far from complete, but I’ve tried to include links to posts that flesh out the details a bit more. Heck, if folks think it’s good enough, I might even include it as a permanent page to be updated as I post more links. In the mean time, let’s start way back at the beginning: read more »

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Gyeongju hiking history Sites to see Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines tips for tourists

Choi Jae-u (최제우), Yongdamjeong Pavilion (용담정) and the Donghak Peasants Revolution (동학농민운동)

Yeongdamjeong Pavilion, Gyeongju

Yeongdamjeong Pavilion, Gyeongju

The 19th century was a dark time for Korea (and sadly just a prelude to the horrors to come in the 20th century to come).  Korea was still a feudal agrarian society and the nobility of the Joseon Dynasty had become bloated and corrupt, exacting heavy taxes and conscripting forced labor from the peasantry.  Foreign governments with imperialist ambitions were constantly vying for power on the Korean peninsula.  And to make matters worse, the country was plagued by droughts, natural disasters and famines which lead to widespread suffering and civil unrest among the peasantry.  Considering the average farmer was lucky to live to 30, it’s not surprising this malcontent boiled over into full scale uprisings against the landlords and the rich on more than one occasion. read more »

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hiking history Sites to see Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines Ulsan

Museum and Memorial Shrine of Patriotic Martyr Park Jae-sang (박제상 기념관)

Park Jae-sang Memorial Museum, Ulsan

Park Jae-sang Memorial Museum, Ulsan

Taking advantage of a break in the cold weather, the other weekend I piled into the car with some friends and took off to explore the mountains south of Gyeongju (not to mention my wife was putting the finishing touches on her Master’s thesis and needed me out of the house).  I’d managed to score an English tourist map of Ulsan, on which there’s marked the “Historical Remains of Park Je-sang”  about 15 minutes south of Gyeongju  just of off N.R. 35.  Nothing else was said about who this Park Je-sang was or why he was worth remembering, so I figured he must’ve been a small-time Confucian scholar with a few stone tablets propped up in his honor.  Still, I was itching to explore some new territory and decided to check it out. read more »

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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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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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