Journey to the Centre of Korea’s Buddhist and Confucian Culture
Closed to the public to preserve the site, the doors of the Seokguram Grotto that contains a monumental 8th-century statue of a seated Buddha on a lotus pedestal, were opened for UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova during her visit to Bulguksa Temple, on 27 November.
Surrounded by delicately sculpted bodhisattvas and disciples, the statue is considered to be a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East. The Bulguksa Temple, a vast complex of worship halls and pagodas set amid pines, maples and mountains, has a 1,400-year-old history, dating back to the Silla Dynasty (57BC-925 AD) that officially embraced Buddhism.
In the course of her visit, the Director-General toured the complex, tolled the monumental temple cast-iron bell and gained hands-on experience of making stone inscriptions on rice paper and lotus lanterns. During a dinner hosted by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, she discussed the Buddhist vision of peace with Reverend Jeong Mahn.
A visit to Yangdong Village in the historic Gyeongju area, also a World Heritage site, gave the Director-General another perspective on Korea’s heritage. The tranquil ‘clan’ village of thatched-roof dwellings, pavillions and timber-framed houses set amid forests and plains dates back to the 15th century. Its planning, social structures and traditions reflect the Confucian culture of the Joseon Dynasty that prevailed from 1392 to 1910.
Here, the Director-General was greeted by the Mayor of Gyeongju and two families who trace their presence in Yangdong back some 500 years. Even the recipes of the traditional meal and rice wine served to the Director-General have been proudly passed down from one generation to the next.
Stating that "heritage has no price," the families explained that so far, they have not permitted any commercial activities in the village nor considered charging entrance fees. This, they said, would first require educating both the villagers and the public at large on the preservation of a living heritage.