After visiting the Joseon royal tombs, I went to the old temple Bongeun-sa, which, like the royal tombs, in incongruous with its surroundings in the Gangnam District.
I think it says something about what I’m interested in that the only places I bothered to visit in the ultramodern, chic, super-rich Gangnam District are two places which are over 400 years old, though to be honest, most what I saw of the Gangnam district looked like a typical South Korean urban neighborhood.
In fact, these two places are related – Queen Jeonghyeon (who is buried in the royal tombs park) had the temple restored and rename ‘Bonguensa’ (it previously was called ‘Gyeongseongsa’).
As I’ve said before, Buddhism was banned in Seoul during the Joseon dynasty, and otherwise discouraged. However, Buddhism was somewhat accepted as a woman’s religion, and it was even tolerated that some women in the royal family practiced Buddhism in a low-key manner.
Furthermore, what is now the ‘Gangnam District’ was outside of Seoul city limits during the Joseon dynasty. According to some of the plaques at the temple, there was an important monk at the temple who used his influence with the royal court to be lenient with Buddhism, to not drive the religion out of the kingdom, and to maintain power for Buddhist institutions.
If you want to know more about the temple’s history or architecture, there’s Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures. I have a short story.
When I walked into the temple, there were volunteers giving out free rice-and-bean cakes. At first I declined, but they were insisted, so I took one. It tasted pretty good. It seemed that some event at the temple was wrapping up. I went to a rest area, where there were outdoor heaters turned on. Lots of people were sitting in chairs around the heaters. There was also free tea available.
It brought back good memories of Guin-sa.