Wednesday, October 26, 2011
return to Gatbawi
Of the places and people I was reluctant to leave behind in Seoul, Gwanaksan was high on the list. I've posted several times over the last year and a bit about Yeonju-dae, the little shrine on the cliff, and the whole area thrilled me each time I climbed up. A buzzing temple community up in a mountain, just below the peak. If you timed your hike right, you could get to the top in time for the temple breakfast, then head to the peak, climb over the granite stones to Yeonju-dae, do 108 bows, enjoy the view for a while, then head back for lunch, and make it down to the bus stop early in the afternoon.
I was lucky to have found a bus just across the street for our house that took me to half a mile from the trail in just over thirty minutes. Here, in Gyungsan, I was just as surprised to see a bus rout at the bus stop by our house that had Gatbawi posted as its last stop. It's actually the one and only bus that goes to the north side of the mountain.
Gatbawi was a special spot for me to visit when I lived in Daegu before. Sitting on an eastern peak of Palgong mountain, it's an ancient stone Medicine Buddha, distinguished by the stone slab resting, firmly balanced, on his head which it is name after. It's known across the country that if you make the hike up to Gatbawi you can make a wish so the large cement platform is covered from morning till night with crowds doing 108 bows praying for good health, a first son, and for the son they already wished for to do well on his exams! There's also a small temple below that was the first place I'd ever eaten temple food, much like Gwanaksan.
I've avoided the habit of wishing to Buddha for things and standing at the top, sounded by the energy and chants of all the others, along with open sky, I'm not sure what else there could be to ask for! Though my mind seems to forget that sentiment not long after setting off down the hill.
After seeing the sunrise at Yeonju-dae, I thought it would be nice to make it up to Gatbawi to do the same, but the earliest bus didn't pick me up until 7am and it was 8:03 when I got off the bus. I pushed myself until I was dizzy trying to make it up the stone-cut stairs while the sun was still low and the light soft. I was almost disappointed when in just 8 minutes I found myself heading up the stairway that ascended through a square opening in the temple courtyard. It was just another few minute from there to the top.
It wasn't much of a hike, but the good thing was if I made it up that quickly, it wouldn't take much more than 45 minutes if I could convince EunBong to join me. She was up for it, so on Monday, we picked up Fina at day care and caught the bus that would carry us most of the way up the north side of Palgongsan to Gatbawi.
It did take us almost exactly 45 minutes to the top, including a couple pee stops for Fina. Light faded quickly behind the rain clouds that had yet to blow away. The last bit of deep blue the day had to offer before doing black glowed behind the stone Buddha, as dozens of candles flickered below. Small country town shone below like little star gardens, ripe for harvest.
EunBong was about ready to push me over the edge for talking her into climbing a mountain, but getting to the top made everything better. We lit a candle for everyone in our family (including you) and I squatted down with a fascinated Fina while EunBong made her bows. I had an envelope with a letter and a donation from my friend's grandmother that Fina helped me slip into the donation box while a bhikkhuni lead evening ceremony with the handful of people remaining.
We made our way down the well lit stairs connecting the Medicine Buddha to the bus stop while chants of "Yaksayeorae Bul"(the Korean name for Medicine Buddha) gentle followed us down through the wires connecting the line of speakers, like a post-modern mala.