Buddhist temple tour enlightens Daegu’s culture-curious

Buddhist temple tour enlightens Daegu’s culture-curious

by Mary B. Grimes
USAG Daegu Public Affairs

Few Americans, if any, would argue that the United States is short on historic landmarks, institutions, or facilities.  With that said, there are many who might confess that even on their short list, there are locations they have yet to actually visit, but are sure they will…eventually. It’s a line of thought that is common among us, and it is not just limited to State-side travel or cultural experiences.  That’s probably why in South Korea, FMWR, and the Camp Carroll Community Activity Center (CAC) is untiring in its efforts to produce and promote morale-enhancing tours and excursions all year round.

An ideal way of getting Soldiers out of the barracks, teens away from the television, and families together for quality time away from the house, the on-going tours are a perfect way to explore the Land of the “Morning Calm” and its extensively rich history. Much like going back in time during a visit to Williamsburg or Jamestown, Virginia, cultural tours around Korea are equally educational, and enlightening. With Buddhism as one of the country’s leading religions, making the time to visit places like the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju, and Beopjusa are a must, and the Camp Carroll CAC can help in getting you there.

That’s exactly what the CAC did recently for a bus filled to capacity with USAG Daegu and Area IV community members eager to discover Korea. With the famous Bulguksa Temple as their destination, the culture-curious Americans, settled in their seats as they began their early morning excursion that would take them to the historic city of Gyeongju . Said to be more than 2,000 years old, Gyeongju could be rightly called a historians goldmine. Formerly the capital of the Silla Dynasty, it is said to contain the great majority of the historic remains of Korea’s 5,000 year history. 

Situated some 34 miles (55km) east of Daegu, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto are two ancient religious sites that speak to the craftsmanship of the Silla Kingdom. Perched on the slopes of Mount Tohamsan, Bulguksa is made up of a series of wooden buildings on uneven stone terraces. One of South Korea’s Three Kingdoms, (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) Silla is reported to have been founded in 57 BC by King Park Hyeokgeose, and lasted through 935 AD. Historians add that in the 6th and 7th centuries, the Silla Kingdom controlled most of the Korean peninsula. They say that of the three kingdoms, Goguryeo was the first to adopt Buddhism. It was followed by Baekje, and then Silla.

Upon arriving at their Bulguksa destination, USAG Daegu Soldiers, and family members immediately began taking photographs of some of the site’s ornate and historic architecture.  After a brief exchange of pertinent information and an overview of Bulguksa history by a CAC tour guide, the group moved about the Bulguksa temple site at their own pace, exploring temple highlights like the  27-foot high Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda); the two main courtyards that  surround the Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Hall of Paradise; Daeungjeon, the Hall of Great Enlightenment, and Dabotap,(Many Treasure Pagoda) that stands 34feet, and is actually reproduced on the South Korea 10-cent  Won coin. Having endured the tests of time –war, and fire, the ancient temple complex is a sight to behold. Although many of the buildings at Bulguksa are reconstructions, amazingly, the foundations and the historic stone pagodas are original.

With only a few weeks remaining before he departs Korea, one Soldier verbalized his thoughts of Bulguksa, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s hard to believe that I’m actually standing here and experiencing a part of Korean history that until just a few hours ago, I didn’t know anything about. I started not to come on this tour today, and I was trying to convince my friend that we should maybe go some other time before we leave Korea. Obviously I didn’t win that discussion. I actually thought the tour might be boring, but my friend thought otherwise. You see places like this in books or on TV, but to actually experience it up close like this, it’s a totally different feel. So, now I’ve got to say that not only was coming here a good idea, but I’m now even more curious about what other amazing temple sites or CAC tours I missed out on or didn't get around to seeing."

For Jeffery E. Sheppard, Director, Community Activity Center, Camp Carroll Community Activity Center, the Soldier's words could not have been better timed.  Said Sheppard, "CAC has a little bit of something for everyone. Should you want to go and sightsee, there are temple tours, there’s the aquarium, and the zoo. On the other hand, should you like to do something to get your adrenalin flowing, we have our high-adventure and Warrior Adventure Quest programs.

"There is almost no tour that we will not offer-- if we have the customer base for it.  We offer transportation at a very low cost that beats out all of our competitors. Our tour guides are polite and knowledgeable. Our customer feedback is ninety-eight percent flawless. There is absolutely no excuse if our community is looking for entertainment or adventure, to not take these FMWR-offered tours. "

Clearly, for USAG Daegu and Area IV Soldiers, family members, DoD civilians, and retirees not wishing to fall prey to procrastination, they can, with the assistance of their local CAC, discover that being in the Southeast Hub means there really is something for everyone.

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