St Lazarus was the saint said to have been brought to life by Jesus, a miracle believed by both Christians and Muslims. He fled to Cyprus after being persecuted by the Jews, and established his church there. In his lifetime, he performed many miracles. Until now, his church is still famous for miraculous healings that continue to occur.
As it was summer, my stay in the Village was most pleasant. Sunrise was at 4am, so we heard the birds chirping very early in the mornings. There was plenty of time for Qigong walks and other exercises before breakfast. The place was resplendent with gardens and trees, and the whole Village was dotted with religious statues. For the first time I heard Christian prayers and hymns in the Korean language. It was probably also the first time that a Muslim has stayed and prayed in this Catholic Village. The long days only ended at about 9pm, when darkness finally prevailed.
THE HISTORIC HAEINSA TEMPLE
The trip to the Haeinsa Temple was a four-hour journey into the countryside, and up the mountains of the Gayasan National Park in the south-eastern part of the peninsula. Upon reaching the mountains, the scenery was simply breathtaking. The fresh streams and rapids ploughed their way alongside the winding road. The lush temperate forest gave out so much oxygen that every breath felt therapeutic. The Temple itself is situated in a valley surrounded by the tallest pine trees and bathed by the coolest mountain waters.
I have never been to the famous Hunza Valley of northern Pakistan, where the mountainous fresh air and clean glacial waters are said to be the reason why the people live much longer than us. I think the Haeinsa Temple valley is no less enchanting and life-preserving.
Haein means “reflection on a smooth sea,” and was founded in 802 by two monks who had returned from China. The temple was expanded as an act of gratitude by the King, who had brought his sick Queen to the monks. She was suffering from a tumour that had not responded to all treatments tried. The monks tied a piece of string to her tumour, and the other end to a tree. They then chanted certain verses and miraculously, the tumour vanished as the tree withered and died.
In my previous two articles, written before going to Haeinsa Temple, I had written about the ability of some healers to transfer disease from patients to animals or plants. What a coincidence! It seems that whatever is your spiritual path, as long as you are pure and sincere, the healing power is made available to you.
The 1200-year old Temple consists of over 20 separate structures built at different times, and at different levels, befitting the mountain terrain. It is situated on a valley carved out of the Gayasan mountains, perfect for solace, solitude, spirituality and meditation. No wonder it is also called The Vast Temple of Meditation. Today it has 75 subordinate temples and 14 hermitages scattered across the nearby hills.
Another very special feature at Haeinsa Temple is that it holds a complete copy of the Tripitaka Koreana, the collected writings of Mahayana Buddhism, making it one of the most important Korean temples. Though most Buddhist countries in East Asia possess a copy of the Tripitaka, the Korean edition at Haeinsa is considered the best. Carved in the 13th century, the Tripitaka consists of 52,382,960 characters carved on 81,258 double-sided woodblocks in 6,802 volumes.
In terms of accuracy, beauty of font style, carving skill, and volume, the Tripitaka Koreana is recognized as the most valuable existing Buddhist scripture carved in Chinese characters. UNESCO has designated this collection and the Temple as a World Cultural Heritage Site. There are also many other historical relics within the Temple and on the surrounding hills.
CHARMED BY THE CHOGYE MONKS
Haeinsa is a monastery of the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism. This is one of the Zen Buddhism schools, and has a very large following in Korea. I stayed with over 200 of the monks, who were in various stages of their monastic training. Wake-up time was at 230am, to be in time for the morning prayers and chanting, which began at 3am. Fortunately, in summer, it coincided with my Muslim early-morning prayer time ( Subuh ). So while the monks chanted in their grand main prayer hall, I quietly did my prayer in my bedroom, which was a bare room where 20 of us slept on the floor!
While the Temple was fully equipped with the latest electronic and IT facilities ( including internet, multimedia presentations and mobile-phone coverage ), personal comforts were kept minimal, with accommodation and meals being the most spartan. After all we were supposed to experience what it was like training to be monks!
I was really fascinated by the kindness and discipline of the Chogye monks. My hosts were exceedingly humble and took much effort to enable me to witness the rituals in the prayer chambers. The chants were of course mesmerizing, and I was most surprised that the monks repeatedly stood and prostrated almost the same way that I do in my Muslim prayers. At each prayer session, there was always one monk who would do the ritual prostrations many more times after all the others had left. I was told that this lone monk was praying in penitence for all his brother monks.
BAMBOO SALT – A KOREAN HEALTH TREASURE
While one does not visit Korea without sampling the various types of kimchi, the famous traditional fermented vegetable that is served at every meal, my interest was more in discovering the hidden treasure of Korean seasoning – the bamboo salt.
Bamboo salt ( also called parched salt, jukyom / jook yeom ) is made from sun-dried common salt which is filled into a hollow bamboo trunk (at least 3 years old) that has been cut into sections. This is then burnt repeatedly (9 times or more) with pure red or yellow clay and pine-wood, in a hot oven or kiln to 1500°c, to eliminate heavy metals and toxins.
The salt absorbs minerals from the bamboo and mud, which in turn leach the salt of impurities. This salt is said to have a superior taste and medicinal benefits, including purifying blood, antibacterial activity, neutralizing poison, promoting immunity, lowering blood pressure and improving diabetes.
It is used for seasoning, spice, sauce and fermented paste; as flavouring and health additive to coffee, tea, biscuits and other foodstuff; as soap ingredient, and even for massage.
It contains more than 70 essential minerals and micro nutrients. It has high contents of calcium, magnesium and zinc, making it beneficial for all. It has an exceedingly high Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) – a measure of the ability to fight harmful free radicals – and thus helps to prevent premature aging, chronic diseases, and cancers. It is also highly alkaline, with a pH of 11.5, which is very beneficial to our unhealthy acidic bodies.
It has helped a lot of people recover from allergies, digestive problems, arthritis, gout, and many other ailments. It is remarkable that the special burning process turns common salt, which is blamed for causing hypertension, to a form that reduces blood pressure. It is also especially good for combating dental gum disease.
All this is traditionally attributed to its high content of “compressed vital energy” or “ki”, which we call “qi”, and is used in many Korean traditional medical treatments. Fortunately for us, it is now also available here.
(Note: see photos below)