Korean Temple Buddhist monks, those shaven-headed figures in gray robes, choose to leave this earthly world (that is, mundane society) in favor of an ascetic existence based on prayer and self-denial. But now their unworldly lifestyle is becoming a tourist product.. with the monastics' approval! Monastic life as a tourist attraction? It's part of a global craze for monasticism.

From the Himalayas to the Hudson River, monks are in. Japanese salarymen are chucking their jobs and fleeing to monasteries. In Taiwan last year, monasticism become big news.Hundreds of families were shocked when their promising sons and daughters opted for Buddhist monastic life instead of comfy careers in business.

Meanwhile, in the United States, at least one monastery finds it necessary to turn away would-be novices. we are not soliciting vocations, the monastery says gently The worldwide renewal of interest in monasticism has reached out to Korean Buddhists too. People are interested in Buddhist monks and how they live. Many people, whether seeking enlightenment or just fed up with the noise and glitz of consumer society, would like to try the monastic way of living.

So why not give them a taste of it? That is precisely what monasteries in Korea are doing. They offer tourists a brief but revealing look inside Buddhist Monasticism. Western usually think of Buddhism as a religion of vegetarians who expect to be reincarnated after leaving this world at death. Buddhists aim to correct this oversimplified image.

Buddhism has a long and complex history. It originated in India some 2,600 years ago and was introduced to Korea in about the fourth century A.D.Since then, Buddhism has exercised a tremendous influence on Korean culture and produced many widely admired works of art. Pulguksa Temple are Sokkuram Grotto, built in the eight century, are two of the most famous examples of Buddhist art and architecture.

Those two attractions, along with the Tripitaka Koreana ( a collection of woodblock texts of Buddhist scripture, made in the 13th century), were added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1995. Today Korean Buddhism involves more than 10,000 temples and 20,000 monks, and is the belief system of 15 million Koreans (about one-third of the population). More than 900 of those 10,000 temples are greater than 50 years old. Buddhism accounts for more than 80 percent of Korean cultural resources designated as national treasures.Now that foreign visitors are taking an interest in Buddhist monasticism, Korean Buddhists are starting to market traditional Buddhist ceremonies and ascetic practices as cultural products. Already, some temples admit tourists for a close look at what goes on inside a monastery.

The Buddhists think they can encourage tourists to look beyond the tangible side of Buddhism, namely its temples and pagodas, and experience Buddhist culture on a more intimate level. Unique Korean Buddhist ceremonies for tourists are planed, such as traditional dining rituals of Buddhist monks. Plans also call for the tea ceremony to become a tourist attraction. Many temples are opening tea houses to draw tourists. Most of these temples sell traditional teas made by monks themselves.

Actually, this opening of Buddhist monasteries to outsiders is not a new phenomenon. For some time, major temples have admitted Koreans and foreign visitors to a summer training course that lets guests withdraw from the chaotic earthly world for a while.Though physically strenuous, and very brief (only four nights and five days), this experience is seen as an opportunity for participants to recharge themselves by sampling the monastic lifestyle. Worship before the image of Buddha, sitting in meditation, lecture and tea ceremony Sokkuram Grotto is 3 km away from Pulguksa Temple by a short cut along the mountain ridge and 9 km away by a paved road. Based on a balance between squares and circles, straight lines and curves, and planes and globular shapes, the grotto is structured in a perfect harmony. The 38 figures carved on the wall of the chamber are all masterpieces.

The Sokkuram was modeled after the stone cave temples of china, but in china these were cut into the face of natural rock cliffs, whereas the Sokkuram is a man-made stone grotto designed as a setting for the worship of a principal statue of Buddha.The Sokkuram has a rectangular ante chamber and a circular interior chamber with a domed ceiling formed from carefully cut blocks of stone. this domed ceiling shows not only great technical skill but also a solidity reflecting sophisticated knowledge of the mechanics of stress. Yet it is its sculpture that makes the Sukkuram unique. Most prominently the large stone statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha in the center of the interior chamber, the eleven-headed Goddess of Mercy and the various Bodhisattvas and Arhat (disciple of Buddha) carved in relief in a semicircle on the surrounding wall, the two Inwang ("benevolent kings") on the walls of the antechamber, and the Four Deva Kings standing guard along the passageway-each of these adds its own distinctive note to the symphony of beauty presented by the Sokkuram as an integral whole.

to be sure, in their roundness of face and ampleness of body there is evidence of influence from T'ang Buddhist sculpture, but the Sukkuram examples suggest a deeper sense of spiritual beauty. Sokkuram Grotto is one of UNESCO's World Heritages.From Kyongju bus terminal, take the city bus to Pulguksa. It runs every 10 minutes and takes 45 minutes. And 20 minutes by bus from Kyongju Station. Sokkuram was built by Prime Minister Kim Tae-song in 751 along with the Pulguksa Monastery.

It was repaired by Priest Chongyol in 1703 and the stone staircase was added at this time, and again in 1758 by Priest Taegyom. The entire grotto was dismantled for repair during the Japanese occupation period (1913 - 15) and again in 1962-64 to prevent the erosion of stone by dew condensation.This grotto was built with white granite in the form of a niche and enshrines a seated Buddha at the center surrounded on the wall by 39 Bodhisattvas, ten disciples, and Devas and guardian kings. It represents the Pure Land in which Buddha resides. This stone cave temple is the crystallization of Shilla's religion, science and art, a monumental achievement of Buddhist culture of the Unified Shilla period.

The principal statue in Gupta-style enshrined in the grotto is seated cross-legged on an octagonal base. Two slits for eyes, gentle eyebrows, the wisdom hidden between the eyes, the mouth as if to be opened for preaching, and the hanging long ears all combine to represent the sublime state of enlightenment.This magnificent work is perhaps the finest thing in all Korean sculpture. Map Live PictureDescription : Pulguksa Temple and nearby Sokkuram Grotto are located on the mid-slope of Mt. T'ohamsan (745 m) which literally means "mountain that holds and lets out clouds.

" The artistic creations of Unified Shilla were the products of fully matured techniques. Having outgrown the rusticity of the Three Kingdoms preriod, art now revealed a highly developed esthetic sense. Although the art of Unified Shilla employed the technique of realistic representation, the purpose ...