Granite Buddhas

Story and photos for an article I wrote for Army.mil and a military newspaper in Korea.

Granite statues stand watch
Story and photos by David McNally
 
YONGMIRI, Republic of Korea — On the side of a mountain sits a Buddhist temple. In Korea, there are hundreds of temples. However, this temple is watched over by two huge granite statues. In the Western Corridor, close to the demilitarized zone, Yongam Temple is home to the “Yongmiri Stone Standing Buddhas.”

The 17.5 meter stone couple has stood silently for almost a millennia. On the left is Miruk Buddha, the statue is a depiction of a Korean man. On the right is Miruk Bosal, a Korean woman with a square hat. The South Korean government lists them as a national treasure.
 
According to a government census, 42.6 percent of South Koreans claim to follow an organized religion. About 20 percent of Koreans, or about 10 million people, are Buddhists. The religion first came to the peninsula through Chinese missionaries in the fifth century. Korean architecture, attitudes and culture were strongly influenced by Buddhism.
 
The Paju statues were carved out of Jangji Mountain 900 years ago. The legend says King Sunjong of the Koryo Dynasty was trying to have a son. He ruled in the 11th century. The king found a woman, but was unsuccessful at producing an heir. One day, the woman dreamed of two monks who lived as beggars at foot of Jangji Mountain. She told the king about her dream.
 
King Sunjong sent his servants to the mountain, and found out about two big rocks next to each other. He ordered sculptures to be made in the rock face, and a temple to be constructed nearby. As the story goes, he story goes, the king and his chosen one had a son the same year.
 
During the Korean War, Jangji Mountain was the site of a fierce battle between North and South Korean soldiers.
 
“Look closely as the faces of the statues, and you will see bullet holes from the fighting,” Yi said. “North Korean soldiers were hiding behind the statues during the battle.”
 
About 2,000 Korean soldiers were killed on the mountain during the battle according to Yi.
 
To travel to the site, drive on Highway 1 toward Munsan. Before arriving in Paju, take a right at Goyang-si. At the fork in the road, there is a brown sign, which says the statues are another 2.5 kilometers. Soon, the statues can be seen sprouting out of the trees on Jangji Mountain on the left.
 
The monks said many foreigners visit the landmark because of the close distance to Seoul.
 
“We welcome visitors anytime,” Yi said.
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