Unification Buddha at Seoraksan National Park
The Great Unification Buddha in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea. The Buddha is the largest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world, at 14.6m high, excluding the halo, lightning rod and pedestal.
The statue's name, Tongil Daebul, means 'Unification Buddha', and it was built to symbolise the Korean people's hope for the reunification of North and South Korea. The statue cost ₩3.8 billion won (US $4.1 million) to erect, which was raised over a decade, with the construction being completed in 1997.
The Great Unification Buddha sits on a lotus pedestal, which is flanked with 16 inscribed panels that tell of the entire path of Buddha's enlightenment through the words of the Bodhisattva, messengers of Buddha's teaching. Including the pedestal, the total statue height is 18.9m, and has a total weight of 108 tons.
Below the sitting Buddha statue is a temple dedicated to the bodhisattva thousand-armed and eyed Avalokiteśvara. Avalokiteśvara means "Lord who looks down", and is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
In front and to the right of the Unification Buddha are two small shops that sell candles people can buy. After lighting the candle, it would then be placed in one of the two cabinets in front of the Buddha statue.
In the nearby area can be seen many walkers - Seoraksan is a popular area for hiking, with many mountain trails and beautiful views from the mountains. Korea is a mountainous country, with around two thirds of the country being mountains or uplands, and hiking is a popular pass-time among South Koreans.
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Korea is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world with over five thousand years of history. According to the original creation myth, the world we live in today is the work of the Heavenly Prince Hwanung, whose father was the King of Heaven.
The Heavenly Prince asked his father to give him some land to govern, so the Father sent him down to Mount Taebaek. With him the Prince brought the Minister of Clouds, the Earl of Rain and the Chancellor of Wind. They also brought three thousand helpers.
Under the shade of a sandalwood tree the Prince founded a holy city called Sinsi, the City of God. He put his Ministers in charge of three hundred and sixty areas of human culture, teaching them to grow crops and to make laws concerning what is good and what is evil.
A tiger and a bear living in a nearby cave saw this city and desperately wanted to become human. Every day they came to the sandalwood tree at the center of the city to pray fervently for becoming humans.
Hwanung saw their devotion and gave them instructions to remain in the cave and fast for one month, eating nothing but garlic and mugwort. The tiger was too impatient to stand the long and boring days in the cave, so he gave up and left, but Bear maintained the fast. At the end of the month she was transformed into a beautiful woman who became the mother of the Korean people.
Her first son was Don-gun, the First King of the Korean people. When Don-Gun passed on the throne to his own son, he became a Mountain God. It is interesting that mountain gods are still worshipped today in Korea.
Text by Steve Smith.