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This first-ever series of in-depth dialogues with Samdhong Rinpoche, the current Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, examines how the world came to follow a destructive path of unprincipled pragmatism and compromise, and what we can do to remedy it.
Samdhong Rinpoche ePub (Adobe DRM) can be read on any device that can open ePub (Adobe DRM) files.
The main Buddha statue of Seokguram Grotto near Bulguk Temple in North Gyeongsang Province.
Seokguram Grotto is listed as the 24th National Treasure of the Republic of Korea, but many scholars and travelers such as myself consider this elegant monument near Bulguk Temple in North Gyeongsang Province to be the single most precious tangible cultural legacy of this country, and its best artistically.
This relatively small grotto-temple is regrettably less known than some of the world's other great ancient holy sites, but many of those who study and experience it declare that it is one of the best-made and most-profound remaining Buddhist artworks on earth.
The practice of carving the images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other deities into the stone walls of natural caves and dug-out grottos to actualize grand icon-sanctuaries started in India at least 2,300 years ago, and then spread across the Silk Road deserts into China. As Buddhism flowed into the early Korean kingdoms, however, they only carved the holy images on cliffs and boulders on their craggy granite mountains, but generally not in caves or grottos because those were already being used for indigenous mountain-worship customs. Remarkably, all of ancient Korea created only one fully-enclosed artificial subterrane out of stone blocks (and then covered with earth) to rival the great caves of India and China. The Seokguram Grotto was built on a remote but geomantically-favorable site near the summit of Mt. Its main chamber is a rounded dome over a monumental statue of the Buddha that stands at 3.5 meters high and sits on a tall lotus pedestal, itself a highly regarded Buddhist artwork. This grand Buddha is gazing out the doorway of the complex, straight down a long valley to the East Coast directly to the spot where the sun rises on the winter solstice, and where the underwater tomb of Great King Munmu is located just off-shore. He is surrounded by relief-carvings of Bodhisattvas, Arhant disciples and other deities, all realistically and delicately sculpted in high relief.

Hidden directly behind the main statue is one of the most spectacular features, a detailed relief carving of the eleven-faced ``Gwanseeum bosal” (Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of Compassion), 2.18 meters tall, dressed in robes, a crown and jewelry, and holding a vase containing a lotus blossom. Silla architects used advanced symmetrical designs incorporating higher mathematics and the classical “golden mean” proportions.
The carving and construction techniques of the Baekje-region artisans in making the rotunda-dome was so advanced that the curved and slanted granite blocks fit together so closely as to make it watertight without using any mortar, an incredible technological achievement for the 8th century.
The establishment of this great sanctuary from 751-774 CE during the cultural peak of Unified Silla is attributed to its Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong, about whom several colorful legends are recorded. It was probably used exclusively by Silla royalty and the highest nobles at first, but later became a pilgrimage destination for those who started hiking four kilometers down at Bulguk Temple. A modern paved road and large parking lot have been constructed at its trailhead high up on the slopes of Mt. The refurbishment and preservation of this primary National Treasure allowed it to be designated by UNESCO as this nation's first World Cultural Heritage Site in 1995, bringing great pride to all Koreans.
About six years ago I was a tour-guide in Gyeongju for a group of elite wealthy Americans, one of whom has long been a Buddhist believer and had traveled all over the world to experience the greatest artworks of that religion. However, this was his first time in Korea even though he had already traveled all the rest of Asia, even obscure sites in the Himalayas.
We walked away from this grandest of shrines in appreciative silence, until he turned to me asking in wonderment, “Why haven't I heard of this place before?
Bulguk Temple is among the most frequently visited Buddhist monasteries in Korea, a favorite of tourists and aficionados of ancient religious art. It was constructed under the direction of Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong between 751 and 774 CE, and its monumental architecture is still regarded as one of Korea's finest creations.

Burned down by Mongol invaders in the late 13th century and then left in tragic ruins for 600 years, it was painstakingly restored to grandeur during the 20th century by governmental authorities.
Seems either no one is talking about louis daguerre at this moment on GOOGLE-PLUS or the GOOGLE-PLUS service is congested. Over the nearly four decades since then, my fascination with Korea’s supreme grotto-temple has only intensified as I wonder why it hasn’t become one of the most famous Buddhist heritages in the world.
It is known simply as Seokguram or “Stone-Cave Hermitage.” They only made one, but in philosophical design and architectural technique they achieved perhaps the greatest one that had ever been made anywhere. Unlike other Buddhas that have a halo attached to the back of the head, this one has a carving of a lotus flower behind it on the upper wall of the rotunda, ingeniously creating the illusion of a halo for those who kneel in front of the statue. Toham to accommodate the many visitors, some of whom still trek to experience the symbolic spiritual journey from the teachings of the Buddha up to Nirvana itself. This was not really surprising to me because our tourism treasures are far less-known than those of our neighbors, far less than they deserve to be. Why isn't it one of the most famous Buddhist sites in the world?” I could only smile wistfully in response, from having wondered the same thing myself many times over the decades. He is sitting in the common ``mudra” position of Sakyamuni just after his enlightenment, with a very powerful appearance yet a serene expression of deep meditation, a combination that amazes and inspires those who view it.

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