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Good Luck Seekers Gather at `Gatbawi Buddha`

Dong A-Ilbo, NOVEMBER 3, 2008

Gwanbong, South Korea -- “I prayed that my son would get a good result in the College Scholastic Aptitude Test and entering the university of his choice,” said a 47-year-old parent in Busan while making 3,000 prostrations.

Another parent from Daegu said she was in the middle of 100 days of prayer for her daughter’s success in entering a prestigious university.

“Some 30,000 parents visited here this weekend,” said a monk at Seonbon Temple in Daegu. “I am filled with awe when I see parents who never stop praying even in snow or rain. Few children will understand their parents’ efforts for their wellbeing and success.”

The temple has an average of six million visitors a year. A rock that has “Gatbawi Buddha” is especially crowded with people. Though it takes an hour of climbing steep stairs from the direction of Daegu or half an hour from the direction of Gyeongsan to reach the rock, the line of visitors never stops even at night.

In midday, people even gather in areas hundreds of meters from the rock. The temple provides free meals for all visitors and gives 100 sacks of donated rice a month to community facilities helping the disadvantaged.

The official name of a Buddha statue carved out of huge granite surrounding the mountain peak like a screen is “Palgonsan Seonbon-sa Gwanbong Yaksayeoraebul.” Dubbed National Treasure No. 431, it stands four meters tall, exudes a triumphant air with a generous facial expression, and has long ears that reach the shoulders.

The medical Buddha is commonly called “Gatbawi Buddha” because it wears a flagstone “gat” - a traditional Korean top hat – 1.8 meters wide and 15 centimeters thick. The statue was made during the ancient Shilla Dynasty in 638 by the Buddhist monk Uihyeon, one of the leading disciples of master Wongwang, to honor his late mother.

Uihyeon is said to have spent 22 years making the statue, during which time he is said to have made a prostration for every cut.

Previously known to a fraction of Daegu residents and certain shamans until 1962, the statue saw its popularity spread nationwide thanks to a Dong-A Ilbo article carried in the same year. Since then, word has spread that praying to statue is effective in curing diseases and achieving high test scores because it is a medical Buddha. Its hat also resembles a graduation cap.

Facing Busan, the statue has become one of the most sought-after Buddhas among devout Buddhists.

This popular place has been mired in controversy, however, since the Daegu city government started pushing for setting up a cable car to the statue. The Buddhist community and environmentalists are vehemently against the plan, warning of damage to the environment and the sacred place as well as safety concerns.

Visitors also say the roads leading from Seonbon Temple to Gatbawi are in urgent need of repair.

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