Guryongsa Temple – 구룡사 (Wonju, Gangwon-do)

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The view from the Cheonwangmun Gate at Guryongsa Temple in Chiaksan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the heart of Chiaksan National Park is Guryongsa Temple, which means “Nine Dragons Temple,” in English. It’s believed that the temple was first constructed by the famed Uisang-daesa in 668 C.E.

Like all great temples, Guryongsa Temple has an imaginative creation story all to its own. Uisang, after walking several miles, found the location for a temple in the rolling folds of Chiaksan; however, a pond stood in the way of his plans. Living inside this pond were nine dragons who heard the monks plans to build a temple on their pond. The tricky dragons proposed a bet to Uisang: if the monk won the bet, they would leave; however, if the dragons won, Uisang would have to abandon his hopes of building a temple on their pond. With both parties agreeing to this little wager, the dragons proceeded to drown the monk to death. Torrential rain fell from the sky and flooded the mountain ranges. Sure that they had killed the monk, they went in search of him. What they found surprised the nine dragons. Instead of being dead, Uisang was peacefully sleeping on a boat. Awoken by the dragons, Uisang said, “Is that all the tricks you have? Now watch my trick with your eyes wide open.” Drawing a talisman from his person, Uisang flung it into the pond, where it proceeded to bubble and boil. The dragons fled to the East Sea, leaving a blinded dragon behind. Quick in their escape, the eight dragons left eight valleys behind as proof of their hasty escape through the mountains.

The temple is situated up a beautiful winding road that’s lined with mature pine trees and a flowing stream. The hike up to the temple grounds is about 900 metres in distance and is filled with things to see like the dragon based pillared Iljumun Gate. A little further up the road, and you’ll next come to an ancient stupa field. Nearing the temple grounds, you’ll finally see the first shrine hall at the temple: the Josa-jeon. Inside this hall hangs a painting of the Bodhidharma.

Just another hundred metres up the road and you’ll finally come to the elevated temple grounds. The impressive two-story Cheonwangmun Gate, which if you come at the right time of the day will have brilliant sunlight shooting through the slats in the roof, is flanked by a three-story stone pagoda. While rather non-descript, the stout-looking Four Heavenly Kings are rather intimidating in size and scowls. To the left of the Cheonwangmun Gate appears to be an aged statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Up a steep set of stairs, and under the low-lying Bogwang-ru Pavilion, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Looking behind you, you’ll notice the rather long and spacious interior to the Bogwang-ru Pavilion that is used for meetings. To the right of this hall is the temple’s bell pavilion: the Jong-gak. And to left of the pavilion, and still under construction, is what looks to be a meditative pavilion.

Straight ahead is the Daeung-jeon, which acts as the temple’s main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are some masterful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked on either side by what looks to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The low-hanging orange paper lotus lanterns inside this hall are quite nice, as well.

To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. The exterior walls are painted with Judgment murals, as well as a mural of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. Sitting inside this hall sits a golden haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s backed by a well-populated mural of himself. Just behind the Myeongbu-jeon is the Samseong-gak. The most unique painting of the three, which includes a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), is the painting of Sanshin. Inside this mural, you can rather uniquely see a larger image of a male Sanshin joined by a smaller image of a female Sanshin slightly to the left.

The other two remaining halls at Guryongsa Temple are to the right of the main hall. The first, and newly constructed (and there’s a lot of newer construction at Guryongsa Temple), is the Gwaneeum-jeon. The golden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that sits all alone inside this hall is backed by a scenic landscape that also includes Yongwang. Just to the rear of the Gwaneeum-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. This is one of the more unique Nahan-jeon halls that you’ll find in Korea. Because besides the statue of Seokgamoni-bul that sits on the main altar, all 500 of the Buddha’s disciples take up residence inside their own glass box on the neighbouring walls, as well as the 16 main Nahan that join Seokgamoni-bul on the main altar.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to the city of Wonju from wherever it is that you live in Korea. From the Wonju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to either take Bus #3 or #3-1 to Wonju Station. It should take about 15 minutes, or 6 bus stops. Now, from Wonju Station, you’ll need to get on Bus #41 to Guryongsa Temple. In total, the ride should last about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. I was definitely impressed by the beauty at Guryongsa Temple: both Buddhist and natural. The Cheonwangmun Gate is one of the larger ones that you’ll find at a Korean temple. On top of this large sized entry gate, you can also enjoy the male/female Sanshin mural, the boxed Nahan statues, and the rolling hills that lie all around Guryongsa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate at Guryongsa Temple.

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The stupa field at the temple.

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The two-story Cheonwangmun Gate and front facade at the temple.

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A standing stone statue of Mireuk-bul.

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One of the fierce-looking Cheonwang.

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Light shafts shoot through the top of the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look up towards the Bogwang-ru Pavilion.

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A look inside the spacious interior to the Bogwang-ru.

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The bell pavilion at Guryongsa Temple.

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A look across at the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon at Guryongsa Temple.

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A Shimu-do mural that adorns the main hall.

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 A look inside the main hall at Seokgamoni-bul.

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A golden capped Jijang-bosal.

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A look towards the Samseong-gak.

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The male/female mural of Sanshin.

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A look towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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Inside is a golden, regal statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look up at the Nahan-jeon.

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 A look inside the Nahan-jeon. Each little box is filled with a Nahan figure.

Guinsa Temple – 구인사 (Danyang, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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 The Beautiful View from between the Iljumun Gate at Guinsa Temple in Danyang, Chungcheongbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Guinsa Temple, which means “Salvation and Kindness Temple,” in English, is situated up the centre of a valley fold just below Yeonhwabong Peak on the Sobaeksan mountain range. It was first completed in 1945, when the contemporary founder of the Cheontae Order, Sangwol-wongak, built a small hut made from arrowroot vines. During his time here, he received a revelation about the truth of the universe. The temple was renovated and expanded in 1966. Guinsa Temple is the headquarters of the Cheontae Order, and it governs over 140 other temples spread throughout the Korean peninsula. In total, the temple houses a couple dozen shrine halls, meeting centres, dorms, and administrative offices.

You first approach the temple up a gradual incline that becomes a bit steeper as you approach the temple grounds. The first structure to greet you is a commanding and stately Iljumun Gate. Passing through this gate, you’ll notice a building that stacks up neatly against the slopes of the neighbouring mountain. This is just a precursor for all the temple structures at Guinsa Temple. Next, you’ll approach a fortress-like gate that acts as the Cheonwangmun Gate with some fierce looking Four Heavenly Kings on the second floor of this structure.

Past a couple dorms and administrative buildings that are both stacked high on either side of you, you’ll finally come to some buildings at Guinsa Temple that you can actually visit; however, this temple is always busy, even on weekdays. The first structure is a three tier stone pagoda with three elephants at its base. Purportedly, the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains) are housed inside this pagoda, as they were brought back from the Jetavana monastery in India.

To the right of this hall, and up a flight of stairs, is the Geukrak-jeon. A beautiful collection of Shimu-do, Ox-Herding murals, adorns the exterior walls to this hall. As for inside this rather busy hall, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And he’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Just to the right of this hall is the elevated temple bell pavilion.

Just to the north of the Geukrak-jeon is the Gwaneeum-jeon, which is beautifully painted on its exterior walls with the different incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). As for inside this hall, and seated on the main altar, is a jade statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. She is surrounded on all sides by the Ten Kings of the Underworld and backed by a beautiful multi-armed mural of herself. From both the Geukrak-jeon and the Gwaneeum-jeon, you can get some great pictures of the temple buildings that occupy the valley floor.

Just a little further up the mountain and you’ll come to the massive five story modern main hall. Inside, you’ll find an equally massive statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting on the main altar and being backed by a stunning Vulture Peak relief.

And just to the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon, which is golden in colour and somewhat Chinese in design. Inside this hall are some masterful statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). And to the right of the main hall, and up yet another flight of stairs, is the crowning Daejosa-jeon, or the Great Founders Hall. This golden three story hall is fronted by a pair of protective Vajra warriors. As for inside this hall, and sitting on the main altar, there is a golden statue of Sangwon-wongsa.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Guinsa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Danyang Intercity Bus Terminal, which is the closest city to the temple. From the bus terminal, you’ll need to board a bus to Guinsa Temple. The bus first leaves at 9:20 a.m. and the last bus leaves at 8:20 p.m. This bus leaves every hour. The very last bus leaves for Guinsa Temple at 8:50 p.m.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with this temple. From what I had read and from what I had seen, I had expected a lot more. First, and a bit of hang-up for me, is that all the buildings are made of concrete, which lends a sense of coldness to a temple. Also, the buildings can be somewhat hard to locate in and among the numerous administrative and dorm halls that toweringly line the narrow valley. However, when you are able to find the halls, they are quite beautiful, but the unexpected climb up to the top of the long valley can take a bit out of even the most curious and inquisitive of temple adventurers.

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The walk up towards the temple grounds.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate at Guinsa Temple.

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The narrow valley that houses towering temple buildings.

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The stone walls that line a portion of the grounds.

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The three tier pagoda that houses some of the Buddha’s remains.

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The view from one of the temple buildings.

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The Geukrak-jeon at Guinsa Temple.

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

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The neighbouring bell pavilion.

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The view from the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the jade Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look up at some of the cramped temple halls.

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The modern main hall at Guinsa Temple.

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 One last look across the tops of temple buildings at Guinsa Temple.

Woljeongsa Temple – 월정사 (Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do)

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The Nine-Tier Stone Pagoda at Woljeongsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Woljeongsa Temple, which is located in Odaesan National Park, means “Moon Vitality Temple,” in English. It was first founded in 643 C.E. by the famed master Jajang-yulsa. Like a lot of creation stories, Woljeongsa Temple has an interesting one of its own. Master Jajang was chanting in front of a stone statue of Munsu-bosal, hoping to see the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. On his seventh night of chanting, the Buddha gave Jajang a poem with four lines written in Sanskrit. The next day, a monk said to Jajang that he looked both pale and troubled. Jajang told this monk that he had received a poem that he couldn’t understand. The mysterious monk explained the poem to Jajang and told him to go to Mt. Odaesan, where he would find 10,000 Munsu-bosals. After seven more days, a dragon revealed itself to Jajang. The dragon told Jajang that the old monk he had formerly seen was in fact Munsu-bosal. The dragon went on to tell Jajang that Jajang now had to build a temple dedicated to this Bodhisattva. So in 643 C.E., Jajang reached Mt. Odaesan. However, when he arrived, Mt. Odaesan was covered in fog, so Jajang couldn’t see anything. During the three days that the mountain was covered, Jajang built a thatched hut that would eventually become the site for the future Woljeongsa Temple. More recently, Woljeongsa Temple was completely destroyed, all ten buildings in total, by the Korean Army during the Korean War (1950-53) because it had become a refuge for opposing forces.

Woljeongsa Temple is one of the most beautifully situated temples in Korea, and it becomes more and more obvious as soon as you approach the temple. You’ll first cross over a wide bridge whose rails are decorated with stone statues of the twelve zodiac generals. Finally on the other side, you’ll pass under the Boje-ru, which is adorned with various guardians like Heng and Ha, to gain access to the temple courtyard.

Straight ahead, you’ll immediately notice the nine-story, octagonal shaped, stone pagoda from the Goryeo Dynasty. The uniquely shaped pagoda is not only the main highlight to the temple, but it’s also National Treasure #48. Wind chimes hang on each corner of the pagoda, while a seated stone Bodhisattva is situated out in front making an offering. The original ancient stone Bodhisattva is now currently housed inside the temple museum, which is to the right when you immediately enter the temple courtyard. And to the left is the two-story bell pavilion.

Behind the nine-story stone pagoda is the temple’s main hall, which is framed on the other side by a grassy hill. The rather spacious interior is only occupied by a large sized solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The pillars that neighbour the statue of the Buddha are painted with interweaving dragons. As for the exterior walls, they are adorned with Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

To the left and rear of the main hall are four more shrine halls at Woljeongsa Temple. To the far left is the Sugwang-jeon, which houses a highly elaborate relief and statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This seated statue is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

Just to the right of this hall is the Samseong-gak, which houses three murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). All three murals are beautiful, but perhaps the Chilseong painting is the most elaborate of the set. Just outside the entrance on the left-hand side to this hall is a mural of a tiger having a smoke with a rabbit. Have a look at this rather playful mural. The other two halls at the temple aren’t open to visitors; they are the Gaesanjo-gak and the Jinyeong-gak

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Woljeongsa Temple, you first need to get to Jinbu Intercity Bus Terminal. From this bus terminal, take a city bus bound for Woljeongsa Temple. This bus leaves 12 times a day, and the ride lasts 30 minutes in total. The bus will let you off just in front of the temple. You can take a bus, or you can simply take a taxi from the Jinbu Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride will last about 30 minutes, and it’ll cost you about 20,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Woljeongsa Temple is beautifully located in the folds of Odaesan National Park. Next to the setting, the main highlight to this historic temple is the nine-story stone pagoda that is National Treasure #48. Other things of note at the temple are the shaman murals housed inside the Samseong-gak and the original Bodhisattva making offerings to the pagoda inside the temple’s museum.

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The road that leads up to Woljeongsa Temple.

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The beautiful bridge that spans the neighbouring stream.

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A better look across the zodiac laden bridge at the Boje-ru Pavilion.

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The Boje-ru Pavilion that imposingly obscures the temple courtyard.

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The temple’s bell pavilion.

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The main hall and the nine-tier pagoda out in front.

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A closer look at the hexagonal Goryeo Dynasty pagoda.

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And a look at the Bodhisattva out in front of the pagoda.

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A look inside the main hall at Woljeongsa Temple.

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The shrine halls to the rear of the main hall with the Samseong-gak to the far left.

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The Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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A look up at the Sugwang-jeon.

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A look inside at Amita-bul on the main altar.

Beopheungsa Temple – 법흥사 (Yeongwol, Gangwon-do)

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The Jeokmyeol Bogung at Beopheungsa Temple in Yeongwol, Gangwon-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beopheungsa Temple, which was first known as Heungmyeongsa Temple, was first established in 647 C.E. by Master Jajang-yulsa. It was also one of the Seonjong Gusan (the Nine Holy Zen-sect Buddhist temples). It was also one of the five temples that Jajang-yulsa established Jeokmyeol Bogung Halls to place the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains) inside for people to worship. Unfortunately, and throughout the years, the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt after numerous devastating fires.

You first approach the temple grounds up a road that is lined with beautiful mature trees. Halfway up the road, you’ll see the wide Iljumun Gate with an elephant and dragon as foundation stones for the pair of pillars.

Having made your way up the road that leads to Beopheungsa Temple, you’ll be greeted by the Woneum-ru Pavilion that houses the temple’s bell pavilion on the second floor of the structure. Having passed under this pavilion, you’ll notice a collection of buildings meant for the monks as well as the gift shop and visitors’ centre. To the left, there’s an expansive temple courtyard that is largely unoccupied, which hearkens back to the temple’s fiery past.

The main hall in the lower courtyard is the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The exterior walls are only adorned with the dancheong colour scheme, but there is a beautiful, but diminutive, stone lantern reminiscent of the one found at Beopjusa Temple. As for sitting inside the Geukrak-jeon, you’ll find a beautiful statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), who is colourfully clothed in painted silks. He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Both are equally regal in appearance.

To the left of the main hall is the Josa-jeon with a mural of Jajang-yulsa front and centre. It’s between this hall and a second bell pavilion that you’ll find the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this newly constructed hall is a triad of murals centred by Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This painting is joined to the right by a standard mural of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and to the left by Yongwang (The Dragon King). This painting, of the set, is the most masterful with a seated image of Yongwang staring off into the distance with an angry expression on his face.

The far hall in the lower courtyard is the Mandala-jeon, which has a painting of the Buddha hanging in this diminutive hall, as well as a sand mandala. This type of hall is a first for me at a Korean Buddhist temple. The other items in the lower courtyard are a budo and stele dedicated to both Jinghyo-guksa (826-900), as well as an unknown monk, which dates to around the time of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The true highlight to this temple lies up a path lined with red pines. The first building to greet you, and slightly up an embankment, is the Yaksa-jeon dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine. Just behind this hall is one of the most unique Sanshin-gaks that I’ve seen in all of Korea. Immediately when you step inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll be greeted by three separate paintings and statues of three different Sanshins (Mountain Spirits). In the centre sits an elderly image of Sanshin, while to the left is another image of a male Sanshin, but this time, with a headdress. To the right of the central figure is a female Sanshin. All three are amazing in appearance and composition.

The final structure at the temple is the most famous. The Jeokmyeol Bogung hall, just like the main hall at Tongdosa Temple, is without an image or statue of the Buddha housed inside the hall. Instead, a window looks out onto Mt. Sajasan, which is purportedly where Jajang-yulsa buried the sari (the Buddha’s crystallized remains). In addition to the buried sari, there is also a cave, the Jajang-yulsa Togul, at the base of the embankment where Jajang formerly prayed. The views of the surrounding mountains are spectacular and give the best reason as to why Jajang decided to created one of the five Jeokmyeol Bogung at the future site of Beopheungsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: The closest major city to Beopheungsa Temple is Wonju. From the Wonju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a bus to Jucheon. The bus ride takes about 50 minutes. Then from Jucheon, you can take a local bus to Beopheungsa Temple, which leaves five times daily and takes about 30 minutes in duration.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While there are only really a handful of halls that a visitor can see, they’re pretty special. Starting at the extremely rare Jeokmyeol Bogung that crowns the temple and leading all the way down to the centrally located Geukrak-jeon Hall on the lower courtyard, there is a lot to occupy the temple adventurer. And when you add into the mix the triad of Sanshin images and the fiery image of Yongwang inside the Samseong-gak, and you’ll know why I rate Beopheungsa Temple as highly as I do.

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The Iljumun Gate at Beopheungsa Temple.

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The Woneum-ru Pavilion that welcomes you to the temple grounds.

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The temple courtyard with the Geukrak-jeon to the right.

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall at the main altar.

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The newly constructed Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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The Yongwang mural with Munsu-bosal up in the clouds.

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The view from the Samseong-gak down at the second bell pavilion.

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The Mandala-jeon.

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The path that leads up to the Buddha’s remains.

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The Yaksa-jeon.

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A look up at the Sanshin-gak, which is situated behind the Yaksa-jeon.

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The triad of Sanshin incarnations.

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The way to the Jeokmyeol Bogung.

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A look towards the hall that looks out onto the Buddha’s remains.

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The mound and the cave where Jajang meditated.

Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Sokcho, Gangwon-do)

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The Beautiful Bronze Statue of the Buddha at Sinheungsa Temple in Seoraksan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sinheungsa Temple, which means “Spirit Arising Temple,” in English, was thought to have been established by Master Jajang-yulsa. There is some dispute as to when it was first constructed, but it was first called Hyangseongsa Temple. There is dispute to the temple’s origins because some believe that Jajang first built Sinheungsa Temple in 637 around the time he left to study in Tang China or upon his return in 642. Either way, Sinheungsa Temple has been destroyed numerous times by fire throughout the centuries; first in 699, then in 710, and then again in 1645. The temple was rebuilt in 1648 in its present location and in its present form. It’s believed by some that Sinheungsa Temple is the oldest Zen (Seon) temple in the world.

You first approach Sinheungsa Temple through the scenic, and very busy, Seokraksan grounds. The first structure to greet you is the top heavy Iljumun Gate. Having passed through this gate and enjoyed the sharp, jagged peaks of Mt. Seoraksan, you’ll finally see the 14.6 metre tall, bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The bronze Buddha sits on top of a 4.3 metre tall lotus pedestal, which makes the overall height of the statue nearly 19 metres in height. The masterful bronze statue, which is composed of some 108 tons of gilt-bronze, sits serenely looking out onto the amazing landscape. To the rear of the statue are a set of stairs that lead inside the massive statue. The hollowed out interior has three incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sitting on the main altar. In addition, there are three sari (crystallized) remains from the Buddha inside this chamber. Fronting the bronze statue of the Buddha are beautiful bronze incense burners and lanterns.

Finally having your fill of this masterful piece of Buddhist artwork, which might take some time, you’ll make your way up a path for 200 to 300 more metres. Having crossed the Hyeonsu-gyo bridge, Sinheungsa Temple will finally come into view.

The rather boxy Cheonwangmun Gate houses some of the better examples of the Four Heavenly Kings. With intimidating expressions, they greet any and all visitors to the temple. Exiting out on the other side of this gate, you’ll next be greeted by the Boje-ru Pavilion that acts as a type of screen to hide the temple courtyard at Sinheungsa Temple.

Watching your head so you don’t smack it against the ceiling of the Boje-ru Pavilion as you pass under it, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Straight ahead is the Geukrakbo-jeon, which acts as the temple’s main hall. The stairs leading up to the hall are decorated with some ancient Nathwi carvings, while the exterior walls are adorned with some colourful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the elaborately decorated interior, and sitting on the main altar, sit a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He is joined on either side by two beautifully crowned Bodhisattvas: Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul).

To the left rear of the main hall are two more halls that visitors can enter. The first is the Myeongbu-jeon with a beautifully canopied Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) sitting on the main altar. To the rear of this hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The most interesting of the three paintings that take up residence inside this hall – Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) – is the modern Sanshin mural.

Admission to Seoraksan National Park, where Sinheungsa Temple is located, is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Sokcho, you can take a city bus to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park. The bus leaves every 10 minutes, and the bus ride should last anywhere from between 20 to 25 minutes. From where the bus drops you off at the entrance of the park, you’ll need to walk about 10 minutes to Sinheungsa Temple. You can take a bus or you can simply take a taxi from Sokcho. The taxi should take from 15 to 20 minutes to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Sinheungsa Temple is one of the most beautifully situated temples in all of Korea. In addition to all the natural beauty is the masterful 18.9 metre tall bronze statue of the Buddha. Also, visitors can enjoy a bit of a fright with the intimidating faces from the Four Heavenly Kings. The masterful artwork in and around the Geukrakbo-jeon, the Myeongbu-jeon, and the Samseong-gak are also things not to be passed up in one of Korea’s National Park crown jewels.

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The amazing scenery at Seoraksan National Park.

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The Iljumun Gate that first welcomes you to Sinheungsa Temple.

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The massive, and masterfully executed, bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

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A better look at serenity.

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A look at what Seokgamoni-bul gets to enjoy.

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Inside the bronze statue sit three different incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The bronze incense burner out in front of Seokgamoni-bul.

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The view as you make your way towards the temple grounds.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate at Sinheungsa Temple.

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The rather frightening Cheonwang.

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A look across the front facade towards the towering mountains.

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The Boje-ru Pavilion.

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Both the Geukrakbo-jeon and the Myeongbu-jeon beside it.

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The Nathwi carving that adorns the stairs that lead up to the main hall.

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Just one of the colourful Shimu-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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And a look inside the Geukrakbo-jeon at the main altar.

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A look inside at the Myeongbu-jeon main altar.

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To the rear of the main hall is the Samseong-gak.

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The modern painting of Sanshin.

Ichadon – 이차돈 (503-527)

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The Martyr monk, Ichadon, of the Silla Kingdom.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the eleventh installment about prominent monks; and this week, I thought I would focus on the martyr, Ichadon, from the Silla Kingdom. Ichadon was a Buddhist monk that supported the introduction of Buddhism to the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.E. – 668 C.E.).

While Buddhism had spread throughout the rest of the Korean peninsula in the Baekje and Goguryeo Kingdoms, Buddhism was still illegal in Silla up until 527 C.E. The reason for its slow acceptance is that the Silla Kingdom had weak state administrative powers. However, the common people were more willing to accept Buddhism than the Silla aristocracy who resisted all forms of Chinese culture; instead, preferring to adhere to the local religions. These two reasons, above all others, is why it took a full 150 years to be accepted in the Silla Kingdom after its neighbours had already accepted it as a state religion.

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A Silla Sacrifice from a Mural at Heungnyunsa Temple in Gyeongju.

King Beopheung (514-540), the king of Ichadon, had considered giving permission to the practice of Buddhist teachings in the Silla Kingdom. And in 527, Ichadon, while presenting himself to the royal court, announced that he had become a Buddhist monk. Not only that, but he had established a Buddhist temple on his land. Finally giving into palace aristocrats demands, King Beopheung had Ichadon beheaded. However, and rather miraculously during Ichadon’s execution, instead of blood, milk poured forth from his wound. Also, his head flew upwards and onwards to Mt. Sogeumgansan in Gyeongju. Due to these miracles, as well as Ichadon’s sacrifice, the royal court relented and Buddhism was finally accepted. Also, it led to the first state temple, Heungnyunsa Temple, being established in Silla territory.

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The Martyrdom of Ichadon from the Bell at Baeknyulsa Temple in Gyeongju.

Jogyesa Temple – 조계사 (Jongno, Seoul)

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A View of the Main Hall at Jogyesa Temple in Jongno, Seoul.

Hello Again Everyone!! Jogyesa Temple, in the heart of Seoul, was first established in 1910. When the temple was first established, a building from Gakhwangsa Temple in neighbouring Susong Park was transferred to the present Jogyesa Temple grounds in 1938. This building, which no longer exists, was funded nationally for Korea’s first Korean Buddhist mission. At this time it was renamed Taegosa Temple. The temple changed its name, after the Buddhist Purification Movement in 1954, to its current name of Jogyesa Temple.

You first enter the temple, which is surrounded on all sides by stores selling various Buddhist items, through the entrance gate. The four pillars that support the gate are fronted by the Four Heavenly Kings in beautiful metal form. As you step into the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the ten-tier stone pagoda. The massive main hall occupies the majority of the compact temple courtyard. The exterior walls are adorned with some masterful Palsang-do murals, as well as some stunning floral latticework. Inside the always busy main hall sits a triad of very large statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

To the left of the main hall is the temple’s elevated bell pavilion, which is joined by the Yeongsan-jeon. There are an assortment of administrative buildings in this area, as well as the temple’s gift shop. To the rear of the main hall is the Central Buddhist Museum. If you have the time, the museum is well worth a visit. Most prominent, it houses National Treasure #126, which is the Sarira Reliquaries from the Three-story Stone Pagoda of Bulguksa Temple from around the 8th century.

HOW TO GET THERE: There’s one of three ways that you can get to Jogyesa Temple. The first is from Jonggak subway station (line 1). Go through exit #2 and travel straight for 70 metres. You’ll then need to cross the street and go an additional 100 metres, where you’ll finally see the temple. The second way you can visit the temple is by getting off at Anguk subway station (line 3). Go out exit #6 and go straight for 50 metres. You’ll then need to cross the street in front of Dongduk Gallery. The temple lies an additional 50 metres straight ahead. The third way that you can get to the temple is by getting off at Gwanghwamun subway station (line 5). Take exit #2 and go straight for 150 metres. The temple lies between YTN Parking Tower and Hana Bank.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The massive main hall, in its own right, is enough reason to visit Jogyesa Temple. The beautiful murals and latticework that adorns the main hall only help to elevate its beauty. Inside this large hall are equally large sized main altar statues. Add into the mix the metal Heavenly King artwork at the temple entry, as well as the Central Buddhist Museum, and you have more than enough reason to get to this easily accessible temple in the heart of Seoul.

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The entry gate at Jogyesa Temple.

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One of the unique metal Heavenly Kings.

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Another up-close of a Cheonwang.

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The ten-tier stone pagoda in the centre of the temple courtyard.

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The hovering temple bell pavilion.

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 A look towards the massive main hall.

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Some of the hanging temple artwork just outside the main hall.

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The floral latticework adorning the main hall.

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Just one of the masterful Palsang-do murals.

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A look inside the packed main hall.

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The equally large Seokgamoni-bul altar statue.

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The Yeongsan-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.

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A sign for the Central Buddhist Museum.

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A look at National Treasure #126.

Ilyeon – 일연 (1206-1289)

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Ilyeon, the Author of the Famed Samguk Yusa

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the tenth installment about prominent Korean monks. And this article is about the famed monk Ilyeon, who wrote the historic Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms).

Ilyeon was born during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) in Korean history. Ilyeon’s birth name was Kim Gyeong-myeong. Amazingly, Ilyeon became a monk at the age of nine at Muryangsa Temple in Haeyang. Then, at the age of 13, he became a novice monk at Jinjeonsa Temple. And he passed the Seon national exam at the age of 22.

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The Samguk Yusa

During his lifetime, Ilyeon was a prolific writer. In total, and according to his tombstone, he wrote 80 volumes of work that focused on Buddhist topics. His most famed contribution, and the only one to survive to the present day, was the Samguk Yusa. The Samguk Yusa was written in Classical Chinese, which was used by the literate at that time, and it focused on folktales, legends, and biographies of famous monks from the early period in Korean history. Also, it is the earliest record of the Dangun foundation legend. It was written at the end of the 13th century, purportedly, at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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Unmunsa Temple, Where Ilyeon Purportedly Wrote the Samguk Yusa

At the age of 54, Ilyeon was given the rank of Great Teacher. Also, he traveled to Ganghwa-do Island, as instructed by King Wonjong (r. 1260-1274), to establish Seonwolsa Temple. Then, at the age of 63, in 1268, he was appointed the chief presider of the Tripitaka consummation ceremony at Eunhaesa Temple at Mt. Palgongsan over 100 prominent Seon masters. And at the age of 78, King Chungnyeol (r. 1274-1308) offered the position of National Preceptor (보각국사) to Ilyeon, which he declined. Once more, he was appointed to the position of National Preceptor (Guksa), and he arrived in the then capital of Gaeseong (then Gaegyeong) to assume the position. However, not long after assuming the position, he returned to his mountain temple with the excuse that his mother was sick. Finally, on the eighth day of the seventh month in 1289, Ilyeon passed away after conducting interviews with various monks.

Bongeunsa Temple – 봉은사 (Gangnam, Seoul)

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The Serene Mireuk-bul at Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam, Seoul.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bongeunsa Temple was first established in 794 A.D. by the monk, Yeonhoei, and it was first known as Gyeongseongsa Temple. Later, in 1498, under Queen Jeonghyeon (1462-1530), the temple was refurbished and renamed Bongeunsa Temple. Originally, the temple was located a further one kilometer southwest of its present location, but was relocated during King Myeongjong’s reign (r.1545-1567). More recently, Bongeunsa Temple is in dispute with the Seoul municipal government in potentially relocating it from its posh Gangnam neighbourhood.

Bongeunsa Temple is nestled next to Coex on the south shores of the Han River. You first approach the temple past the Jinyeomun Gate that houses the rather peculiar looking Four Heavenly Kings. Just past this gate, and a little to the right, is a stupa field of past prominent monks from Bongeunsa Temple.

A little further up the paved pathway, and you’ll pass under the large sized Beopwang Dharma Hall. Straight ahead, and up a set of stairs, is the main hall that’s fronted by hundreds of white paper lanterns and a three tier pagoda. Just to the right of the main hall is the historic Seonbul-dang, which formerly held the monks’ exam. Presently, it looks to be the Gwaneeum-jeon, with a serenely crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sitting on the main altar. As for the main hall itself, and adorning the exterior walls, are two sets of paintings: the Shimu-do and Palsang-do murals, as well as a few scary guardian murals. Sitting on the main altar inside the main hall, which is almost always busy with devotees, are a triad of statues. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul, who is joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the right of the main hall, and just past the Seonbul-dang, is the Jijang-jeon. The exterior walls to this beautiful hall are adorned with judgment murals, the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Inside this hall, the walls are lined with murals dedicated to the Ten Kings of the Underworld. On the far left wall hangs a Gamno-do mural and sitting on the main altar is a green haired Jijang-bosal.

To the left of the main hall, and up a flight of stairs, are a collection of shrine halls. To the far right is the Yeongsan-jeon (Vulture Peak Hall). In the centre sits the Bukgeukbo-jeon, which is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And the remaining hall is the Yeong-gak, which houses murals dedicated to master monks.

But the crown jewel of the temple is the massive statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). The 23 metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul looks out over the city of Seoul with a serene smile on his face. At the base of the statue are an assortment of Vajra warriors to help protect the Buddha from any harm. You can get some pretty amazing pictures of Seoul from this vantage point. The statue is fronted by an open Mireuk-jeon Hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: On the Seoul subway system, you’ll need to take Line 2 to Samseong Station and go out exit #6 to get to the temple. Once you’ve exited the station, you’ll need to go straight for 600 metres and turn left. From there, you’ll need to cross the street and travel an additional 150 metres to get to Bongeunsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For such a centrally located temple in the heart of Gangnam, Bongeunsa Temple is rather large in size. The temple houses a handful of temple halls that can be visited at any given time. Some of the more notable halls that should be visited are the Daeung-jeon and the Jijang-jeon. The views are spectacular, as is the massive statue of Mireuk-bul, that overlooks the downtown core of Seoul.

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The Jinyeomun entry gate at Bongeunsa Temple.

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The stupa field at Bongeunsa Temple.

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The Beopwang-ru Pavilion.

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A closer look at the beautiful Dharma Hall.

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The main temple courtyard at Bongeunsa Temple

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A look up at blue skies and the main hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar with Seokgamoni-bul in the centre.

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Just to the right of the main hall is this statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the Seonbul-dang.

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The stairs that lead to the upper courtyard at Bongeunsa Temple.

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The Yeongsan-jeon.

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A look inside the Yeongsan-jeon at the main altar.

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The view from the upper courtyard.

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The Yeong-gak shrine hall.

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The picturesque statue of Mireuk-bul.

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The Jijang-jeon on the lower courtyard.

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Just one of the amazing paintings adorning the Jijang-jeon.

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And a look inside the Jijang-jeon at the main altar.

Bodhidharma – 달마 (5th to 6th Cent.)

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An Image of the Bodhidharma from a Temple Wall.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the ninth installment about prominent Korean monks. And while the Bodhidharma wasn’t Korean, he had a heavy and wide-sweeping influence on Korean Buddhism, especially Seon Buddhism.

The Bodhidharma, which is shortened to just Dharma in Korea, was the legendary founder of the Seon/Zen/Chan tradition of meditative Buddhism. He first traveled to China, from northern India, in the early 6th century. He came to China to help enlighten people through meditation and through a minimal amount of studying texts.

The Bodhidharma first arrived in China in the capital of the southern kingdom. While there, he had a famous dialogue with the king, King Liang Wudi. During this dialogue, the Bodhidharma told the king that all the king’s donations to temples and monks would gain him nothing. Instead, he had no idea of who he was. Out of frustration, the king sent the Bodhidharma north to a minor temple on the remote Mt. Song-shan.

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A Painting of the Bodhidharma from Jogyeam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Bodhidharma had to cross the great Yangtze River by standing on a reed. After arriving at the temple, the monks simply couldn’t understand what it was that the Bodhidharma was attempting to teach them. From this inability to be understood, the Bodhidharma retreated to an isolated cave high up in the mountains where he continuously meditated for nine years in front of a rock wall.

At the end of the nine years, a military officer by the name of Dazu Huike visited the Bodhidharma because he was curious. Dazu Huike begged the Bodhidharma to allow him to become his student. After being refused, Dazu Huike cut off his left arm with his sword as a sign of his commitment. Finally, the Bodhidharma relented and Huike became his student. After this incident, the Bodhidharma returned to the temple from his cave to teach his new form of Buddhism. This little known temple would become famous as the Shaolin Temple, while the Bodhidharma’s new form of Buddhism would famously become known as Zen Buddhism (or Seon in Korea, or Chan in China).

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Dazu Huike and Bodhidharma Mural from Bohyunsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Dazu Huike would become known as the second patriarch of Chan Buddhism. There would be four more patriarchs that followed culminating in the teachings of Huineng (638-713). Visiting Korean monks that learned under Huineng would transmit his teachings back to the Korean peninsula. This resulted in the Gusan Seonmun (The Korean Seon’s Nine Original Sects). Some of these temples include Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, Borimsa Temple on Mt. Gajisan, and Taeansa Temple in Jeollanam-do. This form of Buddhism would gain popularity among the lay-people and continue to grow. As a result, the Bodhidharma is regarded as the founder of Seon Buddhism in Korea. He’s even referred to as the Dalma-josa (the founding master Bodhidharma) in Korea.

The Bodhidharma can often be seen depicted in a variety of manners and in a variety of locations. The paintings of the Bodhidharma, for instance, are known as the Dalma-do. The Bodhidharma often sports a heavy beard, a big nose, and he often wears large earrings. He has a knitted brow, suspicious eyes, and he sometimes dons a hood. You can find the image of the Bodhidharma in paintings around temple halls or in a person’s house or even their jewelry. This famous monk knows no bounds and is as popular as ever among the Korean population.