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.

Jeokcheonsa Temple – 적천사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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 The view of the main hall and temple courtyard at Jeokcheonsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!! You first approach the very rural Jeokcheonsa Temple up a long winding road. In fact, you go for so long, you might think that there’s no end to the road. When you do finally emerge on the other end, a yapping dog from one of the neighbouring houses will greet you at Jeokcheonsa Temple. It’s only then that you’ll know that you’ve finally arrive at the temple. As for temple structures, the first thing to greet you is a weather-worn Cheonwangmun Gate. Because the temple is rather smallish in size, it’s surprising that they have such a beautiful gate dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings. As you step inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be greeted by four smiling kings. And underneath their feet, if you look down, you’ll notice that they’re trampling demonic demons. Having passed through this gate, and greeting you on the other side, is a beautifully large Boje-ru pavilion. You’ll need to slouch down a bit so that you don’t bump your head when passing through this pavilion. Climbing the set of stairs that leads up to Jeokcheonsa Temple’s main courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a collection of halls and buildings. To your immediate left is the temple’s understated bell pavilion. It has a beautifully polished bronze bell that’s joined by an equally attractive fish gong and cloud gong. And to your immediate right are a row of monks’ quarters, the temple’s kitchen, and the visitors’ centre. Neighbouring the temple’s bell pavilion is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon. All but unadorned, the exterior walls only have the standard dancheong colours painted on their walls. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon are the typical statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Slightly to the right, and straight ahead, is the main hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple. The exterior walls are painted with some of the more original paintings you’ll see at a Korean temple. There are the atypically painted Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals on the right to rear side of the hall. As for the left, you can find the Bodhidharma and an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal painting. Unfortunately, the doors to this hall were locked when I visited, and I think it’s pretty standard judging from the signs on the wall. However, if you’re lucky enough to get in, a triad of statues on the main altar will greet you. The golden statues are centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the left and right of the main hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The one to the left is dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Inside this hall are all-white stone statues dedicated to the Nahan. And they are joined in the centre by Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with some beautiful pastoral paintings. As to the right, and joined by some more monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. As you first enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by a strange, but older-looking, mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This strange painting is fronted by a statue of the shaman deity. Just to the right of Sanshin hangs an equally old painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And rather atypically, the oldest-looking painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs on the far right wall. Usually, Chilseong hangs in the centre, and he’s joined on either side by Sanshin to the left and Dokseong to the right, but I guess the head-monk at Jeokcheonsa Temple had something else in mind. HOW TO GET THERE: Unfortunately, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Jeokcheonsa Temple; instead, you’ll need to take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take you about 20 minutes, and it’ll set you back about 8,000 won. OVERALL RATING: 6/10. If all the halls to this temple were open, perhaps it would slightly be rated a bit higher. But because the main hall and Myeongbu-jeon were off-limits when I visited, the rating goes down a bit. However, even with all that in mind, the beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate, the large Boje-ru pavilion, and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses the older-looking murals kind of counter-balances this deficiency.

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A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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Just one of the smiling Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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And one of the demons being trampled under foot.

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A look towards the Boje-ru pavilion from the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A better look at the rather overstated Boje-ru pavilion.

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The spacious bell pavilion at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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The polished bell at the temple.

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The rather long Myeongbu-jeon at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

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A look at the triad of shrine halls at the temple with the main hall front and centre.

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An all-white Gwanseeum-bosal that’s painted on the main hall.

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She’s joined by the Bodhidharma.

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And the collection of atypical-looking Shimu-do murals.

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

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With some pretty amazing murals adorning its exterior walls.

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A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the all-white stone sculptures of the Nahan.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look inside at the older-looking mural of Dokseong.

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 Who is joined to the right by this equally older-looking Chilseong mural.

Jinpyo – 진표 (8th Century)

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 A Portrait of the monk Jinpyo.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the eighth installment about prominent Korean monks. This time, I thought I would talk about the famed monk, Jinpyo. Jinpyo was a consciousness-only doctrinal scholar who lived during the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935) during the 8th century. And Jinpyo’s name, in English, means “symbol of truth.”

Jinpyo was originally from Wansanju, which is present day Jeonju. He was both a good archer and hunter as a child. According to the Goseung-jeon (“Old Monks’ Tales), and while out hunting one day as a child, he tied a frog’s legs together before heading up into the neighbouring mountains. While hunting, he completely forgot about the frog that he had tied up. A year later, he heard something crying, so he went to see what it was. Amazed, he discovered the exact same frog still tied up. As a result, and at the age of 12, Jinpyo decided to renounce the secular world and become a monk. He became a monk at Mt. Geumgangsan, and he later studied under Masters Shandao and Sengji in Tang China.

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Geumsansa Temple

When Jinpyo finally did return to the Korean peninsula, he underwent a strict regimen of Buddhist monastic training. He did this in the form of forgetting the body. And he underwent this form of repentance at the famed Geumsansa Temple at Mt. Moaksan. Through visions of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Mireuk-bosal (The Future Bodhisattva), he became a devout follower of the two. He is also said to have had an encounter with Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) in 740 on Mt. Odaesan. This was then followed by an encounter with Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) at Yeongsansa Temple after years of meditation.

After this last encounter, Jinpyo was invited to the Silla royal court. While there, he was given money to distribute it among the various Buddhist temples in the kingdom. Specifically, Jinpyo led the Beopsang school of Buddhism that focused on strong devotional practices, as well as belief. In addition, and not so surprisingly, he placed an emphasis on repentance.

Through his influence, as well as his disciples’ actions, his beliefs were passed down to Wang Geon, King Taejo, who was the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). And to the present day, his teachings have had a long lasting effect on Korean Buddhism.

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 A Portrait of King Taejo, who Jinpyo helped influence.

Cheongryangsa Temple – 청량사 (Gangseo-gu, Busan)

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A look through a window at the Minang-gak shaman shrine hall at Cheongryangsa Temple in Gangseo-gu, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

Cheongryangsa Temple is located in an industrial part of western Busan, and it’s surrounded on all sides by neighbouring factories. You first enter the compact temple grounds off of one of the industrial roads, as you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Painted inside this gate are four murals of the Four Heavenly Kings. And adorning the ceiling are a set of swirling Biseon. On top of the gate is the temple’s towering bell pavilion.

As soon as you enter the temple grounds, and pass through the diminutive dirt parking lot, you’ll be greeted by the newer looking main hall. The main hall is surrounded by some of the more beautiful Palsang-do murals that you’ll find at any temple throughout Korea. As for the interior, and sitting under a yet to be painted canopy, are a triad of smaller sized statues. Sitting in the centre is Amita-bul (The Bodhisattva of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power or Amita-bul). On the far right wall is a memorial shrine for the dead and to the far left is a guardian mural. And just behind the main hall is a seated statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

In between the main hall and the temple bathroom is an ancient tree. Just behind this ancient tree are the monks’ dorms, kitchen, and visitors’ centre.

Perhaps the most unique aspect to the temple is the Minang-gak, which houses the usual shaman suspects, as well as another highly original painting. The Minang-gak shaman shrine hall is painted with various murals of the Shinseon (The Daoist Immortals). As for when you first step into the Minang-gak, you’ll be welcomed by a highly original mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the right of this mural is an older looking painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The next painting, and in the same style as the Sanshin mural, is a mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The final mural in the set of four is the Dangsan painting. This highly original mural is dedicated to a female spirit that protects the temple grounds and the surrounding area. It was formerly housed in a shrine all to its own before Cheongryangsa Temple was first established. With the creation of the temple, Cheongryangsa Temple simply absorbed the shrine dedicated to Dangsan and housed the painting dedicated to this feminine spirit alongside other shaman deities inside the Minang-gak.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to take the subway to the Hadan subway stop, #102, line one. Take exit number 3 and find the bus stop where you can take town bus #3 or #15. The bus is smaller in size, and you’ll need to take it for 7 stops. Get off at the Sachuideung (사취등) stop. Look for the temple signs and walk towards the temple for about three minutes. Either that or you can simply take a taxi from Hadan subway station. The ride will take about 7 minutes, depending on traffic, and cost you about 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While small in size, Cheongryangsa Temple has the most uncommon of shaman spirits housed in one of the more unusual of shaman shrine halls, the Minang-gak, in all of Korea. This shrine hall alone is worth the attempt to find Cheongryangsa Temple. However, couple this with the newly constructed main hall and the murals it sports, and you’ll have more than enough reason to visit this unknown temple in western Busan.

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 A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Cheongryangsa Temple.

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Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The swirling set of Biseon painted on the ceiling of the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate and just some of the trees that line the temple grounds.

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A look at the newly built main hall at Cheongryangsa Temple.

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Just one of the masterful Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls along the main hall.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar.

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A statue of Mireuk-bul that sits in back of the main hall.

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The monks’ residence at the temple.

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Finally, a look at the Minang-gak shaman shrine hall at Cheongryangsa Temple.

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Just one of the Shinseon murals that adorns the shaman shrine hall.

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The earthy image of Sanshin inside the Minang-gak.

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A look at the other three murals that make up the shaman set of paintings.

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 A closer look at the Dangsan mural inside the Minang-gak.

Uicheon – 의천 (1055-1101)

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The Creator of the Cheontae Order, Uicheon (1055-1101)

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the seventh installment on prominent Korean monks. This time, I thought I would talk about the royal monk, Uicheon, who helped found the Cheontae Order of Korean Buddhism.

Uicheon was born the fourth son of King Munjong (r. 1046-1083), which was during the early part of the Goryeo Dynasty. And while Uicheon was a royal prince, he devoted himself to Buddhism and Buddhist scholarship. He did this by collecting various scriptures. Amazingly, Uicheon became the head of the Buddhist seungga (community) at the very early age of 13.

In 1085, at the age of 30, Uicheon boarded a boat bound for China. And while he was well versed in Buddhist doctrine, he believed that he could still advance his studies by traveling to China. In total, he stayed for 14 months. While there, he met and consulted with some fifty leading masters of Buddhism from varying sects. While in China, he studied at Hiuyan Temple in the city of Hangzhou with the monk Jingyuan (1011-1088).

When Uicheon returned to Korea, he became the spiritual master of Heunggwangsa Temple. During his time at this temple, he successfully brought both Gyo (doctrinal Buddhism) and Seon (meditative Buddhism) together under the inclusive Cheontae-jong (“Heavenly Platform Buddhism,” in English) Order of Korean Buddhism. With royal financing, as well as influence, Uicheon collected various Buddhist scriptures and organized them in a palace library in the city of Gaeseong.

Sadly, Uicheon passed away in 1101. Upon his death, he was given the honourific name of Daegak-guksa: Daegak meaning “Grand Enlightenment,” while guksa means “national preceptor.”

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The Cheontae Buddhist Order sign.