Podae-hwasang – 포대화상


Podae-hwasang at Jeongamsa Temple in Gohan, Gangwon-do

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Until recently, I had no idea that Podae-hwasang even existed in Buddhism. It was only after researching him a bit more that I found out who the easily misidentified jovial figure was. Sometimes, he can be confused for the Buddha, but he’s in fact Podae-hwasang.

Podae-hwasang, who is better known as Budai or Pu-Tai in Chinese, is a disguised monk. Podae-hwasang is believed to be an incarnation of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). The name Budai, in Chinese, means “hempen sack” (more on that later).


A very golden Podae-hwasang at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Gijang, Busan.


The tarnished belly of another Podae-hwasang at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Supposedly, if you rub the belly while pregnant, the statue will grant you a boy.

Podae-hwasang first appeared in 10th century Chinese folktales. It’s believed that Podae-hwasang was a monk from Huyang, China. He was born in Myeongju, Bonghwa in China (or Ch’i-t’zu, from Fenghua, in what is now Zhejiang province in Chinese). His name, at his birth, was Gyecha. At this time, there was a form of Buddhism in China called Mani, and his Buddhist name was Cha, even though he was also called Seodal. And his home temple was Akrimsa Temple.

Physically, Podae-hwasang appears to be chubby and has a belly like a balloon. He’s bald and wears a monk’s robe. Also, he’s always depicted as either smiling or laughing. He was known to wander around the countryside with a cane. It was from his cane that he hung a sack. The sack had a variety of things in it, so if people needed or wanted something, he could always offer things to them. Additionally, the sack carried sweets for children, so he’s often depicted in the presence of children.


Babies crawling all over Podae-hwasang at Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.


The jovial Podae-hwasang at Manseongam Hermitage just outside Beomeosa Temple in Busan.


And another baby-motif statue of Podae-hwasang at Yongmunsa Temple in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Not only could Podae-hwasang predict the weather, but he could also predict good and back luck. Amazingly, he was never wrong. In addition to his ability to predict things, he represents happiness and generosity. He also protects children, the poor, and the weak. It’s believed that by rubbing his belly that it brings wealth, good luck, and prosperity.

At his death in 916 A.D., Podae-hwasang entered nirvana. He left behind four poems/songs as he entered nirvana on a rock. It was at his death that he recited:

Maitreya [Mireuk-bul], true Maitreya
Reborn innumerable times
From time to time manifested among men
The men of the age do not recognize him.


It’s from these words that he revealed himself to be Mireuk-bul. So it’s from these final words that Podae-hwasang came to be associated with the Future Buddha.

At a Korean Buddhist temple, you can typically find Podae-hwasang either in painted or statue form. If he’s a statue, he’s usually rendered as plump, jovial and surrounded by children. He can be holding either prayer beads or a fan, and he has the iconic hempen sack nearby. Podae-hwasang also appears like this in paintings if he’s on his own; however, he can sometimes be seen in the final painting of the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals in the form of the master returning to a village or marketplace.


A painting of Podae-hwasang at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.


Another painting of Podae-hwasang; this time, from Seoknamsa Temple in Eonyang.


The wooden carving of Podae-hwasang at Yongjusa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

You can find Podae-hwasang at such prominent temples as Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Gijang, Busan or Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do; and at lesser known temples as Sudasa Temple in Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Yongmunsa Temple in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and Yongjusa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

So the next time you’re out at a Korean Buddhist temple, you might be lucky enough to find this chubby figure. And if you rub his belly or pray to him, you might be rewarded with wealth, good luck, and/or prosperity.


The chubby stone statue of Podae-hwasang at the famed Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju.


The largest statue I’ve seen of Podae-hwasang at Sudasa Temple in Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do.


And a masterful rendering of Podae-hwasang at Cheontaesa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Sermon on Vulture Peak Painting – Yeongsan Hoesang-do (영산 회상도)


The famous Yeongsan Heosang-do at Gimryongsa Temple that dates back to 1703.

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The English name for the Yeongsan Hoesang-do is “The Sermon on Vulture Peak” painting. It is a highly symbolic painting that most people see at a Korean temple, but they simply don’t understand its meaning. So what does the Vulture Peak painting look like? And what is the meaning behind it?

During the Goryeo Period (918-1392), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) was the most popular Buddha throughout the Korean peninsula. However, during the early Joseon Dynasty, which started in 1392, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) became the most popular main altar Buddha. And this popularity has continued to the present day. The most common triad to be found on the main altar of the main hall at a Seon (Zen) Korean temple or hermitage are the sculptures of Seokgamoni-bul flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal. Behind this triad of statues, and on the wall, hangs the Vulture Peak painting.


The intricate Vulture Peak Painting inside the main hall at Naesosa Temple.

In the Vulture Peak painting, the central and dominating figure is Seokgamoni-bul. He’s seated on a lotus pedestal and his hands are forming the “Touching the Earth” mudra, where his right hand is touching the earth and his left hand still rests in his lap. In the painting, he’s flanked by both Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) who both wear large crowns. The painting, depending on how elaborate it is, will be filled with varying Bodhisattvas and Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) that back Seokgamoni-bul. Guardians also inhabit the painting like the Four Heavenly Kings (Sacheonwang) that are positioned in the bottom right and left corners.

The reason that the painting is so well populated and centred by Seokgamoni-bul is that it’s supposed to represent the Lotus Sutra, where the Buddha first preached it on Vulture Peak. This sutra; and therefore, the painting, is meant to represent the essential teachings of Seokgamoni-bul. Specifically, the Yeongsan Hoesang-do, or The Sermon on Vulture Peak painting, is meant to represent the opening chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which tells who participated in the assembly. This chapter also describes what happened before the lecture by the Buddha.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple or hermitage, have a close look inside the main hall at the main altar. If you look close enough, perhaps you’ll be able to correctly identify the highly elaborate and beautiful Yeongsan Hoesang-do, the Vulture Peak painting.


The Vulture Peak Painting from inside the main hall at Baekyangsa Temple.

The Guardian Mural – Shinjung Taenghwa (신중 탱화)


The elaborate Shinjung Taenghwa at Naejangsa Temple.

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In English, the Shinjung Taenghwa is called the “Altar Painting of Guardian Deities” or the Guardian Mural for short. This painting is a highly intricate painting that most people have seen if you’ve been to any temple or hermitage throughout the Korean peninsula. However, what is less known about this painting is all of its rich detail and meaning. So what exactly does a Guardian Mural look like? And more specifically, what is the meaning behind it all?

The Guardian Mural, or the Shinjung Taenghwa, is relatively large in size. It can either be a painting or a wooden-relief. They are always found inside a temple’s main hall; however, they can also be found in another temple hall, as well. The mural is typically placed above an altar with incense on the right-hand side of the hall, but they can really be anywhere. The Guardian Mural can feature anywhere from five to one-hundred and eight crowded figures. All figures inside the Shinjung Taenghwa are considered deities outside the core deities that are usually found at a Korean temple.


The Guardian Mural at Bogyeongsa Temple.

So who exactly are these figures, and why are they included in the Shinjung Taenghwa? The most domineering figure in the painting is the centrally located, and multi-armed, Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin protective demon that comes from the Vajrayana (Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism) tradition.


The fierce Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Hongryongsa Temple.


A stone relief of Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Samgwangsa Temple.


The wooden-relief of Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Sujeongsa Temple.

He stands above a figure with a winged helmet. This large figure is Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings). Dongjin-bosal is believed to be the son of Shiva in Hinduism. Buddhist legend states that after the Buddha’s death, a demon stole one of the Buddha’s teeth. Dongjin-bosal chased down the demon and retrieved the tooth from it. For this, Dongjin-bosal became a protector of both the Buddhist community, as well as the Buddha’s teachings. With the growth of Seon (Zen) Buddhism throughout North-East Asia, he was promoted from a deva to a full-fledged Bodhisattva. The wings on his helmet, which makes him easy to identify, are believed to come from Siberian shamanism. The wings signify an ability to fly up to the heavens or down into the deepest depths of hell. In addition to his winged helmet, Dongjin-bosal also wears a Chinese Tang Dynasty general’s uniform, while holding a large multi-bladed vajra sword.


Dongjin-bosal at Baekjangam Hermitage.


The multi-headed wooden relief of Dongjin-bosal at Wonhyoam Hermitage.

Flanking the two central figures of Dae-yejeok Geumgangshin and Dongjin-bosal are a pair of beautiful figures with red and white crowns. The one with the crown with the white orb on it is Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva). The one with the red orb in his crown is Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). These four figures are then surrounded by an assortment of various guardian deities. They include folk deities and historical figures that can be shamanic, Taoist, Confucian, or even Hindu in origin. They are all believed to have volunteered to protect the Buddha’s teachings, the temple, and the Buddhist community with whatever spiritual force they can employ. These deities often include the most popular shaman figures like Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Yongwang (The Dragon King). They can also be heavenly spirits, earthly spirits, or dongja (attendants). On the bottom row of the painting is an array of military general spirits.

All of these deities in this mural are believed to reside in the realm of pleasure, but they can’t attain enlightenment. Often, you will see monks chanting the Heart Sutra in front of the Shinjung Taenghwa to help these deities attain a human form so that they can potentially attain enlightenment in their next lives. And just as frequently, you’ll see lay-people bowing in front of the guardian mural as a sign of respect and understanding.


The Shinjung Taenghwa at Daeheungsa Temple.

So the next time you’re at a temple and you see the Shinjung Taenghwa, which you will if you look close enough, have a look and give a bow or two of your own as a sign of respect for those spirits that protect both the Buddha’s teachings and the Buddhist community.

Hungry Ghosts – Agwi (아귀)


A couple of monstrous-looking Agwi.

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You’ve probably seen an Agwi, or Hungry Ghosts/Spirits, in English, a hundred times at a temple but just didn’t know exactly what it was supposed to mean or represent. So what is an Agwi? Where can you see one? And what are they supposed to mean?

An Agwi is a ghost or spirit that is perpetually hungry. They were a former human who now suffers from hunger and thirst as karma for their greed, selfishness, or jealousy (or a combination of the three), while they were alive. They have bulging eyes, open mouths, their giant bellies exposed, and they have hardly any clothing on their bodies. Their eye-brows are angry and rigid, while they are either bald or losing their hair. Additionally, they wear a lot of jewelry like ankle and wrist bracelets, and their ears are typically pierced by gold earrings. But probably the easiest way to identify them is that they have red wings behind their ears.


A couple of Agwi from an ancient painting at Seonamsa Temple.

Buddhist scriptures describe Agwi as beings with throats as small as needles and having bloated bellies. They are called “Preta” in Sanskrit, which in ancient India simply meant spirits of the dead. In East Asian Buddhism, Agwi are called “burning mouths” because when they put food in their mouths, the food bursts into flames so that the Agwi can’t consume the food.

The realm where the Agwi live is believed to be located far beneath the earth’s surface, but above hell. Agwi are reincarnated in one of the three evil destinies. This belief comes from the “doctrine of the ten worlds and their mutual possession.” Because they lived a past life as someone that consumed with insatiable desires or were tormented with relentless cravings, they have been reborn as an Agwi in one of the three evil realms.


A couple mischievous Agwi.

So who are these Agwi? Well, they were once humans. And technically, they could even be a deceased member of your family. A good example of this is a Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), Mokgeollyeon (Mahakalika), who saved his own mother from the realm of hungry ghosts. Ceremonies are performed at Korean temples to “feed” Agwi. They are held by lay-people for their own deceased family members, or they can be held by monks for all those spirits that are suffering. This ceremony is typically held inside the main hall or the Myeongbu-jeon Hall in front of a Gamno-do painting. Typically, the ceremony involves chanting and the performing of Buddhist instruments like a drum, hand bell or cymbals, so as to comfort the Agwi.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple or hermitage, have a look around to see if you can spot a suffering Agwi. They’re pretty easy to spot in a painting, but it can be very hard to find a painting that depicts them.

Revolving Scriptures Library Pillar – Yunjangdae (윤장대)


 Inside the Daejang-jeon Hall at Yongmunsa Temple. The Yunjangdae is to the left with the oldest main altar relief to the right.

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The Yunjangdae is one of the rarer things to see, or even find, at a temple or hermitage in Korea. So what exactly is its purpose? And what does it look like? In English, the Yunjangdae (윤장대) is known as the Revolving Scriptures Library Pillar. The Yunjandae is colourfully painted. It’s rooted into the ground with a rotating base. It can also be fastened to the ceiling with a spindle pole, as well. The design goes from slim to large from the base of the library pillar to the top. In the body of the Yunjangdae are multiple florally designed doors. And at the top of the Yunjangdae rests a colourful red canopy. In addition to all this, the Yunjangdae can also be adorned with dragons, Nathwi, or flowers.


 A closer look at perhaps the oldest Yunjangdae in all of Korea at Yongmunsa Temple.

So what exactly is the purpose behind the Yunjangdae? Well, the Yunjangdae is a spinning bookcase used in Buddhist ceremonies. It enshrines Buddhist scriptures and sutras inside. It’s believed by Buddhists that if you turn the Yunjangdae while attempting to gain positive karma that you’ll attain it without having to study all the Buddhist sutras. The reason you won’t have to read all the Buddhist texts is that by spinning the Yunjangdae, it’s like you’ve read through all of the sutras. This idea is similar to many Vajrayana (Tantric or Esoteric) Buddhist practices such as the prayer wheels in Tibet and Mongolian Buddhist beliefs.

Picture 407

 The colourful Yunjangdae at Gapsa Temple.

There are a couple great examples of the Yunjangdae. One such example can be found in the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Gapsa Temple in Gonju, Chungcheongnam-do. Another, and perhaps the oldest in Korea, is the Yunjangdae found at Yongmunsa Temple in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, which dates back to 1173 A.D.

The Founder’s Hall – Josa-jeon (조사전)


A look across at the Josa-jeon Hall at Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

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This is yet another article on little known or seen things you might encounter at a Korean Buddhist temple. This time, I thought I would explain the Josa-jeon Hall at a temple. While you might have seen this hall before, it may not be all that clear as to what purpose it serves. So what exactly is this halls purpose and what does it look like? In English, the “Josa” means “patriarch” or “founder; while “jeon” means hall. So the best name, at least in English, for the Josa-jeon Hall is “The Founder’s Hall.”


The understated Josa-jeon Hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

The Josa-jeon Hall is smaller in size. It’s usually to the side of a temple complex. The exterior walls are either plainly painted or they have the Ox-Herding murals, the Shimu-do murals, adorning it. As for the interior, the hall enshrines formal portraits of that temple or the Buddhist school that the specific temple may focus on. It can also house portraits of great monks that either lived or taught at the temple, including major disciples. More specifically, it can also house monks who led in the reconstruction of the temple or in its revival. Typically, older temples have larger sized Josa-jeon Halls filled with these portraits. And they are far more prevalent at Seon school temples because this type of Korean Buddhism focuses on lineage.


Portraits of prominent monks at Miraesa Temple.

A lot of the hall’s meaning is wrapped around its name. But a lot of meaning can also be discovered in the portraits themselves. The portraits are usually paintings that are highly formal and created after the monk in the mural has died. The portraits can also be copies of copies, repainted through the centuries as a result of decay. In the portrait, the monk is dressed in full “gasa” (the monastic robe). They are usually seated on a wooden chair and holding a ritual instrument like a “bulja” (fly whisk), which denotes their office. Additionally, they can also be holding a “yeomju” (Buddhist rosary beads). In some modern portraits, photographs of the deceased monks may be used instead of a mural. And in some rare situations, a statue might be used instead of a painting or a picture.


The wall-to-wall murals found inside the Josa-jeon at Baegyangsa Temple.

Throughout the year, various ceremonies are performed at the Josa-jeon Hall. Brief chanting ceremonies are performed daily at the hall to show respect and veneration for past monks and masters. Larger ceremonies are held every year on days that are dedicated to a specific master, such as the day that they passed or the day they gained enlightenment. The reason that these ceremonies take place is so members of the seungga (Buddhist community) can show respect to former teachers from the temple.


The view of the Josa-jeon Hall at Miraesa Temple from a distance.

Some great examples of this type of hall can be found at Daeheungsa Temple, Miraesa Temple in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Baekyangsa Temple, Seonunsa Temple, Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple, and Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.

Large Buddhist Banner Painting – Gwaebul (괘불)


 The large-sized Gwaebul painting at Tongdosa Temple during Buddha’s birthday.

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In yet another article on little seen or known items at a Korean temple or hermitage, I thought I would talk about the Gwaebul painting just in time for Buddha’s birthday.

The largest paintings in Korea are known as Gwaebul (괘불), which means “Large Buddhist Banner Painting,” in English. These paintings are extremely hard to find throughout Korea because they are usually only put on display once a year. So what do they look like and what is the meaning behind them?


 People bowing to the Gwaebul painting at Tongdosa Temple during Buddha’s birthday.

Throughout Korea, there are nearly one hundred known ancient Gwaebul. Most of these paintings were produced between the early 17th century and the late 19th century. The Gwaebul painting can sometimes be as large as 15 metres tall and 10 metres in width. The reason they can be so large is that they were created for outdoor usage in front of hundreds, or even thousands, of people. The painting is hung from tall poles in an outdoor ceremony on a special occasion. Most commonly, you can see them during Buddha’s birthday or the Vulture Peak Ceremony (Yeongsanje) in a temple’s main courtyard. Traditionally, the Gwaebul was only shown once every year. And at some temples, they were only ever put on display every ten years. When the Gwaebul isn’t being used for special ceremonies, they are rolled up and stored inside a temple hall. Most often, they are hidden somewhere in the main hall; and usually, under the main altar.


 A closer look at the face of Seokgamoni-bul front and centre on the Gwaebul painting.

Because the Gwaebul painting is so large, it’s filled with a lot of intricate details. Typically, a large Buddha is the dominating central figure in the painting. He is then surrounded by Bodhisattvas, Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), and various guardians. They are often depicted in a scene from an important sutra. The central figure can either be Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), or even Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) in some special cases. The earliest Gwaebul paintings often depict the Assembly on Vulture Peak, as they were meant to represent the Buddha in a contemporary world. In this painting, he is preaching the Lotus Sutra.


 The massive Gwaebul painting at Geumdangsa Temple.

Specifically, the Gwaebul at Geumdangsa Temple in Jinan, Jeollabuk-do, which dates back to 1682, was said to help end droughts. Legend states of this painting that villagers performed rituals in front of the Gwaebul and rain fell, which successfully ended a long standing drought in the region.

Great examples of the Gwaebul painting can be found at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, and the Gwaebul at Ansimsa Temple in Cheongwon, Chungcheongbuk-do that is National Treasure #297 and dates back to 1652.


 A closer look at the face of Gwanseeum-bosal on the Gwaebul painting at Geumdangsa Temple.

The Sweet Dew Painting – Gamno-do (감로도)


Two monks discussing the Gamno-do painting at Yeongsanjeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The next entry about rarities to be found at a Korean temple or hermitage is the extremely hard to find Gamno-do painting. In fact, I’ve only ever seen it publicly displayed at three temples in my three hundred plus temples I’ve visited throughout Korea.

The meaning behind the name of the Gamno-do painting is a bit difficult to explain. “Gamno” relates to how the Buddha’s teachings fall to us like sweet dew, while “do” means painting. So the best name for the Gamno-do painting in English is the “Sweet Dew Painting.”

The Gamno-do painting depicts the Ullambana Sutra, or Bulseoluranbun-gyeong in Korean. Other names for this type of painting is “Gamnowang-do” or “Gamno-taenghwa.”


A nun at Unheungsa Temple performing a ritual in front of the famed Gamno-do painting.

So what exactly does this complex painting look like? Where can you find it? And what is the meaning behind the complexity?

The Gamno-do painting is a painting that depicts the formal worship of ancestors and other spirits in a Buddhist context. The Gamno-do is a taenghwa altar painting that depicts the ritual offering of food to hungry ghosts to nourish or save those spirits of dead people that are suffering in hell. So the ritual for the dead is performed in front of this painting usually inside the main hall at a Korean temple. Specifically, the Gamno-do painting is used in the Sweet Dew Ceremony for the dead, where those remaining pray for the comfort of the deceased souls in the Western Pure Land, which is a form of heaven.

The Gamno-do really has two purposes. The first is to console the suffering spirits of the hungry ghost realm. The second purpose is to serve the living in their fear for the suffering and hunger in the afterlife as may be caused by greed in the present. It also provides people with a warning about their potential future, which causes a form of repentance. Ultimately, the object of the ceremony, and the Gamno-do painting that people worship in front of, is to nourish the greed of these ghosts, while assisting all to find peace in the Buddhists realm so that they don’t haunt the living.


The upper portion of the Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The painting is usually horizontal in composition, and it’s typically composed in three sections. The top section consists of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) welcoming the sentient beings, along with five to seven other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Amita-bul is sometimes called “King Gamno.” The Bodhisattva with a flagpole leads the dead to the Western Paradise, while Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) descend from clouds.


A pair of angry Agwi inside the Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple.

The centre portion of the painting is dominated by one or two over-sized hungry ghosts called “agwi,” in Korean. These spirits are people who have died without the proper memorial rites being performed for them. These hungry ghosts have small mouths but giant bellies. They are breathing fire or fighting over food in front of the ancestral rites table. On the other side of these ghosts, monks are performing a ceremony for the spirits of the dead. Typically, they are chanting or playing Buddhist instruments like the drum, hand bell, or cymbals to comfort the spirits.

At the bottom of the painting is the third section. It displays a realistic and detailed display of the six realms of existence: the realm of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras (deities), and heavenly beings. All are portrayed as though they were alive today.

Great examples of the Gamno-do painting can be found at Jikjisa Temple, Tongdosa Temple, Unheungsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Yeongsanjeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do, and Boseongsa Temple near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.


The amazing and intricate Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple.

Universal Salvation Pavilion – Boje-ru (보제루)


The Boje-ru Pavilion in the background behind the Cheonwangmun at Donghwasa Temple in Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The next entry in the series of postings on rarely seen things you might encounter at a Korean temple or hermitage is the Boje-ru Pavilion.

The Universal Salavation Pavilion, or the Boje-ru Pavilion (보제루) is the fifth, and final, gate in the set of gates that potentially can be found at a larger sized temple. It’s positioned after the Bulimun Gate, and it usually hides the main temple courtyard that’s situated behind its rather long length.

So what does a Boje-ru Pavilion look like? Why is it located where it is at a temple? And what is the meaning behind it?


 The massive Boje-ru Pavilion at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.

In Korean, the word “Boje” means universal salvation. This refers to the casting of a net across the Samgye, which is desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. This net is cast to rescue all sentient beings. The final character in the name, “ru,” is a Chinese character that means a raised pavilion or building of two or more stories.


 A fine example of the pavilion at Naesosa Temple in Buan, Jeollabuk-do.


 A look under the pavilion at Naesosa Temple with paper wishes hanging from the ceiling.

First, the Boje-ru is a pavilion, unlike the other four structures that potentially welcome you to the temple grounds. It is made up of two stories. The first story serves as a passageway, and final entrance, to the main temple courtyard. Instead of supportive beams, there can be two storage areas to the right and left of the stairway that leads up to the main temple courtyard. On the second floor, there rests an open pavilion. The exterior walls are typically very colourful with winged-shaped roofs.


 The large-sized Boje-ru that welcomes you to Pagyesa Temple in Daegu.


 The corridor and stairs that lead up to Pagyesa Temple.

Some of the meaning behind this temple building rests on the first floor of its design. In older Boje-ru designs, the ceiling can be quite low. This is deliberately done so that visitors to a temple or hermitage have to stoop. This is done as a gesture of humility, as they pass through the pavilion. On the second floor of this structure is where monastic lectures and non-ceremonial dharma assemblies (beophoe) are conducted simply because they are too large to be done inside the main hall. Also, in some smaller sized temples, Buddhist musical instruments can be housed in the second floor pavilion. And some Boje-ru were used as protection against armed forces like the Japanese after the Imjin War (1592-98). A great example of this can be found at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Specifically, it was used for military training and guarding the temple buildings from invaders.

Great examples of the Boje-ru, or the Universal Salvation Pavilion, can be found at Donghwasa Temple, Geumsansa Temple, Dasolsa Temple, Pagyesa Temple, Naesosa Temple, and Buseoksa Temple.


 The militarized Boje-ru at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.


 And a look inside the second floor open pavilion at Okcheonsa Temple.

The Diamond Gate – Geumgang-mun (금강문)


 The Diamond Gate at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

The next article about lesser seen things at Korean temples or hermitages is about the Geumgangmun Gate, or the Diamond Gate in English. So what exactly does it look like, where is it found at a temple, and what is its meaning?

Like all the other gates at a temple, it’s situated out in front of the main temple courtyard. It is placed behind the Iljumun Gate but before the Cheonwangmun Gate. So it’s the second in the collection of five gates, if all the gates are located at the temple. This gate can also be called the Inwangmun Gate (Benevolent King Gate), or Haetalmun Gate (Liberation Gate).


 How the Geumgangmun appears from the outside at Daeheungsa Temple in Haenam, Jeollanam-do.

So what is the meaning behind this gate? If this gate is called a Geumgangmun, which it’s most commonly referred to as in Korea, then its origins are in Hinduism. Geumgang means diamond, which is the hardest possible substance. It can’t be harmed by any other material, but it can cut or break other material. So it’s a symbol of the Buddha Dharma as the supreme truth or wisdom that can’t be contradicted by other ideas. Also, the Diamond Gate symbolizes how a diamond can cut through any delusions that cause suffering.

However, if the gate is called a Haetalmun Gate then the name implies that by passing through this gate one moves from the human world and into the Buddhist world. This inspires an individual to seek liberation from worldly suffering.


 The plain looking Haetalmun Gate at Dogapsa Temple in Yeongam, Jeollanam-do.

The Geumgangmun Gate is similar in appearance to the Cheonwangmun Gate. It’s a large gate that is closed in design. There may be various Buddhist-motif paintings adorning the gate, or it can be left unadorned. One such motif is the depiction of two guardians. One of these fierce-looking guardians is called Ha because his mouth is open and forming a “ha.” This is the cosmic syllable symbolizing the beginning. The other guardian is called Heng. He has his mouth closed and his nostrils are flared. He’s called Heng because his mouth is formed like it is making a “heng” sound. This is the cosmic syllable representing the end. So together, Heng and Ha form the sound “om,” which means the absolute. A great depiction of these two on this gate can be found at Naewonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.


The guardian Ha found on the door of the Diamond Gate at Naewonsa Temple.


Heng found opposite of Ha at Naewonsa Temple.

As for the interior of this gate, and much like the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll customarily find four figures inside this gate. The first two figures, either painted or statues, you’ll encounter, which can be fierce or even comical, are Vajra protectors. They protect the temple and those visiting the temple. They are connected with the Vedic mythological concept of a vajra, the thunderbolt of Indra, who is a great energetic power that can blast through all worldly delusions.


 A cheerful Vajra guardian found at Dogapsa Temple.


 A whole lot fiercer looking Vajra guardian at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.


 And a slightly chubbier looking Vajra guardian at Magoksa Temple.

The other two images, again, either in painted or statue form, are Bohyun-bosal and Munsu-bosal. Bohyun-bosal will appear on the left side of the gate, while Munsu-bosal will appear on the right. Inside this gate, they appear as infants. They both appear as boys because they symbolize innocent wisdom and eternal youth. Specifically, Bohyun-bosal rides a six-tusked white elephant. He is the Bodhisattva of great vows, great conduct, and benevolent actions. Also, he’s associated with the virtues of Buddhist practice and meditation. Munsu-bosal, on the other hand, rides a blue dragon or haetae (mythical creature that controls and consumes fire). He embodies the perfection of wisdom. Also, he inspires Buddhists to become wiser through study and clear thinking. So the reasons that these two are housed inside this gate are pretty self-explanatory for those wanting to worship at a Korean temple.


 Munsu-bosal at Daeheungsa Temple.


 Bohyun-bosal found at Magoksa Temple.

Great examples of the Diamond Gate can be found at larger temples throughout the Korean peninsula. Some great examples can be found at Magoksa Temple, Dogapsa Temple, Geumsansa Temple, Daeheungsa Temple, and Beopjusa Temple.