The Flowers Adorning Temple Ceilings

AnyangamInside one of the flowery shrine halls at Anyangam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Whenever you walk into a Korean temple hall, one thing you might notice are the painted flowers adorning the ceiling. You might also see paper lanterns of purple and pink lotus flowers suspended from the ceiling. So why exactly are they there, and what do they mean?

JogyeamA fine example of a floral ceiling inside Jogyeam Hermitage.

In Buddhist scripture, in the introduction chapter to the “Lotus Sutra,” the writing describes a sermon by Buddha on Vulture Peak. As the Buddha finished his sermon, entitled “Infinite Meanings,” he then sat in the lotus position and meditated. No sooner had he started to meditate then white and red lotuses rained down from heaven. They fell upon the Buddha and all those that had gathered to hear the Buddha’s sermon.

Magoksa

The flowers that fall from the ceiling at Magoksa Temple.

There is also another Buddhist scripture, from the chapter “ The Parable of the Illusions City,” from the Lotus Sutra as well, that describes how heavenly beings made a lion seat under a bodhi tree for the Buddha. They did this so the Buddha could sit on it and gain supreme and universal enlightenment. And no sooner had the Buddha sat on this lion seat, did the Brahma kings cause numerous flowers to rain down from heaven. From the time of his enlightenment, to the time of his earthly death, flowers from heaven would rain down on him from time to time.

Tongdosa

Yet another set of heavenly flowers that falls from the ceiling at Tongdosa Temple.

Banyaam

An extremely vibrant set of heavenly flowers from Banyaam Hermitage.

With this in mind, Korean temple ceilings are adorned with floral patterns for a couple of reasons. One reason is to symbolize the site of the Vulture Peak assembly where the Buddha preached to his community of followers. The second reason, and much like Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) gained enlightenment under a sky of flowers, so too can monks, nuns, and laypeople presently gain enlightenment in Korea.

Shinheungsa

A view of the cross-hatched sections inside the main hall at Sinheungsa Temple.

Eunhaesa

A look up at the unbelievably ornate floral ceiling inside the main hall at Eunhaesa Temple.

There are two ways that these floral patterns are depicted in Korean temple halls. The first is that a ceiling is typically divided into cross-hatched sections with a lotus flower painted in the centre. While a lotus flower is usually depicted, it isn’t always; instead, another colourful flower can appear. Another way that flowers are represented in Korean temple halls is purple and pink paper lotus flowers. These paper lotus flowers are usually suspended from the ceiling and hang at head height.

Wonhyoam Yangsan

The pink lotus paper lanterns are falling from the heavens above at Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Cheontaesa

A simplistic set of flowers that adorn the Nahan-jeon Hall at Cheontaesa Temple. To the far right is a large pink lotus lantern that has already descended from heaven.

So the next time you’re inside a temple hall, no matter the size or prominence, have a long look up at the ceiling. The flowers that adorn the ceiling are symbolically raining down on you, so you too can potentially gain enlightenment much like Seokgamoni-bul did.

Tongdosa2

One last look inside one of the shrine halls at Tongdosa Temple with an older looking dragon across one of the beams and another amazing set of heavenly flowers adorning the ceiling.

Geojoam Hermitage – 거조암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 246The walk under the bell pavilion and up to the ancient main hall at Geojoam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

It was just by chance that we even learned about Geojoam Hermitage. Before arriving at Eunhaesa  Temple, which is the main temple it’s associated with, I didn’t even know about this hermitage, let alone its long history. It was definitely a nice find.

It is believed that Geojoam Hermitage (거조암) dates back to 738 when the monk Woncham founded the temple. There is some dispute about whether it could potentially have been built during the reign of the Silla King Gyeongdeok; but either way, the hermitage is datable to the Silla Dynasty. The hermitage use to be called  Geojosa Temple, but in recent years it changed to Geojoam Hermitage and fell under the control of the neighbouring  Eunhaesa  Temple.

When you first approach the hermitage, which you can only get to by walking, you’ll come to an expansive parking lot. The colourless, yet stately, bell pavilion is the first thing to greet you at the hermitage. You’ll have to go under the bell pavilion, and climb up the stone stairs, to gain access to the hermitage’s courtyard. From this flight of stairs, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the unassuming, yet ancient, Yeongsanjeon main hall at the hermitage. According to calligraphic records found at the time of reconstructing the building, Yeongsan-jeon Hall dates back to 1375, which makes it one of the oldest wooden structures in all of  Korea. The exterior of this hall, much like the main hall at  Buseoksa Temple, is unadorned by any paintings. However, the interior of the hall is extremely unique. It’s so unique that I’ve never seen anything like it at any other main hall throughout Korea. On the main altar sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Accompanying the Buddha is a hall filled with 526 stone statues of the Nahan (The Buddha’s disciples). Each stone statue has a different facial expression and posture. And each one of them is painted a unique pastel colour. It really is something to see!

Other than Yeongsan-jeon Hall, there really isn’t all that much to see. There’s a study hall and dorm to the right and left of the main hall, and there’s also an ancient pagoda that was under renovation when we were there. There is a nice little San shin hall to the left of the main hall. The path that leads up to the shrine hall is under a canopy of curved metal rods. The shrine hall itself is compact, and the painting inside is rather unique.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: There is no bus connection directly to the hermitage. Instead, you’ll have to watch for the sign that leads up to the hermitage from the bus route that goes to the neighbouring  Eunhaesa  Temple. The hike in from the main road is about 4 km, but that’s better than the 7 kilometres you would have to hike from  Eunhaesa Temple. You can get to Eunhaesa Temple from Hayang about every hour:

06:00, 06:35, 07:40, 07:55, 08:55, 10:15, 11:05, 11:50, 12:45, 14:10, 14:55, 15:50, 16:55, 17:45, 18:30, 19:40, 20:15, 22:00.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. The reason this hermitage rates as high as it does is for one reason, and one reason only: Yeongsan-jeon. This main hall is perhaps the oldest wooden structure in Korea, even older than the much famed main hall at  Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. There are only three other buildings at the hermitage, only one of which is accessible to the general public: The San shin Hall. However, it must be noted that the hermitage is extremely difficult to get to, so go at your own discretion.

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A look at the bell pavilion as you first approach the hermitage.
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A look up from the parking lot at the monk’s dorm at Geojoam Hermitage.
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The long and stony walk up to the main courtyard at the hermitage with the ancient Yeongsan-jeon on the horizon.
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A look inside the beautiful bell pavilion that you pass under to gain admission to the courtyard at the hermitage.
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The expansive courtyard at the hermitage. The main hall is to the right and the monk’s dorm is straight ahead.
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The main hall, Yeongsan-jeon, at Geojoam Hermitage. Though unadorned on the exterior, the ancient hall has a unique interior.
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A long look inside Yeongsan-jeon with the 526 individual Nahan stone statues.
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The altar inside the main hall.
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A row of Nahan to the left of the altar inside the main hall.
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A serenely designed Nahan riding a blue tiger.
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Another Nahan that looks a little terrified for some unknown reason.
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One last look inside the main hall.
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As I exited the main hall, I noticed that the ancient pagoda was under renovation.
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The monk’s dorm to the left of the main hall.
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A look down the long main hall at Geojoam Hermitage.
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The San shin Hall at Geojoam Hermitage.
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And a look inside the shrine hall with the uniquely painted mural of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).

Eunhaesa Temple – 은해사 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 198The elaborately decorated altar inside the main hall at Eunhaesa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Eunhaesa  Temple had been a temple that I had long heard of, but had never traveled to. And with an extra day of travel set aside, my wife and I decided to head up to the Daegu area and visit  Eunhaesa  Temple.

Eunhaesa Temple (은해사), which means Temple of the Silver Sea, dates back to 809 when it was first built by the Venerable Monk Hyechul, who was a national teacher at the time. The reason that Eunhaesa Temple has this Silver Sea name is that Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Nahan look like a wavy silver sea in all their grandeur at the temple. Also, when it’s foggy at the temple, it looks like a wavy seas is present. Originally, the temple was built in Haeanpeong field along  Mt.  Palsongsan, and it was named  Haeansa  Temple, which means Temple of the  Tranquil  Sea. The temple was moved to its present location in 1546 in the first year of King Myong-Jong, by the Veneral Monk Chongyo. During a commemorative ceremony at the time, King Injong was memorialized with a ceremony that saw a lecture hall and monument built in his memory. Strangely, his umbilical cord was buried under the monument. The temple was further reconstructed in 1589 by the Venerable Monks Bopryong and Kwangshim during King Sunjo’s reign during the Joseon Dynasty. In 1919, the temple was designated as the provincial headquarters for the Gyeongsangbuk-do province for the Jogye Buddhist Order In total, there are 42 temples and 8 hermitages under its control like Geojoam Hermitage and Myobongam Hermitage.

When you approach the temple from the parking lot, you’ll pass under a massive entrance gate. Walking along the trail that leads up the trail, you’ll be greeted by twisted and turned pine trees that eventually bring you to a compound that houses the temple’s stupas. There is an out of place bright green bridge that spans a beautiful stream. Further up the trail, you’ll finally catch your first glimpse of the temple grounds and a neighbouring cascade of water that could do with a bit of cleaning.

You’ll first pass under the large lecture hall that is decorated both inside and outside of the temple grounds with guardian paintings. Strangely, these paintings are neither Heng nor Ha; instead, they seem to appear more like protective Vajra guardians. Stepping into the temple grounds, you’ll be greeted by an expansive courtyard. To your immediate left is the two storied bell pavilion. Immediately in front of the bell pavilion is an intricately designed water fountain and study hall. To the far right, as you step into the temple courtyard, are the monk’s grounds that are off limits to the general public. In this area are numerous dorms and study halls.

Straight ahead is the beautifully designed main hall, both inside and out. The exterior of the main hall is decorated with some fading and chipped away Ox-Herding murals, which are still beautiful in composition. Inside the main hall, you won’t see a better looking and more beautifully decorated main hall in all of Korea. On the altar sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the  Western Paradise) and two standing Bodhisattvas: Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right, and what looks to be Daesaeji (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and the Power of Amita-bul). The mural behind the triad dates back to 1750 and is designated a national treasure. There are equally beautiful and older looking murals to the right and left of the main altar. These paintings depict the Yeongsan Assembly and another that depicts the guardians. Up in the rafters of the main hall, there float two birds of paradise. And the main altar canopy is adorned with a uniquely designed dragon.

To the left of the main hall is a shrine hall dedicated to prominent monks that formally resided at the temple. Behind this hall is a compact, but cutely designed, hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain god). This beautiful shrine hall is equally beautiful inside the hall with a unique bluish gray statue of the Mountain god. To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The exterior of the building is adorned with paintings of a baby being reared to old age. The interior of the hall is adorned with a thousand tiny statues of Jijang-bosal. The main altar of the hall is a stately looking Jijang-bosal statue with a beautiful black mural of the Bodhisattva behind him.

Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can either catch a bus from Hayang or Yeongcheon bus station. The bus ride will cost you about 1,700 Won. It’s probably easier to get to Yeongcheon bus station. The bus to Eunhaesa Temple, from Yeongcheon, leaves 8 times a day and it takes about 45 minutes. The first bus leaves at 6:20 A.M. and the last bus leaves at 8:00 P.M.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The main hall is definitely the highlight of this temple, with its beautiful and ancient mural, the canopy that hovers over top of the triad of Amita-bul and his assisting Bodhisattvas, as well as the numerous murals that are spread throughout the hall. The shrine hall dedicated to San shin is nice, as are the Myeongbu-jeon hall and the hall dedicated to deceased monks. The other aspects of the hall are a little non-descript other than the elaborately designed water fountain next to the bell pavilion.

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The massive entrance gate that welcomes you to the temple.
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The twisted pines that keep you company for most of the walk up to the temple.
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The silver stream that Eunhaesa Temple is named after.
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A look at the stupa compound that houses all the headstones to deceased monks from Eunhaesa Temple.
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The bridge that leads into the temple.
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And the lecture hall that you’ll have to step under to gain access to the temple courtyard.
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The beautiful water fountain with the study hall behind it.
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The tall two storied bell pavilion at the temple.
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A look up at the main hall at the temple with study halls and administrative office on either side of it.
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The newer looking lion-based lantern at Eunhaesa Temple.
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A closer look up at the main hall.
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The shrine hall that is dedicated to prominent monks that resided at Eunhaesa Temple.
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A look inside the shrine hall.
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A look up at the cute and compact San shin hall dedicated to the Mountain god.
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Inside this hall is a bluish gray statue dedicated to San shin.
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One of the beautiful, but fading and chipped, Ox-Herding murals.
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A look inside at the altar inside the main hall with Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre with Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Amita-bul’s Power). If you look close enough you can see the dragon ahead adorning the canopy directly above Amita-bul’s head.
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The beautifully red guardian painting to the left of the main altar.
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The older looking, and beautifully detailed, Yeongsan Assembly painting.
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One of the floating birds of paradise that resides in the rafters of the main hall.
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To the back of the main hall, and to the right, is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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One of the murals that adorns the exterior of the Myeongbu-jeon hall.
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A look inside the elaborately decorated Myeongbu-jeon hall.
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And a look at the one thousand tiny Jijang-bosal statues on the left wall of the hall.

Yaksayore-jeon: The Hall of Yaksa-bul

Picture 167The entrance sign welcoming you to the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another one of the set of buildings dedicated to a Buddha at a Buddhist Temple in Korea is the Yaksayore-bul Hall (or in Korean, Yaksa-jeon). This hall is dedicated to Yaksayore-bul, who is the Medicine Buddha (or the Healing Buddha).

In Sanskrit, Yaksayore-bul’s name is Bhaisagya Buddha. Yaksayore-bul lives in the Eastern Paradise (Jeongyuri, in Korean), or the Pure Land of Lapis Lazuli Light. That’s why this hall is sometimes also referred to as the Hall of Lapis Lazuli Light, and this hall always faces the east. When he was in human form, Yaksayore-bul made 12 vows to free sentient beings from their ailments. Included in these vows were his promises to nourish people’s spiritual faculties and guide them towards liberation. Yaksayore-bul provides relief not only from disease, calamity, suffering, and misfortune, but he also treats people for their ignorance; which for Buddhists is the greatest illness afflicting people. That’s why, whenever a member of a family gets sick, the family will immediately go to the Yaksa-jeon. As a result of his past promise, and his ability to cure all that ail, Yaksayore-bul is sometimes called Daeui Wangbul: The Great Medicine King Buddha.

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A look at the Great Medicine King Buddha: Yaksayore-bul from Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

There are a few interesting notes concerning the worship of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) in Korean history. The belief in Yaksayore-bul goes back to the Three Kingdoms period, 57 B.C. to 668 A.D., in Korean history. The reason for the rise in the importance of the worship of this Buddha at this time is from the increase of victims from wars at the time on the peninsula. During the Silla period, Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D.) fell ill. She was only cured of her disease upon hearing Monk Milbon chanting the Yaksagyeong (Bhaisajyaguru sutra). The worship of Yaksayore-bul continued to grow during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 A.D.) as a result of unrest. During this period, seminaries for the worship and studying of Yaksayore-bul were opened and people increasingly relied upon the strength of the Buddha of Medicine to overcome their problems.

Pyochungsa

A statue of Yaksayore-bul inside the main hall, and accompanied by Seokgamoni-bul (The HIstorical Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

There are several ways to identify Yaksayore-bul. Uniquely, it’s usually only Bodhisattvas, and not Buddhas, that are holding onto hand implements. The exception to this is Yaksayore-bul. In his hands, Yaksayore-bul can be holding either an alms bowl or a medicine bowl (the medicine bowl is an evolution of the alms bowl). However, if either Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) or Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) are holding an alms bowl, Yaksayore-bul will be holding a medicine bowl. This medicine bowl represents Yaksayore-bul’s role as the protector against sickness and suffering.

Depictions of Yaksayore-bul closely resemble those of Amita-bul. The way that you can tell the two apart is that Amita-bul is usually gold and Yaksayore-bul is often white. And even though Yaksayore-bul usually holds a medicine bowl in both of his hands, he sometimes only holds it in his left hand. When this is the case, Yaksayore-bul assumes the mudra of The Gesture of Fearlessness with his right hand. In this mudra, the right hand is generally raised to shoulder height with the arm being bent and the palm facing outwards with the fingers upright and joined. This mudra conveys the great mercy of Buddha, who relieves peoples’ hardships and delivers them from fear.

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The Medicine Buddha inside the cave at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan. In his hand he holds a medicine bowl and is dressed all in white.

In triads, Yaksayore-bul can appear in one of two formations. If Yaksayore-bul is the central figure in the triad, he will be accompanied by two flanking Bodhisattvas. On the left is the Sunlight Bodhisattva, Ilgwang-bosal, who is adorned with a red crown, and on the right is the Moonlight Bodhisattva, Wolgwang-bosal, who wears a white crown.

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The central Yaksayore-bul is flanked by Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva) and Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) at Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju.

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This is some of the amazing lattice work found outside the main hall at Cheonbulsa Temple. In the upper left is a better look at the white Wolgwang-bosal, and in the top right is the red Ilgwang-bosal.

Yaksayore-bul can also appear in a set of seven Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Again, he is the central figure in the set. Next to him on the right is Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), Dosa-bosal, and Wolgwang-bosal (The Moon Bodhisattva). And to Yaksayore-bul’s left is Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), Yaksa-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Medicine), and Ilgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Sun).

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The seven statues adorning the altar of the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple. In the centre is the uncrowned Yaksayore-bul joined by six other Bodhisattvas.

If he is a flanking figure, like in the main hall at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, he’ll be joined by the centralized Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and the equally flanking Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

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The altar pieces inside Magoksa Temple. From right to left is Yaksayore-bul, Seokgamoni-bul, and Amita-bul.

The interior of the Yaksayore-jeon hall can be rather plain in comparison to the other halls that surround it. The mural behind the statue of Yaksayore-bul has the Medicine Buddha at the centre with surrounding guardians and Bodhisattvas. There are floral patterns adorning the ceiling of the hall. Also, there can be figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas adorning the walls. Lastly, there can be figures of lions or dragons adorning the beams of the interior of the building.

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The solitary Yaksayore-bul inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple. Notice that he is surrounded by a painting of various guardians.

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 On one of the walls at the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple is a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as an older looking dragon painting across a beam.

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And one more look inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple. This time, you can see the beautiful floral patterns adorning the ceiling of the hall as well as the dragon paintings adorning the beams inside the hall.

Usually, the Yaksayore-bul hall is more compact than the other halls at a temple. And the exterior of the hall, much like the interior, is largely understated compared to the neighbouring halls at a temple. Like Girimsa Temple and Tongdosa Temple, the exterior of the hall has no adorning paintings; instead, the hall is left unpainted and simply wooden brown from time. There are exceptions to this, of course, like at Cheonbulsa Temple, where Saints, sages, and Biseon adorn the exterior of the hall.

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The unadorned Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple with a beautiful pond out in front of it.

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And the far more modern looking Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple.

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And just one of the paintings adorning the exterior walls of the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple.

One more place that you’ll find Yaksayore-bul is around the water fountain of the temple. Because Yaksayore-bul is the Buddha of Medicine, a lot of temples like to think that their water has curative values. So you’ll usually see Yaksayore-bul’s name somewhere around the water hole of the temple. Uniquely, I also found Yaksayore-bul inside a cave at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan. Inside the natural cave, I found a white-figured Yaksayore-bul holding a medicine bowl in his left hand, and in his right he held a vial that acted as a fountain that poured forth the mountain water from Geumjeongsan Mountain. The taller Yaksayore-bul statue was surrounded by a pantheon of smaller white Buddhas with jagged boulders jutting out into the depths of the Yaksa-jeon cave. Like any other Buddha of Bodhisattva, you can find Yaksayore-bul, the Buddha of Medicine, in a number of places at a temple compound in Korea.

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The entrance to the cave Yaksa-jeon Hall at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

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And the white dressed Yaksayore-bul surrounded by a pantheon of miniature white Buddhas. You can really see the rocks jutting out inside the depths of the hall.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, keep your eyes peeled for this smaller sized temple hall. While not quite as popular as other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas like Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), or even Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Yaksayore-bul has a place amongst worshippers for Korean devotees. And these places, both caves and halls, can be equally beautiful as other halls at the temple.

Songnimsa Temple – 송림사 (Chilgok, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 042Just one of the amazingly grotesque murals that adorns the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Songnimsa Temple. They are amongst the best in all of Korea.

 Hello Again Everyone!

I had last visited Songnimsa Temple (송림사) back in 2005 with a couple of friends. So wanting to show off this lesser known temple in Chilgok, Gyeongsangbuk-do to my wife, we decided to visit this serene temple with the last few remaining days of my summer vacation.

Songnimsa Temple (“Pine Forest Temple”) was established sometime in the 9th century, and it was later destroyed in 1243.  Fortunately for us, the temple was rebuilt in 1689. There is a brick pagoda that stands in the centre of the temple courtyard that is as old as the temple itself. This five-tier brick pagoda dates back to the 9th century, and in 1961 several precious items were taken out of it. These items were two wooden Buddha images and a gold box that were discovered inside.  Now, these objects are kept at the Seoul National Museum.

When you first approach the temple, you’ll pass through the aged Iljumun Gate. As you pass through this gate, you’ll first notice a new hall under construction. This hall seems to be a conference hall in the making. To the right of this hall is the two storied bell pavilion, and to the right is a long hall dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And at either side of him is the familiar triad of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on his left and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right. These three larger statues are surrounded by the same three Buddha and Bodhisattvas, but only smaller in stature.

After taking a look at these periphery structures and halls, you’ll finally enter into the main courtyard at the temple. The very first thing you’ll notice is the ancient black brick pagoda. If you look close enough, you’ll notice grass growing out from between the black bricks. Directly in front of the ancient pagoda is the main hall at Songnimsa Temple. Surrounding the main hall is a beautiful set of Ox-Herding murals. Inside the main hall, reputedly, is the largest wooden Buddha statue in Korea. When we visited, there was a ceremony taking place, so we were unable to go inside. However, from the outside of this hall you can see the beautiful altar inside that houses the massive Buddha statues.

But what is most impressive about this temple is the Myeongbu-jeon, Judgment Hall, to the right of the main hall. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall are 10 standing Kings of the Underworld. Uniquely, it appears as though Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) occupies the central position on the main altar in this hall. I say this is unique because it’s usually Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) who is centrally located on the altar. Instead, Jijang-bosal is a flanking statue on this altar. But what is most impressive about this hall are the murals that are painted on the exterior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. There are numerous graphic depictions of punishment being administered to evildoers on these walls. And in my opinion, they are the best renderings on a Myeongbu-jeon Hall in all of Korea.

To the rear of the main hall there are three additional shrine halls. To the left there is a hall dedicated to the Shaman gods Dokseong (The Recluse), San shin (The Mountain god), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The exterior walls are decorated with various Shaman paintings, and like the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, the paintings inside of this hall of Dokseong, San shin, and Chilseong are some of the best in all of Korea.

And to the right rear of the hall is a smaller sized shrine hall dedicated to only San shin (The Mountain god). Much like the hall that houses Dokseong and Chilseong, the painting of San shin is really second to none in all of Korea. The final shrine hall behind the main hall is to the far right. This shrine hall is called the Nahan-jeon Hall, and it’s dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls of this hall are adorned with some beautiful renderings of the Palsang-do paintings about the Historical Buddha’s Life. Inside this hall is a gorgeous golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul that sits in the centre of a triad upon the altar. On either side of this triad sit statues of various depictions of the Nahan. And behind each one are more amazing paintings of the Nahan studying, teaching, and learning. Again, the paintings spread throughout the temple grounds at Songnimsa Temple are some of the best in all of Korea so keep a sharp eye open for them.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE:  If you’re not taking a taxi, Songnimsa Temple can be very difficult to get to.  You can get on bus #427 to Dongmyeong/Giseong-dong at the Daegu Bukbu Bus Stop and get off at Giseong-ri.  From there, you can walk to Songnimsa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10.  For the difficulty in finding and getting to the temple, Songmisa Temple rates a little lower than other temples in the Daegu area. But for how horrific (in a complimentary fashion) the Judgment Hall is, and the other amazing paintings at this temple, the struggle to get to the temple is well worth it.  Add to it the five-tier stone pagoda and the largest wooden Buddha in all of Korea, and you’ll realize why this temple is so highly rated by yours truly.

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The Iljumun Gate as you first approach the temple from the road.
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The under construction hall as you first enter the temple grounds with a look at the bell pavilion off in the distance.
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The hall that houses perhaps the most common triad in all of Korea.
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The popular triad inside the hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal on either side. And surrounding all three are miniatures of the aforementioned Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
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The beautiful source of water to the temple.
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And finally, a view of the main courtyard at Songnimsa Temple with the main hall on the left and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall on the right with the ancient pagoda out in front of the two.
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A better look at the black bricked pagoda that dates back to the 9th century at Songnimsa Temple.
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A look at the amazing Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Songnimsa Temple.
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A look inside the hall with, what looks to be, Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of a very busy altar.
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Just one of the amazingly grotesque punishment paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Judgment Hall at the temple.
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In this one, if you look close enough into the mirror, you can see the reason why this forsaken soul is being punished.
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But in the middle of all this damnation is a painting of the serene Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Yet another one of the brilliant paintings.
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And one more of the amazing renderings. The set is perhaps the best in all of Korea.
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A better look at the main hall at Songnimsa Temple.
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Just one of the beautiful Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.
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Supposedly, the largest wooden statue of Buddha in Korea takes up residence inside the main hall at this temple.
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To the right rear of the main hall are these two shrine halls. The first is the diminutive hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain god), and to the right is the Nahan-jeon Hall dedicated to the Historical Buddha’s disciples.
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Just one of the Palsang-do paintings about the Historical Buddha’s Life that adorns the exterior of the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The beautiful altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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A row of Nahan statues with another one of the beautiful paintings at Songnimsa Temple.
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The shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall. This shrine hall houses three of the most popular Shaman gods in Korea: Dokseong, Chilseong, and San shin.
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One of the most beautiful paintings of Dokseong in all of Korea.
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And a gorgeous rendering of San shin, as well.

News!!

donghaksa

The winning photo for the Pusanweb.com photo contest from Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Everyone,

This posting is a little different than most. In this posting, I thought I would update you on a couple things that have happened as a result of this blog.

I continue to write for The Korea Times, and I’ve had two more articles published since the last time I made an entry about it. The first article is entitled “Driving in Korea,” And it garnered a lot of feedback, as well as a subsequent article attempting to say that driving in Korea isn’t that bad. Judge for yourself and check it out.

My article: Driving In Korea

And the rebuttal by someone else: Driving In Korea Is Not So Bad

I also wrote another article that I kind of hinted at with my posting about Wonhyoam Hermitage here in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. By chance I met a really nice monk at this hermitage, and we decided to have coffee together for 30 minutes. I write about this encounter in my second article for The Korea Times.

Check it out: A Chance Encounter

Finally, in the last bit of news about this blog, I recently won an “Honourable Mention” for a picture I took at Donghaksa Temple near Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. I was surprised to win, as I tend to think that I’m more of a writer than anything, but was pleasantly surprised that I did win.

Check out my entry, and the other winning entries here: Busan Photo Contest

Again, thank you all for your continued support, and I hope to see you out there at a few temples!

Daejeokgwang-jeon: The Hall of the Silence and Light

Unmunsa1The Great Light Hall at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Certain halls at temples are dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). The hall that Birojana-bul occupies is called Daejeokgwang-jeon in Korean. The translation of this name into English is “The Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light.” The reason why this hall has such a name is that Bironjana-bul spreads the light of Buddhist Truth in every direction. He is also the Buddha that embodies the Wisdom of the Universal Law.

Girimsa

To the right is the uniquely sculpted Birojana-bul at Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju. To his left is Amita-bul, the Buddha of the Western Paradise.

Usually in the Jogye Order of Buddhism (the largest sect in Korea), Seokgamoni-bul is the central figure. In this faith, Birojana-bul plays a secondary role to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). However, in the Hwaeom Order of Buddhism in Korea (or the Flower Garland School), Birojana-bul is the principal Buddha in the main hall. So depending on the religious order, Birojana-bul can either play a primary or secondary role.

Inside the Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light, Birojana-bul sits as the central figure on the altar. Usually, Seokgamoni-bul and Birojana-bul look similar, so the only way you can tell them apart is by their mudra. Birojana-bul can be depicted in several different postures. One of the more common mudras in Korea is “The Knowledge Fist.”  This pose consists of the right hand (“The Diamond Fist”) forming a tight fist with the thumb at the centre. The “Diamond Finger,” which consists of the left index finger being placed in the right hand. The purpose of this mudra is to dispel darkness. The symbolism of this mudra is that the index finger represents the world of sentient being, while the right surrounding hand represents the protection brought forth by the world of Buddhas.

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The solitary Birojana-bul, at Unmunsa Temple, displaying the mudra “The Diamond Fist” with his hands.

Other mudra poses that Birojana-bul can take is a variation of the hands. Birojana-bul can have both of his hands joined together, palms in. Also, his fingers can be crossed over each other with the thumbs fully erect. Yet another mudra is the right hand can fully encompass the left hand which is fully closed on its own. All these mudras represent the universal knowledge of the Buddha.

In the “Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light,” the central figure is Birojana-bul. Accompanying Birojana-bul in the original triad in this hall were Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light) and Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). However, in Korean temples the triad consists of Birojana-bul in the centre, Seokgamoni-bul on one side, and Amita-bul is replaced by Locana. These represent the three bodies of the Buddha: Birojana-bul represents the transcendence of form and the realization of truth (Dharma-kaya); Locana is the Buddha-body that is the “reward body” for merits earned as a Bodhisattva (Sambhoga-kaya); and Seokgamoni-bul is the response that was needed to teach sentient beings (Nipmana-kaya). Thus these three bodies represent how the Buddha reveals himself in a variety of ways to people depending on their spiritual ability and capacity.

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The Buddha triad inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon hall at Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju. In the centre is Birojana-bul. To the left is Seokgamoni-bul, and to the right is Amita-bul.  This is a common triad inside this hall inside Korean temples.

If the hall is called the “Great Light Hall,” Birojana-bul is enshrined on the altar alone like at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. And even in other halls, it is common for Birojana-bul to be flanked by another pair of Bodhisattvas. This time, he can be in a triad with Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

So as you can see, the triad of altar statues that Birojana-bul forms with other Buddhas and Bodhisattavas is vast in Korean temples.

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A look inside the Daegwangmyeong-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple with a solitary Birojana-bul being surrounded by colourful Buddha, Bodhisattva and guardian paintings.

The interior of the Hall of Ultimate Silence and Light, excluding the aforementioned altar statues, is ornate and elaborate in its design. The canopy over the triad of altar pieces is normally placed behind the central Birojana-bul statue. The canopy itself is usually decorated with various designs such as dragons with pearls and cranes. Much like the Main Buddha Hall, the ceiling of this hall is decorated with lotuses. And the upper portions of the wall are decorated with Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints, and Biseon (Flying Angels).

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Birojana-bul at Beomeosa Temple. The hall is ornately designed with a sun behind Birojana-bul, who is also known as the Great Sun Buddha.

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The dragon emblem that rests above Birojana-bul at Okryeonam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

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 A wall of older looking paintings inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple.

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A look around the ceiling inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple with paintings of saints and a decorative dragon-head.

The exterior of the Hall of Ultimate Silence is equally ornate as the interior. The exterior can be decorated with various Biseon, dragons, and phoenixes. And the paintings that can be on this Hall are similar to the Main Buddha Hall. You can expect to see Palsang-do paintings (The Eight Scenes of the Buddhas Life), Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints, the Dharma, or various other scenes of monks at work, study, or play. The woodwork up near the eaves of the hall is usually intricately designed. And the wooden name tablet is usually written in Chinese characters and rests above the entrance to the hall.

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A decorative dragon-head with a trident in its mouth placed above the entrance of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

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 An exterior dharma painting at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The final scene in the Palsang-do paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Daejeokgwang-jeon at Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you’re not exactly sure which Buddha is being honoured in a temple hall, look at his mudra. If he’s clasping his hands, holding one finger in the fist of another, or having hands held palm to palm, you’ll know that the hall is honouring the Buddha of Cosmic Energy: Birojana-bul.

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The Hall of the Silence and Light found at Songgwangsa Temple.

Wonhyoam Hermitage – 원효암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 008The breath-taking view from Wonhyoam Hermitage at the city of Yangsan down below.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

For whatever reason, I had never had a huge urge to visit Wonhyoam Hermitage here in Yangsan. Perhaps it was the distance, and perhaps it was knowing I would have to climb another mountain to get to it. But whatever the reason, I had yet to visit it. Like  Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju, Wonhyoam Hermitage was a very pleasant surprise.

Wonhyoam Hermitage (원효암), like the identically named hermitage in Busan, is named after the Silla monk Wonhyo-daesa, who helped popularize Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula. The hermitage dates back to the Silla dynasty, and it’s located 900 metres up on Chunseoungsan Mountain. If you’ve been to both the Wonhyoam Hermitages in Yangsan and Busan, you’ll know that Wonhyo-daesa really enjoyed isolated hermitages to study.  Interestingly, the hermitage has an fascinating story attached to its very long history. In the summer of 1991, a thunderstorm without rain erupted around the hermitage for two hours. A fireball from this storm struck at Saja-bong ( Lion  Peak), which is east of Wonhyoam Hermitage. As a result of this strike, a blackened figured was discovered on the rocks by hikers the next day. The image that was formed by the strike looked like the image of the Buddha. And after the abbot of Tongdosa Temple, Wolha, saw the image he called it “Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae,” which in English translates as Heavenly Light Yaksayore-bul, after the Buddha of Medicine. It was named this because Yaksayore-bul resides in the East, which is where the strike of lightning hit near the hermitage.

When you first approach the hermitage, after making the long way up the eight kilometer military/hermitage road, you’ll see some of the most beautiful views in all of Yangsan, and perhaps Gyeongsangnam-do. You can take some breath-taking views from these heights, so take your time and enjoy the view. Walking down the road, you’ll notice a beautiful bell pavilion to the right of you. And to the left, where there’s a bend in the trail, there’s a little rock outcropping. Be careful when you step out onto this outcropping, because one wrong step and you’re rolling down the wrong side of a mountain. However, once you’ve safely made your way out onto the rock outcropping, the valley that the south part of Yangsan is situated in reveals itself before your very eyes.

Continuing towards the hermitage grounds, you’ll first see a brightly coloured green roof that sits upon the main hall. Immediately to your right is the hermitage office. And trust me, the office workers will look shocked to see a foreigner so high up the mountain. Inside the main hall is a triad of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the middle, and to his left sits Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right. There is an amazing wooden guardian sculpture on the left wall with a uniquely designed, and multi-armed, Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. Around the main hall are some uniquely painted ox-herding murals. Well hidden, and behind the main hall, is a hall dedicated to the three Shamin gods and Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Along the main altar for the Samseong-gak (The Three Stars Hall) are equally beautiful wooden sculptures dedicated to the three Shaman gods: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse). In an adjoining room, intermingled with the mountain’s rocks, is a hall dedicated to Yongwang.

To the left of the main hall are the monk’s dorms and study halls. And to the right of the main hall, and up the embankment, is the beautiful bell pavilion with intricate woodwork and paintings. Interestingly, there’s a set of 108 stairs that leads up to Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae. Under a canopy, the altar looks to the south with the blackened Buddha figure sitting on the altar.

On a personal note, as I was ready to leave, the junior head monk at the hermitage invited me for a cup of coffee that lasted 30 minutes. It was an amazing experience with his broken English and my broken Korean talking about life and faith.

For the Story of Wonhyoam Hermitage.

HOW TO GET THERE: Like most smaller hermitages or temples in smaller towns, this hermitage is a bit of a chore to get to and find. You can take bus number 12 or 12-1 towards  Tongdosa  Temple. You’ll have to get off at Daeseok village. This area is around the more famous  Hongryongsa  Temple. The hermitage has a shuttle bus that ventures up the 8 kilometre road. The shuttle bus can be found out in front of the Wonhyoam Hermitage shop. And the bus leaves four times a day at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.

View 원효암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. This temple has a better view than Baekunam Hermitage near  Tongdosa  Temple, and more beautiful buildings than the Wonhyoam Hermitage near  Beomeosa  Temple. And for these two reasons this hermitage rates slightly higher than the two aforementioned hermitages. Wonhyoam Hermitage has a beautiful bell pavilion and Samseong-gak hall. Couple this with the spectacular views of Yangsan below and the blackened Buddha figure from the lightning storm, and you’ll know why this hermitage is rated as high as it is.

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The amazing view of the city of Yangsan from the road that leads into Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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A close up of the factories and apartments that are spread throughout the valley below.
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The twist in the trail that leads towards the hermitage.
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Left of the twist in the trail is this rock outcropping that overlooks the city of Yangsan.
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And the breath-taking view from the rock outcropping!
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And to the right, and up on the hill, is the beautiful bell pavilion.
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And just past the twist in the trail is the hermitage’s courtyard and main hall.
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Sitting on the altar inside the main hall is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre, flanked by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right.
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The uniquely designed wooden sculpture of the multi-armed Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings).
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One of the ox-herding murals with a larger sized ox, which is symbolic of a person trying to tame their untamed mind.
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A view up at the towering boulders that surround the hermitage.
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At the centre of the altar inside the Samseong-gak is this wooden sculpture of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
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On the right side of the Samseong-gak Hall are these two paintings. On the right is what is thought to be Wonhyo-daesa, who is the monk that gave the hermitage its name, and on the left is Uisang-daesa, his close friend.
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A look inside the hall that houses Yongwang, the King of the Sea. If you look close enough you can see the massive rocks that protrude out from the floor into the shrine hall.
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The monk dorms which are left of the main hall.
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And a view of the beautiful bell pavilion to the right of the main hall. It rests on the adjacent embankment.
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A better look at the brilliant woodwork and paintings that adorn the bell pavilion.
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A long look up the 108 stairs that rest on the side of the mountain.
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And what lies at the top of those stairs? This canopied altar houses the Blackened Buddha rock: Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae.
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You can see the blackened Buddha shaped design at the centre of the altar.
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And just when I was ready to leave…
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I met this really nice monk that wanted to have coffee with me.

Muryangsu-jeon: The Hall of Immeasurable Life

Picture 809The massive 15 metre tall Amita-bul statue at Gakwonsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another hall that you’ll commonly find at a Korean temple, either as the main hall or a hall amongst many, is one dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light and the Western Paradise). This hall is called by various names such as Geurak-jeon (Hall of Ultimate Bliss) or Bogwangmyeong-jeon (Limitless Light Hall); however, the most common name for this hall is Muryangsu-jeon: The Hall of Immeasurable Life.

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The Geurak-jeon hall at Tongdosa Temple.

 Amita-bul was born from the meditation of the first Buddha. That’s why he’s known as Nirmanakaya. Amita-bul vowed to save all beings who call on him. That’s why, presently, you can hear the mantra repeated over and over again in this hall: Namu Amita-bul. This mantra roughly translates into English as, “Believe in what Amita-bul said and follow his teaching/praying words.” Amita-bul aids people by allowing them to enter his Pure Land (Sukhavati), where there is no hindrance in achieving enlightenment. In India, where Buddhism originated, people felt relief from the extreme heat when the sun reached the western sky. Similarly, Amita-bul’s paradise came to be associated with the west. In fact, in Korean temples, the front of Muryangsu-jeon hall faces the east so that worshippers can bow to the Buddhist statues that face the west.

In Korea, the belief in Amita-bul began in and around the 6th and 7th century. The reason that a lot of people started to worship Amita-bul during the Three Kingdoms Period (Baekje, Silla, and Goguryeo) in Korean history is that many people were dying at this time due to war and diesease. As a result, people prayed for the souls of those that died to enter paradise. Presently, next to the main hall (Daeung-jeon), Muryangsu-jeon Hall is the second most common hall to find at a Korean temple.  Correspondingly, Amita-bul continues to be an object of deep veneration by Buddhist devotees in Korea.

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The beautiful Amita-bul as he appears at Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

Amita-bul is one of the more difficult and complex Buddhas to differentiate because he looks so similar in appearance to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The easiest way to identify him is that Amita-bul sometimes wears red. However, there are other ways to differentiate Amita-bul from others. And the easiest way to do this is through the mudra (ritual gesture) that Amita-bul is displaying, which reflects the many deeds that he vowed to accomplish. Most notably, the mudra of Amita-bul are only hand gestures in Korea. In total, there are nine variations of Amita-bul’s mudra. These mudras are never assumed when standing; but instead, only when he’s seated. To give Amita-bul’s mudras some background, there are nine places in the Western Paradise to be reborn. Each of these places has a hand gesture (mudra) depending on how well they practiced Buddhism during their lifetime. These places in the Western Paradise are divided into three different ranks and three different grades. That’s why Amita-bul’s mudras are known as “Amita-bul’s Nine Grade Mudras.” The gesture for the top rank (high grade, high life) has the back of the right hand on the palm of the left with the tips of the thumbs touching.

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The highest mudra rank of Amita-bul with his palms and thumbs touching. You can see this statue at Jikjisa Temple.

For the next mudra, high grade, middle life, the pose is the same as the first. The only difference is that the middle fingers are curled. And for the third, high grade, low life, the pose is the same as the first two, but the ring fingers are curled. For the second grade, middle grade, high life, both hands are raised to the chest with the palms pointed outwards. The index fingers on both hands touch the thumbs. For the second mudra in this grade, middle grade, middle life, the pose is the same as the previous, but the middle fingers are touching the thumbs. For the third mudra in this grade, middle grade, low life, the pose is the same as the previous two, the only difference is that the ring fingers are touching the thumbs. In the third and final grade, the lowest grade, there are new mudras altogether. In the first, low grade, high life, the right hand is placed to the chest with the palm facing outwards. The left hand rests on the lap. The index fingers touch the thumbs. In the second mudra of this grade, low grade, middle life, the pose is the same as the previous, but this time the middle fingers touch the thumbs.

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The second lowest of Amita’s Nine Grade Mudras. You can see that the middle finger is touching the thumb in both hands. You can see this statue at Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple, in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

And finally, in the last mudra, low grade, low life, the ring fingers touch the thumbs. If all these Amita-bul mudras seem difficult to differentiate, they are! But slowly, and if you look close enough, you’ll notice the slight differences.

Another way to differentiate Amita-bul from the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, besides his red appearance or the pose he is striking, is in the triad he’s in. On the altar of the hall, Amita-bul will appear with his two assistants: Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Great Power). These two will flank the central Amita-bul. Gwanseeum-bosal embodies Amita-bul’s compassion and is said to rescue anyone in distress and calls out for her help. Daesaeji-bosal, on the other hand, shines the light of Amita-bul’s wisdom on all sentient beings, providing them with limitless strength.

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In the centre of this triad is Amita-bul. And on either side of him are Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Great Power). This triad can be seen at Seoknamsa Temple in Eonyang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Inside a Muryangsu-jeon hall, Amita-bul will appear with Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal on the altar. The painting behind the triad of statues depicts a scene of an assembly in the Western Paradise ( Pure Land). Other altar paintings can include the Nine Grades of Rebirth in Sukhavati or Amita.

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A better look at the painting of the Assembly Scene in Western Paradise. This beautiful altar painting is at Garamsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Because there is such a strong belief in Amita-bul in Korea, the overall interior of this hall will almost always be as elaborate and ornate as the central hall dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The altar itself is decorated with floral patterns and Biseon. The canopy above the triad is adorned with carved dragons and carved birds of paradise that lead the way to the Western Paradise. It must be remembered that this hall symbolizes the idealized version of the Western Paradise: Sukhavati. And as a result, it is elaborately decorated inside the Muryangsu-jeon hall for Amita-bul. Perhaps the most spectacular Geukrakbo-jeon Hall is at Eunhaesa Temple near Daegu with its ornate altar and canopy, the floating heavenly birds of paradise, and the the Amitayeorae murals that date back to 1750 hanging next to the altar.

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The impressive altar inside the main hall at Eunhaesa Temple with the Amitayeorae paintings on either side of the triad of statues with Amita-bul in the centre.

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 A look up at the equally ornate canopy with a dragon-head staring down at you with a bed of florals patterns decorating the ceiling above.

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And just one of the birds of paradise suspended from the ceiling of the main hall at Eunhaesa Temple near Daegu.

 Like the inside, the exterior of the hall can be highly decorative. Like all Korean temple’s, the hall has a wooden name tablet written in Chinese characters.

Banya

The beautiful exterior of The Hall of Immeasurable Life at Banyaam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

The walls of the hall can be decorated with any number of murals like the baby monks playing at Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The baby monks at play at Samyeongam Hermitage.

It can also be painted with elaborate paintings of the Buddha’s life (Palsang-do) like at Garamsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. There can also be beautiful scenic paintings of Biseon or floral lattice work like at Anyangam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

Anyang

The gorgeous lattice work at Anyangam Hermitage.

They can also be decorated with playful murals like the ones at Seoknamsa Temple in Eoyang, Gyeongsangnam-do, which has a painting of playful monkeys, as well as a person being tempted by life.

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The playful monkey painting that adorns the Muryangsu-jeon Hall at Seoknamsa Temple.

And there is even a fading painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom that leads the souls of the dead to Amita-bul’s Western Paradise painted on the back of the Geurak-jeon hall at Tongdosa Temple.

Tong

The fading, but beautiful, painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom painted to Geurak-jeon hall at Tongdosa Temple.

And because Amita-bul is so popular in Korean Buddhism, he can have a statue or monument set up for this Buddha. Perhaps one of the better known are the massive Amita-bul statues at Manbulsa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. There is a mammoth 15 metre long bronze Amita-bul that is lying down with a gold cloth draped over it. There is also a crowing 33 metre tall gold Amita that sits on the crowning hill at the temple. In addition to this beautiful statue at Manbulsa Temple, there is an even more beautiful statue of Amita-bul crowning the heights at Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do.

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The 33 metre tall golden Amita-bul at Manbulsa Temple.

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The beautiful green Amita-bul that crowns the heights at Gakwonsa Temple.

So the next time you visit a Korean temple, you’ll have to look carefully at the mudras of Amita-bul to find the Buddha of Infinite Light and the Western Paradise. He’s almost always there, so keep a keen eye open for him!

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And one last look at the Amita-bul that stands a massive 15 metres in height at Cheontaesa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.