Mitaam Hermitage – 미타암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look inside the cave that houses the 8th century Amita-bul statue at Mitaam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

While out on a Sunday drive, I decided to finally visit the last of the major temples or hermitages listed on the Yangsan city website: Mitaam Hermitage (미타암). For various reasons, the most notable being the distance from where I live, I had yet to visit. And it almost seems as though I saved one of the best for last.

Mitaam Hermitage is named after Amita-bul, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. It was first constructed in 647, during the final year of the famous Queen Seondeok’s reign, by the equally famous monk Wonhyo-daesa. The hermitage was later expanded in 921 by the priest Jijong. Finally, in 1238, the hermitage was further repaired by the priest Jungjin. Of note, the hermitage appears in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). In this famous text, it is stated that three monks were disciplining themselves in the aesthetic meditation and ascended to the Western Paradise.

The hermitage sits high above the city of Yangsan on the eastern slopes of the Cheonseongsan mountain range. Mitaam Hermitage is also referred to as the “Third Seokguram” for the natural grotto that houses a statue of Amita-bul that dates back to the late 8th century.

As you approach the hermitage up a long, steep, and wandering road, you’ll finally come to a trail that leads you up to the hermitage. The views from this 500 metre stretch of trail of the neighbouring valley, mountain peaks, and Yangsan, are gorgeous, so take a couple of pictures as you attempt to recover your breath. Finally, when you arrive at the ledge where the hermitage rests precariously upon, you’ll be greeted by the gift shop to your immediate right and a coffee stand to your left. Passing by both of these non-descript buildings, you’ll pass by a row of monks’ dorms that are extremely compact.

Straight ahead, you’ll finally see the gorgeous main hall. The paintings that adorn the outside walls of the main hall are rather simple paintings of the Nahan. Uniquely, there are wooden tablets placed under these paintings on the right side of the main hall. The lattice work at the front of the main hall are second to none, as are the Nathwi paintings below the latticework. Inside, the main hall is ornately decorated and designed with multiple large canopies that surround the multiple statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that rest on the altar. The left wall has a beautiful older looking painting of Jijang-bosal, and the right wall has the guardian painting. The triad that sits on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He is flanked by Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), as well as Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And sitting upon his own altar, and to the right of the triad, is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And next to him is an older looking statue of Seokgamoni-bul with an even older looking mural behind him. To the far left is a statue of Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And the farthest statue to the left is a black-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). All of these statues are surrounded by beautiful canopies that are adorned with flying Biseon, dragon’s and floating flowers. The most interesting piece of artwork inside the main hall is a gorgeous painting of the founding monk, Wonhyo-daesa. It is perhaps the most original and beautiful paintings of this monk that I’ve seen in all of Korea.

Further up the path, you’ll pass by the hermitage’s kitchen, as well as an extremely compact bell pavilion. Along this path, you’ll be headed towards an indoor pavilion that houses both the entrances to the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea, as well as the entrance to the cave that houses the millennium old statue of Amita-bul. Along the way, again, you’ll see some of the most picturesque views of the Korean landscape from this vantage point.

Finally, inside the indoor pavilion, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shrine hall entrance straight ahead, while the cave entrance is to your immediate left. Inside, the paintings of the three shaman deities, San shin, Dokseong, and Chilseong, are rather common in their design. The three metre wide entrance to the cave that houses the Amita-bul statue is rather unassuming. However, one look inside reveals a beautiful stone sculpture of the Buddha of the Western Paradise. He is surrounded by rows of tiny jade Buddha statues. And he is immediately flanked by two newer looking Bodhisattva statues. While not nearly as impressive as the artificial stone cave at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju, the one at Mitaam Hermitage is beautiful in its own right.

For more information on Mitaam Hermitage, follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Mitaam Hermitage in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or 301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Wherever it is you get off, the sign markers leading you to the hermitage are well placed. But either way, make sure you pack your hiking boots because the hike up the side of Cheonseongsan is a long one.

View 미타암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While a bit out of the way, Mitaam Hermitage more than makes up for it with what it offers the visiting temple adventurer. Of course the highlight to this hermitage is the stunning and ancient cave statue of Amita-bul, but this hermitage also has a lot more to offer like the beautiful painting of Wonhyo-daesa, the ornate interior of the main hall, as well as the amazing view of the Korean landscape down below. Without a doubt, Mitaam Hermitage is an amazing hermitage to visit.

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The start of the 500 metre trek up the side of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
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Finally, the first sighting of the hermitage.
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 The entrance leading up to the main hall with the monks’ dorms on the left.
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A view of Yangsan far below.
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 The name tablet for Mitaam Hermitage on the main hall.
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 Just one of the paintings of the Nahan that adorns the outside walls of the main hall with the wooden tablets placed below the paintings.
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The gorgeous lattice work and the vampire looking Nathwi below the doors.
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 The amazingly ornate interior of the main hall with a look upon the main altar.
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The guardian painting on the far right wall.
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 And next to it is this amazing rendering of Wonhyo-daesa with his 1,000 followers.
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On the far right side of the altar is this older looking statue and mural.
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And on the far left side of the altar is this black haired statue of Jijang-bosal.
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And next to the statue of Jijang-bosal is a mural of Jijang-bosal.
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The path that leads to the cave. But first, you’ll pass beside the compact bell pavilion.
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 Just around the gray bend is the cave.
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A view from the bend down at Yangsan with Gyeongju to the far north.
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And just outside the indoor pavilion are a dozen headstones.
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 The entrance to the Samseong-gak shrine hall inside the indoor pavilion that acts as both a shelter to the opening of this shrine hall as well as a shelter to the cave entrance.
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 A look at the simple rendering of San shin, the Mountain spirit.
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 And to the far right is this rendering of Chilseong, the Seven Stars.
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And one more look inside the cave at the ancient Amita-bul statue of the Buddha of the Western Paradise.

The Korean Pagoda (Part 2)

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The ancient pagoda from Singyesa Temple in North Korea.

Hello Again Everyone!!

And continuing from where we left off last week, I thought I would continue to explore the Korean pagoda. This week I’ll look more closely at the pagoda’s body and finial.


B: The Pagoda Body:

The body of the pagoda is built upon the base. It has several tiers associated with it, each of which consists of a “body stone” and a “roof stone.” Much like the base, the body can be adorned with various images of the “benevolent king” or the Four Heavenly Kings. In addition to these kings, the body can be decorated with various Bodhisattvas.

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A pair of the fiercely guarding Vajra from the pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple in Gyeongju.

The Benevolent Kings, like all things Buddhist, originated in India from the deity Vajrapani. The name, Vajrapani (or Vajra for short) mean enormous physical power. As a result, they are identified with Indra, the thunder bolt throwing Vedic god-king. In Korean, they are known as Geumgangsu-bosal(금강수보살). These Vajrapani are usually shown in a pair on either side of an entranceway. The Buddha on the left is called the Hidden Track Vajra, while the one on the right is called the Narayana Vajra. The Vajra warriors do not hold anything in their hands; instead, their hands are clenched in fists of rage. This gesture helps differentiate them from the Four Heavenly Kings, who can also adorn Korean pagodas. Perhaps the greatest example of these Vajra warriors can be found at the famous Bunhwangsa Temple in Gyeongju.

Other figures that can appear on the side of the body to a Korean pagoda, other than Vajra warriors or the Four Heavenly Kings can be images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Because Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are believed to have universal and unlimited powers, they appear on the pagoda.

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If you look close enough you can see the image of a Buddha figure on the body of the pagoda at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

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A better look at a Buddha on the body of the pagoda at Suwolseonwon Temple in Busan.

Two final images that can appear on a Korean pagoda can be a padlock-type image. This is placed on the side of the pagoda not only to protect the contents of the pagoda, but to also suggest that the pagoda body is a kind of dwelling. The other image that can appear on the side of a pagoda’s body is a floral design.

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The flowery body of the pagoda at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

C: Finial:

The final component to a Korean pagoda is the finial which sits on top of the pagoda. The finial has its own base, upon which rests a series of extremely ornate ornamental objects stacked on top of the other. In Korean, the finial name is “Sangnyun,” which refers to the “Sign of Wheels.” This is in reference to the design of the top of the pagoda which has “nine circular wheels,” or “sacred wheels.” When the wheels number nine at the top of the pagoda, historically, the pagoda is supposed to contain the remains of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul.

In total, there are eight components that are stacked upon each other in a vertical shaft at the top of the finial. These eight are, from the finial base to the top, the base, the inverted bowl, the upturned lotus, the sacred wheels, the sacred canopy, the water flame, the dragon wheel, and the sacred pearl.

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The extremely ornate finial from Seoknamsa Temple.

The first part of the decorative finial is the Base, which is called a “noban” in Korean, and it’s box-like in structure. The base is also called the “dew receiver.” The second part is an Inverted Bowl, which in Korean is called a “bokbal.” Some say this shape is a carry-over from the shape of the original Indian burial mound pagodas. The third component is the Upturned Lotus. In Korean, this Upturned Lotus is called an “Anghwa,” and it literally looks like an upturned flower. The fourth component is the Sacred Wheel. In Korean, this Sacred Wheel is called a “boryun.” This part is the central part of the finial. The fifth component is called the Sacred Canopy, and in Korean it’s called a “bogae.”  This canopy-shaped part of the pagoda is in reference to the gem-decorated canopy above the images and statues upon the altar inside a temple shrine hall. It is said to represent the state of nirvana. The sixth component is called the Water Flame, and in Korean it’s called a “suyeon.” The shape and name of this part of the finial literally means water and flame. The reason that the two are put together is that temple craftmen always feared fire and wanted to avoid anything to do solely with fire. The seventh component is called the Dragon Wheel/Vehicle. The shape of this component is the oval section of the pagoda. The eighth, and final component of a finial, is the Sacred Pearl. In Korean, this can either be called a “boju” or a “yongcha.” The word “boju” means a sacred pearl or a precious gem. This part of the finial is the uppermost part of the finial. Another name this Sacred Pearl goes by in Korean is “cintamani,” which is a talismanic pearl that is capable of responding to every wish asked of it. There’s no fixed form to the cintamani, but it’s thought to be clear, penetrating, light, and mysterious. It also shines on all objects in the universe and can eliminate all forms of disease and ailments.

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An up-close look at the finial from the pagoda at Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

The third and final part of Korean Pagoda will appear next week, so stay tuned…

 

Sujeongsa Temple – 수정사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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One of the most impressive interiors to a main hall can be found at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another amazing temple was recommended to me by a friend. And after a few attempts to find it, we finally found Sujeongsa Temple. And the effort to locate this well hidden temple was well worth it.

After traveling down a narrow one lane road for three kilometres, we finally arrived at the Sujeongsa Temple (수정사) grounds. When you first arrive, a nun complex with the dorms and kitchen are to your immediate right, with a view of the main hall straight ahead. In front of the main hall, in a grassy courtyard, is a five metre tall statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue of Amita-bul is beautifully rendered with some equally amazing guardians at the base of the statue.

Straight ahead is the ornately decorated exterior of the main hall. Surrounding the exterior are the Palsang-do paintings that depict the life of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). In addition to these eight paintings are two paintings on the left side of people being judged by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. On the right side of the main hall are beautiful Biseon and triad paintings. There is gorgeous latticework at the front of the main hall. At the front of the main hall are all of the Spirit Generals (zodiac animals) adorning the latticework. And even though they are covered in a mesh to protect them from the elements, you can still see them to be able to recognize just how brilliant they look.

When I was outside photographing the latticework, I heard my wife exclaim “wow” inside. And when I stepped inside the main hall, I completely understood what she meant with her “wow.” Without a doubt, the interior of the main hall is one of (if not the) most beautiful interiors I’ve seen in all of Korea. The interior is completely covered in absolutely stunning wood carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. Luckily, the very kind head-nun at the temple came out and explained some of the designs inside the main hall. She told us how she had a dream, and later sketched her dream about how the interior of the main hall should appear. And with the assistance from a professor at the Dongguk University, she was able to finalize her planned design. Sitting on the main altar is a radiant Seokgamoni-bul in the centre, and he’s flanked by two equally radiant statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). These three statues sit upon a wooden altar that is gorgeously carved. The altar depicts the Palsang-do series, and will soon be an Ulsan city treasure. To the right of the altar is a beautifully carved statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Jijang-bosal shrine are sixteen statues of Gwanseeum-bosal, who is the Bodhisattva of Compassion (more on them later). On the far left wall is the guardian carving with over one hundred guardians that are depicted. Next to the guardian carving is another seventeen Gwanseeum-bosal wood carvings. We were told by the head-nun that she had a dream about the thirty-three Gwanseeum-bosals that inhabit Botasan Mountain in China. And finally, there is a beautiful octagonal dragon crest at the centre of the ceiling in the main hall. And the gorgeous pink lotus lamp that hangs from the ceiling is made from the same material as airplaines (yes, airplanes!). Again, the main hall is one of the most beautiful and spectacular main halls in Korea as a result of the gorgeously made wood carvings of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians.

The only other shrine hall at Sujeongsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall to the left of the main hall. And much like the originality of the main hall, the Samseong-gak shrine hall is equally unique. There is a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of a Samseong-gak shrine hall. The head-nun, continuing with us on our tour of the temple, told us how she had another dream: this time, about San shin (The Mountain deity). Originally, the head-nun at the temple had planned on simply knocking down the 200 year old Samseong-gak shrine hall and building a new one in its place. However, San shin appeared to the head-nun in a dream three times. So the head-nun decided to build a cheaper quality protective building around the older Samseong-gak. Strangely, during a ceremony being performed at the Samseong-gak shrine hall the photographer captured a picture of a pine tree on the neighbouring mountain appear as though it was on fire. The head-nun took this as a sign and decided to build a beautiful new Samseong-gak shrine around the 200 year old original Samseong-gak shrine. She did this, as she explained, because she felt that if she didn’t “someone would die.” An amazing story that goes perfectly with an amazingly original design with the Samseong-gak shrine hall inside another Samseong-gak shrine hall.

Finally, there’s a Yongwang shrine dedicated to the Dragon king near a cascade of water beside the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Interestingly, the head-nun told us a story about a stone that sits out in front of the Yongwang shrine altar. She said that you can pick up the stone without first praying; however, once you do pray, you’re unable to pick the stone up off of its altar. Testing this story, it actually came true, as I was unable to lift the stone off of its altar.

For more on Sujeongsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: Without a mode of transportation, whether it be a scooter, motorbike, or car, as well as an amazingly accurate GPS system, this temple is next to impossible to both locate and find. This temple is located on the western side of Ulsan in the countryside. Other than that, it’s next to impossible to explain its location. In fact, I was the only the second foreigner ever to visit this temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Even though this temple only has two shrine halls and an outdoor shrine, for so many other reasons this temple rates as highly as it does. Starting with the zodiac latticework on the exterior of the main hall, and continuing inside, the extremely ornate and skillfully designed and rendered interior main hall, is just one reason this temple is worth the effort to find. Another reason is the highly original Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. And finally, the mind-bending prayer rock at the Yongwang altar, all make Sujeongsa Temple an amazing destination for a Korean temple adventurer.

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A look at the nuns’ dorms, kitchen, and the courtyard with a statue of Amita-bul to the left.
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A view of the very impressive main hall at Sujeongsa Temple.
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A look across the front of the main hall.
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The gorgeous latticework with the Spirit Generals (zodiac signs) depicted in each frame.
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And below the zodiac signs are these cross-eyed Nathwi.
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On the left side of the exterior walls on the main hall is this grotesque judgment painting.
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And wrapped around the entire length of the main hall are the Palsang-do murals depicting the Buddha’s life.
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And inside the main hall is one of the most impressively decorated interiors in all of Korea.
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Carved at the base of the main altar are the eight Palsang-do scenes from the Buddha’s life. In this panel, on the right, is the Buddha teaching, and on the left is the Buddha dying from his earthly life. Absolutely stunning craftsmanship.
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To the right of the main altar is the shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Just sixteen, of the thirty-three, Gwanseeum-bosal statues both to the immediate right and left of the main altar.
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An upclose of one of the Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Each of the altar statues is beautifully painted and carved.
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The amazingly elaborate one hundred plus guardian rendering.
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An upclose of the central figures in the mural, including the winged Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Dharma).
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The octagonal dragon crest that sits in the centre of the ceiling with the lotus lamps made from airplane material.
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A look at the unpainted Samseong-gak shrine hall side-by-side with the main hall.
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A closer look reveals a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. This set-up is definitely a first for me.
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A look inside the interior Samseong-gak shrine hall at the main altar. A statue of San shin (The Mountain god) is in the centre, with a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right, and a wooden tablet depicting Chilseong (The Seven Stars) to the left.
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A better look at an older and atypical painting of The Recluse, Dokseong.
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An arrow points to the fire that appeared during a San shin ceremony. The nun was adamant that it was San shin making an appearance.
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The Yongwang (The Dragon King) shrine with the prayer rock out in front of the altar. Make a wish and see what happens.

The Korean Pagoda (Part 1)

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The very famous Dabotap pagoda from Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

One of the most noticeable, elegant, and beautiful things you will see at a Korean Buddhist temple is the pagoda. The history of the pagoda in Korea is as old as Buddhism is in Korea. And while the pagoda designs are both beautiful and elegant, the meaning of them may not be all that clear to the casual observer. So why are pagodas situated at Korean Buddhist temples, what do they look like, and why are they designed the way they are in Korea?

First, the Korean word for a pagoda is a “tap.” This word is an abbreviation of the word “tapa,” which is just one of the numerous ways that the Chinese translate the Sanskrit “stupa.” The original meaning of the Sanskrit stupa is “burial mound” or “tomb.” So it stands to reason that the very first pagodas were nothing more than mounds of raised earth with the base of the earth having a face of brick or stone surrounding it. As time progressed, and as the Buddhist tradition evolved, the stupa eventually would be topped with a pedestal with a stone peak. Historically, the pagoda was created to house the remains of the Buddha. Presently, and historically throughout Korean history, in the absence of the Buddha’s remains, they would house important artifacts and treasures related to Buddhism.

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A black bricked pagoda from Songnimsa Temple.

Like all things in Asian Buddhism, traditions and teachings passed through China, from India, to the rest of the eastern side of the continent. As it did, the earth mounds disappeared, and the Chinese wooden pagoda structure emerged. Sometime in the Three Kingdoms Period in Korea, and with the emigration of all things Buddhist, the wooden structured pagoda found a home in Korea; however, in time, these wooden pagodas became uniquely stone. And while the design of a Korean pagoda has varied through the years, the structural components of the pagoda have remained the same with the base, the body, and the finial.

A: The Pagoda Base:

The base of the Korean pagoda is the lowest part of it. Usually, this is a four sided base that is decorated with a variety of Buddhist imagery. Some of the more common images that are sculpted into the base are the Twelve Spirit Generals, the Eight Dharma Protectors, or the Four Heavenly Kings.

The Four Heavenly Kings are the same Kings that appear in the Cheonwangmun entrance gate. These Four Heavenly Kings are easily recognizable. Damun Cheonwang (Vaisravana in Sanskrit) guards the North. And he’s the one that holds a pagoda in his hand. The second Heavenly King is Jonjang Cheonwang (or Virudhaka in Sanskrit). He holds a sword in his hand and guards the South. Jigook Cheonwang (Dhritarashtra in Sanskrit) holds a lute in his hands and protects the East. The last of the four Heavenly Kings is Gwangmok Cheonwang (Virupaksha in Sanskrit) is the guardian of the West, and he holds a dragon in one hand and a jewel in the other.

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A zodiac base from the pagoda at Suwolseonwon Temple in Busan.

The Twelve Spirit Generals, on the other hand, are the exact same as the Chinese zodiac signs: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. They are most often carved on the four sides of the base. Each side has three images of the zodiac signs like the tiger, dragon, and monkey. The twelve are mostly depicted with a human body dressed in armour or sacerdotal robes, and one of the twelve Chinese zodiac heads. These Twelve Spirit Generals adorn the stone pagoda because they carry out the Twelve Great Vows of Yaksa-bul (The Medicine Buddha), and as such, they protect the dharma as represented through the pagoda.

Finally, the Eight Dharma Protectors can also appear on the base of a Korean pagoda. These Eight Dharma Protectors were once seen as being evil, but they were later converted by the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. These eight are: 1. devas   2. nagas  3. yaksas   4. gandarvas  5. asuras  6. garudas  7. kinnaras  8. mahoragas. The first, Devas, are thought to be celestial beings that can control parts of nature such as fire, wind, or air. The second, Nagas, generally take the form of a great cobra like snake, and they have the power to transform into a human. The third, the Yaksas, are beings with lions on their heads and a rope around their waists. They are ugly, cruel and ghost-like creatures that were believed to fly around at night and bother humans. The fourth, Gandarvas, are figures with a sword in their right hand and a small bottle of perfume in their left. They live off the fragrance of this perfume.

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An Asura, on the right, on the base of the pagoda at Gwaneunam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 The fifth of the eight are Asuras. The Asuras have bird-like heads with three faces as well as six arms. Sometimes, they will appear with a monster mask on the centre of their stomachs. This monster mask symbolizes evil being suppressed.

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 A Garuda, on the right, from the base of the pagoda from Gwaneumam Hermitage, as well.

The sixth, the Garudas, are figures with bird-like wings on the outer edges of their ears. In Indian myth, they are the king of the birds. The seventh, the Kinnaras, are long haired beings holding a trident in their left hands. This creature is depicted with a human head and a bird’s body. They are known as heavenly musicians. In some renderings, they are sometimes depicted as playing the drums with both hands, while also playing the flute. The eighth, and final, of the Eight Dharma Protectors are the Mahoragas. They hold a sword in their right hand, while their left palm is slightly crooked in its posture. The Mahoragas are supposed to symbolize the snake spirit as it has a human body and a snake’s head that slithers on the ground.

Anyone of these three groups of beings can appear on the base of a Korean pagoda and it’s always interesting to figure out which of the three are being depicted.

To be continued next week….

Geumgangam Hermitage – 금강암 (Busan)

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The cascading water that pools beside the trail that leads up to Geumgangam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Geumgangam Hermitage was the last hermitage I needed to see to have seen all the hermitages associated with Beomeosa Temple. And even though I hadn’t saved the best for last, that going to either Chungryunam Hermitage or Mireukam Hermitage, it certainly was one of the better hermitages. So waking up early, on what started off as a clear day, I made my way over to Beomeosa Temple.

Geumgangam Hermitage (Diamond Mountain Hermitage, in English) is named after the mountain that Beomeosa Temple, and this hermitage, reside on: Geumgangsan Mountain. Like Anyangam Hermitage and Daeseongam Hermitage, Geumgangam Hermitage is the closest group of hermitages to Beomeosa Temple. The only difference is that you can actually visit Geumgangam Hermitage, while the other two are strictly off-limits to visitors as they are study centres for Buddhist monks.

Trekking to the upper left side of the Beomeosa Temple grounds, you’ll come to an opening where there are a littering of large rocks. This area is called Dolbada, or “Sea of Rocks” in English. Continuing to head south-west, you’ll come to two wooden bridges; instead of going over them, in the direction of Wonhyoam Hermitage, hang a right at the white sign with black print that reads –금정암. The hermitage is a further 300 metres up a stairway of rocks that is situated beside a beautiful cascade of mini-waterfalls. You can take some really beautiful pictures from this area of the temple grounds. Walking up the uneven stairs, you’ll then see a sign with the temples name, as well as a bridge that spans that length of the cascading water. By now you should be able to see the Iljumun Gate for the hermitage. The gate is uniquely designed with a Korean name tablet written in Korean that reads the name of the temple: 금정암. Like Okryeonam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, this feature is highly unique for a Korean temple or hermitage because these signs are almost always written in Chinese characters.

Passing through the uniquely designed and labeled Iljumun Gate, you’ll enter into a beautiful situated hermitage that has lush green grass for a courtyard. Straight ahead is the beautiful main gate that is flanked to the left by an administrative office, kitchen, and to the right by a study hall. Behind this study hall is a gate and monk quarters that is off-limits to visitors. However, there is a stunning lotus flower design on the front of the gate’s doors. The main hall itself is beautiful both on the inside and out. The outside of the main hall has the common pairing of the Palsang-do paintings (The Eight Stages of the Buddha’s Life) on top, with the Ox-herding murals on the bottom. The Palsang-do paintings have seem to have done better with the aging process than have the Ox-herding murals. Even though some of the Palsang-do paintings on the right side of the hall are fading, they are still visible enough to see the animated illustrations. The Ox-herding murals are mostly flaking in their circular framed renderings; however, there are still a few that are visible to see. Inside the main hall sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre of the triad. On either side of him sits, what appears to be Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Behind this triad is a beautiful wood carving with the Buddha in the centre. To the right of the main altar is another stunning wood carving of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the left of the triad is yet another wood carving, this time, it’s a guardian painting with Dongjin-bosal  (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. On the far left wall is a painting that depicts a white clad Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Around this main hall are some unique structures. Immediately to the right of the main hall is a somewhat non-descript pagoda with a beautiful incense dragon holder out in front of the pagoda. Above this pagoda is the Samseong-gak, which houses the three shaman gods. The outside of this hall is painted with various renderings of the three shaman gods. Inside, this hall is quite unique. The centre altar piece is a golden sculpture of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the left is a painted wooden carving of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Adjacent to this wooden statue is a beautiful rendering of San shin. To the right of Chilseong is another painted wooden sculpture, but this time it’s Dokseong (The Recluse). Once more, there’s a depiction of this god on the right side wall of this hall.

To the left of the main hall is a small bell pavilion. The bell inside is equally compact, but just as beautiful as a larger sized temple bell. Now, this is where the hermitage gets a bit interesting. Up the hill is an entrance way into a cave that’s called Yaksa-jeon (The Medicine Hall). Inside this cave is a statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) pouring the mountain water from his bottle. Surrounding him are tiny white Buddha statues. Further up the hill, and only accessible by way of a Samseong-gak trail, is the Nahan-jeon. As the name of the hall states, in Korean, this hall is dedicated to the Nahan, which were the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The exterior of the hall is painted with various Nahan performing various tasks such as studying or teaching. Inside the hall, again, is a highly unique religious structure. The main altar is adorned with a smaller sized Seokgamoni-bul statue. And flanking him are Bohyun-bosal and Moonsu-bosal once more. Behind this triad is another stunning golden sculpture. Flanking this triad, in a row, are the fifteen Nahan. Behind these two sets of rows are two more painted wooden scultptures; however, this time, they depict Nahan. On opposing walls are two paintings that again depict the Nahan. Interestingly, there is one Nahan statue with his hands on his head. Look for it because it’s rather unique and cute.

HOW TO GET THERE: Like all the other hermitages at Beomeosa Temple, you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple.  You can take a path that leads left of the Iljumun Gate. This trail will lead you to an opening with a wooden bridge that spans a stream. This area is the start of the Dolbada (The Sea of Rocks). Hang a left but don’t cross the bridge; instead, head up the stone staircase beside the cascading water for 300 metres. You’ll pass by Daeseongam Hermitage to your right.  The first thing to greet you will be a sign that reads –금정암. This sign is situated on a bridge that spans the length of the rolling rocks and water. Head up the path another 50 metres and you’ll see the Iljumun Gate for Geumgangam Hermitage.

View 금강암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Like Gyemyeongam Hermitage, there are some beautiful views of the neighbouring mountainsides and valleys below. The only difference between the two is that Geumgangam Hermitage has some beautiful halls. Whether it’s the unique decorated interiors of the Nahan-jeon, Samseong-gak, or the Yaksa-jeon Hall that is built inside a cave, the hermitage is beautifully built. Added to that is the elaborately designed and decorated interior and exterior, as well as the Korean writing that adorns all of the wooden structures at the hermitage.  That’s why this hermitage is one of the better hermitages to visit at Beomeosa Temple in Busan!

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Finally, a bit of beautiful blue sky over Geumjeongsan Mountain.
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Part of the Dolbada, Sea of Rocks, and the stone stairs that lead you up to Geumgangam Hermitage.
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And the still waters that cascade beside the stone stairs.
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The sign that directs you, and the bridge that helps you, towards Geumgangam Hermitage.Picture 010The first sign that you’ve arrived at the hermitage: Iljumun Gate.
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The main hall at the hermitage: Daejabe-jeon.
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A better look at the front door of the main hall and the Korean written name tablet.
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A view of the right side of the courtyard at Geumgangam Hermitage.
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To the left of the main hall is the off-limits monk quarters. The front gate to these quarters is painted a unique design.
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A better look at the lotus flower design that adorns the gate at the monk’s quarters.
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The main pieces inside the main hall: Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) is in the centre and on either side of him is what looks to be Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
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One of the Palsang-do murals of the Buddha’s life. This one is about Mara trying to tempt the Buddha.
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One of the more uniquely designed Nathwi. Notice the eyes staring to the right.
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The Samseong-gak Hall, which is dedicated to the three shaman gods.
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This unique, but fading, eagle painting adorns the exterior wall of the Samseong-gak Hall.
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This is what the interior of the Samseong-gak Hall looks like. To the right (but the central figure on the altar) is Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the left is a painted wooden sculpture of San shin (The Mountain god) with a painting of this Shaman god on the left wall.
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On the right side of the altar is this painted wood carving of Dokseong (The Recluse). And on the far right wall is a painting of this Shaman god.
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A look at the diminutive bell pavilion to the right of the main hall at Geumgangam Hermitage.
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Behind the main hall is this opening to a cave and the Nahan-jeon Hall above it.
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Inside the cave is the central figure of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) with tiny white Buddha statues surrounding him. Mountain water is pouring out from his bottle.
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This painting adorns the exterior of the Nahan-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to the disciples of the Historical Buddha.
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Another beautiful altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall. The golden central sculpture is of Buddha. The painted wooden sculptures on either side of it are of depictions of various Nahan. In front of these three religious art pieces is Seokgamoni-bul being flanked by 15 Nahan figures.
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One of the uniquely designed wooden Nahan sculptures inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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And the view from the Nahan-jeon Hall out above the main hall and Gyemyeongam Hermitage on Mt. Geumjeongsan.

The Stupa – Budo (부도)

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An extremely ornate budo from Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

When you first enter a Korean temple or hermitage you might see a row of strangely designed stone markers that somewhat resemble headstones. These stupa, or “budo” in Korean, can also be found at the rear of a temple complex. So what exactly do they look like? Who are they for? And what is the meaning behind them?

In Buddhism, a pagoda historically enshrined the remains of the Buddha. However, in Korea, a budo contains the remains of a monk or nun. So when you see a budo at a temple or hermitage that you’re visiting, that budo houses the remains of a monk or nun that lived and practiced there at that temple.

These budo are sometimes large and elegantly designed, but most in Korea are usually simple and modest. Whatever the design may be, they are symbolic of the monk or nun whose remains are housed inside it.

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A monk graveyard from Seoknamsa Temple with a relatively simplistic budo in the centre.

Most budo have five geometric shapes that make up their design: the square, the circle, the triangle, the crescent, and the diamond shape. Each has symbolic meaning, but before we can explore the hidden meaning behind these geometric shapes, the Buddhist idea of life and death must first be explored.

In Buddhsim, the idea of life and death are explained through the theory of “co-dependent arising.” This theory states that all things are dependent on various conditions. And what these casual conditions are, are completely dependent. To put it simply, all things in the world, including human beings, are made up of separate and unique elements. This theory is based on the Buddhist principle of “non-permanence” and “no self.” All these ideas have something in common: they espouse the concept that all states of things are subject to constant change such as birth and death.

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This rather stout budo (centre left) is near the entrance of Beopjusa Temple.

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This pair of budos in the foreground are from Eunhaesa Temple as you approach the temple compound.

So what then are these elements of change that make up the human condition? There are four elements in total; these elements are earth, water, fire, and wind. When the conditions of our existence change our body dies and the components of our condition disintegrate back into the four elements. Beyond the human condition, all four of these elements are present in all things. There is nothing that exists that doesn’t have some combination of these things. A fifth element, space, is often added to the four other elements. This results in the term “The five elements.”

The geometric shapes that make up a budo are symbols of the five elements. The square base is symbolic of the earth. The circular body represents water, while the triangle roof stands for fire. The crescent-shaped, and upturned flower on top of the budo, is a symbol for the wind. Finally, the solid diamond-shaped object at the top of the budo symbolizes space. The budo is symbolic of the five elements and the ongoing process of life and death and the process of non-permanence that resides in us all. Ulimately, the budo is a reminder to the living of the inevitability that awaits us all.

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One more budo from Seoknamsa Temple. This budo is dedicated to the founding monk Master Doui.

It’s truly amazing the amount of symbolism that’s packed into a modest looking budo at Korean Buddhist temples and hermitages. In fact, I would have to say that they are amongst the richest symbolic objects to be found at a temple. They simplistically reveal the ever changing condition of the human body that’s at the very core of all our existence. So with a humble heart and a respectful mind explore these lesser looked at stone objects at temples and hermitages throughout Korea.

Temple Colours – Dancheong

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The intricate Dancheong colours on the main hall at Gyeongunsa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

One of the most recognizable things that distinguishes Korean Buddhist temples from the neighbouring Buddhist nations’ temples like Japan and China are the elaborate colour styles and schemes. Korean Buddhist temples are decoratively painted in a myriad of colours that include reds, blues, greens, yellows, blacks, whites, and any other colour included along the colour spectrum. So why exactly are they adorning Korean Buddhist halls, and what do they look like?

The painted colours and designs that adorn Korean Buddhist temples are known as “Dancheong.” Dancheong literally means “red and blue/green” in English. Originally, this word referred to the specific minerals used to create the varying pigments in the paints that adorn the temples. More recently, it has come to refer to the vibrant colours and styles that adorn the wooden halls. And while the Dancheong style of painting are also used at Korean palaces, city gates, and Confucian shrines, the most elaborate styles of Dancheong paintings are at Buddhist temples. The reason they are so elaborate in comparison to the other structures is that the ornate style was reserved to honour the most sacred realm beyond the secular world.

In total, there are four types of main grades for the decorating style that adorns Korean Buddhist temples. They are: 1. Gachil-Dancheong; 2.Geutgi-Dancheon; 3. Moru-Dancheong; 4. Geum-Dancheong.

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An up-close of some of the colours and patterns of Dancheong at Bukjijangsa Temple in Daegu.

Out of the four styles of paintings, Gachil-Dancheong is the simplest style. This style employs the four basic colours of grass greens, reddish brown, white, and yellow earth. These four colours are then applied to the bare wood of the temple hall. Only then are the four colours left plainly, or they serve as the base-coat for a more elaborate dancheong style.

The second dancheong style is the Geutgi-Dancheong style. This style involves painting straight lines around the border of a painted area. “Geutgi,” in English, literally translates as “single stroke.” Most often, a black border will be first drawn in Indian ink. Only after the black line is drawn is a white line added beside it. Occasionally, this line can be done a number of other colours other than black and white.

The third of these painting styles is Moru-Dancheong. This style of painting is first painted on rafters, various beams, and shrine hall pillars. Moru refers to the Korean word that means “end patterns.”

The fourth, and most elaborate style, is Geum-Dancheong. In English, “Geum-Dancheong” means “elegant dancheong.” This feature is an embellishment of the Moru-Dancheong style. The entire surface of the wooden face is covered in colourful and complex patterns. This style of painting consists of straight and curved lines that are woven through geometric shapes like the circle or triangle to create continuous repetitive patterns. This interconnected pattern symbolizes the idea of the infinite.

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Some of the amazing Dancheong colours and patterns on the main hall at Wonhyoam Hermitage in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do .

Specifically, Dancheong patterns have exclusive meanings to Korean Buddhism. In total, there are four unique patterns that have exclusive meaning to Korean Buddhism. They are: 1. The Radiant Wave; 2. The Circle Patterns; 3. Semi-Circle Image; 4. Triangles.

The Radiant Wave symbolizes the illumination that is spread by the power of the Buddha. The Circle Patterns, on the other hand, stands for the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (Samsara). This pattern also symbolizes how human beings receive wisdom from the Buddha if they believe strongly enough in the Buddha. The third unique pattern is the Semi-Circle Image. This pattern closely resembles a nose-ring for cattle, which acts as a metaphor taken from the Ten Ox-Herding Murals that adorn Korean Seon Temple Halls. Specifically, this pattern and the ten murals refer to the process of discovering the Truth. Finally, the fourth and final image, Triangles, are called the “Iron Armour” pattern. This pattern encourages Buddhist to have a firm resolve on their way towards the Truth.

Something as simple as a painted pattern or style at a Korean Buddhist temple can mean so much. So the next time you’re at a temple in Korea, have a look around at the painting designs and patterns because they might be reminding you about a few Buddhist Truths.

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A detailed look at the main hall at Biroam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

Deoksugung Palace – 덕수궁 (Jung-gu, Seoul)

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The beautifully ornate craftsmanship on display at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had been to Deoksugung Palace (“ Palace of Virtuous Longevity”) twice before the summer of 2008, and it was only by chance that I ended up going again. I had been planning to meet up with a student that had just recently graduated from high school; a student that I taught in Canada. She was from Seoul, knew that I was going to be in the area, and wanted to meet up. Originally, we were going to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, but when we got there on Tuesday, it was closed. As a heads-up, if you want to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, don’t visit on Tuesday because it’s closed. So instead, we decided, after a bit of hemming and hawing, to go to Deoksugung Palace. I hadn’t been in a while, and it was close to her home, so we got on the Seoul subway and made our way to our second palace pick.

Originally, Deoksugung Palace(덕수궁) was built as a private residence for King Sejo’s grandson in the mid-1400’s. However, after the sacking of Seoul in 1592 by the Japanese, this residence became a temporary palace in 1593. And for the next 15 years it was used as the official royal residence and seat of government for Korea. In 1623, King Injo moved the throne to the Changdeokgung Palace, and the Deoksugung Palace reverted back to being a subsidiary palace. And in 1895, after Queen Min was murdered at Gyeongbokgung Palace, both King Gojong and his son (future King Sunjong) fled to the Russian Legation for protection. Finally, in 1897, both father and son moved to Deoksugung Palace, where King Gojong was to die in 1919. After a decade of neglect, the palace was open to the public in 1933.

Back in 2004, the first time I visited Deoksugung Palace, the main gate, Daehan-mun (“Great Han Gate”) was still under renovation. But fortunately for us now, it’s no longer under renovation. Originally, this gate was located on the south wall, but was subsequently moved to the east wall, where it stands now. It was moved to its present location because of the traffic problems it was creating. This is the smallest gate at any of the major palaces in Seoul, but don’t let this fool you, as Daehan-mun is just as beautiful and magnificent in its own right. And if you’re lucky enough to visit the palace at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., or 3:30 p.m., like we were, you’ll be able to watch an authentic Joseon Dynasty changing of the guard ceremony. As you pass through Daehan-mun, you’ll cross a stone bridge that is traditional to all Korean palaces. While a lot more compact than the other Seoul palaces because of a disastrous fire in 1904, Deoksugung Palace deceptively looks larger than it actually is. To the right is a wide field with a statue of King Sejong, while on the left is a path that leads to Junghwa-mun. This is the gate that allows entrance to the palace courtyard and throne hall, Junghwa-jeon (“Hall of Central Harmony”). This throne hall was burnt down in 1904 and rebuilt again two years later, and it’s the newest throne hall out of all the major palaces in Seoul. Behind the throne hall are the uniquely designed buildings: Junmyeong-dong and Jukjo-dang. They are connected by an enclosed walkway used for official court business. A third, and more unusual building, is Seogeo-dang. It’s unusual because it’s the only two-story royal residence hall from the Joseon Dynasty. In a walled compound to the right is Deokhong-jeon, where the king conducted business; and the L-shaped Hamnyeong-dang, which was a living quarters where King Gojong died in 1919. The out of place western-looking building is Jeonggwan-heon. It was built in 1900 and hosted the king’s parties. On the palace grounds there’s also a National Museum of Art. It costs 11,000 Won for adults. Personally, I’ve never visited.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Deoksugung Palace, you should get off at the City Hall Station on subway line #1, and take exit #2.  If you’re getting off at City Hall Station from subway line #2, you should take exit #12. The cost of admission is 1,000 won. The palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Additionally, free English tours are given at 10:30a.m. from Monday to Friday, and at 1:40 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

View Deoksugung in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While certainly not the most impressive of the palaces located in Seoul, any palace you visit in Seoul is well worth the trip.  The most impressive features about the palace are Daehan-mun, the main gate at the palace; the statue of King Sejong on the green lawn; and Seogeo-dang, the only two-storied residence from the Joseon Dynasty. The drawbacks are the newer looking buildings and the smaller size of the palace.  But either way, if you have the time, and want to see a beautiful palace, make a stop at Deoksugung Palace.

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Daehan-mun: the smaller, but still beautiful, main entrance gate at Deoksugung Palace.
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Junghwa-mun is the entrance gate to the courtyard at the palace.  Through the gate you can see the throne hall in the background.
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The throne hall at the palace: Junghwa-jeon.
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The decorative masonry on the stairs leading up to the throne hall at Deoksugung Palace. n657235703_3704807_5379
The throne that Korean kings sat upon at Deoksugung Palace.
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The emblem of Korean royalty.
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 The old and the new.  Jeonggwan-heon is the western style building on the right.
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 The walled off part of the palace just to the right of the throne hall and courtyard.
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 A closer look at these historical buildings from the previous picture.
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And King Sejong waving good-bye as we left.

The Blog’s One Year Birthday

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Hello Again Everyone,

Well, it’s now official, the blog just passed the one year mark. And with it, there has been a lot of good that’s come from producing this blog. I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way, and been able to contribute material outside the parameters of the blog.

I’ve been able to write for The Korea Times:

Article #1, Article #2, Article #3, Article #4, Article #5.

I’m a regular contributor on the community of foreign bloggers at Nanoomi.net 

My blog postings are posted at the weekly online magazine, Seoul Weekly, by Robert Koehler.

I received honourable mention on the Pusanweb summer photo contest.

An article of mine appeared on the Buddhist Channel website.

And just recently I was included as a contributing member to, The Korea Blog, which acts as the official blogspot for the Korean government.

Here’s to hoping that the success and support of the blog will continue for many years to come.

Thanks everyone!

The Twelve Spirit Generals

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An ornate stupa from Manbulsa Temple. In front are tiny red capped baby statues and statues of all Twelve Spirit Generals including the Monkey, Dragon, and Rat.

Hello Again Everyone!!

At some of the temples in Korea the very first thing to greet you, in one form or another, are the twelve zodiac signs. They may take the shape of statues, sculptures on pagodas, or hall paintings. However, the way they appear and the meaning behind them are highly unique and original to Korean Buddhism.

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A statue of the dog spirit from Gwangcheonsa Temple.

While the zodiac signs are known as the zodiac signs in the west, they are known as the “Twelve Spirit Generals” in Korean Buddhism. Each of the Twelve Spirit Generals are distinguished by their own Sanskrit names. They are:

1. Rat Spirit: Catura

2. Ox Spirit: Vikarala

3. Tiger Spirit: Kumbhira

4. Rabbit Spirit: Vajra

5. Dragon Spirit: Mihira

6. Snake Spirit: Andira

7. Horse Spirit: Manera

8. Sheep Spirit: Sandila

9. Monkey Spirit: Indra

10. Rooster Spirit: Pajra

11. Dog Spirit: Mahoraga

12. Pig Spirit: Kinnara

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A row of all Twelve Spirit Generals from Haedong Yonggungsa.

These zodiac signs have a long history in many cultures. In China, the zodiac signs took the shape of local animals that were familiar to the local people from the original Indian meanings. Traditionally, in Korean society, these zodiac signs were related to the New Year. Koreans would put up paintings/drawings on the inner or outer walls of their homes or businesses to protect against evil spirits for the year to come. Also, people would make their New Years resolution according to the zodiac sign for that upcoming year. So if it was the year of the tiger, they would pray to be courageous.

The Twelve Spirit Generals have animal faces and human bodies. The human bodies are clad with armour or ordinary robes of the aristocrats, while the faces (obviously) represent one of the twelve zodiac signs. In addition to the armour they wear, the twelve are usually shown with weapons of some sort. These weapons help to underscore their role as the protectors of the Buddha’s teachings, the land, as well as sentient beings. However, the Twelve Spirit Generals aren’t just armed with power and dominance; instead, they are also armed with compassion and virtue through Yaksa-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

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The chicken spirit with a sword in hand from Gwancheonsa Temple.

In Korean Buddhism, the Twelve Spirit Generals are depicted as incarnations in the teachings of Yaksa-bul. And because Yaksa-bul is not only the Medicine Buddha, but he’s also the Buddha of the Pure Land of the Eastern Paradise, Yaksa-bul is also committed to relieving beings from suffering, pain, and disease. In addition to relieving people from the ailments of life, Yaksa-bul is also committed to helping people overcome their ignorance through enlightenment. That is why Yaksa-bul promised to fulfill the “12 Great Vows.” These vows state:

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Yaksayore-bul from Pyochungsa Temple.

1. I vow to radiate brilliant light on myself and all beings in this infinite and boundless world.

2. I vow to make my body like pure crystal, brightening up the world and enlightening all beings.

3. I vow to grant all sentient beings with the inexhaustible things they require.

4. I vow to lead those who have gone astray back to the Mahayana path.

5. I vow to enable all sentient beings to observe the “three sets of pure precepts” for spiritual purity and moral conduct.

6. I vow to restore the bodies of the physically disabled.

7. I vow to relieve all physical and mental pain and enable the attainment of the “supreme enlightenment.”

8. I vow to help women become men in their new rebirth.

9. I vow to free all beings from the entrapments of false teachings so that they will walk the Buddha way.

10. I vow to save those in prison and the victims of tyrants and evil.

11. I vow to save all sentient beings who suffer from starvation and thirst.

12. I vow to provide beautiful clothes to those too poor to afford them.

In accordance with this promise, Yaksa-bul directed the Twelve Spirit Generals to uphold these vows. So not only do the armour clad and weapon carrying generals act as protectors, but they also act as teachers.

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A set of three, the tiger, mouse, and dragon, from the Twelve Spirit Generals at Yongjusa Temple.

These Twelve Spirit Generals appear at Korean Buddhist temples in a variety of different places. One such place is when you first enter a Korean Buddhist temple. They appear in statue form in fierce postures. Like all forms of these twelve figures, they have a human body and a zodiac face. Situated where they are, they act as protectors of the Buddhist teachings. Two of the better examples of this can be found at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, and Yonjusa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The ox and mouse spirits also from Gwangcheonsa Temple.

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A close-up of the horse spirit from Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

Another place these Twelve Spirit Generals can appear is in paintings. These paintings can appear inside our outside temple shrine halls. Such is the case at Seonjisa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, where the Twelve Spirit Generals act as protectors to the Buddha and Nahan that are situated inside the main hall at the temple.

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A painted rendering of the monkey spirit from Seonjisa Temple.

Yet another place these twelve teachers and protectors can appear is on the side of a pagoda. The twelve will appear at the base of the pagoda, three figures on each side of the four sided face of the pagoda. In this case, the Twelve Spirit Generals can act either as a protector of the Buddha’s remains that are traditionally housed inside the pagoda, or they can act as a beacon for the teaching of the Buddha to shine forth on the world. One of the finest examples of this can be found at Samgwangsa Temple in Busan.

Either way, this list of the three places that the Twelve Spirit Generals figures can appear at a Korean Buddhist temple is not exhausted. These twelve teachers and protectors can appear nearly anywhere at a temple.

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Two more of the Twelve Spirit Generals. This time, the pig spirit stands at the entrance at Gwangcheonsa Temple. 

Gwang5 snake

Another of the stoic statues at Gwangcheonsa Temple. This one is the sleek looking snake spirit.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you see the set of zodiac looking figures or paintings, know that the Twelve Spirit Generals are there not only to protect the Buddha’s teachings, but they’re also there to help guide you in the teachings of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

Manbulsa

And finally, a row of the Twelve Spirit Generals out in front of the golden stupa at Manbulsa Temple.