Bodhidharma – 달마 (5th to 6th Cent.)


An Image of the Bodhidharma from a Temple Wall.

Hello Again Everyone!!

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Jeokcheonsa Temple – 적천사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


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

Hello Again Everyone!!

You first approach the very rural Jeokcheonsa Temple up a long winding road. In fact, you go for so long, you might think that there’s no end to the road. When you do finally emerge on the other end, a yapping dog from one of the neighbouring houses will greet you at Jeokcheonsa Temple. It’s only then that you’ll know that you’ve finally arrive at the temple.

As for temple structures, the first thing to greet you is a weather-worn Cheonwangmun Gate. Because the temple is rather smallish in size, it’s surprising that they have such a beautiful gate dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings. As you step inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be greeted by four smiling kings. And underneath their feet, if you look down, you’ll notice that they’re trampling demonic demons.

Having passed through this gate, and greeting you on the other side, is a beautifully large Boje-ru pavilion. You’ll need to slouch down a bit so that you don’t bump your head when passing through this pavilion. Climbing the set of stairs that leads up to Jeokcheonsa Temple’s main courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a collection of halls and buildings.

To your immediate left is the temple’s understated bell pavilion. It has a beautifully polished bronze bell that’s joined by an equally attractive fish gong and cloud gong. And to your immediate right are a row of monks’ quarters, the temple’s kitchen, and the visitors’ centre. Neighbouring the temple’s bell pavilion is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon. All but unadorned, the exterior walls only have the standard dancheong colours painted on their walls. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon are the typical statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Slightly to the right, and straight ahead, is the main hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple. The exterior walls are painted with some of the more original paintings you’ll see at a Korean temple. There are the atypically painted Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals on the right to rear side of the hall.

As for the left, you can find the Bodhidharma and an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal painting. Unfortunately, the doors to this hall were locked when I visited, and I think it’s pretty standard judging from the signs on the wall. However, if you’re lucky enough to get in, a triad of statues on the main altar will greet you. The golden statues are centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the left and right of the main hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The one to the left is dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Inside this hall are all-white stone statues dedicated to the Nahan. And they are joined in the centre by Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with some beautiful pastoral paintings. As to the right, and joined by some more monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. As you first enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by a strange, but older-looking, mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This strange painting is fronted by a statue of the shaman deity. Just to the right of Sanshin hangs an equally old painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And rather atypically, the oldest-looking painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs on the far right wall. Usually, Chilseong hangs in the centre, and he’s joined on either side by Sanshin to the left and Dokseong to the right, but I guess the head-monk at Jeokcheonsa Temple had something else in mind.

HOW TO GET THERE: Unfortunately, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Jeokcheonsa Temple; instead, you’ll need to take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take you about 20 minutes, and it’ll set you back about 8,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. If all the halls to this temple were open, perhaps it would slightly be rated a bit higher. But because the main hall and Myeongbu-jeon were off-limits when I visited, the rating goes down a bit. However, even with all that in mind, the beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate, the large Boje-ru pavilion, and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses the older-looking murals kind of counter-balances this deficiency.


A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


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


And one of the demons being trampled under foot.


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


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


The spacious bell pavilion at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


The polished bell at the temple.


The rather long Myeongbu-jeon at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


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


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


She’s joined by the Bodhidharma.


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


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


With some pretty amazing murals adorning its exterior walls.


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


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


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


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

Jinpyo – 진표 (8th Century)


 A Portrait of the monk Jinpyo.

Hello Again Everyone!!

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

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


Geumsansa Temple

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

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

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


 A Portrait of King Taejo, who Jinpyo helped influence.

Cheongryangsa Temple – 청량사 (Gangseo-gu, Busan)


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

Hello Again Everyone!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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


 A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Cheongryangsa Temple.


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


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


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


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


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


A look inside the main hall at the main altar.


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


The monks’ residence at the temple.


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


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


The earthy image of Sanshin inside the Minang-gak.


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


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

Uicheon – 의천 (1055-1101)


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

Hello Again Everyone!!

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

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

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

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

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


The Cheontae Buddhist Order sign.

Bulgoksa Temple – 불곡사 (Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The temple courtyard at Bulgoksa Temple in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the heart of Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do, Bulgoksa Temple is a compact temple that is undergoing a bit of a renovation.

When you first approach the temple up a steep road that is located next to terrace upon terrace of parked cars, you’ll first encounter one of the most unique Iljumun Gates in all of Korea (and that’s not hyperbole, either). Looking up at the roof, you’ll notice the bodies of wooden snakes as they lay intertwined with the gate. On one end of the gate is a large turtle, and at the other is a grinning tiger that looks down on you.

Just a little further up the path, and you’ll see one of the smaller sized Boje-ru pavilions straight ahead. To get to the compact temple courtyard, you’ll have to pass under this pavilion; but before you do, have a look to your right at the ancient, and uniquely designed, pagoda.

Having passed through the pavilion, you’ll emerge on the other side to see a handful of halls. The one that lies straight ahead is the smaller sized main hall. The exterior walls are adorned with a beautiful set of Palsang-do murals. As for inside this hall, the statue inside is truly the highlight of the entire temple. Housed inside this hall is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty, around 850 to 900 A.D. Birojana-bul is seated and he holds his hand in the Diamond Fist mudra. He has a serene looking smile, and he’s seated on a lotus pedestal. This statue is Treasure #436. The rest of the main hall is filled with a guardian murals and an all white-clad mural of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. The exterior walls are painted with Judgment murals and an intricate Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural. As for the contents of this hall, a golden statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) is backed by a fiery nimbus. On both sides, Jijang-bosal is joined on the altar by a painting of all ten Kings of the Underworld. And between the Myeongbu-jeon and the main hall is a bell pavilion with herbs and flowers growing in a make-shift garden.

The final two halls at Bulgoksa Temple lie to the left of the main hall. The longer of the two is the Gwaneeum-jeon with an extremely elaborate 1,000 armed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside. Joining this statue inside the hall are a pair of guardian murals; also, they were sprucing up the hall by painting the exterior walls. Tucked in between the main hall and the Gwaneeum-jeon is the Samseong-gak. One of the exterior walls is adorned with a realistic orange mural of a tiger just as you’re about to enter this shaman hall. Inside this hall are three rather traditional paintings of the three most popular deities in Korean shamanism: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Changwon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take bus #801. After five stops, you’ll need to get off at the 사파 동성 아파트 (가음정공원) Stop. Walk along the road towards the south and the Bulgoksa Temple intersection for about 5 minutes. At the intersection, turn right and walk for another 5 minutes. Eventually, you’ll see the temple’s parking lot to your right.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. The two highlights of this temple that really stand out are the Iljumun Gate that’s adorned with elaborate wooden carvings and the historic stone statue of Birojana-bul. Besides these two highlights, the elaborate golden statues of Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal stand out. And with its central location in Changwon, it can make for a pretty relaxing, and beautiful break from the daily grind.


The colourful, yet highly original, Iljumun Gate at Bulgoksa Temple.


The grinning tiger to the left on the Iljumun Gate.


And the blue dragon just to the tiger’s right.


A good look at the compact Boje-ru Pavilion.


To its right is this uniquely designed pagoda that looks like it might have once been a stupa.


The Myeongbu-jeon hall to the right of the main hall.


The Dragon Ship of Wisdom that’s painted on its exterior wall.


Inside is this fiery statue of Jijang-bosal.


Joining Jijang-bosal are wall-to-wall paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


Between the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon is the diminutive bell pavilion.


The golden latticework of the main hall.


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


The ancient statue of Birojana-bul that sits inside the main hall.


To the left of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon and the smaller sized Samseong-gak.


The painting of the life-like tiger on the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak  just as you are about to enter it.


 The extremely elaborate and ornate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the Gwaneeum-jeon.


Seosan Hyujeong – 서산 휴정 (1520-1604)


The Warrior Monk, Seosan Hyujeong

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the sixth installment about prominent monks in Korean Buddhism. This week, I thought I would talk about another warrior monk: Seosan Hyujeong. Like his student, Samyeong-daesa, Seosan would rise up against the invading Japanese to defend the Korean peninsula.

Seosan was a great Seon master during the early to mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Seosan is remembered both as a national hero, as well as one of the most important figures in Korean Buddhist history.

Seosan’s Buddhist name was Cheongheo Hyujeong; however, he’s most commonly known by the respectful title of Seosan-daesa. During his lifetime, he taught hundreds of students that became prominent Seon masters in their own right. At the age of 32, Seosan scored the highest score in his class exam on monastic studies. Afterwards, he ascended to the highest position in Seon Buddhism, as well as the master arbitrator between Seon (meditative) and Gyo (doctrinal) schools of Buddhism. Eventually, he resigned his position after already assuming the position reluctantly in the first place. He didn’t strictly want to be an administrator. So he retreated to Mt. Geumgangsan, where he continued to practice and teach monks.

In 1592, and at the age of 72, the Japanese invaded the Korean peninsula. At this time, and two hundred years prior, Korean Buddhism had been dealt with contemptuously by Joseon Confucians. During this time in Korean history, monks had been driven out of cities and temples were closed. In fact, sacred Buddhist artwork was confiscated by Korean court officials. However, and in spite of all this, Seosan believed Korean Buddhism should come to the defence of the nation. In doing this, he cited the idea of doryang (the sacred practice of awakening), where people suffering needed to be saved through compassion; and for Seosan, there was no greater show of this than to come to the aid of the nation.

Even though he was 72 years old, he took the battlefield with parts of the Korean militias, as well as troops from Ming China (1368-1644). Through his efforts, he was successful in recapturing Pyeongyang. In greater support, Seosan asked all of his disciples to come to Korea’s aid. One of these monks was the famed Samyeong-daesa, who fought successfully in the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. As a result of their collective actions, the nation-protecting tradition of Korean Buddhism helped to partially re-legitimize the religion in officials’ minds.

In addition to his militaristic efforts to save his nation, Seosan was also a great meditation master. He helped to consolidate the forms of Gyo and Seon Buddhism, which are used in unison most commonly to the present day. Sadly, Seosan-daesa passed away at the age of 84 in 1604.


Another image of the elderly warrior monk, Seosan