Now and Then: Woljeongsa Temple

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Woljeongsa Temple in 1929.

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Woljeongsa Temple was first constructed in 643 A.D. by the great monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple, in English, means “Moon Vitality Temple.”

According to the temple’s foundation myth, Jajang was praying on a mountain next to a pond. He was chanting before a stone statue of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) in an attempt to see the Bodhisattva. On the seventh day, Jajang had a vision where the Buddha gave him a four line poem in Sanskrit. The next day, Jajang was visited by a monk. The monk was surprised by Jajang’s appearance and commented that the monk looked both pale and troubled. Master Jajang explained that he had been given an unreadable poem by the Buddha that he simply couldn’t understand. The mysterious monk explained the four lines to Jajang and told him he needed to travel to Mt. Odaesan where he could find 10,000 Munsu-bosals. After seven more days of chanting and prayer, a dragon appeared to Jajang. The dragon told Jajang that the mysterious monk that he had formerly met was in fact Munsu-bosal. So the dragon implored Jajang to travel and build a temple to the Bodhisattva. So in 643 A.D., Jajang reached Mt. Odaesan. Unfortunately, when Jajang arrived, the mountains were covered in a thick fog. This prevented the monk from building a temple. Instead, Jajang built a thatched house while waiting for the fog to lift. This house, that he built over three days, would eventually become the site for the famed Woljeongsa Temple.

Throughout the years, Woljeongsa Temple has suffered through repeated destruction and reconstruction. The most recent of these events took place during the Korean War, when the Korean army burned down ten temple buildings because the temple had become a hiding place for rebel forces. More recently, these buildings have been restored. In total, Woljeongsa Temple houses two National Treasures and three Treasures. Of this collection, it’s National Treasure #48, the Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda of Woljeongsa Temple that stands out above the rest. The early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) pagoda, with a seated stone statue of a Bodhisattva out in front of it, is something to both marvel at and enjoy. The pagoda is also believed to house 37 sari (crystallized remains) of the Buddha. In addition to the temple’s beauty, it’s also scenically located in Odaesan National Park.

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The main hall and the famed Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda at Woljeongsa Temple.

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A closer look at National Treasure #48.

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Soldiers seen during Japanese colonial rule at Woljeongsa Temple.

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Japanese monks during colonial rule (1910-45).

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The temple after the destructive Korean War (1950-53).

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And Woljeongsa Temple today.

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A 2014 picture of the octagonal pagoda and main hall.

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Better days at the temple.

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