Now and Then: Magoksa Temple

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Magoksa Temple in the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Magoksa Temple, in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, is thought to have first been established either in 640 or 642 by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple relates to Jajang-yulsa, as well. Legend has it that when Jajang first established the temple on the eastern slopes of Mt. Taehwasan he called it “magok,” which means “Flax Valley,” in English. Jajang believed that if several good monks came from the neighbouring area, they could “cause the rapid growth of Buddhism” just like the rapid growth of flax that grew in the area. Another story about the creation of the temple relates that the name of the temple was created when a believer looked at the temple and said that it looked like a flax stack in a flax field. This was said as the famous monk Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. Either way, Magoksa Temple, in English, means “Flax Valley Temple.”

The temple was later reconstructed by the monk Bojo-guksa (or Jinul) in 1172. In fact, manuscripts found at Magoksa Temple were made with liquid gold and silver that date back to the late Goryeo period (918-1392).

Throughout the years, the temple was used as a place for refuge starting as far back as the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). And remarkably, the temple was spared any damage that other temples suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). In fact, the temple didn’t suffer any damage in wartime from 1392 to 1910. Even in the 20th century, Magoksa Temple was used as a hiding place for the Korean independence leader, Kim Gu.

In more recent years, Magoksa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay program that provides their program entirely in English. In addition to its natural beauty and the Taeguk-shaped Taegeuk-cheon stream that meanderings around and through the temple grounds, Magoksa Temple also houses five Treasures. Of these five treasures, one that you should definitely keep an eye out for is Treasure #799. The five-story Stone Pagoda is topped by a beautiful bronze finial, and it’s Tibetan inspired. The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda is only one of three in the entire world.

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The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda with both the Daegwangbo-jeon Hall in the foreground and the Daeungbo-jeon Hall in the background.

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A more recent picture of part of the Taeguk-shaped stream that flows through Magoksa Temple.

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As well as a more recent picture of the temple grounds.

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