A beautiful look through the gorgeous landscaping at Hongbeopsa Temple towards the giant golden Amita-bul statue on top of the main hall.
Hello Again Everyone!!
I had seen the golden head of a giant Buddha a few times while travelling around the northern parts of Busan. And it wasn’t until I looked at a temple blog written by a Korean that I realized that it was the ultra-modern Hongbeopsa Temple.
When you first arrive at Hongbeopsa Temple (홍법사), after circumnavigating the perimetre of the temple, you find yourself in a large parking lot. And while the temple wasn’t busy on this cloudy morning, it speaks to just how busy Hongbeopsa Temple can get. As you pass through the lion-based entrance markers, the one on the left is written in Chinese characters, while the one on the right is written in Korean, you’ll notice the ever-present giant golden statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) staring out over the temple grounds from the main hall. The first set of statues you’ll encounter are a triad of childlike stone statues that embody the idea of “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.” This is a theme that will come up later. A little further along is another beautiful statue that depicts Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And at her feet is a stone statue of a helper.
As you near the modern-looking main hall, which could also be mistaken for a large sized auditorium, you’ll notice a beautifully maintained lawn and temple grounds to your right. Really, it is one of the best landscaped grounds in all of Korea. To the left is the main hall itself. In front of a large flight of stairs that leads up to the main hall is a beautiful bronze incense burner with eight decorative lions holding up the roof of the incense burner. This incense burner runs parallel with a row of perfectly placed bridges and lotus ponds. And just before you make your way up the stairs to the main hall, there’s a serenely standing golden statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) with a handful of kids at his feet. What sets this statue apart is the waterfall that falls in front of the golden statue’s face.
As you ascend the flight of stairs that leads up to the ultra-modern main hall, you’ll probably be wondering where you can gain access to this Buddhist hall. It was a question I was asking myself as I stared at the circular structure. If you make your way to the right, alongside the main hall, you’ll eventually arrive at an entrance almost completely at the rear of the main hall. To the right of the elevator that brings you all the way up to the fifth floor to where the massive statue of Amita-bul sits, is the entrance for the main hall. After taking off your shoes, you can grab either a Buddhist prayer book or a set of prayer beads. After entering into the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a low ceiling with beautiful decorative paintings as well as male Biseon. To your immediate right you’ll notice one of the more original statues you’ll ever see at a temple. The statue is a beautiful two metre long replica of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom with both a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) at the back of the boat with recently deceased patrons on board.
If you completely turn 180 degrees from where you stand as you look at the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, you’ll be greeted by a massive prayer section inside the main hall. Sitting on the expansive main altar, and well lit from behind, are three paper lanterns that once more depict the “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” theme of the statues in the courtyard. In front of these large size paper lanterns are three smaller sized golden statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He’s flanked by Jijang-bosal to the left and Gwanseeum-bosal to the right. Interestingly, and slightly to the right of the main triad, is a row of seven statues that depict Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) in the centre. To the right of the main altar is a pastoral painting of Seokgamoni-bul praying with his disciples. Complimenting this painting, and on the far left side of the main altar, is a painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.
Once you’ve viewed all that you need to see inside the main hall, you can exit from where you first entered. To the left of the elevator is a set of stairs. These stairs will bring you to the top of the main hall. At the top, you’ll get an amazing view of both the serene face of Amita-bul as well as the beautiful view of the temple, Busan to the south, and the city of Yangsan to the north. After climbing the final set of stairs, you’ll get an even better view of all you had seen from the previous floor. Amazingly, you can enter inside the massive Amita-bul statue. And sitting on the altar is a gorgeous crystal palace with what looks to be a historical sari front and centre.
After descending from the fifth floor, you can make your way over to the left side of the temple courtyard. To the left, again, are some beautifully maintained grounds with both cherry blossom and magnolia trees well represented. In front of the hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Recluse), is a large sized coy pond with a statue of a large sized and jovial Dharma. Inside of the shaman shrine hall are two newly painted, and beautifully rendered murals of Dokseong in the centre flanked by San shin to the left. Interestingly, Chilseong is noticeably absent in this shaman shrine hall.
HOW TO GET THERE: There is a Hongbeopsa Temple shuttle bus that leaves from Nopo-dong Subway Station, #134 in Busan. This bus leaves every 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. However, there has to be at least five people for the bus to leave the station. And to return back to Nopo-dong Subway Station, the bus leaves Hongbeopsa Temple at 15 and 45 minutes on the hour, every hour. As for lunch, buses do not leave between 11:00 to 12:15.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Without a doubt, the highlight of this temple is the massive golden statue of Amita-bul that sits on top of the modern looking main hall. Both the artistic rendering of this Buddha of the Western Paradise, as well as the inner contents of the golden Buddha easily makes it a must see. In addition, the beautiful paper lanterns that sit on the main altar, as well as the wooden statue of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, and the beautifully cared for grounds of the temple make Hongbeopsa Temple a must see if you’re in the northern part of Busan.