Yaksayore-jeon: The Hall of Yaksa-bul

Picture 167The entrance sign welcoming you to the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another one of the set of buildings dedicated to a Buddha at a Buddhist Temple in Korea is the Yaksayore-bul Hall (or in Korean, Yaksa-jeon). This hall is dedicated to Yaksayore-bul, who is the Medicine Buddha (or the Healing Buddha).

In Sanskrit, Yaksayore-bul’s name is Bhaisagya Buddha. Yaksayore-bul lives in the Eastern Paradise (Jeongyuri, in Korean), or the Pure Land of Lapis Lazuli Light. That’s why this hall is sometimes also referred to as the Hall of Lapis Lazuli Light, and this hall always faces the east. When he was in human form, Yaksayore-bul made 12 vows to free sentient beings from their ailments. Included in these vows were his promises to nourish people’s spiritual faculties and guide them towards liberation. Yaksayore-bul provides relief not only from disease, calamity, suffering, and misfortune, but he also treats people for their ignorance; which for Buddhists is the greatest illness afflicting people. That’s why, whenever a member of a family gets sick, the family will immediately go to the Yaksa-jeon. As a result of his past promise, and his ability to cure all that ail, Yaksayore-bul is sometimes called Daeui Wangbul: The Great Medicine King Buddha.

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A look at the Great Medicine King Buddha: Yaksayore-bul from Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

There are a few interesting notes concerning the worship of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) in Korean history. The belief in Yaksayore-bul goes back to the Three Kingdoms period, 57 B.C. to 668 A.D., in Korean history. The reason for the rise in the importance of the worship of this Buddha at this time is from the increase of victims from wars at the time on the peninsula. During the Silla period, Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D.) fell ill. She was only cured of her disease upon hearing Monk Milbon chanting the Yaksagyeong (Bhaisajyaguru sutra). The worship of Yaksayore-bul continued to grow during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 A.D.) as a result of unrest. During this period, seminaries for the worship and studying of Yaksayore-bul were opened and people increasingly relied upon the strength of the Buddha of Medicine to overcome their problems.

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A statue of Yaksayore-bul inside the main hall, and accompanied by Seokgamoni-bul (The HIstorical Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

There are several ways to identify Yaksayore-bul. Uniquely, it’s usually only Bodhisattvas, and not Buddhas, that are holding onto hand implements. The exception to this is Yaksayore-bul. In his hands, Yaksayore-bul can be holding either an alms bowl or a medicine bowl (the medicine bowl is an evolution of the alms bowl). However, if either Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) or Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) are holding an alms bowl, Yaksayore-bul will be holding a medicine bowl. This medicine bowl represents Yaksayore-bul’s role as the protector against sickness and suffering.

Depictions of Yaksayore-bul closely resemble those of Amita-bul. The way that you can tell the two apart is that Amita-bul is usually gold and Yaksayore-bul is often white. And even though Yaksayore-bul usually holds a medicine bowl in both of his hands, he sometimes only holds it in his left hand. When this is the case, Yaksayore-bul assumes the mudra of The Gesture of Fearlessness with his right hand. In this mudra, the right hand is generally raised to shoulder height with the arm being bent and the palm facing outwards with the fingers upright and joined. This mudra conveys the great mercy of Buddha, who relieves peoples’ hardships and delivers them from fear.

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The Medicine Buddha inside the cave at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan. In his hand he holds a medicine bowl and is dressed all in white.

In triads, Yaksayore-bul can appear in one of two formations. If Yaksayore-bul is the central figure in the triad, he will be accompanied by two flanking Bodhisattvas. On the left is the Sunlight Bodhisattva, Ilgwang-bosal, who is adorned with a red crown, and on the right is the Moonlight Bodhisattva, Wolgwang-bosal, who wears a white crown.

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The central Yaksayore-bul is flanked by Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva) and Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) at Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju.

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This is some of the amazing lattice work found outside the main hall at Cheonbulsa Temple. In the upper left is a better look at the white Wolgwang-bosal, and in the top right is the red Ilgwang-bosal.

Yaksayore-bul can also appear in a set of seven Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Again, he is the central figure in the set. Next to him on the right is Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), Dosa-bosal, and Wolgwang-bosal (The Moon Bodhisattva). And to Yaksayore-bul’s left is Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), Yaksa-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Medicine), and Ilgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Sun).

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The seven statues adorning the altar of the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple. In the centre is the uncrowned Yaksayore-bul joined by six other Bodhisattvas.

If he is a flanking figure, like in the main hall at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, he’ll be joined by the centralized Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and the equally flanking Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

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The altar pieces inside Magoksa Temple. From right to left is Yaksayore-bul, Seokgamoni-bul, and Amita-bul.

The interior of the Yaksayore-jeon hall can be rather plain in comparison to the other halls that surround it. The mural behind the statue of Yaksayore-bul has the Medicine Buddha at the centre with surrounding guardians and Bodhisattvas. There are floral patterns adorning the ceiling of the hall. Also, there can be figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas adorning the walls. Lastly, there can be figures of lions or dragons adorning the beams of the interior of the building.

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The solitary Yaksayore-bul inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple. Notice that he is surrounded by a painting of various guardians.

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 On one of the walls at the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple is a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as an older looking dragon painting across a beam.

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And one more look inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple. This time, you can see the beautiful floral patterns adorning the ceiling of the hall as well as the dragon paintings adorning the beams inside the hall.

Usually, the Yaksayore-bul hall is more compact than the other halls at a temple. And the exterior of the hall, much like the interior, is largely understated compared to the neighbouring halls at a temple. Like Girimsa Temple and Tongdosa Temple, the exterior of the hall has no adorning paintings; instead, the hall is left unpainted and simply wooden brown from time. There are exceptions to this, of course, like at Cheonbulsa Temple, where Saints, sages, and Biseon adorn the exterior of the hall.

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The unadorned Yaksa-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple with a beautiful pond out in front of it.

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And the far more modern looking Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple.

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And just one of the paintings adorning the exterior walls of the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple.

One more place that you’ll find Yaksayore-bul is around the water fountain of the temple. Because Yaksayore-bul is the Buddha of Medicine, a lot of temples like to think that their water has curative values. So you’ll usually see Yaksayore-bul’s name somewhere around the water hole of the temple. Uniquely, I also found Yaksayore-bul inside a cave at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan. Inside the natural cave, I found a white-figured Yaksayore-bul holding a medicine bowl in his left hand, and in his right he held a vial that acted as a fountain that poured forth the mountain water from Geumjeongsan Mountain. The taller Yaksayore-bul statue was surrounded by a pantheon of smaller white Buddhas with jagged boulders jutting out into the depths of the Yaksa-jeon cave. Like any other Buddha of Bodhisattva, you can find Yaksayore-bul, the Buddha of Medicine, in a number of places at a temple compound in Korea.

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The entrance to the cave Yaksa-jeon Hall at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

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And the white dressed Yaksayore-bul surrounded by a pantheon of miniature white Buddhas. You can really see the rocks jutting out inside the depths of the hall.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, keep your eyes peeled for this smaller sized temple hall. While not quite as popular as other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas like Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), or even Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Yaksayore-bul has a place amongst worshippers for Korean devotees. And these places, both caves and halls, can be equally beautiful as other halls at the temple.

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