Daejeokgwang-jeon: The Hall of the Silence and Light

Unmunsa1The Great Light Hall at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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Certain halls at temples are dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). The hall that Birojana-bul occupies is called Daejeokgwang-jeon in Korean. The translation of this name into English is “The Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light.” The reason why this hall has such a name is that Bironjana-bul spreads the light of Buddhist Truth in every direction. He is also the Buddha that embodies the Wisdom of the Universal Law.

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To the right is the uniquely sculpted Birojana-bul at Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju. To his left is Amita-bul, the Buddha of the Western Paradise.

Usually in the Jogye Order of Buddhism (the largest sect in Korea), Seokgamoni-bul is the central figure. In this faith, Birojana-bul plays a secondary role to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). However, in the Hwaeom Order of Buddhism in Korea (or the Flower Garland School), Birojana-bul is the principal Buddha in the main hall. So depending on the religious order, Birojana-bul can either play a primary or secondary role.

Inside the Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light, Birojana-bul sits as the central figure on the altar. Usually, Seokgamoni-bul and Birojana-bul look similar, so the only way you can tell them apart is by their mudra. Birojana-bul can be depicted in several different postures. One of the more common mudras in Korea is “The Knowledge Fist.”  This pose consists of the right hand (“The Diamond Fist”) forming a tight fist with the thumb at the centre. The “Diamond Finger,” which consists of the left index finger being placed in the right hand. The purpose of this mudra is to dispel darkness. The symbolism of this mudra is that the index finger represents the world of sentient being, while the right surrounding hand represents the protection brought forth by the world of Buddhas.

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The solitary Birojana-bul, at Unmunsa Temple, displaying the mudra “The Diamond Fist” with his hands.

Other mudra poses that Birojana-bul can take is a variation of the hands. Birojana-bul can have both of his hands joined together, palms in. Also, his fingers can be crossed over each other with the thumbs fully erect. Yet another mudra is the right hand can fully encompass the left hand which is fully closed on its own. All these mudras represent the universal knowledge of the Buddha.

In the “Hall of the Ultimate Silence and Light,” the central figure is Birojana-bul. Accompanying Birojana-bul in the original triad in this hall were Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light) and Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). However, in Korean temples the triad consists of Birojana-bul in the centre, Seokgamoni-bul on one side, and Amita-bul is replaced by Locana. These represent the three bodies of the Buddha: Birojana-bul represents the transcendence of form and the realization of truth (Dharma-kaya); Locana is the Buddha-body that is the “reward body” for merits earned as a Bodhisattva (Sambhoga-kaya); and Seokgamoni-bul is the response that was needed to teach sentient beings (Nipmana-kaya). Thus these three bodies represent how the Buddha reveals himself in a variety of ways to people depending on their spiritual ability and capacity.

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The Buddha triad inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon hall at Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju. In the centre is Birojana-bul. To the left is Seokgamoni-bul, and to the right is Amita-bul.  This is a common triad inside this hall inside Korean temples.

If the hall is called the “Great Light Hall,” Birojana-bul is enshrined on the altar alone like at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. And even in other halls, it is common for Birojana-bul to be flanked by another pair of Bodhisattvas. This time, he can be in a triad with Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

So as you can see, the triad of altar statues that Birojana-bul forms with other Buddhas and Bodhisattavas is vast in Korean temples.

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A look inside the Daegwangmyeong-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple with a solitary Birojana-bul being surrounded by colourful Buddha, Bodhisattva and guardian paintings.

The interior of the Hall of Ultimate Silence and Light, excluding the aforementioned altar statues, is ornate and elaborate in its design. The canopy over the triad of altar pieces is normally placed behind the central Birojana-bul statue. The canopy itself is usually decorated with various designs such as dragons with pearls and cranes. Much like the Main Buddha Hall, the ceiling of this hall is decorated with lotuses. And the upper portions of the wall are decorated with Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints, and Biseon (Flying Angels).

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Birojana-bul at Beomeosa Temple. The hall is ornately designed with a sun behind Birojana-bul, who is also known as the Great Sun Buddha.

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The dragon emblem that rests above Birojana-bul at Okryeonam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

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 A wall of older looking paintings inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple.

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A look around the ceiling inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple with paintings of saints and a decorative dragon-head.

The exterior of the Hall of Ultimate Silence is equally ornate as the interior. The exterior can be decorated with various Biseon, dragons, and phoenixes. And the paintings that can be on this Hall are similar to the Main Buddha Hall. You can expect to see Palsang-do paintings (The Eight Scenes of the Buddhas Life), Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints, the Dharma, or various other scenes of monks at work, study, or play. The woodwork up near the eaves of the hall is usually intricately designed. And the wooden name tablet is usually written in Chinese characters and rests above the entrance to the hall.

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A decorative dragon-head with a trident in its mouth placed above the entrance of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

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 An exterior dharma painting at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The final scene in the Palsang-do paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Daejeokgwang-jeon at Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you’re not exactly sure which Buddha is being honoured in a temple hall, look at his mudra. If he’s clasping his hands, holding one finger in the fist of another, or having hands held palm to palm, you’ll know that the hall is honouring the Buddha of Cosmic Energy: Birojana-bul.

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The Hall of the Silence and Light found at Songgwangsa Temple.

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