The Dragon Ship of Wisdom

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Perhaps one of the most beautiful paintings of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom is at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

From time to time you’ll be able to see a beautiful dragon boat with passengers and two Bodhisattvas looking like the captains of the ship.  So what exactly does this painting symbolize in the world of Buddhism? And who exactly are the people and Bodhisattvas on the boat?

Well, the name of the dragon boat is called The Dragon Ship of Wisdom. And the purpose of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom is that the ship transports the followers of Buddhism across the Sea of Samsara. In Korean, Samsara is known as Yoonhwi (윤회). Yoonhwi refers to the concept of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The word literally means “continuous flowing.” And it’s across these waters that the Bodhisattvas bring the passengers (followers of Buddhism) to the “other shore” where the Pure Land lies.

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This rather large painting of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom has the Western Paradise on display to the left with Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light) floating on a cloud.  This beautiful painting can be seen at Haegwangsa Temple near Busan.

The Dragon Ship of Wisdom is shaped like a dragon (go figure!?!). It has a dragon’s head for a bow, and a dragon’s tail for the stern. Usually, the dragon shaped ship is painted blue with a handful of occupants. Besides the passengers on the ship, there are two Bodhisattva figures at both the bow and the stern of the ship. At the bow of the ship is the Guide King Bodhisattva. He is responsible for leading the souls of the dead to Sukhavati. The Sanskrit word, Sukhavati, literally translates as Land of Bliss. This Land of Bliss refers to the Western Paradise of Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). The other Bodhisattva on the ship is the Earth Stone Bodhisattva (or Earth Womb Buddha). She is devoted to saving all creatures in the Six Realms.

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The descriptive painting of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom crossing Yoonhwi. This one can be found at Pyochungsa Temple.

Usually, this mural can be found in one of two places inside the Korean temple grounds. It can either be found at the hall dedicated to Amita-bul or it can be found at the hall dedicated to the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife, Jijang-bosal.

One of the best examples of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom is on the backside of the Geungnak-jeon Hall located at Tongdosa Temple.  Even though it’s a bit faded, you can still see the beauty of this painting as you first enter the lower courtyard at the temple. The shrine hall, understandably, is dedicated to Amita-bul. Another great example can be found  at Unmunsa Temple, in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Uniquely, there is only the Guide King Bodhisattva at the front of the boat.  Other good examples of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom can be seen at Pyochungsa Temple, Haegwangsa Temple, and Buseoksa Temple.

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This Dragon Ship of Wisdom can be found at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Uniquely, this painting only has the Guide King Bodhisattva.

So the next time you see a dragon looking boat on the back side of a Korean Buddhist temple hall, you’ll know that it’s actually The Dragon Ship of Wisdom and that it’s busy transporting the souls of devotees across Yoonhwi to the Pure Land.

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One last look at a Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural. This one can be found at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do

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