A view from the former second gate at Beomeosa Temple.
Beomeosa Temple – 범어사 (“Fish of the Buddhist Scripture Temple”) is the largest and most important temple in all of Busan. In all the time I’ve lived in Busan, or near, I think I’ve visited Beomeosa Temple five times. And next to Tongdosa Temple, Bulguksa Temple, and Seokguram Hermitage, this is the temple that I’ve visited most frequently while living in Korea. I’ve visited with my wife, Mom, friends, and co-workers, and each time I visit I find a new aspect of the temple that is amazing and beautiful. I first visited Beomeosa Temple in 2003 and continue to visit it regularly to the present day.
Beomeosa Temple was founded in 678 by the monk Master Uisang-josa. Most of its present buildings date from the 17th and 18th century, and they typify mid-Joseon Dynasty temple architecture. Presently, Beomeosa Temple is one of the six or so largest temples in all of Korea.
From the Beomeosa Temple parking lot, you’ll make your way up a broad staircase, past a patch of pines and bamboo trees, to the first of three temple gates. The first gate, the Iljumun Gate, is an open design. What makes this gate design unique from most in Korea is that it has four pillars, instead of the customary two, to support its weight. Beomeosa Temple has its fair share of flagpole supports and stupas as you make your way to the temple. The second gate previously housed four uniquely sculpted heavenly kings to protect the temple from evil spirits. Unfortunately, on December 16, 2010, a Korean that worked at Beomeosa Temple committed an act of arson and burnt this structure to the ground. Recently, this act of arson was corrected in the summer of 2012, and there is now a beautiful new Cheonwangmun Gate at Beomeosa. In fact, it’s a near exact replica, Heavenly Kings and all, of the former gate. The third gate displays paintings of nature on both the inside and outside of its surface. Unfortunately, you are unable to see the third gate as they are now constructing a new hall above this gate. Instead, you have to head right, near some monk dorms, up some stairs and turn left. This will bring you to the main courtyard, beside the newly furbished two storied bell pavilion. The gift shop is no longer below the bell pavilion, but instead, it’s been moved across the courtyard into a building all its own.
Beomeosa Temple seems to be under a lot of construction as of late. What is also gone from the temple is the Bojae-ru, the temple’s lecture hall. No longer does it obstruct the entrance of the temple’s courtyard from the three gates. This has opened up the temple’s courtyard. Occupying the courtyard is a Silla Dynasty stone lantern and ancient three-tier pagoda. Straight ahead, and up a small staircase adorned with mythical Haetae (controllers/consumers of fire), is the rather plain looking main hall: Daeung-jeon. This building was rebuilt in 1614 and houses altar pieces consisting of the Seokgamoni Buddha and two bodhisattvas. Up in the rafters of this building are numerous dragon heads and fairies dancing around. Buildings surrounding the main hall are a row of halls dedicated to both Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light). The interior of both of these buildings is amazingly colourful. To the right of the main hall, on the upper courtyard, is the Gwaneum-jeon hall dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the left of the main hall is an equally beautiful and ornate hall, Jijang-jeon, dedicated to the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife, Jijang-bosal. All these halls are wonderfully decorated both inside and out and exemplify the beauty of what Korean temple’s can be.
To the left of the main hall is the most unique building at Beomeosa Temple. It’s an older looking and faded building that is divided into three sections. On the far left is Palsang-jeon, which displays the eight major scenes of the Buddha’s life. The middle section, Dokseong-jeon, is dedicated to the Lonely Nahan. And the section to the right is the Nahan-jeon, which houses statues of the Buddha’s disciples. In total, there are a couple dozen buildings at Beomeosa Temple to visit. Additionally, there are eleven hermitages sprinkled throughout Geumjeongsan Mountains associated with Beomeosa Temple.
HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Beomeosa Temple in one of two ways. In both scenarios you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk a thirty minute hike up a winding road to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the Beomeosa Temple entrance.
Admission to the temple is free, which is a real steal for a temple of this size and magnitude.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. The only reason that Beomeosa Temple rates a little lower than the other important temples in Korea is that it doesn’t have the same historical significance and some other temples. However, the buildings themselves are both beautiful and ornate. One example of what I mean is that the main hall is a bit unassuming. But with that being said, Beomeosa Temple holds a lot of charm like the uniquely designed and built three sectioned building beside the main hall, the entrance gates at the temple, as well as the elaborate interiors to all of the halls. For a great day trip in Busan, and a good example of what a city temple can potentially be, I highly recommend this temple.