Doseon-guksa – 도선 국사 (826-898)


Seon master, Doseon-guksa, who founded Korean feng-shui (pungsu-jiri).

Hello Again Everyone!!

In my second article on famous or prominent monks, I decided to write about the great master of meditation: Doseon-guksa. And while Doseon was a great master of meditation in Seon Buddhism, he is best remembered for his creation of Korean feng-shui (geomancy or pungsu-jiri in Korean).

Doseon was born in Yeongnam-gun, Jeollanam-do. It’s believed that his surname was Kim. And he was first introduced to Buddhism at an early age when he learned chants and basic sutras soon after he was able to speak. Doseon also spent a part of his childhood, around 835, at Munsuam Hermitage. He first officially started to study Buddhism at Dogapsa Temple in the city of his birth. He became an ordained monk at the age of 15 in 841. Doseon was then accepted to study at the famed Hwaeomsa Temple. Later, Doseon was to study under the great Master Hyecheol at Taeansa Temple.


Dogapsa Temple, the temple where Doseon-guksa first started to study Buddhism.

Doseon was like most monks of his day, he traveled to Tang China to further his Buddhist studies in 850. While there, he focused on esoteric Taoist and Buddhist teachings. He especially enjoyed the geomantic ideas of Master Ihsing (673-727).

Finally, when Doseon returned to the Silla Kingdom, he traveled extensively throughout the Korean peninsula. During his travels he focused on observing its geography. Doseon adapted Chinese feng-shui (or pungsu-jiri in Korea) to the Korean landscape. It focused on harmony with nature, while placing a great emphasis on the spiritual and material energies that flowed from the mountains and what effect this had on a community or the nation as a whole. So instead of simply focusing on the house, like Chinese feng-shui did, Doseon broadened it in the Korean context of pungsu-jiri.


Hwaeomsa Temple, where Doseon-guksa trained after becoming an ordained monk.

Doseon was later to found Okryongsa Temple (Jade Dragon Temple) in the city of Gwangyong. He did this after determining that the site had an auspicious geomantic location. He taught at this temple for the next 35 years of his life with the occasional trip outside its four walls to travel the Silla Kingdom.

During his lifetime, Doseon purportedly helped hundreds of monks and lay people achieve enlightenment. Later on in his life, Doseon was made Silla’s leading Master monk for his wisdom by King Heongang (r. 875-886). In total, around 70 temples and hermitage are claimed to have been founded by him. And most of them still thrive to this very day. In addition to these 70, there are dozens more that were re-constructed or renovated under his geomantic ideals.


The Dogapsa-doseon-sumi-bi at Dogapsa Temple dedicated to both Doseon-guksa and the monk Sumi.

Interestingly, a lot of Doseon’s fame comes from his influence as an advisor to King Taejo (r. 918-943), who founded the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). What’s interesting is that they never met. But as a result of Doseon’s geomantic principals, the capital of Seoul was selected for its auspicious location. So if you’ve ever wondered why Seoul became the capital, and it’s located where it is, you now know the answer to those questions.

Finally, in 898, Doseon died. He died while in the lotus position in front of his many disciples at Okryongsa Temple. After his death, a budo was erected in honour of this master; unfortunately, it no longer exists. The great influence of Doseon was justifiably rewarded, posthumously, when Goryeo King Sukjong promoted Doseon to the rank of Wangsa (Royal Preceptor). This was only furthered by King Injong, when he promoted Doseon to the highest possible rank that a monk can hold in Korea when he named him a National Master: a Guksa. Ever since, Doseon-guksa remains a prominent figure in Korean Buddhism.


The portrait of Doseon-guksa from Dogapsa Temple.


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