Colonial Korea: Beomeosa Temple – 범어사 (Busan)

Beomeosa

Beomeosa Temple in northern Busan as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beomeosa Temple, in northern Busan, is beautifully located on the eastern slopes of Mt. Geumjeongsan. First established in 678 A.D. by the famed Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.), Beomeosa Temple means “Fish from Heaven Temple,” in English. The name of the temple refers to the creation myth that surrounds the temple. And like so many temple myths in Korea, this one is an interesting one. According to legend, there is a water well with golden water inside it at the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan. Purportedly, golden fish rode a rainbow down from the heavens to inhabit this well. So it’s from its scenic location that Beomeosa Temple gets its name.

Beomeosa Temple became known as one of the ten great temples of the Hwaeom sect in Korea in history. Now, Beomeosa Temple belongs to the largest Buddhist order in Korea, the Jogye-jong Order.

At one point in its history, during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Beomeosa Temple had a thousand monks that called the temple home. Later, during the Imjin War that lasted from 1592 to 1598, Beomeosa Temple was one of the first prominent temples to be destroyed by the invading Japanese. A decade later, in 1602, Beomeosa Temple was reconstructed. Shortly after its reconstruction, fire would destroy Beomeosa Temple, once more. So in 1613, Beomeosa Temple was rebuilt. And it’s from this date that the now historic temple buildings date back to like the Daeung-jeon main hall and the Jogyemun Gate.

In more recent years, and after Japanese Colonization, Beomeosa Temple would grow to be one of the sixth largest temples in Korea. It’s also undergone numerous renovations throughout the years like the reconstruction of the Cheonwangmun Gate in 2012 after an arsonist destroyed it in 2010. Also, the Boje-ru pavilion was rebuilt at the end of 2014, replacing a conference hall that blocked the once historic view towards the Daeung-jeon main hall.

In total, Beomeosa Temple houses four Treasures.

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The entry Jogyemun Gate in 1933.

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The outside view of the Boje-ru pavilion in 1933.

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A look at its architecture.

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The Jong-ru bell pavilion in 1933.

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The historic Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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The three tier pagoda in the main temple courtyard in 1916.

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It’s joined by the Seokdeung lantern in 1916, as well.

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The craftsmanship of the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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A look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon.

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The Biro-jeon Hall in 1933. This hall houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).

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A look up at some of the architecture on the Biro-jeon Hall.

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The Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Housed inside is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

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The latticework and eaves on the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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The Myeongbu-jeon Hall in 1933.

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An up-close of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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Beomeosa Temple in 2011.

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The Jogyemun Gate during the spring of 2015.

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The view from the Boje-ru pavilion down on the Bulimun Gate and the Cheonwangmun Gate in 2015.

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The historic three tier pagoda and Gwaneum-jeon Hall in 2015.

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The Daeung-jeon Hall in 2005.

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And a look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall in 2005.

Beomeosa Temple – 범어사 (Busan)

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A view from the former second gate at Beomeosa Temple.

Hello Everyone!

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.


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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.

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The pathway that leads up to Beomeosa Temple.
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A view of the beautiful first gate at Beomeosa Temple.
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A better look at just how beautiful the former second gate use to be. Hopefully they’ll build it again soon.
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A view of the beautiful pagoda and temple museum at Beomeosa Temple.
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One of the four former residence of the second gate.
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They were some of the most spectacular guardians in all of Korea.
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A view of the third and final gate at Beomeosa Temple. All three gates are good examples of just how uniquely beautiful these gates can truly be.
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A picture from this spring with the magnolia trees in bloom, and the temple preparing for Buddha’s birthday.
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A view of the new looking courtyard at the temple. The old lecture hall is no longer there and there’s a new giftshop at the temple. The courtyard looks a lot more open.
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One of the brightly coloured interiors at the temple. This hall, Mireukjeon, is dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).
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A look inside the hall that houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light) with Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on either side of him.
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The three-tiered stone pagoda in the courtyard.
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A look at both Gwaneumjeon hall to the immediate right and Daeungjeon, the main hall, straight ahead.
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The beautiful interior of Gwaneum-jeon hall with the ornate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal at the centre of the hall.
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The rather small and unassuming main hall, Daeungjeon hall, at the temple.
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However, the interior, like most other halls at Beomeosa Temple, is decorative and colourful. Seokgamoni sits at the centre.
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Another look inside the gorgeous main hall.
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To the left of the main hall is Jijang-jeon. A senior monk was praying to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) early in the morning.
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The house size boulder at Beomeosa Temple, in the upper courtyard, with the three sectioned building to its left.
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A view out on the mountains surrounding the temple from the three sectioned hall.
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The uniquely designed three sectioned hall.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon hall which is dedicated to 16 of Seokgamoni-bul’s disciples.
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A look inside the ornately decorated Palsang Hall, which depicts the eight historic scenes from the Buddha’s life.
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And finally, it was time to go.