The Sermon on Vulture Peak Painting – Yeongsan Hoesang-do (영산 회상도)


The famous Yeongsan Heosang-do at Gimryongsa Temple that dates back to 1703.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The English name for the Yeongsan Hoesang-do is “The Sermon on Vulture Peak” painting. It is a highly symbolic painting that most people see at a Korean temple, but they simply don’t understand its meaning. So what does the Vulture Peak painting look like? And what is the meaning behind it?

During the Goryeo Period (918-1392), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) was the most popular Buddha throughout the Korean peninsula. However, during the early Joseon Dynasty, which started in 1392, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) became the most popular main altar Buddha. And this popularity has continued to the present day. The most common triad to be found on the main altar of the main hall at a Seon (Zen) Korean temple or hermitage are the sculptures of Seokgamoni-bul flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal. Behind this triad of statues, and on the wall, hangs the Vulture Peak painting.


The intricate Vulture Peak Painting inside the main hall at Naesosa Temple.

In the Vulture Peak painting, the central and dominating figure is Seokgamoni-bul. He’s seated on a lotus pedestal and his hands are forming the “Touching the Earth” mudra, where his right hand is touching the earth and his left hand still rests in his lap. In the painting, he’s flanked by both Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) who both wear large crowns. The painting, depending on how elaborate it is, will be filled with varying Bodhisattvas and Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) that back Seokgamoni-bul. Guardians also inhabit the painting like the Four Heavenly Kings (Sacheonwang) that are positioned in the bottom right and left corners.

The reason that the painting is so well populated and centred by Seokgamoni-bul is that it’s supposed to represent the Lotus Sutra, where the Buddha first preached it on Vulture Peak. This sutra; and therefore, the painting, is meant to represent the essential teachings of Seokgamoni-bul. Specifically, the Yeongsan Hoesang-do, or The Sermon on Vulture Peak painting, is meant to represent the opening chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which tells who participated in the assembly. This chapter also describes what happened before the lecture by the Buddha.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple or hermitage, have a close look inside the main hall at the main altar. If you look close enough, perhaps you’ll be able to correctly identify the highly elaborate and beautiful Yeongsan Hoesang-do, the Vulture Peak painting.


The Vulture Peak Painting from inside the main hall at Baekyangsa Temple.