The Founder’s Hall – Josa-jeon (조사전)


A look across at the Josa-jeon Hall at Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is yet another article on little known or seen things you might encounter at a Korean Buddhist temple. This time, I thought I would explain the Josa-jeon Hall at a temple. While you might have seen this hall before, it may not be all that clear as to what purpose it serves. So what exactly is this halls purpose and what does it look like? In English, the “Josa” means “patriarch” or “founder; while “jeon” means hall. So the best name, at least in English, for the Josa-jeon Hall is “The Founder’s Hall.”


The understated Josa-jeon Hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

The Josa-jeon Hall is smaller in size. It’s usually to the side of a temple complex. The exterior walls are either plainly painted or they have the Ox-Herding murals, the Shimu-do murals, adorning it. As for the interior, the hall enshrines formal portraits of that temple or the Buddhist school that the specific temple may focus on. It can also house portraits of great monks that either lived or taught at the temple, including major disciples. More specifically, it can also house monks who led in the reconstruction of the temple or in its revival. Typically, older temples have larger sized Josa-jeon Halls filled with these portraits. And they are far more prevalent at Seon school temples because this type of Korean Buddhism focuses on lineage.


Portraits of prominent monks at Miraesa Temple.

A lot of the hall’s meaning is wrapped around its name. But a lot of meaning can also be discovered in the portraits themselves. The portraits are usually paintings that are highly formal and created after the monk in the mural has died. The portraits can also be copies of copies, repainted through the centuries as a result of decay. In the portrait, the monk is dressed in full “gasa” (the monastic robe). They are usually seated on a wooden chair and holding a ritual instrument like a “bulja” (fly whisk), which denotes their office. Additionally, they can also be holding a “yeomju” (Buddhist rosary beads). In some modern portraits, photographs of the deceased monks may be used instead of a mural. And in some rare situations, a statue might be used instead of a painting or a picture.


The wall-to-wall murals found inside the Josa-jeon at Baegyangsa Temple.

Throughout the year, various ceremonies are performed at the Josa-jeon Hall. Brief chanting ceremonies are performed daily at the hall to show respect and veneration for past monks and masters. Larger ceremonies are held every year on days that are dedicated to a specific master, such as the day that they passed or the day they gained enlightenment. The reason that these ceremonies take place is so members of the seungga (Buddhist community) can show respect to former teachers from the temple.


The view of the Josa-jeon Hall at Miraesa Temple from a distance.

Some great examples of this type of hall can be found at Daeheungsa Temple, Miraesa Temple in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Baekyangsa Temple, Seonunsa Temple, Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple, and Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.