Colonial Korea: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

First built in 802 A.D., Haeinsa Temple has grown throughout the centuries both in size and significance. The name of the temple means “Temple of the Ocean Mudra Temple,” in English; and alongside Tongdosa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple, they comprise the three jewel temples. Of the three, Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma teachings of the three jewels (삼보사찰, in Korean).

The temple is located in Mt. Gayasan National Park just outside Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Both Suneung and Ijeong, two Buddhist monks, helped establish the temple. After curing King Aejang’s wife of a serious illness, King Aejang of Silla (r. 800 A.D. to 809 A.D.) ordered the construction of Haeinsa Temple as a show of appreciation. Another story written by Choe Chiwon in 900 A.D. states that the temple gained the support of the queen after she had converted to Buddhism. Either way, and through the financial support of the king and queen, the famed Haeinsa Temple was built.

The temple has grown numerous times throughout the years. The very first of these efforts started during the 10th century. Haeinsa Temple’s growth was to continue in 1488, 1622, and 1644. In 1817, Haeinsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt the following year; in total, Haeinsa Temple has been devastated by fire seven times in total over the course of its history.

Haeinsa Temple’s claim to fame is the Tripitaka Koreana. The Tripitaka Koreana was first housed at the temple in 1398. In total, the Tripitaka Koreana are comprised of some 81,258 wooden blocks that have the various Buddhist teachings written on them. The Tripitaka Koreana are housed in the Janggyeong-panjeon library to the rear of the temple grounds at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, the first set of wooden blocks were completely destroyed by the invading Mongols. It would take from 1236 to 1251, under the royal orders of King Gojong (r. 1213 to 1259), to right this historic wrong.

In September of 1951, during the Korean War that lasted from 1950-53, a crisis was averted at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was nearly destroyed after the Battle of Incheon. At this stage in the war, the allied forces were turning the war around; however, some North Korean forces refused to retreat. Roughly a thousand North Korean soldiers remained in and around the Haeinsa Temple grounds as guerrilla fighters. The allied forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa Temple using four bombers to clear the area of enemy forces. Fortunately for Korea, and Haeinsa Temple in particular, the leading pilot of the bomber planes, Kim Young, disobeyed the order. In time, the North Korean forces retreated from the Haeinsa Temple perimeter and the temple was saved from bombing.

In total, Haeinsa Temple houses three national treasures and an additional thirteen treasures. Not surprisingly, all three of the national treasures are linked to the Tripitaka Koreana. And in 1995, Haeinsa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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The intricate design of the Iljumun Gate.

Haeinsa - Iljumun Pagoda - Samjung Seoktap

A three tier pagoda next to the Iljumun Gate in 1916.

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The Gugwang Pavilion at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The Seokjo in 1917 out in front of the Gugwang Pavilion.

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The Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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Some of the amazing woodwork adorning the ancient hall.

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A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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And another look around the main hall.

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The ancient three tier pagoda that stands out in front of the main hall at Haeinsa Temple in 1916.

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The stone lantern, or seokdeung, out in front of the main hall in 1916.

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The Myeongbu-jeon and Josa-jeon halls at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The amazing Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. The picture dates back to 1933.

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A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.


The Iljumun Gate in 2015


The Gugwang Pavilion in the fall of 2015


The restored Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall.


A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 2013.


A modern look at the Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana.


A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.

Updated: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


 The AmazingTripitaka Koreana  at Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Haeinsa Temple is one of Three Treasure Temples in Korea alongside Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Haeinsa Temple represents the doctrinal aspect of Korean Buddhism. Haeinsa Temple was first founded in 802 by monks Suneung and Ijeong after their return from China. Legend states that the two monks healed King Aejang’s wife of her illness. As a show of gratitude, the king ordered the construction of the temple with royal funds. In total, the temple has been expanded numerous times including in the 10th century, 1488, 1622, and 1644. Unfortunately, the temple was burned to the ground in 1817 and was rebuilt a year later. In total, the temple has suffered from seven disastrous fires. But rather remarkably, the Tripitaka Koreana, for which the temple is best known, and all of its 81,258 wooden blocks, have been spared such destruction ever since their housing at Haeinsa Temple in 1398. Haeinsa Temple, and its Tripitaka Koreana and Janggyeong-panjeon, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The walk up to the temple grounds, alongside the Gaya River, is meditatively beautiful in its scenic simplicity. You’ll pass by four hermitages directly associated with Haeinsa Temple as you make your way towards the outskirts of the temple. The first thing to greet you at the temple is the stoic two-pillared Iljumun Gate. Up a column of towering trees, you’ll next be met by the Cheonwangmun Gate that houses four unique paintings dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.

After exiting out of this gate, you’ll see a steep set of stairs that pass through the Haetalmun Gate; however, don’t pass by the former Sanshin-gak before entering the temple’s lower courtyard. With Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) being exiled from the temple grounds sometime during the 90’s, this hall has been converted to a hall dedicated to a Guksa-dang, which houses a shaman spirit that protects the temple’s grounds from any unwanted or evil spirits.

Finally standing in the centre of the lower courtyard, you’ll see the massive Gugwangru Pavilion straight ahead that shields the upper courtyard from sight. To the far right is the understated Jong-gak, or bell pavilion, at Songgwangsa Temple.

After either going to the left or the right of the Gugwangru Pavilion, you’ll finally be in the midst of the upper courtyard with the Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library, framing the main hall. The Daejeokgwang-jeon, or main hall, is large in size and sports some beautiful Palsang-do murals around its exterior walls. In addition to these eight paintings, and because the main hall is so large in size, there are numerous other Buddhist motif paintings around the halls exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting squarely in the centre of the main hall, is a large, golden statue dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).

To the right of the main hall is the rather large Gwaneum-jeon hall, while to the left, just below the main hall, are a collection of monks’ dorms. It’s only on the upper tier, and next to the main hall, that you’ll find three more temple shrine halls. The first to the far right is the diminutive Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Myeongbu-jeon is the rather compact Nahan-jeon. To the immediate left is the newly constructed Daebiro-jeon, which houses three more incarnations of Birojana-bul. Perhaps the most peculiar shrine hall at the temple is the hexagonal-shaped Dokseong-gak that houses Dokseong, The Lonely Saint.

Perched above all other structures at Haeinsa Temple is Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, they were destroyed by the invading Mongols. It was later, from 1236 to 1251, and under the orders of King Gojong (r. 1213-1259), that the set of some 81,258 blocks were completed. It was only in 1398 that the set came to be housed at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana is Korean National Treasure #32, while the Janggyeong-panjeon is designated National Treasure #52. Unfortunately, any photography up in the Janggyeong-panjeon area, as well as the Tripitaka Koreana, is strictly prohibited.

Admission to Haeinsa Temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu Seobu Bus Terminal, you can take an express bus to Haeinsa Temple. This bus leaves every 40 minutes and the ride should last about an hour and a half.

OVERALL RATING:  9.5/10. Just for housing the Tripitaka Koreana, the temple rates a 9.5 out of 10. Additionally, Haeinsa Temple has a rich history and a lot of Korean cultural significance. It also houses a gorgeous main hall. There are numerous things to see at this ancient temple like the shrine halls, pagodas, and ancient relics. However, Haeinsa Temple is a bit of a chore to get to, and for that reason it rates slightly lower than a perfect score. With all that being said, Haeinsa Temple is well worth the effort to the Korean countryside.

The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
 The path that leads up to the Cheonwangmun Gate.
A closer look at the Cheonwangmun Gate.
Just one of the paintings dedicated to a Heavenly King.
The painting inside the Guksa-dang dedicated to the protective shaman spirit.
The Haetalmun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
The Gugwangru Pavilion in the lower temple courtyard.
The expansive main hall in the upper courtyard at Haeinsa Temple.
A look inside the well-populated main hall at Haeinsa Temple.
The Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.
A look inside the low-ceilinged Myeongbu-jeon.
A look inside the Nahan-jeon.
The Daebiro-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
Joined by the hexagonal Dokseong-gak.
A look up towards the amazing Janggyeong-panjeon library that houses the Tripitaka Koreana.
 Inside the Janggyeong-panjeon.
The library is well organized and well worth the long trip to visit them.
UNESCO had it right when designating Haeinsa Temple a World Heritage Site!