Colonial Korea: Beopjusa Temple – 법주사 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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National Treasure #55, the Palsang-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple in 1932.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beopjusa Temple, which means “The Place Where the Dharma Resides Temple,” in English, is located in Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do. The temple was first established in 553 A.D. by the monk Uisin. The reason that Beopjusa Temple has its name is that Uisin brought back a number of Indian sutras from his travels to be housed at the temple.

During the Goryeo Dynasty, which lasted from 918 to 1392, Beopjusa Temple housed as many as 3,000 monks at its height. In fact, at one point in its history, in the 1100s, 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying Uicheon, a national priest. As a result of a lack of support for Buddhism during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Beopjusa Temple shrank in size and influence. And during the Imjin War (1592-98), Beopjusa Temple suffered extensive damage. Fortunately, Beopjusa Temple was restored to its former glory in 1624. It’s also at this time that the famed Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda was rebuilt.

More recently, and in the 1960s, Beopjusa Temple underwent extensive renovation and repairs. Then, in 1988, the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), which stands at an impressive thirty-three metres in height, was erected to replace the concrete one that had previously taken up residence at Beopjusa Temple.

In total, Beopjusa Temple houses three National Treasures and an additional twelve Treasures.

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A mountainside view of Beopjusa Temple in 1932.

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The flag pole supports from 1916.

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A stone artifact from 1916 called the Seokryeon-ji.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate in 1932.

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A closer look at the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The stone lantern out in front of the Cheonwangmun Gate in 1916.

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The amazing Palsang-jeon pagoda in 1932.

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A closer look at the Palsang-jeon pagoda.

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And one more look at the Palsang-jeon pagoda.

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The Twin Lion Stone Lantern out in front of the main hall from 1916.

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Another look at the Twin Lion Stone Lantern with a monk to the right.

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The massive Daeung-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple in 1932.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And a look at the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate in 2011.

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The Palsang-jeon pagoda in 2015.

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The Twin Lion Stone Lantern in 2015.

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A look up at the main hall in 2015.

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The view from the Daeung-jeon main hall in 2015.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar in 2011.

Sujeongam Hermitage – 수정암 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage near Beopjusa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the south-west of the famed Beopjusa Temple is the affiliated Sujeongam Hermitage. And while the courtyard is under an extensive renovation, there are still a couple buildings for a visitor to explore in and around the grounds.

Walking down a beautiful pathway that skirts a neighbouring stream, and past a budo field, you’ll finally come to the compact hermitage grounds. Welcoming you at the gate are a pair of protective Vajra warriors.

Directly to your right, and a bit past the monks’ dorms, is the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage. Beautifully wrapped around the exterior walls to the main hall are a collection of rustic Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the right of this triad is a golden stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). While the date of this statue is unknown, it’s historic in nature. This statue is joined on the right wall by a red-motif guardian mural.

But the real highlight to this hermitage lies just to the left of the main altar. There are a collection of older looking shaman murals. Of the set of three, which also includes a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars), it’s the mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that is the most original of the lot. With a folk-style tiger to his left, Sanshin can be seen holding tight to one of his dongja (an attendant). The painting almost appears as though Sanshin is proudly holding tight to a son of his. A definite first for me!

The other hall to the right of the Geukrak-jeon that visitors can explore is the tiny Josa-jeon Hall. Like sometimes happens at other hermitages, it appears as though the Josa-jeon Hall at Sujeongam Hermitage also acts as a storage hall, as well. However, there are three murals resting on the main altar inside this hall dedicated to prominent monks that once called Sujeongam Hermitage home.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sujeongam Hermitage, you’ll first need to take a bus to Boeun city. From the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to take a direct bus to Mt. Songnisan. This bus runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. When you arrive at Songnisan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes towards Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan Ticket Office. However, a couple minutes shy of Beopjusa Temple, you’ll need to hang a left where Sujeongam Hermitage resides.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Beautifully located in Songnisan National Park, and buttressed up against the amazing Beopjusa Temple, is Sujeongam Hermitage. With its collection of highly original shamanic paintings, as well as a historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside, there is more than enough reason to visit Sujeongam Hermitage while enjoying a day out at Beopjusa Temple.

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The path that leads to Sujeongam Hermitage.

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The Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage.

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One of the Palsang-do murals around the exterior walls of the main hall.

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A look inside the Josa-jeon Hall.

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The red guardian mural as you first step inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside the main hall.

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A look at the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The Dokseong mural to the left of the main altar.

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He’s joined by this elaborate mural dedicated to Chilseong.

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And the dongja holding Sanshin mural.

Beopjusa Temple – 법주사 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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The beautiful and massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul at Beopjusa Temple with the ancient and original Palsang-jeon Pagoda behind the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beopjusa Temple was another one of those temples that I’ve never been able to see because of distance and time. I know what you’re thinking, but you’ve lived in Korea for nearly five years. True. But of those five years I’ve gone to see a lot of other temples. This time, on this summer vacation, it was finally time to see the much famed Beopjusa Temple.

Beopjusa Temple (법주사) means “The Place Where Buddha’s Teachings Reside Temple.” The temple was founded in 553, and it was later rebuilt in 776. It’s situated on Mt. Songnisan. In its heyday, there were over 60 buildings at the temple and some 70 hermitages that surrounded it. At one point in the 1100’s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying national priest, Uicheon. Like most temples in the country at the time, the temple was utterly destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War of 1592. Fortunately for us,  Beopjusa Temple was rebuilt in 1624, and several of the buildings that presently reside at the temple date back to this year such as the five-tier wooden pagoda, Palsang-jeon. In the 1960’s, the temple underwent extensive repairs. And in 1988 the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) that stands at 33 metres in height replaced the twenty year old cement statue that resided at the temple.

You’ll approach the temple from a dirt path that straddles a meandering stream. As you walk, you’ll pass by the stately Iljumun Gate. As you continue to walk you’ll pass by a row of stupas raised on a grassy clearing. Finally, you’ll come to a clearing where you’ll see a monument that was dedicated to the monk Byeogam-daesa in 1664. Just past this monument is the Liberation Gate that houses four statues. This gate is extremely unique. I’ve only ever seen it at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. There are two offensively postured Vajra Devas that look like they’re ready to attack. To the right is Moonsu-bosal, The Bodhisattva of Wisdom, riding a blue tiger. And to the left is Bohyun-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Power, riding a white elephant. This gate is situated here as a reminder that by passing through the gate, one passes through the human world and into the Buddhist world where they will hopefully seek liberation. As you pass through this gate, the full view of the amazing Beopjupsa Temple reveals itself with the Cheonwangmun Gate first revealing itself in the foreground. Out in front, like two tall standing sentries, are a pair of pine trees. Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four tall, but not so menacing, Heavenly Kings. Unfortunately, all the statues in both the Liberation Gate and the Cheonwangmun Gate are protected by chicken-wire that interferes with any pictures that you might want to take of any or all of these statues.

Finally, passing through this third and final gate, you’ll get to see what you’ve probably travelled all this way to see: both the nearly 400 year wooden pagoda, and the 33 metre tall, and 150 ton, bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Straight ahead is the only original five-tier wooden pagoda in all of Korea: Palsang-jeon. It was rebuilt in 1624 after the Japanese burnt down the original one that resided at Beopjusa Temple during the Imjin War. The pagoda is supported by one massive wooden pole that runs up the centre of it. There are four supporting beams as well as posts and beams that keep the pagoda standing. At the top of the pagoda is a beautiful gold finial that adorns the top of the ancient pagoda. Inside Palsang-jeon, as the name indicates, there are eight murals showing the life of Seokgamoni-bul. These murals are known as Palsang-do. Also inside the pagoda are 1,000 white miniature Buddha’s and four larger golden Buddha statues that sit at the four directional corners of the pagoda.

To the left of Palsang-jeon is the massive 33 metre tall bronze statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This bronze statue is supposedly the largest free-standing Buddha statue in all of Asia, and it truly is remarkable. It replaced a cement statue in 1988. This Mireuk-bul statue is dedicated to the unification of Korea and peace throughout the world. This seems appropriate as the first figure that sat on the altar of the main hall in 776 was dedicated to the unification of the Korean Peninsula under Silla reign. Remarkably, the inside of the bronze statue is hollow, and there are 108 steps that lead the way up to the head of Mireuk-bul.  Interestingly, you can go beneath the bronze statue to an underground prayer hall. Underneath, there are numerous gold statues dedicated to the dead as represented by miniature statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with a white cloth uniquely drawn over his face.

In the temple courtyard there are a few interesting pieces of stone artwork. The most interesting is directly behind Palsang-jeon pagoda. The Twin Lion Lantern dates back to 720, and it is only one of a handful with such an original design. One of the lions has his mouth wide open, as the two stand on a lotus bud. In front of this lantern is another directly in front of the main hall, Daeungbo-jeon. This lantern is adorned with beautiful devas on the upper portion of the lantern. The main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, was originally built in 553, but like the rest of the temple, it was burnt down during the Imjin War; but just like the Palsang-jeon pagoda, it was rebuilt in 1624. The main hall is a giant double-roofed building, and it’s the third largest historical temple hall in all of Korea. The main altar piece has a massive Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) statue in the centre of the triad, and to the right is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), and to the left is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The interior is painted with fading decorative designs and a beautifully intricate guardian painting that is equal to the size of the main hall. The exterior of the main hall is designed simply with floral patterns on the second tier of the hall.

There are an assortment of some twenty halls at Beopjusa Temple. Some of the more impressive halls are the Wontongbo-jeon that is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The seated gilt wooden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal is beautifully designed. Next to this hall is Josa-gak that is dedicated to some of the more famous monks that resided at the temple through the years. Next to this hall is the unbelievably beautiful and eerie Myeongbu-jeon Hall that is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The exterior of the hall is painted with grotesque paintings of those being judged in hell. They are amongst some of the best throughout all of Korea. And the interior of the hall has a beautiful statue depicting Jijang-bosal with 10 large seated Kings of the Underworld on either side of him. Finally, behind the Myeongbu-jeon hall is the Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three Shaman gods. All three, Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse) are all beautifully depicted in their murals. And the outside of this hall houses some highly unique paintings of all three of the gods.

Admission to the temple is a rather hefty 4,000 won, even though the temple’s official website still says 3,000 won. Added to this is the 4,000 won parking fee for your car (if you drive).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Beopjusa Temple, it’s a bit out of the way. You first have to take a bus to Boeun city. From the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to take a direct bus to Mt.Songnisan. This bus runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. When you arrive at Songnisan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes to the Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan Ticket Office.

To learn more about Beopjusa Temple, check out here.

View 법주사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  9.5/10. The reason that Beopjusa Temple doesn’t rate as highly as some others, is much like Buseoksa Temple, it’s a bit of a chore to get to and there isn’t all that much besides the temple to visit. However, there is plenty to see at the temple like the beautiful and historic Palsang-jeon pagoda and Daeungbo-jeon main hall. If that isn’t enough for you there is also the massive 33 metre tall bronze statue of Mireuk-bul. There are also the amazingly illustrated and artistically designed halls for Jijang-bosal, the three Shaman gods, and Gwanseeum-bosal. Finally, there are the uniquely designed and anciently crafted lanterns at the temple. For all these reasons, it’s well worth the effort to get to Beopjusa Temple either for a day trip or a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

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The Iljumun Gate at Beopjusa Temple.
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The highly unique, and rare to find, Liberation Gate at the temple.
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Inside the Liberation Gate is this statue of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) riding his white elephant.
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A look through the Liberation Gate at the Cheongwangmun Gate that houses the Four Heavenly Kings. And behind that is the ancient and beautiful Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.
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A better look at the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate with the golden finial of Palsang-jeon poking out above the gate.
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One of the Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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Finally, Palsang-jeon Hall, that is situated in the centre of the temple courtyard.
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A look inside Palsang-jeon Hall. Inside there are eight murals depicting Seokgamoni-bul’s (The Historical Buddha) life. There are two paintings that are adorning each of the four directions. There are also 1,000 of the tiny white Buddha statues surrounding the four altar’s Buddhas.
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Another look up at the wooden pagoda that dates back to 1624.
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A look at the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) in the background with another look of the Palsang-jeon Hall in the foreground.
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The 33 metre tall bronze statue of Mireuk-bul. It’s the largest standing statue in all of Korea.
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The entrance that leads under the massive statue of Mireuk-bul.
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A look at Wontongbo-jeon Hall dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion: Gwanseeum-bosal.
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A look inside the Wontongbo-jeon Hall at the majestic looking Gwanseeum-bosal.
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A look at the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at the temple. It has some of the more disturbing paintings of the pains and punishments in hell in all of Korea.
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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Just one of the gruesome paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Next to the main hall is the Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three Shaman gods: Chilseong, San shin, and Naban Jonja.
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A look at just one of the paintings that adorns the altar of the Samseong-gak Hall. This one depicts Dokseong (The Recluse).
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A sideways look at Daeungbo-jeon, which is the two storied main hall at Beopjusa Temple.
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A look inside the main hall at the centre piece that adorns the altar. The massive Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) sits at the centre of the altar between Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).
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The equally massive guardian painting that compliments the equally large size of the triad of Buddhas on the altar inside the main hall.
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Another unique feature of the temple is this lion based lantern that dates back to 720 A.D.
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And one last look up at the Mireuk-bul bronze statue with steps to Palsang-jeon pagoda to the right.