Now and Then: Beopjusa Temple

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Beopjusa Temple in the early 20th century.

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Beopjusa Temple was first established in 553 A.D. by the monk Uisin. The name of the temple means “The Place Where the Dharma Resides Temple,” in English. The reason that the temple was named Beopjusa Temple is that Uisin brought back a number of Indian sutras from his travels that he wanted to house at the temple.

During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Beopjusa Temple housed as many as 3,000 monks. At one point in the 1100’s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying national priest, Uicheon. Beopjusa Temple remained an important part of Buddhism throughout Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); however, the temple shrank in size as state support for Buddhism nearly disappeared in Confucian led ideology at this point in Korean history. It’s believed that King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, retired to a spot near Beopjusa Temple after tiring from all of his sons’ fighting. Like most other temples in Korea, Beopjusa Temple suffered from extensive damage at the hands of the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). A majority of the buildings at the temple were restored in 1624, including the famed Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

The temple is beautifully located in Songnisan National Park in Boeun County, Chungcheongbuk-do. In the 1960s, the temple underwent extensive repairs and refurbishment. 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. Most recently, Beopjusa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay Program that’s conducted in English. In total, the temple houses three national treasures and twelve additional treasures. Of the three national treasures, the five-story wooden pagoda is National Treasure #55.

Beopjusa Iljumun

The Iljumun Gate at Beopjusa Temple.


The famous Palsang-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.


A farmer to the side of the temple.

beopjusa 1960

Beopjusa Temple during the 1960s.


Today, what the Iljumun Gate looks like.


The Beopjusa Temple courtyard.


With a closer look at the Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

Now and Then: The City of Gyeongju


Anapji, in Gyeongju, during the 1950s.

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The city of Gyeongju, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, has a long and storied past that is closely tied to the Silla Kingdom. From 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., for nearly a thousand years of history, Gyeongju was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom. Formerly, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol and Gyerim. It wasn’t until 935 A.D. that the town became known as Gyeongju. During the 992 years that the Silla Kingdom reigned, it was the longest period of rule by a single dynasty in Korean history. During this period in Korean history, the Silla Kingdom would rise from a small tribal nation to unify the entire Korean peninsula.

Dotted throughout the Gyeongju cityscape are some thirty-five national treasures and a countless amount of treasures. When Buddhism came to the Silla Kingdom in the early 6th century, it reached its zenith with the establishment of Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Hermitage in the late 8th century. In addition to these internationally famed sites, there are a countless amount of lesser known sites spread throughout the entire city including Anapji and Cheonseongdae. Additionally, there’s Chilbulam Hermitage, Sambulsa Temple, Samneung-gol Valley, and Bucheobawi on Mt. Namsan. There’s also Baeknyulsa Temple and Gulbulsa-ji on Mt. Sogeumgangsan that visitors can see when enjoying Gyeongju. There really are an amazing amount of sites to experience when visiting the thousand year old capital of the Silla Kingdom.

More recently, Gyeongju is the second largest city by area in all of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province next to Andong. And as of 2008, it had a population of nearly 270,000 people whose major source of income revolves around the tourist trade. So by promoting their past, people of today can prosper from nearly a thousand years of history.

Anapji 1970s

Anapji in the early 1970s.

Anapji 1975

Anapji during the 1975 excavation.


Cheonseongdae Observatory


Bucheobawi from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.


Another image of Bucheobawi.

Chilbulam Gyeongju

The amazing Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.


The three Buddhas from Sambulsa Temple on the western side of Mt. Namsan.


Yep, that’s someone standing on the shoulders of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan.


The turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong on Mt. Seondosan.


An older image of the stone sculpture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site on Mt. Sogeumgangsan.


The stark landscape from Mt. Sogeumgangsan, and a look towards Baeknyulsa Temple.


Anapji as it appears today.


An up close of Bucheobawi.


The three Buddhas at Sambulsa Temple. Now, they’re sheltered under a wooden pavilion.


The seven stone Buddhas at Chilbulam Hermitage.


The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul as it appears today.


The better protected Taejong stele from Mt. Seondosan.


A more recent picture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.


And a look over top the main hall at Baeknyulsa Temple.

Now and Then: Haeinsa Temple

Haeinsa 1902

Inside the famed Janggyeong-panjeon at Haeinsa Temple from 1902.

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Haeinsa Temple was first founded in 802 A.D. The name of the temple, in English, means “Temple of the Ocean Mudra Temple.” Alongside Tongdosa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple, Haeinsa Temple is one of the three jewel temples. Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma aspect of the three jewels.

The temple is located in present day Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do, and it was established by two monks: Suneung and Ijeong. According to legend, the temple was established after the two monks helped heal King Aejang’s wife from a serious illness. As a sign of appreciation, the king ordered the construction of Haeinsa Temple. Another story that surrounds the creation of the temple, as written by Choe Chiwon in 900 A.D., states that Suneung and Ijeong gained the support of the queen who had converted to Buddhism. Through her new found devotion, and financial backing, they constructed the temple. Either way, the amazing Haeinsa Temple was constructed for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

Throughout the years, Haeinsa Temple has been expanded a number of times first starting in the 10th century. It was then continued in 1488, 1622, and 1644. Tragically, the temple was burned to the ground in 1817 and was rebuilt the following year. Amazingly, the temple has had more than its fair share of fires with seven in total devastating the grounds.

During the Korean War (1950-53), a crisis was averted in September, 1951. It would be the closest that the Tripitaka Koreana would come to its complete destruction. After the Battle of Incheon, South Korea was turning the war around; however, some North Korean forces refused to retreat. In total, about a thousand North Korean soldiers remained around Haeinsa Temple as a guerrilla force. The U.N. forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa Temple using four bombers to weed out these enemy forces from allied territory. Fortunately, Kim Young was the leading pilot of these planes, and he disobeyed the command to bomb the temple. In time, the North Korean forces retreated and Haeinsa Temple was spared from bombing.

Haeinsa Temple is best known for the Tripitaka Koreana, which was first housed at the temple in 1398. In total, 81,258 wooden blocks are housed inside the Janggyeong-panjeon, which acts as the blocks’ library. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, they were completely destroyed by the invading Mongols. It would take over a hundred years, and from 1236 to 1251, for them to be remade again under the royal order of King Gojong (r. 1213-1259).

Haeinsa Temple houses three national treasures and thirteen treasures. Of these three national treasures, all three are directly related to the Tripitaka Koreana including the wooden blocks and the blocks’ library, the Janggyeong-panjeon. In 1995, the temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Visitors out in front of the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple from the turn of the 20th century.

Haeinsa Gugwangru 1915

The Gugwang-ru Pavilion from 1915.

Haeinsa pagoda 1915

The three-story pagoda from out in front of the main hall from 1915.

Haeinsa 1961

The main hall from 1961.

haeinsa Samseonggak

The former Samseong-gak; and now, present day Dokseong-gak, from the 1960s.


Inside the Janggyeong-panjeon library, once more.


How the Iljumun Gate looks in its present form.


The main hall and three-story stone pagoda.


The Dokseong-gak.


A look inside the Janggyeong-panjeon in 2007. Unfortunately, you can no longer take any photography inside the library.

Now and Then: Tongdosa Temple

Tongdosa 1970s

Tongdosa Temple from the 1970s. 

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Tongdosa Temple is situated on the southern slopes of the picturesque Mt. Chiseosan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. The name Tongdosa Temple means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English, and it was first established in 643 A.D. by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. Tongdosa Temple is a noted temple for several reasons, but its greatest claim to fame is that it was the first temple in Korea to house the earthly remains of the historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. During his travels and studies in China, Jajang-yulsa visited the Yunjisi Temple. Here, he obtained the holy relics which included the Buddha’s robe, his begging bowl, a portion of his skull, and numerous sari (crystallized remains). Upon his return to the Korean peninsula, and through the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647) he spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C to 935 A.D), and Jajang-yulsa established Tongdosa Temple to store the Buddha’s remains.

Like all great temples, Tongdosa Temple has an interesting creation myth. According to legend, at the time of the temple’s founding, there were nine dragons living in a pond on the grounds. Jajang attempted to make them leave so he could build the temple by reciting Buddhist scriptures. After they refused, and his previous attempt failed, Jajang inscribed the Chinese character for fire on a sheet of paper and tossed it in the air. He did this while splashing his long walking stick in the pond. The pond water began to boil. Unable to endure the heat, three dragons attempted to escape, but were too disoriented to do so; instead, they died by crashing into a cliff called Yonghyeolam (Dragon Blood Rock). An additional five dragons flew southwest towards a valley now called Oryong-gol (Five Dragon Valley). The final dragon of the lot, blinded by the boiling water, vowed to Jajang, if the monk spared his life, that the dragon would stay in the pond and protect the temple forever. Granting this wish, the dragon became the protector of Tongdosa Temple. And the Nine Dragons Pond, or “Guryong-ji,” in Korean, still remains to this day to the left of the main hall.

From its very creation, Tongdosa Temple thrived throughout its history. From state-sponsored Buddhism to the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Tongdosa Temple has always been at the forefront of Korean Buddhism. Unfortunately, the temple was completely destroyed in 1592 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. But in 1645, the temple was reconstructed, including the Daeung-jeon main hall. More recently, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds including the new temple museum which houses several of the temple’s treasures.

Tongdosa Temple is known as one of the three Korean jewel temples (삼보사찰) alongside Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Specifically, Tongdosa Temple represents the “Bul” (Buddha) aspect of the three jewels. This focuses on the very spirit of the Buddha.

In total, there are nineteen associated hermitages spread throughout the Tongdosa Temple grounds. It also houses one national treasure, National Treasure #290, which just so happens to be the Daeung-jeon main hall and Ordination Platform (Geumgang Gyedan). It is also home to twenty-two additional treasures spread throughout the grounds, as well as the temple museum. Currently, Tongdosa Temple is attempting to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tongdosa Temple is Korea’s largest temple.


Tongdosa Temple from the start of the last century.


An early 20th century picture of the Daeung-jeon main hall at Tongdosa Temple.


And part of the temple grounds today.


A look towards the main hall at Tongdosa Temple.


The Geumgang Gyedan with the Buddha’s remains housed inside the stone lotus bud.

Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple


Songwangsa 1928

The front facade to Songgwangsa Temple from 1928.

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Songgwangsa Temple is located in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do on the western slopes of Mt. Jogyesan. Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English. It  was first established in the 1190s. However, Songgwangsa Temple was built on the grounds of a former temple, Gilsangsa Temple, which was built in 867 A.D. The original Gilsangsa Temple was constructed by Seon master, Hyerin. Not only did he help construct the temple, but he also lived there with thirty to forty fellow monks, as well. With that said, very little is known about Hyerin, and some scholars believe he might simply be a legendary figure.

For some fifty years, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned in the mid-to-late 12th century. It wasn’t until the 1190, and over a nine year period, that the famed monk, Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210) reconstructed the temple. The temple was renamed Songgwangsa Temple at this point, and it was not long after that it became an important centre for Korean Buddhism.

Songgwangsa Temple, like numerous other temples throughout the Korean peninsula, has had a turbulent past. It suffered damage both during the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as during the Korean War (1950-53).

However, coupled with this devastation, the temple has gone through periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also, the temple was largely rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction during the Imjin War. More recent renovations took place in 1988. During this time, fourteen buildings at the temple were refurbished.

In total, Songgwangsa Temple has produced 16 national preceptors. In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Also, it was made an international meditation centre at this time. Historically, it’s one of the three jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels with its large monk population, which still exists to the present day. In total, the temple houses four national treasures and a couple dozen treasures.

Songgwangsa 1940

An overview of Songgwangsa Temple from 1940.

Songgwangsa 1920

The welcoming Iljumun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa 1960

The picturesque front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

Songwangsa2 1920

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa Main Hall 1930

And the former main hall from 1930.


The present day Iljumun Gate.


The beautiful front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.


The massive main hall constructed in 1988.

Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage


Seokguram Hermitage in 1930.

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Alongside Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. by then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The hermitage was completed in 774 A.D. not long after Kim Daeseong’s death. Originally, the temple was called Seokbulsa Temple, which means “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English. The reason that the hermitage was first constructed, at least according to legend, was to pacify Kim’s parents in his previous life.

The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage houses the most beautiful Buddhist sculpture in all of Korea. Underneath the nearly seven metre tall man-made dome, and measuring nearly 3.5 metres in height, is the serenely smiling Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Seokgamoni-bul looks out towards the East Sea and he is surrounded on all sides by equally beautiful sculptures of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Nahan, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Throughout its history, the hermitage largely remained untouched for the first one thousand years of its design. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this changed under Confucian religious rule in 1703 and 1758. It was left seriously damaged before colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The hermitage was first discovered by a visiting Japanese postman. From its discovery, Seokguram Hermitage underwent three rounds of full-scale restoration. The first of these restorations started in 1913 and lasted until 1915. Under the efforts of leading Japanese architect and scholar, Tei Sekino, Seokguram Hermitage was completely disassembled and reassembled. It was at this time that a one metre thick outer concrete dome was formed around the artificial grotto. With the addition of 200 stones, the original grotto was irrevocably damaged.

Compounding these mistakes was the renovation that took place in 1917. Because of the moisture forming in the grotto from the concrete shell formerly installed by the Japanese, moss was collecting inside the grotto. So to alleviate this problem, the Japanese installed a drainage pipe. Additionally, the concrete was covered in lime mortar and clay.

And finally, from 1920 to 1923, a third round of renovations was conducted. This time, once more, the renovations were conducted to lessen the mistakes from the first time around. This time, waterproof asphalt was added on top of the formerly applied concrete. However, this still didn’t help the moisture problem inside the grotto.

Through their efforts, and after being liberated from the Japanese, Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto. It wasn’t until 1966, with the installation of an air handling unit, that the problem was finally fixed. And in 1971, the glass partition was installed to protect the sculptures and statues from any damage that visitors might do to the historical grounds, as well as control the moisture level inside the grotto.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The path that formerly led up to the grotto in 1912.


A look at the grotto before Japanese repairs.


A better look at the extensive damage and neglect.

Seokguram 10

Japanese restoration.


The dismantling of the grotto.

Seokguram 11

Seokguram Hermitage stripped down.


The landscaping at Seokguram Hermitage after Japanese restoration efforts.


Some Japanese posing in front of the grotto during its occupation of Korea.


How the grotto looks today.


A look inside the grotto at the amazing statue of the Buddha in 2014.

Now and Then: Bulguksa Temple


Bulguksa Temple from the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I thought I would start up an all new series. It’s been a while since I have, and I thought there was no better way than to explore the history of Korean temples through historical pictures. Throughout the years, I’ve collected my fair share of historical Korean temple pictures, and I thought I would reveal a few of them through a now and then perspective. So I hope you enjoy this all new series.

The first temple I thought I would reveal through pictures is the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Before Bulguksa Temple was first constructed, a smaller sized temple first occupied the exact same grounds. Later, in 751 A.D., Prime Minister Kim Daeseong decided to build Bulguksa Temple to replace the former. It was built to soothe the spirits of his parents. Finally, in 774 A.D., after Kim’s death, the temple was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, or “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations was during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But during the Imjin War (1592-98), all the wooden buildings at Bulguksa Temple were completely destroyed. Only a few years later, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and expanded. This was followed by forty more renovations over the course of the next 200 years.

After 1805, the temple fell into disrepair, and Bulguksa Temple was often the target of looting. It was during colonial rule by the Japanese, from 1910-1945, that the Japanese started the restoration process. After the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II and the Korean War, did the Korean government start to restore the temple to its past glory. Under the orders of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969 to 1973, extensive archaeological investigation, restoration, and repair were conducted on the temple. Finally, after almost two hundred years of neglect, Bulguksa Temple was rebuilt to its past glory. And with all of the stonework and pagodas of the temple dating back to the original construction date, as well as the beautiful wooden artistry and paintings, Bulguksa Temple is nearly unrivaled for its beauty among Korean Temples. In addition to all this artistry, the temple also houses six national treasures and three additional treasures!

Now, Bulguksa Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in Korea. Also, with its front façade that sports two national treasures, which include the first set of stairs that are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); while the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”), it’s perhaps the most recognizable temple in all of Korea for international visitors. Two additional national treasures that people can enjoy are Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas that stand stoically in the main temple courtyard. In addition to all this stone masonry, there are over a dozen temple buildings visitors can explore and enjoy. And in 1995, in combination with the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without a doubt, Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju is one of the most beautiful Korean temples on the peninsula.

Now, enjoy a look into Bulguksa Temple’s past through pictures!


The neglected front facade of Bulguksa Temple from the early 20th century.


Another vantage point of the two national treasures.


One more look at what 200 years of neglect looks like.


National Treasure #22 : Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

bulKukSa4 1919

The front facade of the temple from 1919.


A look at two more national treasures from the turn of the last century: Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas.

Bulguksa dabotap

A closer look at National Treasure #20: Dabo-tap pagoda.

The main hall Bulguksa

What Bulguksa Temple’s main hall used to look like.

1914 Bulguksa

A better look at more of the temple grounds from 1914.

Bulguksa 1973 Bak Chung Hee

Park Chung Hee inspecting the newly renovated temple grounds in 1973.


And a look at Bulguksa Temple today.


A closer look at Dabo-tap pagoda today.


And now, a better look at the entire renovated temple grounds.