Bulimun: The Gate of Non-Duality

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A view of the third gate at Beomeosa Temple in Busan with paper lanterns and a blooming magnolia tree.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The third and final gate that you will encounter at a Korean temple is the Bulimun gate, or in English, The Gate of Non-Duality. So what does this seemingly philosophically sounding gate look like, and what exactly is its purpose at the temple?

Bulimun Gate, or Gate of Non-Duality, vary in how they look and even the name ascribed to them. At some temples, the gate is not called Gate of Non-Duality, but instead it can be called Haetalmun, or Gate of Liberation in English. But usually, these gates are named either one of these two names. There are also a few things that do unify these gates in design. First, they are usually decorated in beautiful summer sceneries. Also, the structure itself can look similar to the Iljumun gate in its open pillar design, or it can also look like the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate design in that it’s fully enclosed. But these two structural designs are pretty typical of most, if not all, Bulimun Gates at Korean temples.

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 Another look at the open-structured Bulimun Gate at Beomeosa Temple.

So what exactly does the philosophical name of the gate mean? And why is it the third of three gates? The English name for the philosophically named Bulimun is Gate of Non-Duality. What this refers to is a central tenet to Buddhism; namely, that all things are one. That things like birth and death, good and evil, love and hate, are not in fact two, but they are one. By freeing ourselves of this binary discriminatory world view, we rid ourselves of our ego and the selfishness that comes as a result of it. Instead, everything, and everyone, is one.

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The Bulimun Gate at Hwaeomsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, in Jeollanam-do.

Following this idea up with a look to Buddhist sutras; specifically, one has to look at the Vimalakirti Sutra.One gains a better understanding towards the meaning behind the name of the Bulimun Gate when one looks at this sutra. This sutra is one of the central sutras to Seon monks in Korea, which belongs to the dominant Buddhist sect in  Korea: Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The sutra is about a sage householder who lived at the same time as the Historical Buddha: Seokgamoni-bul. He was so wise that he was even getting the better of Bodhisattvas. Specifically, in the chapter, “The Dharma-Door of Non-Duality,” the discussion is about how a Bodhisattva is to enter the dharma-door of non-duality; and thus, enter Buddhahood. Many Bodhisattvas expressed their very profound ideas both wisely and eloquently, but when it was Vimalakirti’s turn, he remained silent. His silence demonstrated the subtleness of Buddhist enlightenment.

So in combining these two ideas of the elimination of duality and silent enlightenment, one is able to free oneself from the burden of suffering and delusion as they pass through the Gate of Non-Duality (Bulimun).

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The closed-structured design of the Gate of Non-Duality at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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A better look at the Yin and Yang sign that adorns one of the doors on the Bulimun Gate at Tongdosa.

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And inside the Bulimun Gate at Tongdosa Temple is this adorning white elephant, which is a sign of good luck.

Beautiful examples of the Bulimun, Gate of Non-Duality, can be seen at Beomeosa Temple in Busan, and  Tongdosa  Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

So the next time you’re approaching the third gate at a Korean temple, the Gate of Non-Duality, remember to keep an open mind and a silent heart when passing through this extremely symbolic gate. It is only when you’ve put yourself in the proper frame of mind that you can enter into the heart of the temple compound.

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The Gate of Non-Duality at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do.