Beopjusa - Korea's UNESCO Buddhist Mountain Temple
Beopjusa is a Buddhist Mountain Temple Site located in Songri San National Park, Korea. This 1500-year-old holy site is a national treasure and is now part of UNESCO World Heritage.
The temple complex is one of the oldest, largest and most important temples for Korean Buddhists. It is one of the Headquarters of the Jogye Order of Buddhism which is the main Buddhist Sect in Korea.
No trip to a temple is complete without a visit to the temple shop to pick up the necessary worshiping tools.
I've been to this temple a few times because I really like the landscape around the area. Actually, I wrote about other aspects of my recent trip to the region just a couple of days ago.
First on the list is Cheoldanggan which is a large iron pole flag. During festivals, they hang banners and strings of lanterns from here.
Behind the Iron pole, you can see Seokyeonji which is a large lotus-shaped stone basin.
Sadly, there was no water to drink or no festive activity when I visited this time. It is too far into the winter season.
Next, I visited cheolhwak which is a giant iron bowl. It was said to be used for cooking rice or making soup for the 3000 monks that lived in the temple area during its height.
I have my doubts it was used for this purpose regularly, but you never know. Some people were putting money in there which seems like a good place to make a wish.
Here are the lecture halls and sleeping areas. Actually they make up around 75% of the temple area and most of the buildings. However, they are off-limits to non-believers like me.
Unless you are doing a temple stay or have official Buddhist business in the region, you are not allowed to venture into these functional areas.
This is the main bell building called beomjonggak. You can notice a large iron bell, a special dragon fish-shaped striker and a large drum. I didn't ring the bell and I'm pretty sure if I tried, I would be in serious trouble.
I explored the public areas and since it was the middle of the afternoon, not too many people were worshiping around here. They tend to gather before the temple area is open to the public so they are not distracted.
Next up we have sacheonwangmun which is the main inner gate. The temple itself is surrounded by a smaller wall and mountains, but this gate is symbolic.
I like how it is flanked with two giant pine trees. Also, you may notice a pagoda poking out from the top. It hides the main hall from view.
I couldn't resist walking through the main gate. Inside are four giant guardians. I took a photo of them, but only two are visible on this side. These two were my favourites. However, there is a mesh to prevent birds and other animals from perching there.
On the other side of the gate is the wooden pagoda called palsanjeon. There aren't too many wooden pagodas left in Korea and it is only one of 5 remaining.
Actually, according to the leaflet I got, it was rebuilt in 1968. A lot of the complex was burnt down over the years and especially when the Japanese invaded in the 1600s. I didn't go inside because it is just an alter and I don't know enough about this religion to do any worshiping.
As mentioned the pagoda and the gate block the view of the main hall. I took this photo from the shade of the giant Buddha (that I will get to that later). I found the ring of mountain peaks (most around 1000m high) surrounding the area to be quite amazing.
On the other side of the pagoda, before the main hall is a stone lantern called ssangsajaseokdeung. If you have been to Buddhist temples before, you will notice these are quite common. There are a few around here, but this one is the best positioned.
Here is the view of daeungbojeon which is the main temple. It is flanked by lotus trees. To the left are two smaller outer buildings and to the right is the area that is off-limits to tourists like me.
As you can see the symmetry of the place is quite well kept which is very common in Eastern Religions. The trees are richly decorated. Also, there is another stone lantern in front.
This is my favourite shot of the main hall. It took a little luck to get a picture with no one in it on a nice sunny afternoon. It was Saturday, but a little chilly outside.
The door to go in is around the left side, but it doesn't look so spectacular. Actually, all these panels can come off and probably do during important events.
This is the back of the temple. On this side, the gate is more pronounced. However, there is a wall about 3m behind it.
The underside of the roof is so richly decorated. It looks like it is constantly restored and I can imagine each log takes a lot of effort and devotion to painting.
I find the most amazing thing about Korean temples is all bright colours. If you notice, their favourite colours are red, yellow, blue and green.
I went into the main hall after admiring the outside. Normally, I don't go into temples because I want to leave the devotees alone. However, I had to pay an admission fee to visit Beopjusa, so I figured I was entitled.
The inside is even more richly decorated than the outside. I cannot help but to look up to the ceiling. The colors are still mostly the same. I like the patterns of the woodwork, too.
These are the 3 main Buddhas called the Vairocana Triad or Samjondaebul in Korean. Vairocana is in the middle and Sakyamuni and Nosana are on the sides
I'm still reading from the pamphlet you get at the tourist entrance.
People started coming in so I left. I always feel a little guilty taking pictures in here. But these aren't personal artifacts and you can easily find the photos on the Internet, so I feel okay.
To the left of the temple are two little outbuildings called Junyonggak and Myeongbujeon. There were people praying and chanting in these two temples, so I stayed away to give them peace and avoid interrupting their meditations.
Next, we have one of the main attractions called Geumdongmireukdaebul in Korean or the Golden Maitreya Buddha Statue in English. This statue is about 50m tall when including its 1 story pedestal.
Actually it was first built in 776 during the Shilla Dynasty. Then it was moved to Seoul (not destroyed by the Japanese). After it was rebuild in 1964 out of painted concrete. Then in 1990 it was made out of bronze. It was rebuilt again in 2002 because the 1990 bronze version was considered ugly.
I also read this from the tourist pamphlet.
Here is another view of the statue. A lot of people were hanging around here. Actually, it is unique because a lot of large Buddhist Statues I see are either Buddha sitting or lying down.
Next, I went inside the statue. I took a picture of the same Buddha sitting. This statue is made of gold.
There are signs all over saying no photography, however, no one was inside so I went for it. I feel it is okay because you can barely make out any personal artifacts and there was no one to disturb. Also, this image is located all over the Internet.
Before entering here there are walls surrounding it with rows and mirrors of bronze Buddha statues and Jade Buddha statues. These are for devoted worshippers and are personal so I respected them.
Behind the main temple is the Maaeyeraeeuisang (um if you don't know Korean good luck with this word) which is the Stone Buddhist carvings. This one, in particular, is an image of the Maitreya Buddha.
There are a lot of other carved inscriptions, images and patterns on the rocks. I imagine these are some of the oldest original parts of the temple area.
Above was the backside of one of the carved rocks. You have to walk between two large boulders to get to the temple on that side of the river. You may notices that there looks like a pattern to the stones next to the rock. I have no idea when they were positioned like that, but this place is 1500 years old, so it was likely a very long time ago.
As you can see, people were balancing and stacking river rocks which is common around temples. During rainy season, they all get knocked down by flooding and people just stack them back up. I'm not much of a rock stacker, although I can appreciate the appeal behind it.
Over the course of 1500 years, this temple area was destroyed and rebuilt so many times. It now has UNESCO status which may help to protect it some more. However, I guess Buddhism will outlive UNESCO and so will this temple site since you cannot destory an idea very easily.
I hope to visit the other 3 mountain temples soon. But there are a few other very famous Korean sites (especially the ones further from Seoul), that I have either never visited (Haeinsa) or haven't been to for a while.
All of these photos are mine. As mentioned I got most of my info from the tourist pamphlet you get when entering. I also found some info at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beopjusa