Bongeunsa Temple – 봉은사 (Gangnam, Seoul)
Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam, Seoul was first established in 794 A.D. by the monk, Yeonhoei. Originally, the temple was named Gyeongseongsa Temple. Later, in 1498, under Queen Jeonghyeon (1462-1530), the temple was renovated and renamed Bongeunsa Temple. At first, the temple was located about one kilometre southwest of its present location, but it was relocated during King Myeongjong’s reign (r.1545-1567). And during the 1960s, Bongeunsa Temple established the Institute of Tripitaka Koreana to translate the Buddhist scriptures. More recently, Bongeunsa Temple has been in a dispute with Seoul’s municipal government to potentially relocate it from its posh Gangnam neighbourhood.
Bongeunsa temple is nestled next to Coex on the south shores of the Han River. When you first approach the temple, you’ll past by the Jinyeomun Gate that houses four rather peculiar paintings of the Sacheonwang (Four Heavenly Kings). Just past this gate, and a little to the right, you’ll notice a stupa field of prominent monks that once called Bongeunsa Temple home.
Passing under the large Beopwang Dharma hall, which is to the right of the temple bell paviliion, you’ll enter the main temple courtyard up a set of stairs. Straight ahead is the Daeung-jeon Hall with a three tier stone pagoda out in front of it. Housed inside the main hall, and adorning the exterior walls to this hall, are two sets of paintings: the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals) and the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Eastern Paradise) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). These statues are a symbolic geographic indication of the cycle of life from birth to death.
To the left of the main hall are the monks’ dorms. And to the right of the main hall is the historic Seonbul-dang Hall. This hall formerly held the monks’ exam. Presently, it looks as though it’s the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall with a serenely crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) resting on the main altar.
To the far right of the main hall, and past the Seonbul-dang Hall, is the Jijang-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this beautiful hall are adorned with menacing murals of the Buddhist underworld, the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Inside the Jijang-jeon Hall, you’ll find the interior walls adorned with murals dedicated to the Ten Kings of the Underworld. On the far left wall hangs an intricate Gamno-do mural and sitting on the main altar rests a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal.
To the right of the main hall, but to the left of the Jijang-jeon Hall, is a flight of stairs that leads to a collection of smaller shrine halls. To the right is the Yeongsan-jeon Hall (Vulture Peak Hall). In the centre is the Bukgeukbo-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And the final shrine hall in the upper courtyard is the Yeong-gak Hall, which houses murals dedicated to master monks.
But it’s the massive twenty-three metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) to the left of these shrine halls that is the crown jewel of the temple. Mireuk-bul serenely looks out on the city of Seoul. At the base of the statue are a collection of Vajra Warriors to help protect the Buddha from harm. The statue is fronted by an open Mireuk-jeon Hall, and the statue is beautifully lit up at night with lights.
How To Get There
On the Seoul subway system, you’ll need to get off at Samseong Station, which is on Line #2. From this station, go out exit #6 to get to the temple. From this exit, walk straight for 600 metres and turn left. From this turn, you’ll need to cross the street and walk an additional 150 metres to get to Bongeunsa Temple.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Bongeunsa Temple is located in the heart of Gangnam, Seoul. Large in size, the highlights to this temple are the assortment of shrine halls like the Jijang-jeon Hall and the historic Seonbul-dang Hall. The views are spectacular as is the massive statue of Mireuk-bul that looks out upon the city with you.