One of the more obscure shrine halls that you might find at a Korean Buddhist temple is the Cheonbul-jeon, which means “One Thousand Buddhas Hall,” in English. Because of just how well-populated this shrine hall is, it’s one of the easier shrine halls to identify at a Korean Buddhist temple.
With that being said, why are there, in fact, one thousand Buddha statues in this type of shrine hall? And why is the the Cheonbul-jeon Hall at a Korean Buddhist temple.
The practice of worshiping one thousand incarnations of the Buddha is based upon Mahayana Buddhism, which Korean Buddhism largely ascribes to. The one thousand Buddhas are prayed to for the power of protection and perfection. It’s also believed that the large number of Buddhas in the hall, which are also there to pay tribute to all the Buddhas in the world (that have been and will be), appear to help sentient beings towards liberation; and ultimately, Buddhahood. These Buddhas appear in a countless amount of incarnations, which allows for liberation to take place in people. And while there are one thousand incarnations of the Buddha inside the Cheonbul-jeon Hall, the Buddha can manifest himself an infinite amount of times. The reason that this is possible is that humans have unending needs. More specifically, these one thousand Buddhas refer to the total amount of Buddhas that will appear, or have appeared, during each of the Three Kalpas. A Kalpa is a Sanskrit word for an unfathomable amount of time in both Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) is said to be the fourth incarnation of the present Kalpa.
When you first walk inside a Cheonbul-jeon Hall, you’ll instantly notice the sheer number of Buddhas inside this shrine hall. These statues of the Buddha are typically smaller in size. And they can be made from jade, granite, wood, or anything else for that matter. As for the statues themselves, they almost always appear to be serenely seated in the Touching the Earth mudra (ritualized hand gesture). Interestingly, and so I’ve been told, if you pick a Buddha and count out your age in any direction, you’ll find a Buddha that looks like you.
Great examples of the Cheonbul-jeon Hall are usually found at larger temples like Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do; Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do; Girimsa Temple, Gyeongju; and the Cheonbul-jeon Hall at Munsuam Hermitage in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. In total, there’s only one Korean Treasure that’s a Cheonbul-jeon Hall. It’s the Cheonbul-jeon Hall at Daeheungsa Temple, in Haenam, Jeollanam-do, which is Korean Treasure #1807.