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Iljumun – The One Pillar Gate: 일주문

The Iljumun Gate at Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

So we’re going to be starting a new series here on the blog. We’re going to be talking more about Korean Buddhist temple architecture. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why is it there?

And first on the list is the first gate, which is also typically the first structure that will greet you at a Korean Buddhist temple, is the Iljumun Gate. Iljumun translates into English as the “One Pillar Gate.”

The Iljumun Gate is very simple in its design. It consists of a tiled roof that’s supported by either two or four pillars that stand in a straight line. A wooden name plate is placed in the centre of the gate, either with the name of the temple or the neighbouring mountain written on it. These name plates are almost always written in Hanja (Traditional Chinese Characters). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule like at Beomeosa Temple, where the name plate reads “Jogyemun,” but these are the exceptions. Other possible exceptions to the rule are “The Head Family of the Buddha,” or “The Great Monastery of the Meditative Realm.” The reason why some of these name plates may differ is that the temple or hermitage is attempting to elevate their status.

The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The reason that the Iljumun Gate stands out in front of the temple grounds is that it represents the viewpoint of the Buddha’s Dharma. This helps to introduce a visitor to Buddhist teachings. The meaning behind this structure is that when you look at the two or four pillars that stand in a row on the Iljumun Gate, they actually appear as one. What this means in a Buddhist sense is that the world is illusory, and that things aren’t as they appear. In Buddhism, this is symbolic of the first step towards enlightenment, and the first step on a person’s journey towards a pure mind.

Great examples of the One Pillar Gate can be found at Beomeosa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan; Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do; Hwaeomsa Temple in Gurye, Jeollanam-do; and Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Iljumun Gate at Hwaeomsa Temple in Gurye, Jeollanam-do.
The Iljumun Gate at Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.

Perhaps the greatest example of a Iljumun Gate can be found at Beomeosa Temple. The Iljumun Gate at Beomeosa Temple is called the Jogyemun, or the “Jogye Gate,” in English. This gate is Korean Treasure #1461. The exact date of the Jogyemun Gate at Beomeosa Temple is unknown, but it’s believed to have been built in 1614. While the two pillar gate is most common in Korea, the Jogyemun Gate at Beomeosa Temple has four pillars. Furthermore, the short wooden pillars are situated in large foundational stones. Overall, the gate is painted in traditional dancheong colours. The gate is beautifully balanced, and it stands as a wonderful example of the symmetry of an Iljumun Gate.

The Iljumun Gate at Beomeosa Temple as you walk up to it.
The Iljumun Gate at Beomeosa Temple is known as the Jogyemun Gate.

As for the name of the gate: the Jogyemun Gate, it highlights the loyal lineage of the temple from the very first structure at Beomeosa Temple. Jogye is a transliteration of the mountain, Mt. Caoxi, in China, where the sixth patriarch of the Chan (Seon, Zen) tradition, Master Huineng’s temple was situated. Master Huineng is important to Korean Buddhism because Doui-guksa learned the core teachings of the southern school of Chan (Seon, Zen) Buddhism in the late 8th century and early 9th century. In 821 A.D., Doui-guksa (?-825 A.D.) returned to Silla to spread the teachings. Eventually, this would lead to the Nine Mountain Seon Schools, the Gusan Seonmun, which would help lay a foundation for the spread of Seon Buddhism. So alongside the other name plates that hang on the Iljumun Gate that state where Beomeosa Temple is located, it’s also highlighting the tradition from which the temple comes from.

Beomeosa Temple has perhaps the finest example of an Iljumun Gate in Korea.

So the next time you approach the One Pillar Gate, take a look from the side and see all two or four pillars line up in a row. This will not only give you a beautiful new view of the gate, but it’ll give you a better understanding of the symbolic importance of this stately gate, as well.

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