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One of the shrine halls that you’ll see at larger temples is the Nahan-jeon Hall, which is also sometimes called the Eungjin-jeon Hall. So what is a Nahan-jeon Hall? What does it look like? Why is it at a Korean Buddhist temple?
The Nahan-jeon Hall is dedicated to the historical disciples of the Buddha. The Korean word Nahan is a transliteration of “Arhat,” a Sankrit word. And while less accomplished than a Bodhisattva, Nahan are still an exulted and important part of the Buddhist pantheon of religious figures. Nahan carry on the tradition of the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) from generation to generation. Furthermore, the Nahan were instrumental in spreading the message of Buddhism throughout the world. And an important part in continuing this tradition is the Nahan-jeon Hall, which is an embodiment of the highest form that an earthly human can achieve in Buddhism. Simply put, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are otherworldly, Nahan are not yet.
As for inside a Nahan-jeon Hall, you’ll typically find sixteen Nahan statues or paintings inside this shrine hall. They surround the central figure of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who sits on the main altar and can be joined either by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), or Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Sometimes, however, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find five hundred Nahan inside the Nahan-jeon Hall, too. These five hundred are meant to symbolize all those individuals that were present and participated at the First Council, which is also known as the “Council of the Five Hundred,” in Buddhism. After the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul’s passing, these five hundred were re-assembled to collect and write the Buddha’s teachings. Typically, if a Nahan-jeon Hall has five hundred Nahan, they’re statues.
In Korea, there are two Nahan-jeon/Eungjin-jeon Halls that are Korean Treasures. The first is the Eungjin-jeon Hall at Bulyeongsa Temple in Uljin, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and the other is at Seonghyeolsa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. In addition, there is one National Treasure of a Nahan statue, and four paintings of the Nahan that are Korean Treasures, and four more of the Nahan that are statues that are Korean Treasures, as well.
The Sixteen Traditional Nahan in Korea
|Korean Name||Korean (Hangeul)||Sanskrit||Characteristic||Ability|
|1. Bindora Balrasa||빈도라발라사||Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja||Long eyebrows, mudra hands on lap, thought to be Dokseong (The Lonely Saint)||Aids those in the lower realms, conferring wisdom and granting wishes, and protecting people from misfortune.|
|2. Ganakga Beolcha||가낙가벌차||Kanakavatasa||Incense burner in hand||Those devoted to him will never be separated from their teachers and will be respected by all.|
|3. Ganakga Ritasa||가낙가발리타사||Kanaka Bhāradvāja/|
|Fly whisk in hand||Invoking him opens opportunities for practicing the six transcendent perfections and developing along the path of Truth.|
|Cleaning ear||Those who meditate towards him gain fortune and merit and open the way to realization.|
|Flaming wisdom pearl in left hand||Has the power to grant the ability for understanding all of the Buddha’s teachings.|
|Holds a wooden staff||Allows people to understand compassion and emptiness. He can also grant wisdom to overcome bad habitual patterns.|
|Gray goatee and hand on knee||Praying to him develops compassion and the ability to set others on the right path.|
|8. Beolsara Buldara||벌사라불다라||Vajriputra||Scratching his own back||He strengthens concentration and wisdom in those who work for others.|
|9. Sulbakga||술박가||Gopaka/Jīvaka||Stomach open revealing a face or Buddha||Personal physician of the Buddha, also known as the “Medicine King.” People that pray to him are given knowledge of the arts and sciences, and he imparts discriminating awareness, enabling people to teach the Dharma.|
|10. Bantakga||반탁가||Panthaka||Reading a book||Aids those who earnestly wish to study, practice and meditate on the Buddha’s teachings.|
|11. Rahora||라호라||Rāhula||Holds a fly whisk and has gray hair||Son of the Buddha. Those who pray to him are cared for by the protective deities.|
|12. Nagaseona||나가서나||Nāgasena||Protruding forehead, and he’s also sometimes joined by a dragon||Praying to him helps free the mind from confusion and awakens confidence in the Three Jewels.|
|13. Ingyeta||인게타||Aṅgaja||Gold rings in hand||Liberates beings from all manner of emotional pain.|
|14. Beolnabasa||벌나바사||Vanavāsin||Hands praying||Protects people from distraction and leads them to fulfill their wishes.|
|15. Asida||아시다||Ajita||Gold stick||Gives the ability to enter into meditation with moral perfection, and he grants protection and steadfast devotion to practice.|
|Wisdom pearl in right hand||Praying to him frees one from desire, anger, and ignorance that leads beings to suffering.|
Great examples of a Nahan-jeon Hall (Eungjin-jeon Hall) can be found at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do; Daeheungsa Temple in Haenam, Jeollanam-do; Baekyangsa Temple in Jung-gu, Ulsan; and Beomeosa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan. And the greatest example of Nahan statues can be found at Chunghyosa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
So the next time you’re at a larger Korean Buddhist temple, have a look around for the Nahan-jeon Hall (Eungjin-jeon Hall). This hall is a great connection to the highest achievements made by earthly humans within Buddhism. Not only that, but you can pray to the Nahan for guidance and support. And hopefully, your prayers will be answered!