Beopjusa Temple – 법주사 (Boeun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

The Palsang-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple in Boeun, Chungcheongbuk-do.

Temple History

Beopjusa Temple is located in northeastern Boeun, Chungcheongbuk-do in Songnisan National Park. Beopjusa Temple means “Dharma Residence Temple” in English. The name of the temple relates to its founding. According to the “Dongguk-yeoji-seungnam”, or “The Survey of the Geography of Korea” in English, Beopjusa Temple was first founded in 553 A.D. by the monk Uisin. After travelling to India, where he learned more about Buddhism, Uisin returned to the Korean Peninsula with Indian Buddhist texts. Carrying these religious texts on a white donkey, he housed these texts at the site of the future Beopjusa Temple.

The temple was later reconstructed in 720 A.D. Even later, and according to the “Samguk Yusa,” or “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms” in English, the temple was rebuilt, once more, this time by Jinpyo (fl. 8th century) and his disciple Yeongsim around 760 A.D. More specifically, it’s believed that Jinpyo returned to the Mt. Songnisan area and marked a location where it was an auspicious location to grow plants. Afterwards, Jinpyo travelled on to Mt. Geumgangsan (in present day North Korea). There, he founded a temple named Baryeonsusa Temple, where he stayed. While staying at this temple, he received disciples that had travelled all the way from Mt. Songnisan. These disciples included Yeongsim, Yungjong, and Bulta. Jinpyo received these disciples at Mt. Geumgangsan. During their meeting, Jinpyo told his disciples, “I’ve marked the area where auspicious plants grow on Mt. Songnisan. Build a temple there to save the world according to the doctrines of the Dharma and disseminate them among the future generation.” Listening to Jinpyo, the group returned to Mt. Songnisan and found the place that Jinpyo had marked. There, they built a temple.

It’s been speculated that the temple was called Gilsangsa Temple during Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), during which time the temple focused on the worship of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), according to the teachings of Jinpyo. It was also at this time that the construction of several buildings took place around the 9th century. Supporting evidence behind this theory includes the construction of the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple and the Stone Lotus Basin of Beopjusa Temple; both of which, are estimated to date back to Unified Silla.

During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Beopjusa Temple underwent considerable development and change. The reason for this was royal patronage. In fact, the monk Dosaeng, who was the fifth son of King Munjong of Goryeo (r. 1046–1083), and the younger brother of Uicheon-guksa (1055-1101), stayed at the temple. This only helped further the bond formed by the temple and the royal family. There are a number of events recorded in the “Beopjusa-sajeokgi” that outline these changes that came as a result of this relationship. This text is particularly important because not only does it give details about the temple on a number of events, but it’s also consistent and supported by other historic texts like the “Goryeosa,” or “History of Goryeo” in English, as well as the “Goryeo-sajyeryo,” or “The Essentials of Goryeo History” in English. And it’s from the “Goryeosa” that we learn that the temple’s name, during the Goryeo Dynasty, was Songnisa Temple.

At its height, the temple was home to three thousand monks, some sixty buildings, and a collection of seventy hermitages. At one point during the early 1100s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying Uicheon-guksa. In the late Goryeo Dynasty, several kings including King Chungnyeol of Goryeo (r. 1274–1308), King Chungsuk of Goryeo (r. 1313–1330, 1332-1339), and King Gongmin of Goryeo (r. 1351–1374) all visited Beopjusa Temple. Of particular interest is that it’s believed that King Gongmin sent an envoy to Tongdosa Temple in 1363 to have one of the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains) brought to Beopjusa Temple and enshrined there. This sari is currently enshrined inside a stone stupa behind the Neungin-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.

Beopjusa Temple continued to maintain close relations with the royal family even during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In fact, Beopjusa Temple even received royal patronage from King Sejo of Joseon (1455-1468). However, and like countless other structures in Korea at this time, Beopjusa Temple was largely destroyed by fires in 1592 and 1597 during the Imjin War (1592-98). Finally, and between 1605 and 1626, the major temple buildings were reconstructed by Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610). It was also at this time, in 1630, that the “Beopjusa-sajeokgi” was compiled.

During the waning years of the Joseon Dynasty, and in 1851, Prime Minster Gwon Don-in endorsed a state-sponsored national restoration project on Beopjusa Temple. In 1872, the two-story Yonghwabo-jeon Hall, which was the location for the present Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification, was demolished. In its place, a 29 metre tall concrete statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) began to be made in 1939 during Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-45). The statue was commissioned by Jang Seok-jang, who was the abbot of Beopjusa Temple. He did this through various donations. But the project was suspended when Kim Gok-jin, the sculptor of the statue, died unexpectedly.

Later, and after Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-45), President Park Chung (1917-79) financed the completion of the 29 metre tall cement statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) in 1963. This was then followed by the efforts of the monk Taejeon Geumho in 1974. His efforts were supported by government funding which resulted in an all-out repair and restoration of most of the temple buildings at Beopjusa Temple. In the early 1970s, the temple had been chosen as the setting for part of Bruce Lee’s move, “Game of Death.” In fact, the historic Palsang-jeon Hall had been chosen as the specific filming location because of the five floors of the wooden structure. These five floors were meant to symbolize the five different martial arts. However, before the movie could be completed, Bruce Lee (1940-73) tragically died. Then in 1998, the massive Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification was completed after the 29 metre tall cement statue of the Mireuk-bul was taken down in 1986. The Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification stands an impressive 33 metres in height; and in 2002, it was plated with gold.

In total, the temple is home to an amazing three National Treasure, twelve Korean Treasures, one historic site, and one scenic site.

Temple Layout

You first approach Beopjusa Temple up a long pathway. As you continue along this tranquil trail, you’ll first pass under the stately Iljumun Gate. A little further up the trail, and you’ll next come to the Geumgangmun Gate. Housed inside this second entry gate are a collection of four statues. There are two Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warriors). The Geumgang-yeoksa aren’t only protectors, but they are also symbols of the supremacy of the Buddhist teachings (the Dharma). No matter how stubborn an individual’s mind, the power of the Buddha’s teachings can change the most hardened of minds. These Vajra Warriors are also the very embodiment of the Dharma which shatters ignorance. These two statues are joined by images of Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Bohyeon-bosal appears on the left side of the gate, while Munsu-bosal appears on the right. They both appear as youths to symbolize innocent wisdom and eternal youth. Specifically, Bohyeon-bosal rides a six-tusked white elephant. Bohyeon-bosal is the Bodhisattva of great vows, great conduct, and benevolent actions. He’s also associated with the virtues of Buddhist practices and meditation. Munsu-bosal, on the other hand, rides a blue haetae, which is a mythical creature that controls and consumes fire. Munsu-bosal embodies the perfection of wisdom. Also, Munsu-bosal inspires Buddhists to become wiser through study and clear thinking.

Having passed through this gate, you’ll next come to the third and final entry gate at Beopjusa Temple. This entry gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate. This entry gate is believed to have been built in 553 A.D. It subsequently underwent several major renovations in 776, 1624, 1897, and 1972. It was during this last renovation that the present images of the Four Heavenly Kings were made. Both the Cheonwangmun Gate and the Four Heavenly King statues at Beopjusa Temple are quite large. Unfortunately, the Four Heavenly Kings are protected by chicken wire that obscures any good pictures from being taken.

Finally having passed by the two large pine trees that front the Cheonwangmun Gate, and exiting out the third and final entry gate at Beopjusa Temple, you’ll be immediately confronted by arguably Korea’s most beautiful temple shrine hall: the Palsang-jeon Hall. The Palsangjeon Wooden Pagoda of Beopjusa Temple was built immediately after the Imjin War (1592-98). The Palsang-jeon Hall was dismantled and rebuilt much more recently in 1968. The pagoda is amazingly supported by one massive wooden pole that runs through the centre of the structure. There are four supporting beams that help keep the pagoda erect. On top of the pagoda is a beautiful golden finial. Inside are housed eight murals that portray the life of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and give the pagoda its name. This collection of murals is known as the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Also housed inside the historic pagoda are one thousand white miniature Buddha’s and four larger golden Buddha statues that sit on the four altars inside the pagoda. The Palsang-jeon Hall is National Treasure #55.

To the right of the Palsang-jeon Hall is a wooden pavilion that houses the Iron Pot of Beopjusa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #1413. The iron pot is a massive 1.2 metres in height, 2.7 metres in diameter, and 3 to 10 cm thick with an overall circumference of 10.8 metres. In total, the iron pot weighs 20 tons, and it could feed up to 3,000 people at once. To the north of the Iron Pot of Beopjusa Temple is the temple’s Jong-ru Pavilion. Housed inside this bell pavilion are the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. And the final thing that visitors can explore in the eastern part of the temple grounds is the Yaksa-jeon Hall. Housed inside this temple shrine hall is a main altar centred by Yaksayeorae-bul (The Buddha of Medicine). This central image is joined on either side by Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva).

Back at the Palsang-jeon Hall, and to the west of the historic wooden pagoda, is the Golden Statue of National Unification. This 33 metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) replaced the 29 metre tall cement statue of the same Buddha that lasted until 1986, when the present statue was constructed and completed in 1988. Originally covered in gilt-bronze, 80 kg of gold was applied to the surface of the mammoth statue. In addition to the eye-catching size, the statue is hollow inside. There are 108 stairs that lead up to the head of Mireuk-bul; additionally, and at the base of the gold statue, there’s a prayer hall.

Slightly to the south of the massive Golden Statue of National Unification are a pair of wooden pavilions that house a National Treasure and Treasure. The National Treasure, rather unassumingly, is the Stone Lotus Basin of Beopjusa Temple. This large stone basin is shaped like a lotus blossom, and it was once used as a lotus pond. The shape of the stone basin, the lotus, is meant to symbolize the Buddhist Pure Land. It’s believed that the Stone Lotus Basin of Beopjusa Temple dates back to around the 8th century, it’s also National Treasure #64. The other wooden pavilion in this area houses the Stone Standing Bodhisattva of Beopjusa Temple. This statue of an unidentified Bodhisattva stands on a foundation stone carrying a large incense burner on its head. Its exact history is unknown, but it’s believed to date back to Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.). The Stone Standing Bodhisattva of Beopjusa Temple is also Korean Treasure #1417.

To the south of these two wooden pavilions is a compound that houses the Neungin-jeon Hall. “Neungin” means “One Able in Generosity” in English. The shrine hall dates back to 1624, and it’s surprisingly just a provincial property. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned in simple dancheong colours, while the interior houses a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul. This central image is joined on either side by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha). And behind this triad is a window that looks out onto a stone stupa. Housed inside this stone stupa, which is officially known as the Seokgamoni-bul [Historical Buddha] Sarira Stupa of Beopjusa Temple, is a single sari from Tongdosa Temple that King Gongmin of Goryeo had transported to Beopjusa Temple in 1362 after the Red Turban Army had been defeated. The stupa stands 3.5 metres in height.

And to the south of this compound, and in a cluster of rocks, as you make your way towards Sujeongam Hermitage, is the Rock-Carved Seated Buddha of Beopjusa Temple. This image, which is carved from a six metre tall rock, is believed to date back to the early Goryeo Dynasty (1392-1910). This Buddha image, which is believed to be Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), sits in a chair. The image has a round face and a big nose with round eyebrows. The earlobes are rather long, while the right hand is held in front of the body with its palm facing outwards. The middle finger and thumb of this hand are placed together. As for its left hand, it is held horizontally with its palm facing upwards. And in front of this image is a well-worn image of Jijang-bosal on the neighbouring rock. The Rock-Carved Seated Buddha of Beopjusa Temple is well-preserved, and it’s Korean Treasure #216.

Back at the Palsang-jeon Hall, and now facing north, you’ll find the amazing Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple. This is the third National Treasure at Beopjusa Temple, which is National Treasure #5. The stone lantern was made during Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), and it has a unique lion based design. In fact, it is Korea’s oldest existing stonework carved with a lion. The stone lantern features a pair of lions standing on their hind legs with an octagonal base. These twin lions face each other, and they support the weight of the upper lantern chamber. The twin lions have large manes and muscular legs. Both the base and the upper stone are decorated with carved lotus flowers. As for the stone light chamber, it’s octagonal in design, and it contains four windows. It’s presumed that the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple dates back to 720 A.D. during the reign of King Seongdeok of Silla (r. 702-737 A.D.). Because of the conventional octagonal pillar design of Silla stone lanterns, the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple is a radical departure from the more traditional design from this time period. The first of its kind, the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple would spawn several copies of this stone lantern not only during Unified Silla but beyond.

To the west of the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple is the temple’s Wontongbo-jeon Hall. The Wontongbo-jeon Hall is Korean Treasure #916, and it dates back to 1624, when it was restored by the monk Byeokam. The structure has undergone numerous repairs since, but it retains its original beauty. The exterior is adorned with intricate dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Wontongbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find a stunning image of the Wooden Seated Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva of Beopjusa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #1361. This image of Gwanseeum-bosal dates back to 1655. It’s beautifully adorned with a gorgeous crown that contains an image of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the north of the Wontongbo-jeon Hall are a row of three temple shrine halls. The first of these three is the Jinyeong-gak Hall, which houses images and pictures of famous monks that once called Beopjusa Temple home. At other temples, this shrine hall is known as a Josa-jeon Hall. Next to this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with fading hellish murals dedicated to the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld), as well as those that are suffering in the afterlife. Stepping inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find an image of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. On both sides, this central image is joined by statues of the Siwang. And the final shrine hall in this line is the Samseong-gak Hall. All three paintings dedicated to the shaman deities housed inside this shaman shrine hall are masterful. These three paintings include images of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

The main hall at Beopjusa Temple is a large two-story wooden structure known as the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with vibrant murals dedicated to various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, cranes, winter scenes, and various other beautiful murals. The Daeungbo-jeon Hall is believed to date back to the mid-Joseon Dynasty, and it’s Korean Treasure #915. Stepping inside the Daeungbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find three massive statues on the main altar. These are the Clay Seated Vairocana Buddha Triad of Beopjusa Temple, which are Korean Treasure #1360. The central image is dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). This central image is joined on either side by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). This triad dates back to 1626, and they were covered in gold-plaster in 1747. The triad is Korean Treasure #1360.

And the final thing that visitors can enjoy at Beopjusa Temple is the Stone Lantern of the Four Guardian Kings at Beopjusa Temple which is located out in front of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The bottom stone to this structure is square. And the lower foundation stone is carved with eight lotus flowers all around it. As for the light chamber of the stone lantern, it has four windows that are octagonal in design. And on the four sides of the stone light chamber are the Four Heavenly Kings. These are among some of the earliest representations of the Four Heavenly Kings in Korea. It’s believed that this stone lantern was built some time during the mid-8th century. The Stone Lantern of the Four Guardian Kings at Beopjusa Temple is Korean Treasure #15.

Beopjusa Temple Hermitages

In total, Beopjusa Temple is home to some 11 hermitages spread throughout its temple grounds. Some are located near the main temple, while others are quite a hike through Mt. Songnisan. Here is a list of the 11 hermitages at Beopjusa Temple:

6. Sanggoam Hermitage – 상고암

7. Gwaneumam Hermitage – 관음암

8. Jungsajaam Hermitage – 중사자암

9. Yeojeokam Hermitage – 여적암

10. Bonggokam Hermitage – 봉곡암

11. Beopgiam Hermitage – 법기암

How To Get There

To get to Beopjusa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal. From the terminal, there’s a bus that goes directly to Mt. Songnisan. This bus runs every thirty to forty minutes throughout the day. From where the bus drops you off at the Songnisan stop, you’ll need to walk an additional twenty minutes to the Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan ticket office.

Overall Rating: 10/10

Beopjusa Temple is a temple adventurers dream come true with three National Treasures and a collection of Korean Treasures. Situated in the picturesque Songnisan National Park, there is plenty to see and do at this historic temple. From the Palsang-jeon Hall, to the massive thirty-three metre tall Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification, the equally massive Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Beopjusa Temple, and the stone artwork in the main temple courtyard, there’s more than enough reason to make a day trip or a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and visit one of Korea’s top six temples.

The statue dedicated to Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) inside the Geumgangmun Gate.
The Cheonwangmun Gate and Palsang-jeon Hall together at Beopjusa Temple.
A look through the third entry gate at the Palsang-jeon Hall.
A better look at the Palsang-jeon Hall.
The Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification.
A look inside the Palsang-jeon Hall at one of the four main altars inside this historic wooden pagoda.
A closer look around at some of the statues inside the Palsang-jeon Hall.
A fuller look at the Golden Maitreya [Mireuk-bul] Statue of National Unification.
The pavilion that houses the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple.
A closer look at the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple.
The Wooden Seated Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva of Beopjusa Temple inside the Wontongbo-jeon Hall.
The Stone Standing Bodhisattva of Beopjusa Temple to the left of the Wontongbo-jeon Hall.
The Stone Lotus Basin of Beopjusa Temple, which also just so happens to be a National Treasure.
A look towards the Neungin-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.
And the Seokgamoni-bul [Historical Buddha] Sarira Stupa of Beopjusa Temple behind the Neungin-jeon Hall.
The Rock-Carved Seated Buddha of Beopjusa Temple to the southwest of the Wontongbo-jeon Hall.
The Yaksa-jeon Hall to the east of the Palsang-jeon Hall.
And the amazing view from the Yaksa-jeon Hall.
The Stone Lantern of the Four Guardian Kings at Beopjusa Temple and the Daeungbo-jeon Hall of Beopjusa Temple.
Inside the Daeungbo-jeon Hall is this main altar triad: the Clay Seated Vairocana Buddha Triad of Beopjusa Temple.
The view from the Samseong-gak Hall.
The mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside the Samseong-gak Hall.
And this mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) also resides in the Samseong-gak Hall, as well.

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