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Geumgangmun Gate Design
The Geumgangmun Gate is one of five entry gates that can potentially be found at a Korean Buddhist temple. The Geumgangmun Gate is the second of these entry gates, and it’s placed between the Iljumun Gate (the first entry gate) and the Cheonwangmun Gate (the third entry gate). The name of this gate, Geumgangmun, means “Diamond Gate,” in English. The name is Hindu in origin. Geumgang means “diamond,” in English, which is the hardest substance on Earth. It can’t be harmed or broken by any other matter, but it can cut through or break other material. As such, it’s a symbol of the Buddha’s teachings. The Dharma is the supreme truth or wisdom that can’t be contradicted by other ideas. With this in mind, the Geumgangmun, or Diamond Gate, symbolizes how the diamond can cut through any delusions that can cause suffering. A great example of this gate can be found at Beopjusa Temple in Boeun-gu, Chungcheongbuk-do.
Another name for this gate is the Inwangmun Gate, or “Virtuous King Gate,” in English. Both Geumgangmun and Ingwangmun are allusions to the Vajra Warriors, or “Geumgang-yeoksa” which both of the gate names are referring to. Geumgang-yeoksa, which are lower level protective deities. They appear with a thunderbolt hammer. Traditionally, they were depicted as having bare chests, fierce expressions, and coloured skin. In China, they were assigned as gatekeepers in pairs. Due to modesty and decorum in Korea, these Geumgang-yeoksa were clothed and covered in armour instead.
However, 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. So by passing through a Geumgangmun Gate, a person is symbolically wiping away the prejudices of the mind, so that they can encounter the Buddha’s teachings with a pure mind; namely, preconceived notions.
One other name for this entry gate is the Haetalmun Gate. In English, Haetalmun means “Liberation Gate.” The name implies that by passing through this gate one moves from the human world and into the Buddhist world. This inspires an individual to seek liberation from worldly suffering. Great examples of this gate can be found at Dogapsa Temple in Yeongam, Jeollanam-do, Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do from 1864, and Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. The Haetalmun Gate at Dogapsa Temple is Korean Treasure #50, and it dates back to around 1473. It’s perhaps the finest example of this entry gate, in any of its forms, whether it be a Geumgangmun Gate, an Inwangmun Gate, or a Haetalmun Gate, in all of Korea. Under the front eaves is a name plaque that reads “Dogapsa Temple of Wolchulsan Mountain,” and under the rear eaves is the other name plaque that reads “Haetalmun Gate.”
Besides the Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warriors) that can be found inside the Geumgangmun Gate are the images of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Bohyeon-bosal will appear 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 dragon/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. For all these reasons, both Munsu-bosal and Bohyeon-bosal take up residence inside the Geumgangmun Gate.
As for the appearance of the Geumgangmun Gate, it looks similar to the Cheonwangmun Gate but smaller. The Geumgangmun Gate is a larger gate that’s enclosed. There are typically Buddhist motif paintings adorning the exterior of the gate, or it can simply be adorned with the traditional dancheong colours.
While the rarest of the five entry gates to be found at a Korean Buddhist temple, it makes for quite the nice surprise when you actually do discover one of these extremely rare entry gates. So keep your eyes open, and one of these days you’ll stumble upon this highly symbolic entry gates!