Yaksa-jeon – The Hall of Yaksa-bul: 약사전
Another hall that you might find at a Korean Buddhist temple is the Yaksa-jeon Hall. This type of hall is dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul, who in Korean Buddhism is the Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise.
Yaksayeorae-bul lives in the Eastern Paradise, which is called “Jeongyuri,” in Korean. When Yaksayeorae-bul was in human form, he made twelve vows to free sentient beings from sickness and disease. Not only did this mean their physical well-being, but this also meant the nourishment of their spiritual well-being, as well. This aid would hopefully help people towards liberation. So not only does Yaksayeorae-bul provide relief from disease, suffering, and misfortune, but he also helps free people from their ignorance; which for Buddhists is the greatest affliction ailing the human race.
Unlike other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, Yaksayeorae-bul is a bit easier to identify. Unlike other Buddhas, Yaksayeorae-bul usually holds something in his hands. More often than not, what he’s holding is either an alms bowl or a medicine bowl (the medicine bowl being an evolutionary step of the alms bowl). The medicine bowl, when held by Yaksayeorae-bul, shows how he protects people from sickness and suffering.
Another way to identify Yaksayeorae-bul is that he sometimes only holds a medicine or alms bowl in his left hand. With his other hand he will assume “The Gesture of Fearlessness” mudra with his right hand. In this mudra, the right hand is generally raised to shoulder height with the arm being bent and the palm facing outwards with the fingers held upright and joined. The message behind this mudra is that the Buddha is great and merciful. He both relieves people’s hardships and delivers them from fear.
Inside a Yaksa-jeon Hall, it’s typical for Yaksayeorae-bul to appear in the centre of a triad flanked by Ilgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Sunlight) to his left and Wolgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Moonlight) to his right. It’s pretty easy to identify these two flanking Bodhisattvas because Ilgwang-bosal will have either a red crown or a red orb in his crown, while Wolgwang-bosal will have either a white crown or a white orb in his crown. The reason that Yaksayeorae-bul is associated with these two Bodhisattvas is that Yaksayeorae-bul heals all disease through the light of the sun and the moon.
Of course, Yaksayeorae-bul can appear in other triads where he is not the central statue like at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do or Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. In these triads, Seokgamoni-bul sits in the centre. He’s flanked to one side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), and on the other side by Yaksayeorae-bul. These triads were popular during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) because it expressed the doctrine of samsara (birth, death, and rebirth). However, when Yaksayeorae-bul is a flanking statue, this is not a Yaksa-jeon Hall; instead, it’s typically the main hall of the temple.
Another place that you can find Yaksayeorae-bul outside of a shrine hall is near a temple’s watering hole. Because a lot of temple’s like to think that their water is curative, they place a statue of Yaksayeorae-bul next to the fountain to reinforce this point. Perhaps the greatest example of this is in the Busan area at Geumjeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple.
In total, there are three Yaksa-jeon Halls that are Korean Treasures. One is at Gwanryongsa Temple in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, the second is at Jeondeungsa Temple in Ganghwa-gun, Incheon, and the third is at Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Two additional temples with Yaksa-jeon Halls are considered Cultural Properties Materials. They are Heungguksa Temple in Goyang, Gyeonggi-do and Girimsa Temple in Gyeongju. In addition, there are ten statues of Yaksayeorae-bul that are either National Treasures, Korean Treasures, or Cultural Properties Materials. Of these ten, four are made of stone, three from gilt-bronze, two from iron, and one from clay. And perhaps the most ornate Yaksa-jeon Hall can be found at Yeoyeojeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.
So the next time you’re at a Korean Buddhist temple or hermitage, keep your eyes peeled for Yaksayeorae-bul. You can find Yaksayeorae-bul by himself, in a triad, inside a shrine hall, outside near the temple’s water source, or even in a cave. Yaksayeorae-bul means so much to Korean Buddhist devotees that you can pretty much find this Buddha anywhere and everywhere at Korean temples.