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Three Treasured Buddhist Temples in Korea
Date 04-19-2019 13:13
Three Treasured Buddhist Temples in Korea

Buddhism, which began in India in the 5th Century BCE, made its way all the way to the Korean Peninsula, via China, in the 4th Century CE. Buddhism led to the establishment of innumerable temples throughout Korea. The “three treasure” temples are the most important of these Buddhist temples. The Buddhist three treasures are the Buddha (one who has attained to enlightenment), the sutra or sayings of the Buddha, and the disciples of the Buddha. The three treasure Korean temples are believed to be home to manifestations of these three treasures.

Tongdosa Buddhist Temple, Yangsan: Home to the sarira of the Buddha

Of the three treasure temples in Korea, Tongdosa in Yangsan is also known as the bulbo temple because it is home to the sarira (pearl-like objects that remain after cremation) and the clothing of the Buddha himself that Jajangyulsa, a great monk, brought via the Tang Dynasty when the temple was first established in 646 CE. The Daeungjeon Hall in Tongdosa therefore lacks the statues of the Buddha so commonly found at other temples. Having the sarira of the Buddha himself means there is no need to enshrine his likeness. At the front of Daeungjeon Hall is a sanctuary, behind which lies the Geumganggyedan Steps, housing the sacred sarira. It is named geumgang, meaning “diamond,” because it houses something as authentic and indestructible. Being initiated before these steps is therefore equivalent to being initiated before the Buddha himself.
Tongdosa is also the largest Buddhist temple operating in Korea today. It encompasses 65 buildings with nearly 580 rooms in total. Sangnojeon includes Daeungjeon Hall in its middle. Jungnojeon includes DaegwangmYeongjeon Hall, the oldest of all buildings remaining on Tongdosa’s site. Harojeon is centered around Yeongsanjeon Hall. The Mupunghansong-ro Trail, extending for some 1.5 kilometers through a forest from Mupunggyo Bridge to the Iljumun Gate of the temple site, is also an ideal path for a meditative stroll.

- Address: 108 Tongdosa-ro, Habuk-myeon, Yangsan, Gyeongnam
- Tel. +82-55-382-7182
- Website: http://www.tongdosa.or.kr

Haeinsa Temple, Hapcheon: Home to the Sutras

Haeinsa in Hapcheon is nicknamed the beopbo temple because it is home to the famed Tripitaka Koreana (part of the UNESCO World Heritage), a collection of the sutras engraved on wooden tablets. After the Mongolian invasion of 1232 left the entire country in ruins and the people in utter fear, Buddhist monks got to producing these venerated wooden tablets with the belief that the wisdom of the Buddha could help the nation overcome its crisis. It took 16 years to complete these tablets (1236 to 1251). The sutra consists of over 80,000 tablets, which is why it is also known as the Palmandaejanggyeong in Korean. Since the tablets are two-sided, there are over 160,000 surfaces of the Buddha’s sayings in total. With each surface containing 322 characters, the entire sutra runs to 52 million characters in total. It is not only the oldest, but is also often regarded as the most complete, of all the complete collection of the Buddhist laws and treatises. The exquisitely consistent font (as if all the characters had been all engraved by a single person), the utter lack of typos and missing characters, and the sheer perfection of the entire collection makes Tripitaka one of the great wonders of the world. Haeinsa is also home to Janggyeongpanjeon Hall, which enshrines the venerated sutra. The building has been housing the sutras for 530 years. UNESCO has also included this building in its list of World Heritage Sites, in recognition of the way the building perfectly matches its surrounding natural environment as well as the ingenious science and technology that went into its making. If you would like to learn about the process behind the making of the Tripitaka Koreana in detail, stop by the Daejanggyeong Theme Park at Haeinsa Temple.

- Address: 122 Haeinsa-gil, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon, Gyeongnam
- Tel. +82-55-933-3000
- Website: http://www.haeinsa.or.kr

Songgwangsa Buddhist Temple, Suncheon: Cradle of 16 Guksa Monks

Songgwangsa is known as the seungbo temple. Its treasure lies in the disciples of the Buddha—the 16 Korean monks who set examples of Buddhist life with their own lives. Buddhism was the state religion during the Shilla and Goryeo periods, and Buddhist monks of great learning and integrity were appointed and respected as guksa, “the teachers of the nation.” Songgwangsa alone produced 16 such teachers. The portraits of these 16 great monks are enshrined in Guksajeon Hall, but are not open to the public. Visitors can view pictures of these portraits at the Buddhist museum instead. Songgwangsa is also famous for three other objects: the bisarigushi, a gigantic wooden bowl for steamed rice capable of holding 4,000 portions; the neunggyeonnansa, handcrafted dinnerware used to serve food at the temple and praised for its consistency and exquisite detail; and the ssanghyangsu, or the twin juniper trees, growing on the lawn behind Cheonjaam. All the branches of these trees are pointing downward and the trunks are entwined with each other.

- Address: 100 Songgwangsaan-gil, Songgwang-myeon, Suncheon, Jeonnam
- Tel. +82-61-755-0107
- Website: http://www.songgwangsa.org