Bongwonsa Temple and 3000 Buddhas
Yesterday, the sun was up, the skies were blue and I felt like I needed to get some fresh air. There’s a small mountain near my house that I often go to when I want to take a hike, but I don’t want to spend all day doing it, so I headed there. Though it was sunny and clear I neglected to think about what the weather had been like and half way up my normal path it became just a bit too icy for my liking. I decided instead of going straight up and straight down on Muaksan mountain I would go around the mountain on the flatter paths. What a treat that was. Though still icy, I decided to take a look at the map and saw that there was a temple on the other side. It took a couple looks at the maps on the mountain and a helpful older man hiking along before I found it, but when I did boy was it big. I had expected a small three or four building temple complex, but came upon a large complex with an even larger main hall.
I had found Bongwonsa Temple (봉원사) of the Taego Order of Buddhism.
It was originally built in 889AD by Master Doseon where Yonsei University now sits. It was moved by Monk Chanjeub and Zen Master Jeungam in 1748 to where it now sits on Ansan Mountain.
The Taego Order is the second largest order of monks in Korean Buddhism and a t
raditional seon, or zen, school of Buddhism. Taego is unique in that it allows ordained priests to marry, though nuns must still remain celibate. This order also includes traditional bhikkhu, who tend to live in mountain temples separated from society while the married monks are more like parish priests. Before 1945 the majority of Korean Buddhist monks were descended from Master Taego Bowu, especially within the Jogye Order founded at the end of the Koryeo Dynasty. In 1954 President Lee Seoung Man along with a number of celibate monks decided there should be two separate orders, one that allowed marriage and one that did not. After the separation, the celibate majority suppressed the new group by forcing those married monks out of the temples. This group formed what is now the Taego Order.
In reading through information about the training of the Jogye Order monks and the Taego Order monks, I found it interesting that though they have a very similar path, the Taego Order holds training in ritual and traditional arts, such as ritual dance and music, in high regard whereas the Jogye order has not kept this tradition alive. Every year on June 6, the monks at Bongwonsa perform Yeongsanjae, a Buddhist ritual and Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 50. This ritual is a symbolic reenactment of Buddha Sakyamuni’s delivery of the Lotus Sutra on Mt. Grdhrakuta 2,600 years ago. This ceremony is done to pray for the unity of the living and the deceased, for world peace and national reunification. Two of the fifty monks that now reside on the grounds are in fact “Living National Treasures” because of their mastery of Buddhist chant and temple ornamentation. Looks like I now know where I’ll be in June this year.
The complex holds about thirteen buildings. The first building on the left after entering is The 3000 Buddhas Hall and is by far the most impressive in size. It stands about three stories high and it is interesting to note that no nails were used on the building during the original construction or the restoration in 1991. It is the largest wooden building in Korea.
Entering from the front steps there are 16 statues of Arahats worth a visit as well. They have rather creepy contorted faces but they represent someone who has found enlightenment. Some of the buildings like the 3000 Buddhas Hall have been lovingly painted and are very colorful and look almost new, but some of the buildings still hold that old worn out wonder. They haven’t been repainted in some time, which makes their appeal something different. There is also a building of the old worn kind in the back that has painted glass windows where the lattice work usually is. I had never seen that before.
All around this temple was a treat to find on my walk and worth a visit for anyone in the area.
서울특별시 서대문구 봉원동 산1
1 San Bongwon-dong Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea
Subway: Sinchon Station (#240) on Line 2, Exit 3. Then, take bus No. 7024 directly to Bongwonsa.
Buses: 7024, 7737
Walk: From the back gate of Ewha Womans University, walk north alongside the main road until you reach an intersection underneath the freeway. From there, go up the hill 500 meters.