With 1,700 years of Buddhist history, Korea is home to numerous temples scattered around the nation that preserve the rich, ancient heritage of Buddhist culture. Each temple has its own interesting history as well as a variety of Buddhist statues, paintings, pagodas, bells, and other valuable cultural relics.
Korean Buddhist temples are often nestled deep in mountainous regions, and set near the natural beauty of rivers, valleys, or the sea. Their locations offer a great refuge for those seeking peace of mind or a quiet place to meditate. Temples also serve as residences for monks and devotees who practice or share the teachings of Buddha. Recently, a growing number of temples have developed temple stay programs for meditation, rest, or just to experience temple life, drawing increasing numbers of visitors every year.
Each temple is unique in its own way. Some of the major temples are Tongdosa Temple and Beopheungsa Temple where sarira (relics of the Buddha) are kept, Haeinsa Temple, the depository of the Goryeo Daejanggyeong (Tripitaka Koreana wooden printing blocks), which are on UNESCO’s Memory of the World list, Bongeunsa Temple and Hwagyesa Temple, well-known for their temple stay programs, and Baekdamsa Temple and Naksansa Temple with their splendid natural landscapes.
Below, major temples are listed and main features are briefly described.
- Jogyesa Temple
- Located in Jongno-gu in the heart of Seoul, Jogyesa Temple is home to the administrative headquarters of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Along with the streets of Insa-dong and the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces, Jogyesa is part of the traditional cultural district in downtown Seoul often visited by international tourists. The 500-year-old locust tree in the temple courtyard is 4 meters around and 26 meters high and has been designated an officially protected tree by the Seoul Metropolitan City Government.
- Bongeunsa Temple
- Bongeunsa is a traditional temple situated among the high-rises of Samseong-dong in the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul. The Daeungjeon Hall, Mireukdaebul statue, and surrounding groves give the feel of a mountain temple in a bustling city. On average, approximately 10,000 devotees and 300 overseas tourists visit the temple daily.
- Hwagyesa Temple
- Located on Samgaksan Mountain in Seoul, Hwagyesa Temple was formerly the Bodeogam Hermitage in Buheo-dong on Bukhansan Mountain until it was moved to its current location in 1522. The temple became well-known after the monk Ven. Sungsan traveled the world and trained over 50,000 foreign disciples. Today, the temple is still visited by numerous monks who come from all over the world to practice Buddhism. Hwagyesa offers a popular temple stay for international visitors as well as English teachings of the Buddha (dharma talks) on Sundays.
- Naksansa Temple
- Naksansa Temple sits at the foot of a beautiful pine-covered mountain near the East Sea. Naksan is the shortened name for the Sanskrit word botarakgasan, which means the place where the Buddha always resides. Since ancient times, Naksan has been revered by Buddhists as one of the Eight Scenic Beauties of Korea’s eastern region. The most popular spots in the temple are Haesugwaneumsang Statue overlooking the East Sea, sunrise views from Uisangdae Pavilion, and Hongnyeonam Hermitage which sits on a cliff overlooking the sea.
- Baekdamsa Temple
- Located deep in Naeseorak (Inner Seorak Mountain), Baekdamsa Temple is most splendid in late fall when it is covered with striking crimson colors. It is well known as the temple where Manhae Han Yong-un (1879~1944), a famous activist of the Independence Movement, became a monk. The Manhae Memorial Hall contains an exhibit including 800 personal items of Han Yong-un.
- Beopheungsa Temple
- Jeongmyeolbogung refers to the temples where the Buddha’s sarira (relics) are kept. In Korea, the five major Jeongmyeolbogung are Sangwonsa on Odaesan Mountain, Jeongamsa on Taebaeksan Mountain, Tongdosa on Yeongchuksan Mountain, Bongjeongam on Seoraksan Mountain, and Beopheungsa. These temples do not have Buddha statues as they keep Buddha’s sarira. Behind Beopeunsa Temple is a cave and sarira tower where the monk Ven. Jajang Yulsa (590?-658?) is said to have meditated and kept the sarira.
- Tongdosa Temple
- Built by Jajang Yulsa (590-658) in 646, Tongdosa is known for keeping Buddha's sarira. When returning from the Tang Dynasty, Jajang Yulsa brought with him part of Buddha's sarira and robe and enshrined them in the temple. The temple is nestled among trees and valleys, and the buildings lining the way from Iljumun Gate to Daeungjeon have an old and unique feel. There are also a number of hermitages in the valleys.
- Haeinsa Temple
- Built in 802 by the monks Ven. Suneung and Ven. Ijeong, Heinsa Temple was designated as a national temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), it was the depository of Goryeo Daejanggyeong (Tripitaka Koreana wooden printing blocks), which are now listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World program. Haeinsa offers meditation, Buddhist text education, and education in the principles of Buddhism.
Courtesy of: Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism