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Introduction to Korean Buddhism

05. The Traditional Korean Temple Structure

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Writer Jogye Date11 Feb 2020 Read876 Comment0

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05. The Traditional Korean Temple Structure



(1)Traditional Temple Structure

The name of each structure is determined by the main Buddha enshrined within. The structure where the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are enshrined is called Jeon and the outside is called Gak (閣).


① TheMain Buddha Hall (Daeungjeon)

In general, Śākyamuni Buddha is enshrined as the principal Buddha and is the central structure in most temples. However, the main Buddha can vary from temple to temple. “Daeungjeon” means "the hall of the great hero who brightens the world." The name originated from the <Beophwagyeng or Lotus Sūtra>, in which Śākyamuni Buddha is the great hero.

On each side of the principal Śākyamuni Buddha,attendant Buddhas and Bodhisattvas orHyeopsibuls/Hyeopsibosal are enshrined, such asManjuśriandSamantabhadra Bodhisattvas or Amitābha and Medicine Buddhas. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and Kṣtigarbha or Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta are also often enshrined.

The Daewungjeon sometimes enshrines Samsaebul or Buddhas of the Three Times and Samsinbul or Trikāya (the Three Bodies of the Buddha). The Buddha of Three Times (the past, the present, and the future)works to enlighten all sentient beings. Generally, the BodhisattvaDīpaṃkara (Yeondeungbul or the Buddha of the Lotus Lantern)is thought to be the Buddha of the past,whileŚākyamuni Buddha is the Buddha of the present,and Maitreya Bodhisattva is considered to be the future Buddha. Samsinbul,"the triple body" of the Buddha, includes the Body of Truth (Dharmakāya), the Body of Enjoyment (Sambhogakāya), and the Incarnation Body (Nirmāṇakāya). These sometimes have the Medicine Buddha and Amitābha Buddha enshrined beside them. Those temples enshrining the Samsinbul are revered as Great Daeungbojeon.


② The Hall of Birojanabul, or Vairocana Buddha

(Daejeokgwangjeon)

Birojanabul, or Vairocana Buddha, is the Buddha of the Land of the Lotus Flower and is the principal Buddha enshrined in this hall. The Land of the Lotus Flower radiates the light of truth in every direction in the universe, and represents the absolute truth, or the Dharmakāya. Therefore, this Buddha land is often called the land of utmost bliss and the dedicated hall is thus called the Hall of Great Peace and Light or the Supreme Buddha Hall.

It is also called the Huayen Hall, named after the main Buddhist text (Hwaeumgyeong or the Flower Garland Sūtra) used in the Huayen School because it is dedicated to the Vairocana Buddha. Thus the Vairocana Hall is the main Buddha Hall of the Huayen School.

The Hall of Great Peace and Light enshrines three Buddha statues, with Vairocana Buddha as the principal Buddha. Traditionally, Korean Temples enshrine Buddhas that represent the Trikāya, or three bodies of the Buddha (mentioned above): Vairocana Buddha is the manifestation of the Body of Truth (Dharmakāya); Nosanabul, or the Body of Pure Light or the Body of Enjoyment (Sambhogakāya) is symbolized by Amitābha Buddha; and Hwashinbul, or the Incarnated Buddha (Nirmāṇakāya) appears as Śākyamuni Buddha. In Seon Temples, the three are represented according to the tradition of the Seon or Dhyāna School: Birojanabul (Dharmakāya), Nosanabul (Sambhogakāya), and the myriad Hwashinbul, or the Incarnated Buddha (Nirmanakāya), orone hundred ten billion incarnations of the Buddha are represented bythe Śākyamuni Buddha.


③ The Pure Land Hall (Geuknakjeon)This is the hall that enshrines Amitābha Buddha of the Western Pure Land. Amitābha Buddha renounced his wealth and rank as a king to become a Bhikṣu (male renunciate), and practiced with the aspiration to save all sentient beings. This Bhikṣu finally became a Buddha after long diligent practice and was later named Amitābha Buddha.

Amitābha Buddha’s great blissful light is limitless and brightens one hundred billion Buddha lands of utmost bliss. Because the lifetime of Amitābha Buddha is limitless, the Pure Land Hall is often calledthe Hall of Infinite Life. It is sometimes called Mitajeon.


④ The Maitreya Buddha Hall (Mireukjeon)

This is the hall dedicated to Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha who will come in the future. As the next Buddha, Maitreya will relieve the suffering of all sentient beings in the world of Yonghwa, or the Lotus Flower of the Dragon. Therefore, the hall is also called Yonghwajeon or the Hall of the Lotus Flower of the Dragon. It is also called Jassijeon or Maitreya Hall, from the Chinese transliteration of the word Jassi or Maitreya.


⑤ TheAvalokiteśvara Hall(Wontongjeon)

The dharma hall enshrining Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva is called Gwaneumjeon. In particular, if it is the central hall of the temple, it will be called Wontongjeon.

Gwanseumbosal Bodhisattva is omnipresent, thus the capacity of his compassion is all encompassing and universally all-pervading. Therefore, he is also called Wontongdaesa (圆通 大 士) or The Perfectly Penetrating Bodhisattva. Moreover, Gwanseumbosal (Kuanyin Bodhisattva) has a special ability to hear the cries of all suffering beings and relieve their suffering, and this clairvoyance is called Igeunwontong, or The Faculty of Perfect Penetration through Hearing(耳根 圆通). This is also the reason why it is called the Hall of All-Pervading Compassion.


⑥ TheMedicine Buddha Hall(Yaksajeon)

The hall enshrines the Medicine Buddha, who cures all sentient beings from sickness and suffering.The Hall is also called Manweoljeon, Yulijeon, and Bogwangjeon.


⑦ The Hall of the Eight Scenes(Palsangjeon)

This hall depicts eight scenes from the life story of Śākyamuni Buddha. The Palsangdo (eight scenes) are also depicted in the Vulture Peak Hall or Yeongsanjeon (灵山 殿). The Yeongsanjeon originates from the painting called YeongsanHoisang, which depicts Śākyamuni Buddha giving the first discourse on the Lotus Sūtra at Vulture Peak. The hall traditionally depicts Palsangdo in a wall mural and has no main Buddhist altar. The principal Buddha enshrined is Śākyamuni Buddha, with Jehwagala Bodhisattva (Dīpaṃkara Bodhisattva) and Maitreya Bodhisattva enshrined to his right and left.


⑧ The Arhat Hall (Nahanjeon)

Disciples of the Buddha at the level of Arahantship and beyond are enshrined in this hall. Nahan is the abbreviation of Arahat. Arahat means "liberated one" or "one who knows the truth;" they are sometimes calledEungjin (應眞). The hall that enshrines Eungjin is called Eungjinjeon.

Śākyamuni Buddha is the main Buddha enshrined in the Nahanjeon, and MahāKaśyapa andVenerable Anāndaare enshrined on both sides of the Buddha. Surrounding the Buddha are his sixteen great Arahats depicted freely in different forms, such as smiling, dozing, scratching, and so forth. Five Hundred Arahats are sometimes represented in these halls. They symbolize the assembly of Five Hundred Bhikṣus that gathered to recapitulate the discourses of the Buddha after his nirvāṇa without remainder (Mahaparinirvāṇa).


⑨ The Kṣtigarbha Hall (Myengbujeon)Kṣtigarbha Bodhisattva swore to not enter nirvāṇa until all beings are freed from the underworld. Thus, this is called the Hall of the Bodhisattva of the Underworld. Since Kṣtigarbha is the main Bodhisattva in the underworld, what is normally called the Kṣtigarbha Hall or Jijangjeon is often called the Hall of the Nether World or Myeongbujeon. When we die, we go before the Ten Kings of the Nether World to be judged according to one’s karma of this life, therefore the hall is also sometimes called the Hall of the Ten Kings. The ten kings of the Nether World include the Yeomladaewang or the King of Hells, who rules the hells and is in charge of deciding where the dead should go after death.


⑩ The Sūtra Hall (Daejangjeon)

In this hall, the Buddhist canon (Tripiṭaka) or wood blocks called Daejanggyeong are preserved. The hall is sometimes called the Hall of Dharma Treasure (Janggyeinggak), Woodblock Tripiṭaka (Panjeon), or Dharma Treasure (Beopbojeon). Janggyeng refers to "the containment of all Dharma Treasures."


⑪ Temples of the Buddha’s Relics (Jeokmyeolbogung)

These halls enshrine the actual relics of the Śākyamuni Buddha. The relics were produced by the Buddha’s physical body at the time of cremation after his Mahaparinirvāṇa. They are sometimes glowing crystals or beads that are considered as sacred as the Buddha himself. No other statues are enshrined in these halls because the Buddha’s relics are regarded as an enshrinement of the Buddha himself. In Korea, there are five main temples that traditionally enshrine the actual Buddha relics: Tongdosa Monastery in Yangsan City, Sangwonsa Monastery in Mt. Odaesan, Beopheungsa Monastery in Mt. Sajasan, Jeongamsa Monastery in Mt. Taebeksan, and Bongjeongam Hermitage in Mt. Seoraksan.


⑫ The Hall of the Patriarchs (Josadang)

This type of hall is dedicated to patriarchs (founders of Buddhist orders), or greatly respected head monks, lineage holders, or abbots of the temple. It enshrines the portraits or tablets of these highly esteemed dharma masters. When an imperial preceptor, who played an important role in the country, comes from the temple, the hall is called the Hall of the Imperial Preceptor or Guksajeon. (Literally, Guksa means "the teacher of a king," and therefore a teacher of the nation)


⑬ The Shrine of the Three Sages (Samseonggak)

This hall enshrines indigenous gods from Korean folk religions, such as the Mountain gods, the Hermit Saint (Pratyekabuddha, one who was enlightened by oneself), and the Big Dipper God. When a hall is dedicated to each figure, it is respectively called the Hall of the Mountain God (Sansingak), the Hall of the Hermit Saint (Dokseonggak), or the Hall of the Big Dipper (Chilseonggak). This hall is normally located at the back of the main hall.


⑭ The Bell Tower (Beonjonggak)

The Bell Towers are built to protect the temple bell and other large temple instruments. In bigger temples, four large temple instruments will be contained within the tower, including the Dharma drum, the cloud gong, and wooden fish.


⑮ Entrance Pavillion (Nugak)

In the shape of a double-decker attic, it normally stands facing the main Dharma Hall. The living quarters of monks surround both sides of the temple lawn, creating a stable structure centered on the main courtyard.

This structure functions as the path of entrance, while serving various other functions such as the enshrinement of important Buddhist articles, and a gathering place for people attending the Dharma teachings.



(2) Entrance Gates

① The Gate of One Pillar (Iljumun)

The outermost gate of the temple, this is called the Gate of One Pillar because its pillars align in a single row. The aligned pillars symbolize the single-pointed mind, thus we leave behind defilements of the mundane life and strive towards truth upon entering the temple. This is the first entrance that leads one from the world of suffering to the Pure Land of Bliss, or from one side of the mountain to the far slope.

A temple sign-board normally hangs on the gate. For example, in the case of Tongdosa Monastery in Yangsan City, Gyeongnam Province, the name of the mountain and temple are written: “Tongdosa Monastery of Mt. Yeongchuksan.” The plaque hanging on right and left pillars also declare the characteristics of the temple, such as“Temple of the Buddha Families” or “The Head Temple of Korea.”


② The Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings (Cheonwangmun)

The gate enshrines the Four Heavenly Kings who protect the Dharma. These protectors originate from ancient India. The four heavenly kings were gods who originally protected the world, but, inspired by Śākyamuni Buddha's Dharma teachings, converted into the Dharma protectors of Buddhism. In Buddhist cosmology, these four kings stay on the hillside of Mt. Sumeru, and each watch over one of the cardinal directions.

This gate is located between the Gate of One Pillar and The Gate of Non-Duality. This is to safeguard the world of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and to protect the human visitors before they enter the Dharma hall where the Buddha resides.

The Guardian of the East, Chigook Chonwang, has a great brilliant smile that displays his white teeth and plays the lute. Chonjang Chonwang guards the South. He can normally be spotted with a sword in his left hand, with his right hand in a fist at his waist. Kwangmok Chonwang is the guardian of the western quarter, with the dragon on his right and a jewel on his left. The guardian of the North, Tamun Chonwang, is often seen with a pagoda in his hand.

However, variations are often found in artistic styles beginning in the late Joson Dynasty (18thcentury C.E.), with the East Guardian holding a sword, the Southern guardian with a pagoda, and the Northern guardian with a lute. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that each of the Heavenly Guardians may be spotted with different heavenly objects in different circumstances.

On each side of the Gate are the Geumgang Yeoksa or Diamond Deva Guardians. Many Korean temples have Diamond Deva murals on the Guardian Gate. Divided into 3 sections when faced from the front, inside the right and left of the central entrance each displays two Heavenly Guardians.


③ The Gate of Non-Duality (Bulimun)

After the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Gate of Non-Duality—symbolizing the Pure Land—can be found. This gate is also called the Gate of Nirvāṇa because enlightenment or nirvāṇa is equivalent to non-duality, thus it is ultimately the entrance to the state of enlightenment.

According to Buddhist cosmology, the top of Mt. Sumeru is a place where the King of Śākra(KingJeseokcheon) of theTrāyastriṃśa Heavenresides and where the Gate to Nirvana stands. The Trāyastriṃśa Heaven (Doricheon) is one of the twenty eight heavens mentioned in Buddhism, the highest in the realm of desires and second lowest in the heavenly realm.

Bulguksa Temple of Gyeongju City portrays the profound meaning of this Gate of Non-Duality. To reach the Jahamun (Mauve Mist Gate) which is the Gate of Non-Duality in Bulguksa Temple, one must climb the thirty three steps of the bridges called Chengungyo and Baekungyo. These bridges beautifully portray the thirty three celestial realms (these consist of the twenty eight heavens, and the five transmigrations of human, aśuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings).


(3)The Monks’ Buildings(Yosachae):

The living quarters of the monastics consist of the entire temple compound, except for Dharma Halls and Gates. These are most often referred to as Yosachae and include the living quarters, meditation hall, auditorium, offices, kitchen, dining hall, storage areas, and bathrooms.

Various names are used, depending on the building's function. When serving the purpose of living quarters and meditation hall, it is called Simgeomdang, or "the hermitage searching for the sword of wisdom in order to cut the grass of ignorance"; it can also be called Jeokmukdang, or "meditation in silence", or Haehaengdang and Suseondang ("correct action" and "place of meditation," respectively).

When the hall serves the dual purpose of living quarters and auditorium, it is called Seolseongdang; when a temple master or other great virtuous masters reside in it, it is called Yeomhwasil or Banyasil. The kitchen is sometimes called Hyangjeokjeon or "Juniper Hall" according to the old saying that juniper trees are used as fuel for the stove in the kitchen of a temple.


(4) Pagodas and Stone Lanterns (Tap & Seokdeung)

Pagoda in Sanskrit is "stūpa," and "thūpa" in Pali. The origin of Buddhist pagodas is very old, and dates back to scriptures written in the time of Śākyamuni Buddha. Kings from eight different countries gained parts of the Buddha’s relics and in their home countries built pagodas to enshrine the Śākyamuni Buddha’s relics. However, such a structure may still be called a pagoda even if it does not enshrine relics of the Buddha.

The construction of brick pagodas was developed in China, whereas stone pagodas are more common in Korea, and wooden pagodas are more prevalent in Japan. Pagodas were the most important object of worship in Theravada Buddhism. However, there were difficulties in building pagodas due to the limited amount of relics or artifacts to be enshrined. Thus, statues of the Buddha were created as an object of worship and replaced other sacred artifacts. Despite this, pagodas are still solemnly maintained and considered to be sacred objects of refuge. Similarly, the Platform of Adamantine Precepts, stone lanterns, and stone monuments are also found in temples. The Platform of Adamantine Precepts is a place where the Vināya vows are taken. This platform symbolizes the wish to preserve the Vināya vows in a manner as steadfast and strong as a diamond, thus our minds will be adamantine and never break the vows. In the center, a relic representing the presence of the Buddha is enshrined. The most well-known platform of adamantine precepts in Korea is located at Tongdosa Monastery.

Seokdeung, or the stone lanterns, were originally built to brighten the temple courtyard . However, in later years it would become part of the basic architecture.

Budo or stone monuments typically enshrine the relics of great masters. These building structures developed along with the rise of Seon Buddhism, for which ancestor worship was considered necessary. Although pagodas and stone monuments are similar in that they enshrine relics, the shape and locations of these monuments differ significantly. Pagodas are often built in the center of the main courtyard. However, stone monuments are typically found outside the compound or in a remote part of the temple. The structures that enshrine the relics of great masters are called Budojeon.


(5) Interior Structure of the Dharma Hall

The Dharma Halls usually consist of upper, middle, and lower altars.

①The Upper Altar (Sangdan)Buddhas are always enshrined in the center and very front of the upper altar. It is often called the altar of the Buddha-Bodhisattva, or Buddha Altar for short. The upper altar also enshrines the principal Buddha of that temple and Buddhist paintings hang behind the main Buddha statue.


②The Middle Altar (Jungdan)

Dedicated to the divine guardians of the Dharma, this altar is often called Shinjungdan. King Indra (the King of Guardians), the Four Heavenly Kings, dharma protectors, gods and goddesses, holy saints, heavenly beings, dragons, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, kimnaras, garudas, and mahoragas, together with all other protector beings, are enshrined on the middle altar. Deities from Korean indigenous religion, such as the Big Dipper God and the Mountain God, are also sometimes enshrined on this altar.


③The Lower Altar (Hadan)

This altar enshrines the spirits and ancestors. Buddhist paintings of Amitābha Buddha and other Buddhas giving sermons are enshrined here. It is sometimes called"the altar of the spirits of the deceased."



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