Thursday, May 7, 2015

Brief History and Politics of Jogye Temple,

The Jogye Temple was established in 1395 at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty, and since that time the Jogye Order has emerged as the largest order of Buddhism in South Korea. In 1910 at the beginning of the Japanese occupation period, the temple Gakhwangsa was constructed by monks who desired independence for Korean Buddhism. The Japanese had their own form of Buddhism, Zen, while Seon Buddhism was the Korean style. Though both had the same origin, the cultures they were introduced into affected social and ritual differences.

Despite cultural differences between Zen and Seon Buddhism, Gakhwangsa Temple served as a spiritual backbone for Korean people during Japanese occupation. Much of Korea's traditional Buddhist heritage was destroyed during occupation, but Gakhwangsa was known to have retained some of the core spirit and history of Korean Buddhism.

In 1937 Gakhwangsan was relocated to its present address, and the following year it was renamed as Taegosa (Great Old Temple) because it was the treasure-house for maintaining Korean Buddhism traditions. Taegosa was a temple originally founded in 1341 AD by the monk Taego-Bo-U, who was instrumental in reviving Korean Buddhism during a period of decline.

After the Japanese occupation period, in 1954, the Buddhist Purification Movement was established and, in their attempts to purge the Japanese effects of Buddhism from Korean-style Buddhism,  and Buddhism in South Korea came to be separated mainly by celibacy vows. The name Jogye for the unmarried monks was created, and the Taego Temple renamed the Jogye Temple, and it became over time the central temple for the Jogye Order. In later years the separation between the celibates and the monks who could marry, a kickback from the Japanese era, led to the stratification of Buddhism, namely, the Taego Order which allowed monks to marry, and the Jogye Order which enforced vows of celibacy. Of course there were other practices that separated the two orders.

Celebrations at the Jogye Temple increase as Buddha's birthday approaches. Every year the decorations for Buddha's birthday become more and more elaborate. See pictures of Jogyesa in 2009, 2010, and 2012.
Each colorful lotus blossom represents an individual prayer.
And the prayers are many and crowd the clouds.
The name, Jogye

The name Jogye is taken from a mountain where the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, Hulneng (638-713 AD), lived. Master Hulneng, though born poor and illiterate, attained enlightenment on hearing the Diamond Sutra being chanted. As the story goes, he later was recognized by the Fifth Patriarch and became his successor. The name, Jogye, therefore is metaphysically linked to the attainment of enlightenment.

The temple grounds

The main hall houses a relatively small Buddha of unknown origin. Behind the Buddha statue is a traditional painting with the central figure being Sakyamuni—the Historical Buddha—guardians, some of Buddha's disciples. Bodhisatttvas, and others flanking him. On both sides are cases containing sutras carved on wooden blocks. The central shrine is surrounded by hundreds of Buddhas; they are symbolic of many Buddhas in the universe. The order of greatness in a Buddhist temple is determined by spiritual attainment of enlightenment, as I understand it:
4 heavenly kings
attendants (includes Buddha's disciples?)
To the left of the main hall is the bell pavilion where hangs the drum, the bell, the gong and the fish—instruments used to regulate temple life and call all sentient beings to listen to the liberating words of Buddha being chanted every evening. When calling all animals, first the drum is rhythmically beaten. Then the large bell calls all who suffer and live in realms of torment; in the morning it is struck 28 times, in the evening 33 times. Then the cloud-shaped gong calls all beings of the air. Finally the log-carved-into-a-fish (with its never blinking eyes symbolic of continual awareness) calls all creatures from the water. Every day of the year, a monk is in charge of sounding these instruments at 4 a.m. and 6 p.m.

In front of the main hall is a seven-storied pagoda said to contain a relic of the Buddha brought by a Sri Lankan monk in 1914. Also beside the main hall is a 500-year-old (baeksong) lacebark white pine tree reportedly brought from China. This type of tree grows and reproduces very slowly and today is very rare. This tree was so highly valued that it was moved from its previous site at Gakhwangsa Temple to its present location. In 1962 the Korean government designated it as a Natural Monument. Also in the compound is a 450-year-old Chinese scholar tree, a tree that is planted near Buddhist temples and palaces as it is believed that they convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness. The Chinese name for the tree (槐) is composed of the word 木 ("wood") and 鬼 ("demon"). In folklore, it is said that a cowherd once built a home out of this species of tree, and within a month his entire family was suddenly found dead, with no signs of foul play. It was therefore believed that demons are drawn to this tree and it is therefore not appropriate to use its wood to build homes, but it is useful for luring demons away from other wood constructions. In temples and palaces it is deemed to alter luck and bring good fortune.

Pungsujiri? (Geomancy?)

Jogyesa Temple is the only major temple within the old city walls of Seoul. In 1937 the temple Gakhwangsa was relocated within the four great walls of Seoul, something unprecedented and unthought of in the Joseon Dynasty. The temple was renamed Taegosa and, reading between the lines, it seems to be another move of the Japanese to control and subdue the Korea spirit and their sense of the religious, especially as it was located not very far from the front gate of Kyoungbokgung, the largest palace, and positioned central to all of the palace structures and precisely between the Sajik and Jongmyo Shrines. Two of the four most important Confucian ritual ceremonies were held at these two shrines: Jongmyo for memorial services to the 19 tablets of Confucian kings of the Joseon Dynasty, and Sajik Shrine for ceremonial prayers and petitions to the gods to bless earth and crops. When performed correctly, these rituals guaranteed order and success for the rule of the nation.

A crafty move to position a Buddhist temple center-most amongst the five Korean palaces and positioned precisely between the two foremost shrines of the Korean nation, which became more and more a suppressed colony.
Therefore, when looking at the order and structure of the city, selecting the site for the Taegosa Temple was a well-thought-out move on the Japanese part to further break the spirits of Koreans and to break their connections of ki (energy) and pungsujiri. Both the Japanese and Koreans highly believed in geomantic principles, so locating a Buddhist temple amidst the Confucian-planned city appears to be a determined move to break the pungsujiri and flow of connected energy to the nation.

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