Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bongeunsa Temple

History of Bongeunsa Temple

In 794, the 10th year of the Silla king Weongseong's reign Gyeonseongsa Temple was constructed by Ven. Yeon-hoe. It was refurbished in 1498 by Queen Jeonghyeon and renamed Bongeunsa ("offering benefit"), the name it still carries today.

In the Joseon dynasty known for repressing Buddhism, Queen Munjeong (1502-1565) and acting regent for her young son lifted the official ban on Buddhism, patronized it and instigated an impressive resurgence in its religious beliefs. And in 1562 during the reign of King Myeongjong (1545-1567), the 13th king of Joseon and son of Queen Munjeong who in effect still ruled,  the temple was transferred to its current location. With Queen Munjeong's reawakening of Buddhism and patronage of Bongeunsa, the temple became a cornerstone of early-Joseon Buddhist revival.

Ven. Bo-woo played a key role at this critical period, having been assigned as the Chief Monk of Bongeuns in 1548. He revived an official system of training and selecting monks in both the Seon (meditation) and Gyo (doctrinal, scholastic) sects of Korean Buddhism. Then, from 1551 to 1936, Bongeunsa became the main temple of the Jogye Seon Order as well as becoming the main base for the overall restoration of Korean Buddhism. [The present-day center of the Jogye Order -- since its establishment arguably in 1937 -- is the Jogyesa in downtown Seoul.] This revived training system produced such illustrious monks as Ven. Seo-san, Ven. Sa-myeong, and Ven. Byeok-am. However, soon after Queen Munjeong died in 1565, Ven. Bo-woo was killed by anti-Buddhist officials who had regained dominance in Korea towards the end of Queen Munjeong's rule. From 1552-1564 the temple was the center of the Buddhist National Exam, the prestigious exam only held once every three years.

In 1902 Bongeunsa was made one of Korea's 14 major temples, but during the Japanese occupation the temple became the headquarters of 80 smaller Buddhist temples around Seoul. (In 1922 and 1929, the head monk Cheong-ho saved over 700 people from drowning in the Han River, an act that inspired a monument of recognition.) After colonial rule and the reorganization of sects of Buddhist temples in South Korea, Bongeunsa became subordinate to the Jogye Order, the largest sect in Korea, and the main temple for the Jogye Order was transferred to the Jogyesa in downtown Seoul. 

present-day Bongeunsa 

Treasures at the Temple

A fire in 1939 destroyed most of the buildings (which had been rebuilt a number of times since the temples establishment), and other parts of the temple were destroyed during the Korean War. Fortunately, one of the very few halls which escaped destruction during the Korean War continues to hold the woodblock carvings of the Flower Garland Sutra, completed in 1855 by Monk Young-ki. The temple has undergone many repairs and renovations, and is now once again a large, thriving complex with reconstruction efforts continuing today.

The oldest building at Bongeunsa is the main sanctuary known as the Pan-jeon. Inside this cultural asset are others: preserved and engraved Buddhist sayings. Additionally, the letters on the front board are famous for being written by Kim Jung-hee, pen-name Chu'sa (among other pen-names) and master calligrapher in the Joseon dynasty. In painting the signboard he was imitating the front sign on the main sanctuary of the Jinkwan Temple in Bukhansan.

There are 3,479 preserved Buddhist scriptures, which are divided into 13 types, housed in the Pan-jeon. On September 9 (lunar calendar) a Buddhist ceremony called Jeongdaebulsa is held in which the monks carry scriptures on their heads and recite Beopseongge (Buddhist rites).

The great statue of Maitreya Buddha, at 23 meters, is the tallest statue of Maitreya Buddha in Korea and has become the pride of Bongeunsa. The construction started in 1986 and took 10 years to complete. The surrounding courtyard is used for various ceremonies and cultural events. 

The temple is in the throbbing metropolitan area across from COEX. 


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