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Meaning and Symbolism Found in Korean Temples print

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1. Paradise Bridge to One Pillar Gate 2. One Pillar Gate to Gate of Non-Duality 3. The Dharma Hall and Buddha
4. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Dharma Halls 5. Buddhist Paintings 6. Stone Stupas and Lamps

2. One Pillar Gate to Gate of Non-Duality
After crossing the oceans and mountains, visitors arrive at the foot of Mt. Sumeru and begin the ascent through several gates.

The One Pillar Gate (Iljumun)

The first gate of the temple is the One Pillar Gate because this is the entrance point to Mt. Sumeru. It is called the One Pillar Gate not because there is only one pillar but rather because the pillars are in the shape of the numeral one and are straight and upright. A roof connects these pillars to symbolize single-mindedness. This is a reminder to forsake one’s wandering mind and go forth resolutely. When entering this gate a deep bow is made from the waist with hands folded at the chest. Written on this gate might be the mountain and temple names and sometimes, the characters for “Jogye Gate.”

The Vajra Gate (Gumgangmun)

Next is the Four Heavenly Kings. Some temples have a Vajra Gate in between the One Pillar Gate and the Four Heavenly Kings. The Vajra Gate has two fierce looking Vajra protectors. They guard the temple from evil demons. One has his mouth open to say ‘a,’ which is the cosmic syllable representing the beginning. The other has his mouth closed to say ‘hung,’ which is the cosmic syllable representing the end. Together the ‘om’ sound is produced which means, ‘the absolute.’ The A-Vajra protector is said to have the strength of a hundred elephants and the Hung-Vajra Protector to have esoteric powers.

Gate of Four Heavenly Kings (Cheonwangmun)

The Four Heavenly Kings live at the foot of Mt. Sumeru. They were inspired by the Dharma and became Dharma protectors. They hold a sword, a dragon, a wish-fulfilling jewel, a trident, a stupa, and a lute in their many hands. Each king watches over one cardinal direction and they protect all beings from evil. At their command are legions of supernatural beings to protect the Dharma and they are tasked to trample the evil demons which symbolize ignorance, hatred and greed. Visitors show reverence and ask for protection from harboring selfish thoughts and committing acts of wrong-doing.

The Gate of Non-Duality (Bulimun)

This represents the entrance to the pure land of the Buddha meaning entrance to holy ground. In order to enter the pure land of the Buddha, we must overcome the duality of: self and others, right and wrong, and good and bad. Thus, this gate is also called the Gate to Liberation and the Gate to Paradise which symbolize the gateway to the holy land of the Buddha.

The Bell Pavilion and the Four Instruments (Beomjong-gak & Samul)

Within the temples grounds is a pavilion containing four large temple instruments. The giant temple bell is rung to save beings in the heavens and hells. It is struck 28 times in the morning and 33 times in the evening. The Dharma drum is used to teach the Dharma to people in the nearby lands. The drum is made from cowhide on one side and oxhide on the other to symbolize the balance between yin and yang (male and female energies). The cloud gong is sounded to save flying creatures and spirits who inhabit the sky and the wooden fish is struck to save beings in the water. This is a percussion instrument made by hollowing out a large piece of wood in the shape of a fish and is played by striking two sticks on the inside. Because fish always have their eyes open, this instrument has become a symbol of the diligence needed when practicing something.

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