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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

4. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Dharma Halls

Buddha Relic Temples (Jeokmyeolbogung)

In Korea, there are five temples containing actual Buddha relics and in these temples there are no Buddha statues in their main Dharma halls. Because the relics come from the Buddha himself, there are no statues representing the Buddha. The five temples are: Tongdosa Temple, Bongjeongam Hermitage, Sangwonsa Temple, Jeongamsa Temple, and Beopheungsa Temple.

The Main Dharma Hall (Daewungjeon)

Daewungjeon means the hall of the great hero and in the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni is praised as the great hero. This hall is the main Dharma hall in most temples. Shakyamuni Buddha is the central figure, often flanked by Manjushri and Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas on each side. Behind the statues, there is often a painting of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Most of the important Dharma assemblies take place in this hall. It is good temple etiquette to offer three bows in this hall upon entering the temple.

The Hall of Vairochana Buddha (Daejeok-kwangjeon)

The Buddha in the Vairochana hall represents the absolute truth, also called Dharmakaya. He is the main figure in the Avatamsaka Sutra and is the primordial Buddha, representing the culmination of nature. This Buddha can be identified by his mudra (hand gesture) of wrapping the left thumb with the right hand. He is usually flanked by Rocana Buddha (also called Sambhogakaya) and Shakyamuni (also called Nirmanakaya).

The Hall of Infinite Life (Muryangsujeon) or The Pure Land Hall (Geuk-nakjeon)

Here the central figure is Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha in Sanskrit means ‘infinite life.’ Amitabha Buddha is believed to lead beings to his Pure Land after death. Even a wicked person can go to the Pure Land if he petitions sincerely to Amitabha Buddha. He is the Buddha of the western Pure Land. A Pure land is a place where the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are thought to reside and there is no suffering. Flowers bloom all the time and even birds sing the Dharma. It is a place where one can become a Buddha and is the best place to be reborn. When followers recently lose a loved one, this hall is a good place to pray for him or her. In this hall, Amitabha is usually flanked by Avalokiteshvara (Kwanseum Bosal) and Mahasthamaprapta (Daeseji Bosal).

Medicinal Buddha Hall (Yaksajeon)

In the Medicinal hall, the Buddha cures disease and sickness. He is also believed to also heal the inner poisons of ignorance, hatred, and attachment. In his hand, he holds a jar of medicine to remedy the ills of the world. To the left and right of the Medicine Buddha are Candra-prabha (Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Surya-prabha (Sunlight Bodhisattva).

Maitreya Buddha Hall (Mireukjeon)

Maitreya is a Buddha who is expected to appear 5,670,000,000 years in the future and currently resides in Tushita Heaven guiding others. Maitreya means loving kindness. Maitreya is said to one day become enlightened under the Yonghwa tree and turn the wheel of dharma to save 30 billion souls with great love.

Avalokiteshvara Hall (Kwanumjeon)

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, is the most popular figure in Korean and Mahayana Buddhism. His name means one who hears the cries of the world. It is said, if you pray to him, he is very quick to answer. He is sometimes depicted with a thousand hands and eyes which are symbolic of his great desire to help those suffering

Ksitigarbha Hall (Jijangjeon)

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva sworn not to enter nirvana until every being is freed from hell. According to Korean Buddhist mythology, the deceased pass before ten kings to be judged. Ksitigarbha acts on their behalf to ensure salvation and protects those while they are in the state between death and rebirth, as well as those lost in the underworld.

Vulture Peak Hall (Yeongsanjeon) or The Hall of the Eight Scenes (Palsangjeon)

This hall contains Shakyamuni Buddha accompanied by his disciples. The Heart Sutra (the most important text of Mahayana Buddhism) was thought to be expounded on Vulture Peak. Also, the eight major scenes of the Buddha’s life are often depicted here. Thus, it is also called the Hall of the Eight Scenes.

Arhat Hall (Nahanjeon)

This is dedicated to the Arhat who have destroyed the three poisonous enemies of ignorance, hatred, and attachment. The number of arhats represented in these halls can range from sixteen to eighteen to 500. Arhats are usually depicted in simple attire and the form of monks.

Sutra Hall (Daejangjeon)

The Buddhist Canon or wood blocks are stored in the Sutra Hall, which is sometimes called the Hall of the Dharma Treasure (Beopbojeon) because the dharma is stored here. Vairochana Buddha (a symbol of ultimate truth represented by dharma text) or Shakyamuni Buddha (teacher of the dharma) figures are common in this hall.

The Hall of the Patriarchs (Josajeon)

This hall is dedicated to great monks who played an important role in the establishment or revival of a temple or Buddhist order. A patriarch can be a great monk who established an order, a lineage holder (one who transmits the dharma), or simply a moral and upstanding monk.

The Shrine of the Three Sages (Samseong-gak)

The three sages are the Big Dipper God, the Hermit Saint, and the Mountain God. There will often be a hall dedicated to each figure. The Big Dipper God was originally worshiped in Korea’s folk religion and then adopted into Buddhism. People would pray to the Big Dipper God for their children to live long. The Hermit Saint practiced alone on Mt. Cheontae to save beings in their last stage of life. He is depicted in temple paintings as an old man with a white beard and long eyebrows. This mountain sage is usually called “Naban Jonja.” The Mountain God was a popular figure in ancient Korea because of the mountainous terrain. It was believed this god helped farmers and watched over the everyday life of people. The mountain god is commonly depicted with a tiger. All three of these were prominent deities from the Korean folk religion that were adopted by Buddhism.

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