Bulguksa, the Temple of the Land Buddha, sits mid-slope on Mt.
Tohamsan. Its construction was completed under the supervision
of Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong in the 10th year of King Gyeongdeok's reign
of the Silla Kingdom (751).
The temple manifests both terrestrial and celestial abodes:
the mundane world as represented by Shakyamuni Buddha's Lotus
Sutra; the paradise governed by the Amitabha Buddha as described
in the Book of the Constant Life, and the other paradise, the
Land of Perfect Bliss of the Vairocana, the Resplendent Buddha,
as described in the Avatamska Sutra.
The cloistered compound is largely divided into two courts:
one, centering on Daeungjeon, the Hall of Shakyamuni, contains
Cheongungyo, the Blue Cloud Bridge, Baegungyo, the White Cloud
Bridge, Jahamun, the Gate of Purple Mist, Beomyeongnu, the Pavilion
of Mount Meru, Jwagyeongnu, the Left Sutra Hall, Dabotap, the
Pagoda of Abundant Treasures, Seokgatap, the Pagoda of Shakyamuni,
and Museoljeon, the Hall of Discourse; the other, centering
on Geungnakjeon, the Hall of Paradise, contains Chilbogyo, the
Seven Treasure Bridge, Yeonhwagyo, the Lotus Flower Bridge,
and Anyangmun, the Gate to Nirvana.
Seokgatap and Dabotap are the most eye-catching of these architectural
masterpieces. Dedicated to the Shakyamuni Buddha and the Prabhutaratna
(the Buddha of Abundant Treasures), these two pagodas represent
these Buddhas as residing in the temple, well exemplifying the
Silla people's desire to embody Buddhist ideals in the mundane
Tucked away on the eastern slope of the peak of Mt. Tohamsan is Seokguram Buddhist Grotto, a hermitage of Bulguksa, also known
to have been built by Kim Dae-seong. This granite sanctuary
sums up the religious enthusiasm, architectural technology,
and immaculate workmanship of the Silla people, making it a
rare landmark of world religious art.
Seokguram consists of an antechamber which holds reliefs of
eight guardian deities and two Vajrapanis; a short corridor
carved with four heavenly kings; and the main rotunda
which enshrines in its center the seated main Buddha, Shakyamuni
Tathagata (the Incarnation of Truth). Along the lower part of
the circular wall are reliefs of an 11-faced Avalokitesvara,
ten disciples, Manjusri, Sakradevanam Indra, Mahabrahmandah,
and Samantabhadra. Above these at about eye-level are ten niches,
each enshrining a bodhisattva.
The main Buddha under the vault of the rotunda wears a smile
of serene benevolence which has been appreciated as the zenith
of what man can achieve through stone sculpture. It is as if
the Buddha is about to preach to us at any moment, to enlighten
the good human nature innate within us. For its sheer culmination
of Buddhist beliefs, aesthetics, and advanced engineering, Seokguram
was registered on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage List, together
with Bulguksa Temple, in December of 1995.