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Representative Korean Buddhist Temples
Art and culture in Korean Buddhism
(1) Representative Korean Buddhist Temples

The 2,500 year history of Korean Buddhism has given rise to many large temples. Among them, the Three Jewel Temples are the most famous and largest Korean Buddhist temples. The three jewels in Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Three Jewel Temples represent each aspect: Tongdosa Temple represents the Buddha because there is a famous stupa (or pagoda) housing relics of Buddha from China; Haeinsa Temple represents the teaching or Dharma, because there is a large number of Buddhist scriptures; and Songgwangsa Temple represents the Buddhist community or Sangha, as about fifteen Korean patriarchs have come from this temple.

Tongdosa Temple

Tongdosa Temple was built in 646 by Master Jajang during the reign of Queen Seondeok. One of the great monks in Korean Buddhism, Master Jajang, carried Buddha's relics from China and he enshrined them at Tongdosa Temple. As a result, unlike other temples, there is no statue of Buddha in the Main Hall. Instead, Buddhists worship the Stupa.

Tongdosa Temple

The Diamond Precepts platform is behind the Main Hall. On the platform is a bell-shaped stupa surrounded by a stone barrier. The gate is finely decorated with dragons, clouds and two protector guardians. There are protective deities on the four corners of the platform. The ball-shaped stupa is decorated with lotus patterns, lotus blossoms, lotus petals, the Four Virtues and gods on the base and upper parts. In front of the stupa lies the lovely Nine Dragons Pond. Originally very large, the pond was home to nine dragons.

▲ The Stupa(or pagoda) in Tongdosa Temple

Haeinsa Temple is the second representative temple. Its name means "reflection on a smooth sea." It is the description of deep meditation in the Avatamsaka Sutra. Originally, Haeinsa Temple was a small hermitage built by Master Sunung and Master Ichong at the time of their return from China in 802. The wife of King Aejang was sick, and the two monks had helped to cure her. The King built Haeinsa Temple in honor of the monks. The temple has since been enlarged. Behind the Main Hall are two buildings that were constructed in 1488 housing the wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and the Buddhist scriptures. The Tripitaka Koreana was originally carved in the 11th century in a temple on Ganghwa Island. The possession of these wooden blocks was said to protect the country against invasion.

However, the blocks were burnt by Mongol invaders. In the 13th century, production of a new set of blocks was undertaken at the order of King Gojong. It took about 16 years to carve 52,330,152 characters on 81,258 blocks. These were transported from Ganghwa Island on the heads of nuns to Haeinsa for safe-keeping.

▲ Songgwangsa Temple

Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple” and it was established on Mt. Jogye by Master Jinul (1158-1210). In 1190, Jinul created a “Concentration and Wisdom Community” for practicing Buddhism together. Searching for the ideal location, he carved a crane out of wood, which he then released. The crane flew away and finally landed in the place where Songgwangsa Temple is today. The Master's Portrait Hall was built and the temple came to represent the Sangha, the followers of Buddha.

Jinul's Buddhist philosophy created an ancient Buddhist debate that continues today. He believed that enlightenment could be quite easily reached, but that practice must continue afterwards in order to get rid of the habit energies. This is called the Sudden Awakening and Gradual Cultivation as opposed to Sudden Awakening and Sudden Cultivation, wherein after a struggle to reach the difficult stage of enlightenment, cultivation is no longer necessary.

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