Feeling overwhelmed from a few hours at the Coex Mall, I was about ready to head home for the day.  With exhaustion setting in, having done a lot of walking the past few days and I could feel a cold coming on, I still wasn’t content with the only touristy visit of the day being to Seoul’s largest shopping center as well as Asia’s largest underground mall.  So I was excited to remember that there was a Buddhist temple just around the corner.  As wiped out as I was, something told me to head north to Bonguensa.  So I did.


Bonguensa is a forested hillside in the middle of the city.  Several statues and structures are spread among the grounds, including temples, halls, bell towers and pavilions.  According to the literature provided, it was founded in 794, though most of the structures have fallen victim to attacks and fires.  Because of rebuilding efforts, the oldest current structure dates back to 1856.

The gate you enter through is called Jinyeomoon.  Jinyeo refers to the true of an object as it is, or the eternal reality, so entering the gate is an act of searching for the unchanging truth.  As you walk through, on either side of you are Sacheonwang, or Statues of Four Devas.  These heavenly kings over look the Buddhist lands and protect the Dharma and its followers.  Apparently the Sacheonwang at Bonguensa are unique because they are made of wood and have a benevolent expression, as opposed to the typical ferocious or stern expression.



Bupwangroo is where the king of the Dharma, Buddha is placed.  Different versions of Buddha are placed in different spots.  So this must be king Buddha.  Also, there are 3,300 small statues of the Bodhisattva of compassion inside.




Up above Bupwangroo lanterns could be found everywhere, all over the grounds.  This would look pretty amazing lit up at night.



Daewoongjeon is the main temple and center of all religious activities.  Daewoon means Big Hero, a nickname for Buddha.  Inside is Sakyamuni Buddha in the middle with Amitabha Buddha and Bhaisagya Buddha on either side.  It looks they are wearing hats backwards.



Jongroo is the Bell Pavilion.  Four instruments are found inside.  The Bupgo Dharma Drum beats to save all living things on earth.  The Mokeo, Wooden Dragon Fish looking thing, symbolizes the trainee’s meditation without sleep and beats to save all living beings underwater.  The Woonpan is the cloud shaped gong that beats for all animals and living beings in the air.  And the Bumjong is the temple bell, which beats for living beings in hell.  Hell, really?  The harmony created with the deep sound of the Bugpo and the metallic and wooden sound of the Bumjong represent the Korean cultural sound.




There are other notable things on the grounds, but by far the most impressive is the statue of Mireukdaebul, which is the Buddha of the future, also known as Maitreya.  Future Buddha is amazing.   23 meters high, that’s 75 feet for you Americans, it’s the largest statue of Buddha in Korea.  The statue symbolizes hope for Maitreya to arrive and save all mankind.



One thing to note… to a Westerner it’s odd to see swastikas, however Buddhism inherited the swastika when it originated in the 5th century BC.  It’s a symbol of eternity, representing Dharma, universal harmony and the balance of opposites.


Bongeunsa was exactly what I needed that afternoon.  Even though I had been on vacation, I wasn’t relaxing much.  Because I didn’t take a trip, I was putting pressure on myself to take advantage of my off time in town, and pushing to see more and more.  Now my feet hurt and I am getting a cold.  Being able to take a deep breath, stroll through the temple grounds, observe people meditating and praying and enjoy being surrounded by the greenery of Bongeunsa was the perfect prescription.

Learn Korean with


~ by ripcitytoseoul on August 4, 2009.

7 Responses to “Bongeunsa”

  1. Great pictures, D. I also really enjoyed your descriptions. That Maitreya statue is incredible.

  2. I’m not sure it’s the largest statue of Buddha in Korea. I believe it’s the tallest wooden statue, though.

    • It is according to the literature provided by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism at the Temple site.

  3. Which Buddha has the big fat belly that you are supposed to rub for luck?

  4. […] pretty cold lately, and we have also been talking about seeing the movie 2012, as well as visiting Bongeunsa Temple together. Toss in the aquarium visit, and that’s a full day in the Coex […]

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