A Guide to Beopjusa Temple in Songnisan National Park
Visiting a temple in Korea is like traveling back in time to a place of peace and tranquility. Beopjusa Temple in Boeun is no exception. If you enjoy Korean temples, be sure to drop by Beopjusa and discover its 1,500-year old history. You won’t regret it.
The History of Beopjusa Temple
Beopjusa Temple was built on the slopes of Songnisan Mountain in the year 553 during the 14th year of Silla King Jinheung’s reign. Many of the original buildings, however, were destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598), and the current structures were built in 1624. The temple contains numerous beautiful and significant Buddhist relics and artworks.
According to historic records, Beopjusa was founded by master monk Euishin in 553 after he returned from India. He brought with him sacred relics, which he buried inside the 5-story wooden pagoda at the temple.
Sansa – Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea
Beopjusa is one of seven so-called sansa, Buddhist mountain monasteries; the others are Bongjeongsa, Buseoksa, Daeheungsa, Magoksa, Seonamsa and Tongdosa. All of these monasteries are located in the southern provinces of Korea and were important centers of Buddhism established between the 7th and 9th centuries.
All of these temples are excellent representations of Korean Seon Buddhism, which you can clearly see in their building style, documentation and distinctive intangible aspects, like self-sufficient temple management, education of monks and the coexistence of meditative practice and doctrinal studies of Korean Seon Buddhism.
Despite suppression during the Joseon Dynasty and wars over the years, these mountain monasteries have survived to the present day as living centers of faith and religious practices.
How To Get There
Address: 405, Beopjusa-ro, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do (충청북도 보은군 속리산면 법주사로 405)
By Bus: Take an intercity bus from Seoul Nambu Terminal to Songnisan Bus Terminal. From there, you can walk to the temple.
With a tour: With this Songnisan & Beopjusa Temple day trip from Seoul, a guide will pick you up in a private car and take you to Songnisan for the day. The tour includes roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Seoul and back, lunch at the temple and a fluent English-speaking mountain expert guide.
Hours: Sunrise – sunset
Admission: 5,000 KRW
Templestay Program: Beopjusa Temple does offer a templestay program. If you’re interested in visiting. Check out the Templestay.com site.
What You’ll See at Beopjusa
As one of Korea’s oldest functioning temples, there’s a lot to see at Beopjusa. Today, the temple consists of several different temple halls, a wooden tower called Palsangjeon (Hall of Eight Scenes of the Buddha’s Life), a 33-meter-tall golden Buddha statues and several old sculptures and stone carvings that are considered national treasures.
First things first: a Walk Through the Forest
Beopjusa is located inside the Songnisan National Park. While you don’t need to hike any mountains to get to the temple, you need to walk through the forest for around 15 minutes to get to the temple’s main gate. If you also enjoy hiking, I recommend heading up Songnisan mountain after visiting the temple.
This national park is especially famous for its vibrant autumn foliage. At the beginning of the walk, you have to purchase your ticket at the booth and then walk until you reach a large gate, this is the beginning of the forest walk. From there, you walk until you see the diamond gate, the main entrance of the temple.
Sacheonwangmun – Gate of Four Heavenly Kings
After entering the temple complex through the diamond gate, the next gate you’ll pass through is Sacheonwangmun. If you visited a temple in Korea before, you might have seen a similar gate with four grim looking statues inside. They are always positioned at the entrance of a temple and watch over it. The gate of four heavenly kings at Beopjusa is the largest of its kind in Korea.
The King of the East plays a flute and has a friendly smile. The King of the South holds a long sword and has a fierce scowl. The King of the West holds a dragon in his right hand and the flaming pearl of wisdom in his left hand. The King of the North holds a stone pagoda in one hand and a funerary banner pole in the other.
Golden Buddha Statue
The first thing you’ll probably notice after entering the temple grounds is this 33-meter golden buddha statue situated on the left side of the temple complex. It was first built in the year 776 but was later removed and taken to Seoul after the restoration of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
It was rebuilt several times for Beopjusa and the statue we see today was made in 2002. The statue weighs 160 tons and is covered in 80kg of gold leaves worth around US$4 million.
There is a chamber under the statue where you can hold prayers.
Palsangjeon – Hall of Eight Scenes of the Buddha’s Life
This is the only remaining five-story wooden pagoda in Korea and a national treasure. The pagoda has its name from the paintings on the walls inside the halls depicting the eight important scenes of the life of Buddha. Have a look and see if you can recognize all eight in this order:
- Announcement of his conception to Queen Mayadevi
- His birth and first steps
- His witnessing of four sufferings of human beings
- His departure from the palace
- His practice of extreme seclusion from the world
- His initial enlightenment and rejection of temptations
- His full enlightenment and first teaching
- His passing into nirvana
Daeungbojeon – the Main Hall
This is the main hall of the temple built in the typical style of the middle period of the Joseon Dynasty. The front has seven compartments and the sides have four. The roof is also built in the traditional royal roof style referred to as paljak, which is used for hipped and gabled roofs. Today, it is national treasure no. 915.
Samjondaebul – the Buddha Triad
Sitting inside the main hall is a triad of Buddha statues. The hall is mainly dedicated to the Vairocana Buddha (the main Buddha), with two other buddha statues supporting. These three figures are the largest clay statues in Korea today, measuring 5.5 meters in height and 3.9 meters in width.
Wontongbojeon – Hall of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
This smaller hall located in front of the main hall to the left houses another national treasure. This wooden seated golden Buddha statue is regarded as one of the best examples of Buddhist statues made in the late Joseon Period (1392-1910).
Its name means “One who perceives the sounds of suffering in the world”.
Other Treasures Not to Miss at Beopjusa Temple
Twin Lion Base Stone Lantern
National treasure no. 5, a stone lantern built in 720, Shilla Dynasty
Standing with Offering
National treasure no. 1417, stone sculpture offering incense
Stone Carved Buddha
Image of the Buddha carved in stone during the Goryo Dynasty
For when you’re thirsty:
Dahyang Traditional Teahouse
There’s a cute little teahouse outside the temple in front of the diamond gate. Every time I visit Beopjusa I have some delicious Omija tea here. It’s a local tea made from a red, five-flavor berry. The teahouse also sells some souvenirs.
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