Buddhism was first introduced on the Korean Peninsula to the Goguryeo Dynasty in 372 C.E. by Sundo, a Chinese monk. Through state support, the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism took deeper roots during the Unified Silla (668-935) and Goryeo (918-1392) dynasties.
It wasn’t until the Confucian-influenced Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) that Buddhism began its slow decline. Finally, once Korea emerged from the oppression of Japanese colonialism in 1945, Korean Buddhism once again entered a golden era.
Now, with thousands of Buddhist temples spread throughout the country, there certainly is no shortage of richly historic locations of the ancient philosophy. Haps has put together a collection of some great locations to get you started.
#01: Haeinsa Temple – Hapcheon
Yet another of Korea’s remarkable temples is Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do, which also just so happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Haeinsa Temple’s claim to fame is the collection of over 81,000 wooden blocks that comprise the Tripitaka Koreana, a set of Buddhist scriptures that date back to the mid-13th century. The temple itself dates back to 802 C.E., and the name ‘Haeinsa’ means ‘Temple of the Ocean Mudra.’ www.haeinsa.or.kr
#02: Bulguksa Temple – Gyeongju
Located in the historic city of Gyeongju, Bulguksa Temple is Korea’s most iconic temple. Originally established to placate the spirits of Prime Minister Kim Daeseong in 751 C.E., Bulguksa Temple now possesses a remarkable six national treasures. The beautiful front façade and the towering Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas make Bulguksa Temple the most recognizable temple in all of Korea to foreign visitors. www.bulguksa.or.kr
#03: Tongdosa Temple – Yangsan
Originally constructed in 643 C.E. by Jajang-yulsa, Tongdosa Temple was built to house the partial earthly remains of the historic Buddha Seokgamoni-bul, which Jajang-yulsa received during his studies in China. With the support of Queen Seondeok, Jajang-yulsa built Tongdosa Temple to help spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom. Now, nearly 1500 years later, and with visitors still being able to view the Buddha’s remains, it’s no wonder why Tongdosa Temple remains one of Korea’s most popular temples, as well as its largest. www.tongdosa.or.kr
#04: Beopjusa Temple – Songnisan National Park
Founded in 553 C.E., Beopjusa Temple is one of the most beautifully situated temples in Korea. In addition to the surrounding beauty, Beopjusa Temple also has a massive 33-meter-tall bronze statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (the Future Buddha). But it’s probably National Treasure #55, the five-story wooden pagoda known as Palsang-jeon, which dates back to 1624, that truly makes Beopjusa Temple something special. www.beopjusa.or.kr
#05: Beomeosa Temple – Busan
First established in 678 C.E. by the famed monk Uisang-daesa, Beomeosa Temple offers a dozen shrine halls for visitors to explore. Having passed through the 9th century Iljumun Gate at the entry, you’ll be welcomed by the unassuming main hall, which houses wall-to-wall historical murals. Another highlight of this temple, which is nestled on the eastern slopes of Geumjeongsan, is the highly unique, three-sectioned shrine hall to the rear of the main hall. www.beomeo.kr
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Cover photo by Scott Rotzoll (You can see more of his work here)
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