Posted by: Matt Kelley | 15 April 2009

North Chungcheong Province’s Beopjusa Temple

20090415_beopjusa

Last week I was traveling with a friend, and his parents asked me a tough question: Which one of Korea’s Buddhist temples is my favorite?

I pondered their question for a moment. Of course, I haven’t visited all of Korea’s some 100 temples, but from the good number I’ve seen so far, my favorite has to be Beopjusa (법주사), a fantastic temple complex located on the southwestern slopes of Songni Mountain (속리산) in North Chungcheong Province.

20090415_beopjusa_pinwheelA vendor sells knick-knacks at a stall outside the main grounds of Beopjusa Temple.

The temple was founded by the great monk Uishinjosa (의신조사) in 553 during the Silla Kingdom. Although the magnificent temple is dedicated to the worship of the Maitreya Buddha, it was built with the hope that ancient Korea’s Three Kingdoms would be reunified. Sadly, Some 14 centuries later millions are still hoping for a unified Korean peninsula.

20090415_beopjusa_pinesA dramatic entrance to North Chungcheong Province’s Beopjusa Temple.

In the meantime, Beopjusa remains a beautiful place to admire the balance between nature- and human-made things. At Beopju Temple, distinguished wooden structures dating from the early 1600s are located amidst dramatic, pine-covered peaks while ancient graffiti is etched into huge granite boulders. Upon entering the main temple gate, a sole towering pine tree stands on either side of the stone pathway. 

20090415_beopjusa_palsangje1The gorgeous Palsangjeon, Korea’s last extant five-story pagoda.

If you walk past these trees and through another gate, Beopjusa’s grandest building comes into focus. Palsangjeon (팔상전), a five-story pagoda, is the only one of its kind left in Korea. The 22.7-meter tall blue tower was originally built in 553, but rebuilt in 1624, after the entire temple compound was destroyed during the Japanese invasions of the late 16th century.

20090415_beopjusa_muralsMurals depicting some of the options that await the good and bad among us.

But while Beopju Temple’s wood buildings easily burned, its stone and iron works endure. Three of my favorites date from the eighth century. The Beopjusa Seogyeonji (법주사 석연지) is an octagonal pagoda with a cloud-motif decorating its pedestal. On top of it is a huge lotus-shaped pond.

20090415_beopjusa_pagodaThe Two-Lion Stone Lantern was built in 720.

Another treasure is the Two-Lion Stone Lantern, which was built in 720. But maybe most curious of all is an enormous iron pot. Cast during the Goryeo Dynasty, it’s said to be big enough to cook rice for 3,000 monks, which is how many were lived at Beopjusa centuries ago.

20090415_beopjusa_buddhaThis spectacular golden Buddha is dedicated to the hope of the Korean Peninsula’s eventual unification.

More recently constructed is the Golden Maitreya Statue of National Unification. In 1990, at a cost of $4 million, the 33-meter-high, 160-ton Buddha was erected. Covered in gold leaf, the Buddha was made possible by over 30,000 donations. Sitting at the site of the original temple’s main hall, it’s an impressive addition that complements the site.

20090415_beopjusa_jeongipumThe graceful Jeongipumsong Pine Tree was granted a ministerial title by a former King.

Outside the temple complex but nearby are a few great sights. The graceful Jeongipumsong Pine Tree (정이품송) is said to be about 600 years old. The tree was granted a ministerial title when it reportedly lifted its branches in order to let King Sejo’s palanquin pass in the mid 15th century. Sadly, in recent years several branches were damaged by snow and ice, though what remains is still beautiful.

20090415_beopjusa_rocksLucky stacks of stones beside the creek at Beopjusa.

Of course, being set on the side of Songni mountain, several hiking trails are accessible. Although you probably won’t ride to the top of Munjangdae (문장대) in a coach like King Sejo did in 1464, it should only take you a couple of hours on foot.

More information:
Beopjusa Temple’s Official Web site (in Korean)

Photo Album:
New: Visit the full Beopjusa Temple photo gallery here. 

Getting There:
map_beopjusa→ From Seoul, buses leave the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal for Cheongju’s Intercity Bus Terminal 25 times daily from 06:50 to 21:00. The 1:40 ride costs 7,100 won. Note: Be sure you are going to Cheongju (청주), not Chungju (충주).

→ From Cheongju, head to Beopjusa directly or via the Boeun Intercity Terminal. Buses from Boeun take about 20 minutes and run every half hour from 06:30 to 20:10. The temple is a 20 minute walk from Sognisan Intercity Terminal.

→ Temple entrance costs 3,200 won for adults. There is an additional charge for parking. 

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on April 18, 2009.)

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