Hangs over Geumsan-sa Temple,
a Site of Hope and Enlightenment
Near the base of Mt. Moak-san, located in Gimje city, Jeollabuk-do Province, is a place known for its high energy or life-force. The mountain resembles a mother cradling her baby, just as Mt. Moak-san embraces Geumsan-sa Temple. Perhaps that is why there are so many sacred religions such as Won Buddhism, Jeungsan-do and Christianity found around Geumsan Elementary School. Like Mt. Gyeryong-san, Moaksan, nicknamed “Mother Mountain,” is the cradle of many different indigenous religions. The reason Geumsan-sa Temple became the center of Korean Maitreya faith is closely related to the spirit of Mt. Moak-san. What is Maitreya faith? It is the belief that teaches sentient beings can be delivered from suffering through devotion to the Buddha who will come in the future (named as “Maitreya”). In the past there were some who claimed to be a Maitreya and deluded many, but true devotion to Maitreya gave hope and comfort to the people. Therefore, traditionally, the faith in Maitreya has had a great influence on the ordinary people of Korea. Ven. Wonhaeng, the abbot of Geumsan-sa Temple said:
“Did Master Bodhidharma come from over there?” “Yes… he did.”
This dialogue is only possible when monks and mountaineers are pointing in the same direction toward Geumsan-sa.
“The Maitreya faith that Buddha taught is divided into two types. One is faith in Maitreya’s ascent to Tuṣita Heaven (the fourth of the six heavens in the realm of desire), and the other is faith in Maitreya’s descent from Tuṣita Heaven. When a society is stable, the faith in Maitreya’s ascent to Tuṣita Heaven flourishes. On the other hand, when a society is unstable, the faith in Maitreya’s descent from Tuṣita Heaven is prosperous.” Devotees who have faith in Maitreya’s ascent to Tuṣita Heaven believe their practice will bring about an ideal world. They also believe that people must repent for their wrongdoings through the practice of the ten moral activities in order to be reborn in Tuṣita Heaven. The ten wholesome behaviors expected of lay practitioners are as follows: do not kill; do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not lie; do not speak harshly; do not speak divisively; do not speak idly; do not be greedy; do not be angry; do not hold wrong views. The reward for observing these precepts is rebirth in one of the heavenly realms or as a human, depending upon one’s degree of observance. After being reborn in Tuṣita Heaven, they will be led to the way of enlightenment through three assemblies (三會 the three “Dragon-Flower Assembly”). Devotees who have faith in Maitreya’s descent from Tuṣita Heaven believe that Maitreya will come down to this world when all sentient beings are in distress. Maitreya Buddha will then relieve the suffering of sentient beings by preaching the three assemblies. Devotion to Maitreya emphasizes prayer and repentance by practicing the ten moral activities in order to attain Buddha-hood. Geumsan-sa Temple is a typical temple that teaches devotion to Maitreya. Templestay programs at Geumsan-sa have become very popular because of the beautiful mountain scenery and its revitalizing energy. In addition, Ven, Ilgam’s Dharma talks and lectures are persuasive and interesting to many visitors. Foreign visitors, including many Japanese, are increasingly fascinated by the distinct characteristics of the temple and its surroundings. Consequently, in September 2009, Geumsan-sa’s Templestay program received an official commendation from Korea’s prime minister on the 36th Celebration of Sightseeing Day (designated by the Korean government).
Maitreya Hall is a symbol of Maitreya’s Descent from Tusita Heaven and
Precepts Platform a Symbol of Maitreya’s Ascent to Tusita Heaven
Geumsan-sa is the head temple of the 17th district of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It was found in 599 by King Beop (法王r. 599-600) of the Baekje Kingdom with the aim of encouraging people not to harm other sentient beings and to live together in peace. The temple was abandoned after the kingdom’s defeat, but grandly reconstructed later. According to historical records, it was reconstructed by National Teacher Jinpyo (742-780) in 766 during the reign of King Hyegong of the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935), featuring its famous Maitreya statue triad and hall. The preceptor Jinpyo prayed for the ruined Baekje people to build the land of Maitreya for them, and then constructed the golden hall to enshrine the Buddhist status of the Maitreya faith. This temple became the main center of Mireuk (Maitreya) faith, the central tenet of which was belief in the advent of the future Buddha.
The Maitreya Hall (Mireuk-jeon, National Treasure No. 62) is over 20 meters tall. It is the only ancient, wooden, three-story hall in Korea, and each story has a different name with a different name board. Starting with the enshrinement of the iron statue of Maitreya, Buddha of the Future, 33 cheok (9.99 m) tall, which was created by Precept Master Jinpyo during the late Silla Dynasty, the three-story high hall called Mireuk-jeon was later added by Great Master Sumun during King Injo’s reign in the Joseon Dynasty.
In general, Maitreya does not have a distinct feature distinguishing it from other Buddhas. At the center, Maitreya Buddha is flanked by two Bodhisattvas, Beophwarim-bosal and Daemyosang-bosal. Maitreya Buddha is referred to as “the hope of Buddha” who will lead us to the road of enlightenment, away from the vicious cycle of transmigration, i.e. samsara.
Geumsan-sa Temple is the only temple in Korea where the Buddhas of the past, present, and future are all enshrined in one temple.
Dharma (truth, reality) recognizes no duality. The temple gate called “Gate of Non-duality” (不二門) is the last point to examine one’s thoughts before one meets the Buddha. The act of passing through this gate should remind one of the Buddhist tenet that all things form a unified whole and show interrelatedness.
Bangdeung-gyedan (Precepts Platform; Treasure No. 26), which was established around the early Goryeo Dynasty, is the location where ordination ceremonies are performed. Here, practitioners vow to take their precepts. This is one of the three core principles of Buddhism: Gye (discipline), Jeong (meditation), and Hye (wisdom). The name Bangdeung-gyedan means that Gye influences your mind and body equally. The Five-story Stone Pagoda (Treasure No. 25) next to Bangdeung-gyedan is typical of stone pagodas made during the Baekjae Dynasty period. This type of pagoda was popular during the early Goryeo Dynasty. We highly recommend sitting by Bangdeung-gyedan at sunset, and watching the sun go down beyond the pagoda. Maitreya Hall is a symbol of Maitreya’s Descent from Tusita Heaven and the Precepts Platform is a symbol of Maitreya’s Ascent to Tusita Heaven. Therefore Buddhists who visit Geumsan-sa temple can strengthen their faith by visiting these sacred places. In addition, the Precepts Platform can help visitors let go of their attachments. So Maitreya Hall and the Precepts Platform are often overwhelmed with many visitors. We can read many visitors’ wishes for enlightenment at Geumsan-sa temple.
The Comprehensive Temple of Seon (meditation) and Gyo (teaching)
Originally, Geumsan-sa temple consisted of a single Dharma-hall, the Maitreya Hall dedicated to Maitreya Bodhisattva. However, the Royal Preceptor Hyedeuk, of the Goryeo Dynasty, later constructed an additional 86 halls following an influx of other Buddhist schools of thought, such as the Hwaeom (Avataṃsa, Flower Garland) School. Later, during the reign of Joseon’s King Injo, Geumsan-sa was rebuilt by Master Sumun, who added two main halls: Vairocana Hall and Maitreya Hall. Vairocana Hall is dedicated to Vairocana Buddha, the “law-body”, or manifestation of Dharma.Maitreya Hall is dedicated to Maitreya Bodhisattva who will appear in this world to become the next Buddha. However, the Vairocana Hall was destroyed by fire of an unknown origin in 1986. Ven. Wolju reconstructed it and added an Arhat Hall. These halls represent Geumsan-sa Temple’s role as a temple that embraces both meditation and teaching (Seon and Gyo) equally.
Ven. Wolju says, “The religious orientation of Geumsan-sa Temple represents “Inter-penetrated Buddhism (A concept characterizing the work of the Silla master Wonhyo, who attempted to explicate the Buddhist teachings as being fundamentally congruous, despite apparent contradictions). As the center of Maitreya devotion, Seon (meditation) practice is the main pillar of Geumsan-sa, but the temple also emphasizes missionary activities. He says, “Maitreya Buddha symbolizes compassion. Compassion consists of both the practices of a bodhisattva that lead to enlightenment and altruistic practices that benefit sentient beings.” Ven. Wolju, who actively participates in social welfare activities, has made his own special efforts to make Geumsan-sa a center of Maitreya faith. In the 1960s when a false version of Maitreya devotion deluded and deceived many people, Ven. Wolju organized the “Myreukjeongsim-hoe” (Community for Purifying Maitreya Faith) and led a movement to return to the true teaching of Maitreya devotion, aided by four of his disciples (Ven. Doyoung, Ven. Dobeop, Ven. Pyoungsang and Ven. Wonhaeng). They re-emphasized the ten wholesome behaviors expected of lay practitioners. Ven. Wolju deplores the fact that some new religions delude and deceive people in the name of devotion to Maitreya. Geumsan-sa Temple shows us cherry blossoms in the spring, the sound of flowing water of the valley in the summer, the colorful mountains in the autumn, and the spectacular mountains of Moak in the winter. It is advisable for people who live in modern times with their distress to seek the warmth and elegance of Geumsan-sa Temple.
Jang In-Seok | Columnist
Photos by Lee Jong-seung | Dong-a Ilbo (Photo Journalist)