Korean Temples from Above | Daeheungsa Temple on Mt. Duryunsan in Haenam
A Great Monastery and Tea Sanctuary Imbued with
the Dharma Lineage of Master Seosan
Located at the land’s end of the Korean Peninsula, Daeheungsa (formerly Daedunsa) temple nestles on Mt. Duryunsan in Haenam. The 4-km forest path leading to Daeheungsa’s temple compound, which has superb beauty when compared to other forest paths, is easy to walk and, thus, is often frequented by visitors. In my opinion, the first Templestay program held here became the foundation for all of Korea’s Templestay programs, now held at temples nationwide. Stretching 4 km along the Geumdangcheon mountain stream on the left, the path is flanked by giant cherry trees, oaks, Zelkova trees, camellia and maple trees, with red pines appearing here and there, forming a magnificent tunnel of trees. The summit of Mt. Duryunsan provides an unhindered panoramic view of the South Sea, called “Dadohae” in Korean. I highly recommend climbing to the summit while you are here.
Daeheungsa says it was established in 544, the 5th year of the reign of Silla’s King Jinheung, although questions remain about the exact year. Having gone through several reconstructions over many eras, it became a great monastery, integrating both the doctrinal and meditation schools. After the Imjin War (Japanese invasion of 1592), Daeheungsa was expanded through the efforts of Master Seosan, who had headed a monk militia to fight the invasion.
The temple compound is largely divided into a northern and southern area, demarcated by Geumdangcheon stream. Behind the southern area lie Pyochungsa (Shrine of Manifesting Loyalty), which enshrines the spirit tablet of Master Seosan, and the Hall of Great Light, used as a Seon practice center. The northern area houses the Main Buddha Hall while the southern area has a scriptural study center and dormitory.
The calligraphy adorning the door plaques of the dharma halls were rendered by eminent calligraphers of the Joseon dynasty, attesting to the high aesthetic achievement of Joseon calligraphy. The plaque on the Main Buddha Hall is famous for its reference to an event in the lives of Chusa (aka. Kim Jeong-hui) and Wongyo (aka. Lee Gwang-sa).
Chusa dropped in at Daeheungsa on his way into exile on Jeju Island. He commented that he didn’t like the calligraphy rendered by Wongyo and had the plaque taken down. On his way home from exile, he dropped in at Daeheungsa again. This time, however, he had Wongyo’s plaque re-hung, and the plaque he had made for the Hall of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life taken down. This act by Chusa is thought to have come from his heightened sense of humility based on his cultivation of virtues during his long years in exile.
One day in January 1604, the 37th year of the reign of Joseon’s King Seonjo, Master Seosan gave his last dharma talk at Wonjeogam hermitage on Mt.
Myohyangsan, before his imminent nirvana. There he asked his two disciples, Yujeong and Cheoyeong, to enshrine his robes and alms bowl on Mt. Duryunsan in Haenam. In the Buddhist community, to offer one’s robes and alms bowl means to transmit one’s dharma. His disciples wondered why he chose that remote place. He replied that it is “a land that won’t collapse for ten thousand years” and “where the realm of inner attainment should return.”
When Seosan passed away, his disciples enshrined his cremains in monks’ stupas at Bohyeonsa and Ansimsa temples on Mt. Myohyangsan, as well as in a rock located north of Yujeomsa temple on Mt. Geumgangsan. His robes and alms bowl were enshrined in Daedunsa (present Daeheungsa) temple as he had instructed. In this way his dharma lineage was passed on to Daeheungsa.
Seosan is widely known as the commander of a monk militia during the Imjin War (Japanese invasion in 1592). However, his major contribution was his integration of Buddhism’s doctrinal and meditation schools. He said, “Seon meditation is the mind of the Buddha, and doctrinal teachings are the words of the Buddha.” At that time, each Buddhist school touted the supremacy of their own practice, which basically divided them into either the doctrinal or meditation school. And there were further differences based on preferences for sitting meditation, mantra recitation, recitation of Buddha’s names or reading sutras. Seosan maintained that doctrine and Seon are not different.
Daeheungsa is now a great monastery that promotes both the doctrinal and meditation schools, and it has produced 13 jongsa (eminent monks of virtue) and 13 gangsa (lecturers), including Pungdam Uisim (1592-1665), who restored the Hwaeom (Huayan) School in Korea, and Choui, a friend of Jeong Yak-yong and also a noted tea master who expounded the one flavor of tea and Seon (Zen).
Iljiam, a hermitage of Daeheungsa, is where Choui resided. Dubbed “the sage of Korean tea,” he wrote Dongdasong (Hymn in Praise of Eastern Tea) and Dasinjeon (Chronicle of the Tea Sages) while living at this hermitage. Indeed Iljiam is home to many tea lovers and a holy site of tea.
A view of Daeheungsa temple. Bisected by Geumdangcheon stream that flows down from the valleys of
Mt. Duryunsan, the temple compound is divided into a north and south area. According to Records of Daedunsa,
published in 1667, the northern area once had 11 Buddha halls, 10 dormitories and 4 gate-pavilions while
the southern area had 5 Buddha halls, 5 dormitories and 2 gate-pavilions.
Daeheungsa’s Iljiam hermitage. Climbing up a steep hill about 700 m from Daeheungsa’s Main Buddha Hall is Iljiam
where Master Choui resided. One of the major Seon monks of the late Joseon era, and respected as Korea’s “tea sage,”
he expounded on the single flavor of tea and Seon.
Field of monks’ stupas at the entrance to the temple. The size of the stupa field confirms the status of
Daeheungsa as a great monastery which led the Buddhist community of the late Joseon era.
Author | Lee Min (freelance writer)
Photo | Shin Byeong-mun (aerial photographer)