Korean Temple Halls
Kim Han-young | Freelance Wrter
If you visit a Korean temple, you will find many halls dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, of which many appear in various forms of Mahayana Buddhism in northeast Asia and Vietnam. Theravada Buddhists of South and Southeast Asia only recognize Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, and his chief disciples as their spiritual teachers. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, recognizes dozens of Buddhas, and fully enlightened beings, as well as a myriad of Bodhisattvas.
Korea is one of the main Mahayana Buddhist countries, and different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are worshipped in a unique system of practice. Almost all Korean temples construct separate halls for the respective Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is a model practitioner in the Mahayana tradition, who entirely dedicates his or her life to the salvation of other beings.
In Mahayana Buddhist cosmology, the universe is populated with various celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Some people misunderstand them to be gods or goddesses, but they are not deities or divine beings; they are regarded as real people who have attained the highest potential of existence and are symbols of desired spiritual qualities.
Icons of Korean Buddhism.
Detailed explanations for each of the most common temple halls follow:
Daeungjeon (Main Buddha Hall)
The name of most Main Halls enshrining Sakyamuni Buddha is usually Dae-ung-jeon, literally translated as “Great Hero Hall,” but it is often simply referred to as the Main Buddha Hall. It is also sometimes called the Dae-ung-bo-jeon, meaning “Great Hero Treasure Hall.” It is usually situated at the very center or rear of the temple compound, but a wide variety of actual arrangements are possible to suit the local topography according to traditional geomantic theories. Two attendant Bodhisattvas support Sakyamuni Buddha: Manjusri Bodhisattva on his left and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva on his right. Most Dharma gatherings and large events take place in this hall.
Daejeokgwangjeon (Hall of Great Tranquil Light)
This hall is dedicated to Vairocana Buddha, also known as the Great Sun Buddha. As the manifestation of universal truth he spreads truth in every direction like light from the sun. He is also seen as the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” or the transitory nature of all things, and the center of the “Five Wisdom Buddhas.” This is the hall of the three bodies of the “ultimate” Buddha. The Dharmakaya body of Vairocana at the center of the hall is a reference to the transcendence of form and realization of truth; his Sambhogakaya body is the “reward body” or “body of enjoyment of the merits attained as a bodhisattva”; his Nirmanakaya body is the body that manifested as Sakyamuni when he came into our world in response to the need to teach sentient beings. These three bodies represent how the Buddha is revealed in a variety of ways to differing individuals, depending on their spiritual capacities.
Gwaneumjeon (Hall of Avalokitesvara)
The popular Gwaneumjeon is dedicated to Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, a key Buddhist virtue. He/She is considered to be the power of Amitabha Buddha manifested as a Bodhisattva, and is therefore often depicted as the helper of the Buddha of the Pure Land. This deity that Koreans call Gwaneum or Gwan-se-eum-bosal is one of the most important Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. Many people pray to him/her or practice in front of his/her icons for compassionate help with their problems or to awaken higher compassion within themselves.
As he/she is capable of manifesting in 33 different forms to save all sentient beings, Gwaneum can be depicted in any of these 33 different forms, each of which is distinguished by the number of heads and arms, as well as by objects held in the hands. The most popular form he/she takes in Korea has 1,000 hands and an eye in the palm of each hand in order to see and aid in relieving the suffering of sentient beings. If the Hall of Avalokitesvara is the main hall of a temple compound, it is then called the Wontongjeon, meaning “Hall of Perfect Interpenetration.”
Geungnakjeon or Muryangsujeon (Hall of Ultimate Bliss or Immeasurable Life)
This hall is dedicated to Amitabha, the Buddha of Immeasurable Light who expounds the Dharma in his pure paradise, the Western Pure Land. This hall is most often known in Korea as the Geungnak-jeon (Hall of Ultimate Bliss/Paradise), but sometimes as the Bogwang-myeong-jeon (Limitless Light Hall) or Muryangsu-jeon (Hall of Immeasurable Life). Amitabha is usually portrayed as having two assistants, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva on his left and Bodhisattva of Great Power on his right.
Hall of Immeasurable Life at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju
Mireukjeon (Hall of Maitreya Bodhisattva)
This hall is dedicated to Maitreya Bodhisattva who is destined to appear on Earth and become the Buddha who will teach the future world and be called Maitreya Buddha. The fervent and hopeful worship of Maitreya in both manifestations has been very common in Korea since the 6th century CE, mainly by lay Buddhists and in India and Central Asia. Therefore, there are many sitting and standing statues of him, as well as halls dedicated to this deity.
Yaksajeon (Healing Buddha Hall)
The Yaksajeon or “Hall of Medicine Buddha or Healing Buddha” enshrines the Healing Buddha who is considered to have the power to relieve the sickness and suffering of sentient beings, primarily the pains of birth, aging, sickness and death. The Healing Buddha is always depicted holding a bowl or bottle of medicine in his hand. When this Buddha was in a human body, he made 10 great vows to free sentient beings from sickness, nourish their spiritual faculties and guide them to liberation. His two attendant Bodhisattvas are the Sunlight Bodhisattva on his left and the Moonlight Bodhisattva on his right.
Myeongbujeon (Judgment Hall)
Known as the “Judgment Hall,” this is the hall of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, who made a great vow to postpone his own enlightenment until every sentient being in hell is saved. This Bodhisattva is always depicted with green hair. In East Asian Buddhist cultures, when someone dies, the bereaved family holds a memorial service, the “49-day ritual ceremony,” at seven-day intervals in this hall for the purpose of guiding the spirit of the dead to the Pure Land. Also in this hall are enshrined the Ten Kings of Hell who judge people’s fates after death according to their deeds on Earth, and thus, is also known as “Hall of the Ten Kings of Hell.”