Korea's Religious Places - 1.1.12 Songgwangsa Temple (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|* Bongjeongsa Temple (Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do)||* Songgwangsa Temple (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)||2. Confucianism|
Songgwangsa Temple (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)
Songgwangsa Temple is one of the three jewel temples of Korea. It is the temple of the sangha, the monastery (with Tongdosa Temple the jewel temple of the Buddha, and Haeinsa Temple the temple of the dharma). Today, Songgwangsa Temple is true to its calling as the temple of the monks and the monastery, as it trains more monks than any other temple. The temple is large, with many buildings and a large courtyard and it is remote, located in the far south-central mountains of Korea. The mountain is significant: it is Mt. Jogyesan, named after the dominant order in Korea, the Jogye Order.
Songgwangsa Temple, meaning the temple of the expanse of pine tree, has a deeper meaning. The pine tree refers to eighteen great monks who went forth—the expanse—from this temple. Some authorities consider this the most important temple in Korea because of the monks it has trained and because of its location on Mt. Jogyesan. The most famous monk of the Goryeo period, Jinul (1158–1210), who is recognized as the synthesizer of the Jogye Order, held Songgwangsa Temple as his home. He synthesized two Buddhist factions that had previously argued over the proper way—one side favored texts, the other meditation. Jinul brought both practices together and ended the rivalry that was dividing Buddhism.
Songgwangsa Temple was founded rather late, at the end of the twelfth century, but was built on the site of an earlier Silla temple called Gilsangsa Temple. Some prefer to say that Songgwangsa Temple was founded in the Silla period and changed its name later, but history says the site was unused for a period of time before Jinul chose the location for his home temple.
Three treasures are unique to Songgwangsa Temple. A large rice chest, carved from two tree trunks and looking like a long trough, holds enough rice to feed 4,000 monks. There are twin juniper trees with a swirled pattern of bark on their trunks that are over 500 years old. There is a set of twenty-nine brass bowls that are over 1,000 years old. They have an unusual name—neunggyeon, nansa—meaning “easy to see, but difficult to comprehend.” The name of the vessels is a kind of koan (gongan in Korean), a Buddhist-style riddle used to focus the mind during a meditation session.
The main hall of Songgwangsa Temple has what’s called a double roof—a center section sits atop—it appears—lower sections that stick out at both ends of the upper section. The hall itself holds an unusual set of Buddha images. There is Yeondeungbul (Dipamkara Buddha), a Buddha of light, one bearing a lantern, who is one of the oldest Buddhas; Shakyamuni, the historic Buddha of our era (Siddhartha Gautama); and Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. This represents Buddhas of the past, present, and future.