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Seongjusa Temple Site, Boryeong

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Writer Jogye Date27 Dec 2018 Read4,904 Comment0


  Seongjusa Temple Site is located in the foothills of Mt. Seongju in the northern region of Boryeong City, Chungcheongnam-do Province. Mt. Seongju, which forms a natural border at the eastern and southern ends of Boryeong City, is situated about 9 km to the east from the West Sea. Seongjusa Temple was the chief temple of Seongju Mountain School which was one of the Nine       Mountain Schools of Korean Seon (九山禪門) that led the promotion of Seon (禪風) during the 9th Century, Silla dynasty. Seon practice was first transmitted to Korea in 821 A.D. by Seon Master Myeongjeok Doui (道義禪師) at Jinjeonsa Temple after his return from China. As many Korean monks followed suit studying abroad in Tang Dynasty of China, Seon practice propagated all around Korea. Seongjusa Temple is where Ven. Muyeom (無染), a dharma-seeking monk stayed after returning from Tang in 845 A.D. Here, Ven. Muyeom creates the Seongju Mountain School and becomes its founder.

  Seongjusa Temple Site is located in a region that once was a part of Baekje. The preceding temple that was situated at the site of Seongjusa Temple was Ohapsa Temple (烏合寺). Records related to Ohapsa Temple could be found in Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) and Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). For example, during the King Uijas reign in Baekje, there is a record that a red horse appeared in Ohapsa Temple, and cried day and night.This record used symbolic imagery to describe the situation of Baekje as it was on the verge of collapse. Baekje ultimately fell in the hands of Silla-Tang coalition in 660 A.D. when the aforementioned sentence was recorded. Since Ohapsa Temple was used in the metaphor related to the fall of Baekje, one can guess it to have been one of the most important temples in Baekje.

  Ohapsa Temple is thought to have maintained as a small-scale temple even after the collapse of Baekje. However, it probably had remained destroyed and in ruins. In 847 A.D., Ohapsa Temple is renovated to once again become a large temple named Seongjusa when Ven. Muyeom settled in. Ven. Muyeom stayed in the rundown temple after returning from Tang in 845 A.D., due to a request by the prince, Kim Heun (金昕), a descendent of a royal blood, Kim In-mun (金仁問). Once Ven. Muyeom began to stay at the temple, King Munseong gave a new name, Seongju Seon Monastery (聖主禪院), to the temple, meaning an abode for the wise. Here, Ven. Muyeom established Seongju Mountain School and propagated Seon thought under the patronage of the monarchy. Ohapsa Temple that once was a national temple of Bakje enjoyed a new life as Seongjusa Temple, the center of Seon thought in Later Silla Dynasty.

  Although, there is almost no mention of Seongjusa Temple in the records of Goryeo Dynasty, a poem within the Collected Works of Minister Lee of Goryeo (東國李相國集) written by Lee Gyubo proves that Seongjusa Temple continued to play a critical role in spreading Buddhism. Also, Seongjusa Temple was included in the list of temples to visit to pray for the prosperity of the nation in 1407 A.D. during Joseon Dynasty showing that the reputation of Seongjusa Temple as an important temple in the region continued on. Stele for Buddhist Monk Nanghye (朗慧和尙白月葆光塔碑) , a stele dedicated to Ven. Muyeom was also famous among many literary artists as it was composed by Choe Chiwon, a renowned writer of later Silla Dynasty. Looking at such records, it is estimated that Seongjusa Temple kept its features and function until the mid-16th Century.

However, Seongjusa Temple seems to have undergone the road of abandonment after the 17
th Century. The reason for the destruction and abandonment is unclear. However, one can speculate that a war at the end of 16th Century could have been the cause. Poems by many literary artists at the time prove that Seongjusa Temple was already in ruins by the 17th Century. Especially, in a poem by a writer, Lim Young (
林泳) there is the following verse, Once a temple, only roof tiles and stones remain. / In an empty mountain only the iron Buddha remains concerned.It is presumed that all the temple buildings were gone, and only the iron Buddha and Stele dedicated to Ven. Muyeom remained by the 17th Cenutry. After that, there is no record that Seongjusa Temple was ever rebuilt. Among the ancient maps made between 18th~19th Century, there are maps that has labeled the Seongjusa Temple Site with pictures of a pagoda, stele and iron Buddha showing that the relics remained while the temple buildings disappeared.

  Yet, the large iron Buddha disappeared from the temple site during the Japanese occupation period. According to the testimonies of the villagers, the great iron Buddha, whose ears could be touched only if one stands on its knees, was still on the site even thirty-some years ago. The testimonies were confirmed in 1962. Therefore, the iron Buddha disappeared around 1930 during the Japanese occupation period. There is a strong possibility that the disappearance of iron Buddha was due to Japanese taking it out of the country.

  Seongjusa Temple Site is currently registered the Historic Site 307 of Korea. The temple site is surrounded by stone wall and has the Seongju Stream running to its front. The site is also wrapped around by the mountains. In the center of the temple site, Stele for Buddhist Monk Nanghyecomposed by Choe Chiwon for Ven. Muyeom is situated inside of a protective pavilion with tiled roof. Numerous relics ranging from a five-story stone pagoda, 3 three-story stone pagodas, a stone lantern to a rock-carved standing Buddha are guarding the temple site. Through excavation investigation, it is discovered that the center of the temple site was located a bit off to the east. And, the central area of Seongjusa Temple kept the basic formation of Baekjes Ohapsa Temple. From Baekje to Unified Sila Dynasty, Seonjusa Temple is thought to have maintained Baekje-style building arrangement of having a south gate, pagoda, main hall and lecture hall aligned in a straight line wrapped around by corridors. When Ven. Muyeom began to reside in the temple and the temples name was changed to Seongjusa Temple, the five-story stone pagoda and three-story stone pagodas were built and the temple area was expanded. To the east of the main hall, a new building named Samcheonbuljeon (Three-thousand Buddha Hall) is constructed in Goryeo Dynasty. As the name suggests, it is conjectured that the hall housed three thousand Buddha statues. And such fact has been proven through an excavation investigation where numerous Buddha statues modelled out of clay were discovered. Among the Buddha statues found at the site of Samcheonbuljeon, there were statues that included within in them pieces of celadon vase in shape of lotus bud as interred relics. These artifacts are unique in shape and material compared to other relics of Goryeo period. Currently, the Buddha statues and excavated relics are displayed at Boryeong Museum and Dongguk University Museum.

 When one passes the site of south gate, there are the stone lantern and the five-story stone pagoda, and behind them is the site of the main hall. In the middle of the main hall site, there is a square lotus base on which the iron Buddha was thought to have seated. The southern staircase of the main hall has stone lions at each side. However, the two stone lions are also not original. The lions were remade after they were stolen around 1982. 

 Behind the main hall site, three stone pagodas stand. Even though the stone pagodas appear to be same at the first glance, the pagodas are slightly when examined in detail. The west pagoda has small holes on the roof stone at the body of the pagoda in a regular pattern. These are assumed to be the holes where ornaments were attached to the pagoda. The east pagoda has almost the same shape as the west pagoda, but does not have the holes for ornaments. However, within the east pagoda, a small pagoda has been discovered. Observing such discovery, the pagoda has been identified as a pagoda of immaculate purity (無垢淨塔) constructed in accordance with the Great Dharani Sutra of Immaculate and Pure Light. The central three-story pagoda has many more aspects of grandeur compared to the other two pagodas. If one looks at the doors carved on each for the pagodas, all three pagodas have equal basic doorframe, lock in the middle and two ring-shaped door fasteners. However, for the central pagoda, five rows of six semi-circular bumps are located at the door side of the pagoda. At each tip of the lock, heads of dragon are depicted showing that the central pagoda was carved more in detail than the two pagodas on its sides. As for the lower part of the stylobate, the central pagoda has arc-shaped base on top of a flat stone which is not seen on the east or west pagoda. Such differences are assumed to implicate the significance of the three pagodas. Therefore, it could be concluded that the central pagoda with the most aspects of grandeur had the highest prestige among them. It was discovered that the three pagodas are not located at their original sites, but the exact original sites could not be discovered. Behind the pagodas, the lecture hall existed. And, standing stone Buddha was located at the eastern end of the hall.

 If one looks to the west of the temple area, the most important artifact of Seongjusa Temple Site can be found: the
Stele for Buddhist Monk Nanghye
. The stele is dedicated to Ven. Muyeom, the founder of Seongjusa Temple and Seongju Mountain School, and has both tortoise-shaped pedestal and dragon-shaped capstone. 1,520 letters are carved on the stele describing the birth of Ven. Muyeom, establishment of Seongjusa Temple and death of Ven. Muyeom. The inscription was composed by Choe Chi-won and calligraphed by Choe In-won (868~944, also known as Choe Eon-wi). The date of the steles establishment is not clear. But, since Ven. Muyeom passed away in 888 (the 2nd year of Queen Jinseong) at the age of 88, it is presumed that the stele was erected around 890. The stele is known as one of the four mountain stele composed by Choe Chi-won (四山碑銘). The inscription recorded Ven. Muyeoms dharma-seeking process and background related to his stay at Seongjusa after returning in 845 (the 7th year of King  Munseong), upon the request of the prince Kim Heun in detail. Also, the stele mentions of the relations between Buddhism and Confucianism and social ranking during Silla Dynasty, so it has been a precious document for researching not only the Buddhist studies and history of 9th Century Silla, but also Sillas ideology including Confucianism and social ranking system.

 The fact that the stele exists in the temple means that there was also a stupa erected along with the stele. However, the stupa does not exist any longer. However, the pieces of stupa, found at
Budogol (Buddha valley) to the west of the temple site in 1968, has been argued to be the stupa of Ven. Muyeom. The pieces of stupa discovered then have been moved around to many difference places before finally coming to the current location next to the protective pavilion of the stele. However, the stupa is still missing its original features. Certain pieces from the body of the stupa have been carved in to circular shape by villagers who were making a millstone losing their originally beautiful shapes.

 Seongjusa Temple is a temple that has transmitted the dharma lantern from Ohapsa Temple of Baekje all the way to mid-Joseon period. Seongjusa Temple was the representative temple of the north among the five major mountains in Baekje, center of Seon thought from Unified Silla period to Goryeo period, and a famous temple of the region during Joseon period. Keeping the high reputation for a long history, Seongjusa Temple is said to be one of the most important temple in Korean history of Buddhism. Although, only the site remains today, it can be presumed that the historical temple had a high prestige and grandeur in size by examining the existing artifacts including the large lotus base for a Buddha statue, four pagodas, numerous building sites and stele.


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