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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part III: Jeungsimsa, Gwangju Dong-gu


Jeungsimsa (Hanja: 證心寺) at Ullim-dong, Gwangju Dong-gu is a symbolic Buddhist temple in the guardian mountain of Gwangju, Mount Mudeung. It is said that Jeungsimsa temple was first founded by a Buddhist priest, Cheolgamseonsa Do Yun, during the Silla Dynasty, in the 4th year of King Heonan's reign, and was rebuilt by a Buddhist priest, Hyejoguksa (a national Buddhist priest) during the Goryeo period in the 11th year of the reign of King Uijong. Obaekjeon hall was established for the third time by Gim Bang during the Joseon dynasty in the 25th year in the reign of King Sejong the Great. By doing this, people wished national prosperity and welfare on the people, but it was burned during the Japanese Imjin Invasion of Korea in 1597. 

Obaekjeon Hall at the Jeungsimsa temple has a tale that is connected with ants. A long time ago, Gim Bang found a big ant nest at the construction site of Gyeongyangbangjuk dike. Gim Bang safely moved the ants nest to the foot of Mount Mudeung, because he was deeply touched by the merciful heart of Buddha. At that time, his deepest thought was to provide food for many workers who had been moved to the Gyeongyangbangjuk dike construction site. One day, when he went into the food warehouse, ants entered the warehouse in a line, holding rice in their mouths. The line of ants kept coming in until the very end of the construction. Gim Bang built the Obaekjeon Hall in Jeungsimsa temple and placed the 500 Buddhas Statue in it. Thus, Obaekjeon hall shows through a symbol, that even something small and worthless can have a gratituous heart. Jeungsimsa temple was a base of the anti-Japanese Buddhist party movement during the Tang dynasty, in the early days of Japanese imperialism. Unfortunately all of them were burned due to a fire which occurred during the Korean War, except for Obaekjeon hall and Nojeon hall. 

The current buildings of Jeungsimsa temple are Obaekjeon Hall, Sansingak Tower, Birojeon Hall, Daeungjeon hall, Jijangjeon hall, Jeongmukdang room, Haengwondang room, a bell tower and Iljumun (the first gate of the temple). Most of the buildings were restored between the 1970s and 1980s, except for Obaekjeon hall, which avoided the calamity of the Korean War. There are priests' rooms (Wolamdang room and Suwoldang room), a completion monument, a charity monument, and a memorial monument in a line at the very left when we pass through the first gate (which has a traditional Korean tiled roof in the shape of a Chinese character “八” (meaning eight) and was built in 1980s). 

The place for these monuments had been located under the Chwibaengnu tower that was recently built, but it was recently relocated to its present location. There are stone stairs to the foot of the temple. It is said that Chwibaengnu tower was in this place originally. Chwibaengnu tower has now been relocated and placed a little to the right because it was burned down during the war. The first floor is an office for the temple, and the second floor is a multipurpose space where people can hold Buddhist ceremonies and meetings. The main temple has a Paljak-style roof on the front five compartments and on the three side compartments. The central compartments at the front are twice as big as the side compartments. 

Jijangjeon hall, dedicated to Bodhisattva Jijang, is on the right side of Daeungjeon (the main temple). A peculiar thing is a hanging board named Hoesimdang to the left of the Jijangjeon tablet. Originally, Hoesimdang was a Jaegak (a sort of house) of Jeong Manjae that was located at the current location of the Beomjonggak bell tower. However, when rebuilding the Beomjonggak, the buildings vanished and only the hanging board and the portrait scroll were relocated to the current location. Jeong Manjae donated a big tract of land to Jeungsimsa temple and a Jegak was set up for him in the temple after his death. The portrait scrolls of the Jeong Manjae couple are hanging in the Jijangjeon hall on the left side. These portrait scrolls were painted by Seokji Chae Yongshin, a painter of Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu. They were blessed to be located together with the Jijang bodhisattva, because they gave alms during their lifetimes. 

The metal engraving of Vairocana (a Buddha) sedentary statue was designated National Treasure No. 131. Most hands of the Vairocana have the index finger of the left hand covering the right hand but the Vairocana of the Jeungsimsa temple is unusually reversed. This Buddhist image arrests our eyes because it has a human expression like our human faces, not a dignified expression like other Buddhist images. 

The oldest cultural asset of the other cultural assets in the Jeungsimsa temple is the Three-story Stone Tower. This tower was designated Tangible Cultural Properties No.1, and is a small tower of 3.4 meters height. The tower is presumed to have been built in the late Silla dynasty according to the shape of the tower. There is a Sansingak (a small building where a mountain god lives) that was built leaning on a rock wall between Obaekjeon and Birojeon, where the tale of Gim Bang and the ants has been passed down. There is a mountain god Buddha in this unusually shaped Sansingak. 

In addition, the letters "seoseoksansinjiwi" are engraved on a rock wall behind the Birojeon Hall. Seoseok Mountain means Mudeung Mountain, so the tablet of the God of Mount Mudeung is here. Originally, the tablet of the mountain god was just behind the Sansingak building but people don't know since when the tablet of the mountain god has stood apart from the building. However, such separation by some distance is interesting because we can't see the features of other temples. In addition, a stone Bodhisattva statue with a high round crown and an oval face was designated as Tangible Cultural Properties No.14. It was recorded that this standing statue was relocated to this place from the grounds of Seobongsa temple in Jeonggok-ri, Nam-myeon, Damyang County, Southern Jeolla. 

The Beomja Seven-story Stone Pagoda that stands in a line with the stone Bodhisattva statue is a relic of the Seobongsa temple and the sacred words of Esoteric Buddhism, "ommanibanmehum", are engraved in Sanskrit on each side of the pagoda. This is a rare case and is very important material for the study of art history or Buddhist spiritual history. The times of the pagoda are far off, but it is curious when we go to the old temple. We feel as if we might see an immortal soldier who directly broke the long fetters of suffering. 

However, throughout the tides of time, the determination of the people in each age has been sufficient to preserve the Jeungsimsa temple until now. The Jeungsimsa temple is an appreciative friend and a witness that has trodden a thorny path together with us through the ages of time. It is a representative temple of Gwangju. Jeungsimsa temple will be here together with us as long as there is life in the people. Jeungsimsa is accessible by using Gwangju Metro Line 1 to Station 102: Hakdong-Jeungsimsa (Hakdong-Jeungsimsaipguyeok/학동·증심사입구역/Entrance to Hakdong and Jeungsimsa).