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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part IV: Jogyesa, Seoul Jongno-gu (Chief Sect of Jogye Order)


Jogyesa (Hanja: 曹溪寺) is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, becoming so in 1936. The temple thus plays a leading role in the current state of Seon Buddhism (Zen Buddhism in Japanese culture) in South Korea. It is located at 55 Post Office Road/Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong 45-beonji, Seoul Jongno-gu. Natural Monument no. 9, an ancient white pine tree, is located within the temple grounds.

The temple was first established in 1395, at the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty - three years after the establishment of this dynasty by King Taejo Yi Seong-gye; the modern temple was founded in 1910 and initially called "Hwanggaksa." The name was changed to "Taegosa" during the period of Japanese Colonization, and then to the present name in 1954.

Jogyesa came to the attention of the international news media in December 1998 due to several monks occupying the temple in a power struggle between factions of the Jogye Order. In the end, riot police were called in to take control of the temple and oust the protestors after they had occupied the building for more than 40 days.

The first thing you will notice at the temple are the lovely trees. These locust trees and baeksong trees in front of the Daeungjeon, the main temple building, are about 500 years old. One locust tree is about 26-meter high, and in the summer, provides a large amount of shade to enhance the mood of the temple. The baeksong tree is designated as a Natural Monument. The Daeungjeon building is a stately building built in 1938. The Dancheong is particularly beautiful with all the different colors painted on it, and inside the building is the statue of Seokgamoni. In front of the Daeungjeon building, you can also see a seven-storey stone pagoda containing Jinsinsari. 

Jogyesa does not give off the solemn and traditional air of the other temples located deep in the mountains, or offer the seasonal scenery of the mountains and the sea. But because it is located in the middle of the city, the transportation is convenient, and is well connected to the surrounding areas. It is good for tourists on a tight schedule. Along the street around Jogyesa are many Buddhist specialty shops, selling such things as prayer beads, Buddhist writings, incense, as well as souvenirs such as dolls and key chains. If you are interested in Buddhism, these stores may be worth looking around.