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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part XXIV: Baengnyulsa, Gyeongju, Northern Gyeongsang - The Martyrdom of Ichadon

The Baengnyulsa or Baengnyul temple (Hanja: 栢栗寺) is a Korean Buddhist temple located on the slopes of Mount Geumgang in Dongcheon-dong 406-beonji, Gyeongju City, Northern Gyeongsang Province, South Korea - The Capital of Silla Kingdom. It is a branch temple of Bulguksa temple, the head temple of the 11th district of the Jogye Order. The foundation date is unknown but is speculated to be around the time when the Silla Kingdom united the Three Kingdoms of Korea in 692 according to both an oral story and a document on a Buddha statue. Baengnyulsa is also believed to be the Jachusa temple which is associated with Ichadon's martyrdom.

The statue which is not handed down today was said to be created by a Chinese artisan and the temple was created by the time. It is called Daebi Gwaneumsang (大悲觀音像), literally meaning "a statue of the greatly sympathetic Guan Yin". In Samguk Yusa, the statue had a mysterious episode occurring in 693, the second year of the Silla King Hyoso. However, the statue disappeared during the Imjin War, Japanese invasions of Korea in the end of the 16th century.

On the other hand, the temple is strongly suggested as the Jachusa temple (자추사/刺楸寺), where the beheaded head of Ichadon, the first martyr for Buddhism in Korea, was flown to and fallen. The Jachusa temple was established on the site to commemorate him in 528, the following year of his martyrdom and the 15th year of King Beopheung's reign. Its name, Jachusa was said to be changed to Baengnyulsa with the meaning of "pine nut and chestnut temple". In the Silla period, if a sound or meaning of a word was same as another word, Silla people sometimes easily changed names. The sound of Ja in the Jachusa is similar to jat, or pine nut which has the same meaning to baek (栢) while chu (楸) refers to chest nut which meaning is the same as yul (栗).

Ichadon's Introduction
Ichadon (Hangul/Hanja: 이차돈/異次頓; Born: 501 – Martyred: 527), also known as Geochadon (거차돈/居次頓) or by his courtesy name Yeomchok (염촉) or Yeomdo, was a Buddhist monk and advisor to the 23rd Monarch of Silla Kingdom, King Beopheung.

Early in his reign, Beopheung had desired to promulgate Buddhism as the state religion. However, officials in his court opposed him. In the fourteenth year of his reign, Beopheung's "Grand Secretary", Ichadon, devised a strategy to overcome court opposition. Ichadon schemed with the king, convincing him to make a proclamation granting Buddhism official state sanction using the royal seal. Ichadon told the king to deny having made such a proclamation when the opposing officials received it and demanded an explanation. Instead, Ichadon would confess and accept the punishment of execution, for what would quickly be seen as a forgery.

Ichadon prophesied to the king that at his execution a wonderful miracle would convince the opposing court faction of Buddhism's power. Ichadon's scheme went as planned, and the opposing officials took the bait. When Ichadon was executed on the 15th day of the 9th month in 527, his prophecy was fulfilled; the earth shook, the sun was darkened, beautiful flowers rained from the sky, his severed head flew to the sacred Geumgang mountains, and milk instead of blood sprayed 100 feet in the air from his beheaded corpse. The omen was accepted by the opposing court officials as a manifestation of heaven's approval, and Buddhism was made the state religion in 527 CE. Ichadon's body was then taken to the Geumgang mountains and buried there with respect. His martyrdom led to the construction of Heungnyun monastery, Silla's first state-sponsored temple.