General Information about Beopjusa

The birth place of the belief in Mireuk (Maitreya) where the tradition is preserved intact

Foundation of Beopjusa

It is said that Beopjusa was founded by the Spiritual Patriarch Euisin and was rebuilt by the Master Jinpyo who stayed at the temple for 7 years. However, it is recorded in Volume 4 of 'Samgukyusa' (Reminiscences about the Three Kingdoms) that after leaving Geumsansa Temple, Master Jinpyo visited Mt. Songni and marked a place where a kuśa grass grew, and then went directly to Mt. Keumgangsan to establish Balyeonsu Temple where he stayed for 7 years. Afterwards, while Master Jinpyo stayed at Geumsansa Temple and Busa-euibang, men named Youngsim, Yungjong, Bulta, etc., who used to live in Mt. Songni, visited Master Jinpyo and learned about Dharma. At that time, Master Jinpyo told them, "There is a place in Mt. Songni where kuśa grass grows. I left a mark on the location. You go there, build a temple and save the world according to this doctrinal teaching and promulgate the teachings to posterity." So the company of Youngsim went to Mt. Songni and found the place where kuśa grass grew. They built a temple there, named it Gilsangsa Temple (Temple of kuśa grass) and held the first ceremony. As the Venerable Jinpyo, who rebuilt Geumsansa Temple, cultivated belief in Mireuk (Maitreya), it was assumed that the company of Venerable Youngsim would also cultivate Mireuk after establishing a temple on the place where kuśa grass grew, because they learned about Dharma from Venerable Jinpyo.
On the basis of such literature, it may be thought that the current Beopjusa was established by the Venerable Youngsim. Meanwhile, the temple was called Songni Temple until the reign of King Injo of the Goryeo Dynasty, and there is a poem titled Songni Temple contained in Dongmunseon (collections of poetry published during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1478). So it can be inferred that the name of the temple changed from Gilsangsa Temple to Songni Temple, and again to Beopjusa Temple. But it is not quite certain.

Construction of Beopjusa

After it was named Beopjusa in 553, the 14th year of the reign of King Jinheung of Shilla, the temple was rebuilt in 720, the 19th year of the reign of King Seongdeok of Shilla, and again during the Goryeo Dynasty in 918, the first year of the reign of King Taejo, by the National Preceptor JeungTong, who was also a Royal Teacher. Also, during the reign of King Munjong, Dosaeng-Seungtong, who was the 6th son of the king, made an effort to rebuild the temple. During Imjin-Waeran (Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592), Beopjusa and almost all the hermitages in the precinct of the temple were burned down because the temple was the stronghold of monk soldiers in the Chungcheong-do region during Imjin-Waeran. But the Zen Master Byeokam-Gakseong devoted himself to the reconstruction of the temple in 1626, the 4th year of the reign of King Injo. Zen Master Byeokam was born in Bo-eun, and had a big victory against the enemy in a naval battle in cooperation with an admiral of the Ming Dynasty of China during Imjin-Waeran. It is said that he built the current Namhansanseong (Mt. Namsan mountain fortress) during three years from 1624.

The oldest 'History of Beopjusa' remaining in Korea was written in 1630, and the buildings that had existed in the early Joseon Dynasty before Imjin-Waeran are described in this book. There are more than 60 buildings, 10 stone structures and 70 hermitages referred to in the book, which proves that the temple was of a magnificent scale. Among them, important buildings including the place used for Buddhist services are as follows:

The Supreme Buddha Hall (2 stories, 28 rooms). Sanho Hall of Light (2 stories, 35 rooms), Palsang-Ocheung-jeon (36 rooms) Biro-jeon (17 rooms), Yaksa-jeon, Paradise Hall (6 rooms), Wontong-jeon (6 rooms), Jijang-jeon, Yeongyeong-jeon, Yeongsan-jeon, Dosol-jeon, Eungjin-jeon, Daeyang-mun (7 rooms), Cheonwang-mun, Jogye-mun, Haetal-mun, Eastern rooms, Western rooms
*'jeon' means a building and 'mun' means a gate in Korean.

Despite the grand reconstruction done by Zen Master Byeokam after Imjin-Waeran ended, it is said that the number of the restored buildings was only about 20.

Beopjusa during the Goryeo Dynasty

Entering the Goryeo Dynasty, many preeminent priests resided at Beopjusa and on several occasions reconstruction took place. First of all, Dosaeng-Seungtong, who was the 6th son of King Munjong (1046~1083) served as the abbot of the temple. Daegak National Preceptor Euicheon, the 4th son of King Munjong, and Hyedeok Royal Teacher Sohyeon, the 5th son of King Munjong, are the elder brothers of the Venerable Dosaeng. Buddhism was the state religion of Goryeo Dynasty, which was an object of absolute belief for the king and the people. The royal family thought of it as a great honor if a prince became a monk. Especially, King Munjong was so devout that he let three sons become monks. Not many records remain as to the activities of the Venerable Dosaeng, but he became a monk under the Royal Teacher Haedeok, who was a genuine monk of the Dharma-character School, and his teacher said that he also belonged to the Dharma-character School. In addition, the fact that the Venerable Dosaeng served as the abbot of Beopjusa shows that the temple inherited the tradition of the Dharma-character School which had continued from the Shilla Dynasty. The histories of temples during Goryeo Dynasty are recorded in the 'Commentary on the Penitence Meeting held in Songni Temple' compiled by Kim Bu-sik during the reign of King Injong (1122~1146), 'Epitaph in Beopjusa, Mt. Songni, Goryeo' written in 1342 (3rd year in the reign of King Chunghye), and 'Epitaph of Dosaeng Seungtong'. Through this, we can see that until the reign of King Injong, the temple was called Songni Temple, the same as the name of the mountain, and it must have been held in high regard as Kim Bu-sik, a famous confucian scholar, wrote the commentary on the penitence meeting held in the temple on the orders of the king. During the reign of King Wonjong (1259∼1274), the High Priest Jajeong Misu (1240∼1327), a famous monk of the Dharma-character School during the Mid-Goryeo period, resided at the temple. Having become a monk at the age of 13, he practiced at Beopjusa, Jangeuisa, Guklyeongsa, and Daemincheonsa temples. When he stayed in Beopjusa, he wrote 92 various kinds of scriptures and commentaries by the order of the king. In 1281 (the 7th year of the reign of King Chunglyeol) the king visited the temple and paid homage at the Sanhojeon building, and King Chungsuk followed suit. In 1363 (the 12th year of the reign of King Gongmin) the king dropped by the temple and sent a messenger to Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan to ordered 1 piece of the Sarira (sacred relics) of Buddha to be moved and enshrined in Beopjusa. The Sarira pagoda still remains behind Neunginjeon building.

Beopjusa during the Joseon Dynasty

The lamp of Dharma continued to burn during the Joseon Dynasty. It is often said that Confucianism was respected during the Joseon Dynasty while Buddhism was suppressed. But Confucianism was used only as an ethical code for ruling of the nation and as a form of personal cultivation, and people continued to sincerely believe in Buddhism. It was the same for the royal family. During the reign of King Sejo (1455∼1468) during the Joseon Dynasty, the High Priest Sinmi resided at the temple and rebuilt the temple to a great extent. The Venerable Sinmi was highly respected as the royal teacher of King Sejo. Previously, he had also rebuilt Bokcheonsa Temple located in Mt. Songni in Dec., 1449 (the 31st year of the reign of King Sejong), which is recorded in the 'Record of Rebuilding of Bokcheonsa Temple'.

During the mid-Joseon period, the temple was a great temple with more than 60 buildings and 70 hermitages. However, most of the buildings were burned down during Imjin-Waeran which broke out in 1592 (the 25th year of the reign of King Seonjo). Partial reconstruction continued, but again all the temple buildings burned during Jeongyu-jaeran (the 2nd invasion of Japan between 1597 and 1598). After the war, Samyeong High Priest Yujeong rebuilt Palsangjeon from 1605 (the 38th year of the reign of King Seonjo) to 1626 (the 4th year of the reign of King Injo).
The rebuilding resumed in 1624, and the 'Records of the History of Beopjusa' was published in the next year after finishing the Buddhist service. After then, the Venerable Byeokam-Gakseong (1575∼1660) reconstructed the devastated temple. The Venerable Byeokam is comparable to the High Priest Seosan who saved the nation by organizing monk soldiers during Imjin-Waeran. He fought bravely during Byeongja-horan (the Manchu war of 1636) as leader of the Righteous Army and made a great contribution to saving the nation. In March, 1851 (the 2nd year of the reign of King Cheoljong), prime minister Kwon Don-in made efforts to reconstruct temples on a national scale. In 1872 (the 9th year of King Gojong), the 2-story Yonghwa-bojeon that had stood in the current position of Cheongdong-daebul (a great bronze image of Buddha) was demolished.

Beopjusa of Today

The statue of Mireuk Buddha began to be built in 1939. At the request of the Venerable abbot Jang Seok-sang, the householder Kim Soo-gon, who lived in Tae-in, Jeollabuk-do Province, made monetary offerings to begin the construction of the statue of Mireuk Buddha, but the work ceased with the sudden death of Kim Bok-jin, the sculptor. The construction work resumed with the help of President Park Jung-Hee in March, 1963 and the statue was completed in 1964. And in 1967, the Venerable Geumo-Taejeon (1896∼1968) rebuilt the dilapidated and obsolete buildings. Though he was very old at that time - over 70- he enthusiastically tended the temple and enhanced the Zen tradition of Beopjusa. In 1974, most of the buildings in the temple were repaired and restored with the assistance of the Korean government. In 1975, the sarira-stupa and a memorial stone for the Venerable Geumo were erected. In 1976, the Venerable abbot Tanseong repaired the Great Hero Hall and built the Bell Pavilion anew. In 1990, the bronze statue of Mireuk Buddha was repaired extensively thanks to the efforts of the Venerable abbot Woltan, and Yonghwajeon, an exhibition hall, was built in the basement under the platform of the statue. The Zen Center and the annex building were completed to enable the public to practice their faith in an environment equipped with modern facilities. In 2002, the bronze statue of Buddha began to be gilded with gold as part of restorations and in accordaance with the record that stated that the Master Jinpyo had enshrined a gilt-bronze statue of Mireuk Buddha. As of 2005, after 4 years of restoration work, the Great Hero Hall recovered its splendor of the past to greet the people who visit Mt. Songni.

Beopjusa first lit the lantern of Dharma during the Shilla dynasty. With its long historical tradition and numerous cultural assets and relics remaining intact in the temple, it is referred to today as the birthplace of belief in Mireuk in Korea.