Buddhism was imported to the Korean Peninsula in the 4th century and the ancient kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla respectively acknowledged the religion officially. Since then Buddhism prospered as the national religion for over 1,000 years until the end of the Goryeo Dynasty. The many Buddhist temples that were built in the 5-6th centuries under the strong patronage of the state contributed to the import of Buddhist culture, architectural technology and style from the continent. Buddhism of Korea adhered to the religious doctrines imported from India through China, but the religion combined together with the existing indigenous beliefs and started to develop the unique style of Korean Buddhist temples.
The traditional belief of revering mountains formed a combination with Buddhism, and establishing temples in the great mountains of the land became popular. Temples placed on mountains adapted to the topography of the land and the composition and layout of the buildings evolved into various different forms. The ideals of Seon (禪, Zen) Buddhism was introduced around 8-9th centuries, and aided in the relocation of Buddhist temples to mountainous, secluded areas rather than being in the midst of a city. This also promoted the formation of a particular style of mountain Buddhist temple layout.
Ideas and concepts to maximize the topographical advantages became widespread and a collection of these thoughts were gradually cumulated and theoretically compiled into a geomancy theory called ‘pungsu.’ According to pungsu theories, the yin and yang ener￢gies and the five elements of the universe produce positive energy to the earth, and certain points that excel in collecting this positive energy are considered auspicious sites. Pungsu had a great effect on Korea where the land is mostly mountainous.
Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) adopted Confucianism as its state ideal and Buddhism suffered harsh oppressions during this time. Temples which were originally located in cit￢ies could no longer continue its functions. Only those located in mountainous areas were able to survive. The many theoretical and doctrinal developments that expanded during the previous 1,000 years of prosperity, slowly merged into one, forming the Tong Buddhist doctrine (Tong 通 meaning consolidation or integration). Architectural layouts and spatial composition of these mountain temples followed suite of the doctrinal developments.
Mountain temples follow a long winding entrance path up the hill, which leads into the main worship area and the living areas. The buildings are laid out in a square, forming an inner courtyard in the middle. Looking from the outside, the square cluster of buildings blocks the viewer to look inside. However because the buildings are located on an uprise hill, the highest main building forming the square has a commanding open view of the rest of the mountain. In these squares the most important hall is placed on the top, and halls for meditation, everyday living areas for monks, and a pavilion form the other three sides. The square and the inner courtyard of the main shrine of worship are placed in the center of the entire temple. Mountain temples appropriately utilize the peaks in the background and the topographical features to embody the certain doctrine that it mainly pursues. Also the temple is laid out following specific axis(es) being interconnected with the valley stream.
The temples can also be divided into areas according the specific functions of the buildings. There are buildings housing the Buddha or bodhisattvas, lecture halls to learn the Buddhist scripts and doctrines, and living areas for the monks and the worshippers. The temples house the tangible and intangible aspects of Buddhism and function as com￢prehensive ascetic facilities. Respecting the Buddha, conducting rituals, chanting the sutras, and meditating all takes place within the temples.
The mountain temples of Seonamsa, Daeheungsa, Beopjusa, Magoksa, Tongdosa, Bongjeongsa and Buseoksa were all established during the Three Kingdoms period, but were standardized in their layout and forms after the mid-Joseon Dynasty. These temples show the essence of Korean mountain temples with their diverse axes and their harmony with the surrounding valleys, also continuing on with their comprehensive functions of a religious facility.
1) Seonamsa Temple (仙巖寺)
Seonamsa Temple is located at San 802, Jukhak-ri, Seungju-eup, Suncheon-si, Jeolla￢nam-do Province. It consists of approximately 20 buildings and 4 affiliated temples (amja). It is said that the Great Monk Ado started the temple in 527. It is known to have been reestablished in the 9th century by the State Preceptor Doseon. As the headquarters of the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism, the buildings are quite large and the temple is charac￢terized by its multi-layered square planned buildings with inner courtyards. As the temple was established over the period of 200 years, the layout takes on the form similar to that of a rural village.
Seonamsa is composed of four areas: Daeungjeon Hall area, Wontongjeon Hall area, Eungjindang Hall area, and the Gakhwangjeon Hall area. These areas are all separated and have a certain degree of independence from each other utilizing the height differ￢ences of the ground elevations. The appropriate use of laying out buildings maximizing the small and slanting land, also gives consideration to the vertical and horizontal flow within the temple. Seonamsa was built upon the doctrinal essence of the Lotus Sutra (Sad￢dharma Pundarika Sutra), and has twin stupas in the inner court of the main hall area.
2) Daeheungsa Temple (大興寺)
Daeheungsa is located at 799 Gurim-ri, Samseon-myeon, Haenam-gun, Jeollanam-do Province, and has approximately 45 buildings within its compound. As the Duryunsan Mountain where the temple sits used to be called Daedunsan Mountain in the past, the temple also used to be called Daedunsa. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the temple retained its name of Daeheungsa.
The temple sits on a spacious basin dividing up the land into four areas. Daeungjeon Hall area, Cheonbuljeon Hall area, Pyochungsa Shrine area, and the Daegwangmyeongjeon Hall area. Pyochungsa Shrine and Daegwangmyeongjeon Hall were established at a later date than the other two areas and functions as a branch to the main temple.
Daeheungsa was originally composed of southern and northern quarters, sepa￢rated by the stream. In the northern quarter, encircling the Daeungbojeon, build￢ings of Myeongbujeon, Eungjinjeon, Sansingak, Chimgyeru, and Baekseoldang are positioned. In the southern quarter, buildings center around the Cheonbuljeon Hall. Pyochungsa that enshrines the Great Monk Samyeong sits to the far back of the southern quarter, together with the Daegwangmyeongjeon. Daeheungsa is unique for its layout where the stream divides the temple area right through the middle.
3) Beopjusa Temple (法住寺)
Beopjusa is in 209 Sanae-ri, Naesokri-myeon, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do Province. It has approximately 30 buildings and 10 separate affiliated temples. Beopjusa embodies the doctrines of the Maitreya belief and the Hwaeom ideal. Maitreya belief has the characteristic of placing the main shrines and objects of beliefs in a straight line. The Daeungjeon represents the Hwaeom ideals and the Yonghwabojeon represents the Maitreya ideals. The two axes meet in a perpendicular angle where the Palsangjeon Hall sits. Each of the axes faces the Gwaneumbong Peak and the Sujeongbong Peak, both names connecting to the corresponding beliefs. Beopjusa shows the outstanding interpretation and utilization of the existing topography to fit the doctrinal hierarchy. The two axes of the temple each represent the separate ideals but are masterfully integrated in the layout. The temple also sits in the land of Buddha which can be interpreted as being surrounded by the 8 petals of the lotus.
4) Magoksa Temple (麻谷寺)
Sitting in 567, Unam-ri, Sagok-myeon, Gongju-si, Chungcheongnam-do Province, Magoksa is composed of 20 buildings and 3 affiliate temples. Magoksa is separated into the southern and northern quarters by the stream flowing through the temple. Each space is too confined to house both the Yeongsanjeon area and the Daeungbojeon area. Therefore giving due consideration to the size of each space and the flow of topography, the Daeungbojeon of the north faces southwest, while Yeongsanjeon of the south faces southeast, with the axes meeting in a right angle. However the two gates that connect the quarters gradually turn their angles, easing the entrance into the following area. The temple does not attempt to lead the visitors in a straight line, which would result in en￢tering the main area sideways, but gradually twists the entrance road through the gates.
5) Tongdosa Temple (通度寺)
Tongdosa in 583 Jisan-ri, Habuk-myeon, Yangsan-si, Gyeongsangnam-do Province is composed of 59 buildings and 20 separate affiliate temples. As one of the Jewel temples of Korea, Tongdosa is the temple that represents the Buddha. Established in 648 by the Great Monk Jajang, the temple houses the relics of Buddha, the sarira and his robe, together with the first collection of Buddhist sutras. The temple fully taking its form during the Goryeo Dynasty can be divided into three separate areas and an axis that connects all three areas. Daeungjeon Hall of the upper area where the relics of Buddha are kept has unique architectural values as all four sides portray its centrality. Tongdosa faithfully exhibits the values of the Tong Buddhism doctrine where the three areas each represent different doctrinal beliefs and objects of worship.
6) Bongjeongsa Temple (鳳停寺)
Bongjeongsa is located in 901 Taejang-ri, Seohu-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsang￢buk-do Province with 36 buildings and 3 separate affiliated temples. It is known to be built in 672 by the Great Monk Neungin, later made prosperous by Uisang who built the Hwaeom lecture hall to teach his followers. Writings documenting the repair of the roof parts of Geuknakjeon Hall in 1363 were found, proving the building to be the old￢est wooden structure in Korea. Buildings such as Daeungjeon, Hwaeomgangdang (lecture hall), Gogeumdang are well preserved and the flowing context connecting the main build￢ing, courtyard, Manseru Pavilion out towards the surrounding mountains is exquisite.
7) Buseoksa Temple (浮石寺)
Situated in 148 Bukji-ri, Buseok-myeon, Yeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, Buseoksa has 25 buildings and a separate affiliated temple. The temple was established by Monk Uisang to spread his beliefs on the Hwaeom doctrine. The architectural layout well embodies the doctrinal system and belief of the Hwaeom sect. The layout of major buildings, the architectural style of Muryangsujeon Hall, and the interpretation of the sur￢rounding landscape to match the features of the fundamentals of Hwaeom, places Buseoksa as an outstanding example of mountain temples. The scenery that encompasses the Any￢angru Pavilion and Muryangsujeon Hall that actively engages the different ground levels are counted as the epitome of Korean architecture. Buildings tracing back to the Goryeo Dynasty (910-1392) such as Muryangsujeon and Josadang are well protected, together with other numerous artifacts.