Great 9th-Century Buddhist Master
of Meditation and Geomancy
Yeon-gi  Doseon-guksa
(a.k.a. Yogong-seonsa)
-- a brief biography --
Doseon-guksa [Tao-Abundance National-Master] (826-898) is one of my personal favorite characters of
Korean history.  He lived during the collapsing end of the Shilla Dynasty, presaging the foundation of the
subsequent Goryeo Dynasty.  He was a great Buddhist master of meditation of the
Seon [Zen] tradition,
and also an enlightened Sutra-Master, but the main reason for his fame is his masterful creation of
Pungsu-jiri-seol Geomancy and the concept of the Baekdu-daegan mountain-spine-of-Korea.
Doseon had particularly studied the various Chinese Daoist schools of "Feng-shui" and adapted their ideas & practices
to the Korean landscape and cultural situation.  The system that he developed, often called
"Bibo-pungsu-jiri" [Bi-bo
can be the Chinese characters for "Hidden Treasure" or for "National Prosperity"], focused on "harmony with nature".   
It places greater emphasis on the spiritual and material energies of mountains and their ranges, and their effect on
communities and the nation as a whole, than on personal fortunes and interior furniture-placement.   Chinese Feng-shui
was introduced along with Buddhism and other elements of Sinic civilization in the earliest few centuries CE and we have
strong evidence that it was strongly believed in and widely practiced throughout the Three Kingdoms Era and the Unified
Shilla Dynasty until and after Doseon's time.  What he is credited for is his genius in adapting these Feng-shui theories to
Korea's very different
(from Yellow-River-basin Chinese) land and climate situations, and putting the main emphasis on larger-
scale values as said, turning them into Korea's own unique
Pungsu-jiri-seol, and that is why he is remembered with such
(Japan and Vietnam also adapted Feng-shui ideas to their own very different geographical situations, we can be sure).

Doseon's teachings are sometimes also called "
Inyang pungsu-jiri" [yin-yang geomancy theory].  He is credited with
developing the concept of the
Baekdu-daegan as the earth-energy "spine" of the Korean Peninsula.  He is said to have
made many accurate predictions of the future changes in the courses of events for individuals and for the Kingdom, and is
therefore regarded as a kind of founder-patron-spirit by modern Korean fortune-tellers.  A Yeongam County historian wrote:
"He relied on power coming from
Cham-u-seol [Truth-of the-Universe Doctrine] and divine protection from Buddhism to
achieve his great dream."
Around 70 monasteries both large and small are claimed to have been founded either under Doseon's supervision and  
direction, or by the orders of Taejo Wang Geon (following Doseon's recommendations), and most of them still thrive.
The currently-most-famous temple said to have been founded by Doseon himself is Seoul's
Samgak-san Doseon-sa.,
one of "
Korea's Top-20 Temples".   The 22 temples said to have been founded by Taejo Wang Geon under Doseon's
influence are all fairly minor today; the most significant among them is probably
Gyeryong-san Gaetae-sa.   Temples that
are claimed to have been established either by Doseon or Wang Geon at the places where Doseon decided would be
most auspicious are called
Bibo-sacheol;  a listing and discussion of all of them is on this page. {not yet built}

In addition, there are dozens of pre-existing temples that are thought to have been reconstructed, renovated or added-to
(usually with a pagoda), including some of Korea's greatest, such as
Jiri-san's Shilsang-sa & Yeongok-sa and Jogye-san
Seonam-sa.  Also, a dozen important stone-carved Buddha statues and pagodas are said to have been carved or built
by his own hands (including the famous gigantic Gwanse-eum-bosal relief at Doseon-sa), and there are half a dozen
caves and crags around Korea that claim to be sites where he practiced his mystical arts (such as those at Geumo-san
Jiri-san's Saseong-am).  Pagodas that were built at the places where Doseon decided would be most auspicious
are called

The Doseon-guksa-sillok (Chronicles of National Master Doseon) includes this quote from him, a metaphorical
description of Korea's layout and enery-balances: "The configuration of the ground of our land is like a ship. Taebaek-
san and Geumgang-san are the bow of the ship, Wolchul-san and  Yeongju-san are the stern, In-san of Buan is the helm,
Jiri-san of the south is the oar and Unju-san of Neungsan is the belly. When a ship is at sea, the cargo should be loaded
so that it is properly divided between the bow, the belly and the stern, and the helm and the oar should control the sailing,
so that the boat can get out of difficulties and avoid sinking. When considering land it is the same. Therefore, temples
and pagodas should be built to press and control the earth’s energy. Especially in the region of Unju-san which comes
under the wiggling belly, 1,000 temples and 1,000 pagodas should be built to enrich the belly. Geumgang-san and
Wolchul-san also should be given special attention because the bow and the stern are important."

Jigi-soewang-seol [Theory of Waxing and Waning of Geomantic Energies] was derived from Doseon's teachings and
greatly expanded upon in subsequent centuries, becoming a main theme of Korean Pungsu-jiri and the many socio-
political controversies arising from it.  The ability of great geomancers to recognize the fading away of the auspicious
energy of established sites, causing ill-fortune to a family, king, region or nation, and choose alternative sites where the
is improving is a major skill of the best and most important geomancers.

In Doseon's final years he may have met and taught something to the great Confucian/Daoist scholar
Go-un Choe
Chi-won  -- but there is no direct evidence of any encounter between them.

Among the many books he is said to have written, only a few verifiable titles remain, such as
Doseon-bigi,  Songak-
and  Samgaksan-myeongdang-gi.  The most reliable biography of him is a recorded inscription on a
biseok-myo [standing stone monument] named the Jeungdung-hyedeung-tap at Okryong-sa, written by
Confucian scholar Choi Yu-cheong -- the story of his life that I have compiled and presented on all this page is largely
drawn from it
(as translated in Sources of Korean Tradition, see "Sources" below).
Doseon left Yeongam to become a monk in 841 at 15 years old, and was accepted to study in Jiri-san's great Hwaeom-sa
Temple (below Nogo-dan Peak, which was then called Wolyu-san).   It is said that he attained "the ineffable wisdom of
Munsu-bosal and the mystic gate of Bohyeon-bosal, penetrating the Great Meaning (of the Hwaeom-gyeong Sutra)" in only
one month.  He was given the name "Yeon-gi" which was a great honor, as that was the name of the missionary/sect-founder
master-monk who first built Hwaeom-sa in 544; he is presently often formally called "Yeon-gi Doseon".  By 20 he was
already highly respected as a very wise adept with unusual spiritual powers of the sort usually attributed to Daoist masters,
and he began to study
Seon [Chan or Zen] under the great Master and Sect-Founder Hyecheol Jeogin-seonsa (d. 861) at
Dongni-san Taean-sa Monastery
(one of the "Nine Mountains" Meditational Order Temples, just SW of Jiri-san).  He achieved full
enlightenment there, receiving the
mubeob-beob [the Dharma without dharma] transmission from Hyecheol and becoming
his leading successor.  A biographical note found on
this site says that in 850, he received the Gujok-gye Certification at
Cheondo-sa [Heavenly-Way Temple] (I don't know where this is), practised asceticism in a cave of Unbong-san [Cloud-Peak
Mountain] (don't know where this is)
and sometimes he spent summers in a grotto on Taebaek-san (don't know exactly where).

He travelled to Tang China for further studies around 850, focusing on esoteric Daoist and Buddhist astronomical, astrologi-
cal, mathematical, geomantic
(Feng Shui), cosmological and I Ching  [Juyeok-gyeong] teachings, especially geomantic ideas
Master I-hsing (673-727, aka Chang-sui).   {Some modern Koreans state or imply that they doubt that he ever went to China at all,
however, probably for national-pride reasons}.
After his return he trekked widely around the Korean Peninsula, observing its geography and searching for the source of
San-shinits unique energies, without basing himself at any particular temple.  After his extensive travels he built a hut to
rest and meditate in on "Bowl Hill" of western Jiri-san.  There, legend says, a  appeared to him offering the deepest
secrets of
Pungsu-jiri as (another, besides Seon) "method  by which great Bodhisattvas grant salvation to humankind".
The site in Gurye-gun County where that Mountain-spirit drew diagrams of auspicious topographic configurations in the
sand for him is still called "Sand Chart Village."   This story can be viewed as a nationalistic claim that his
system/wisdom came from a sacred/ancient indigenous-Korean source, not (entirely) from study of Chinese Feng-shui.

He then founded, constructed and settled at
Okryong-sa [Jade-Dragon Temple]  (also called Beobwang-sa or Dharma-
King Temple in the official Jogye Order listings) in Okryong-myeon District
(which he called Baekhak-dong or White Crane
Village, paralleling Jiri-san's Azure Crane Village)
of Gwangyang City, just south of Baekun-san Mountain (called Baekgye-san
at that time, apparently; or maybe that's the name of that foothill-ridge of Baekun-san)
, after determining that it had an ideal
geomantic location, safe from natural troubles.

He taught there for 35 years, with occasional travels around Korea, reportedly assisting hundreds of monks and laymen to
achieve enlightenment.  He is said to have not spoken very much at all, teaching the
mubeob-beob by museol-seol [the
explanation without explanation], able to spark realization with only a piercing gaze.  His reputation for wisdom and
insight-powers eventually got him proclaimed Shilla's leading Master-monk by King Heon-gang, who invited him to the
palace in Gyeongju to give lectures several times.  
Doseon's family name was Kim and he came from Gurim Village (in Gunseo-myeon District) of Yeong-am-gun [Spirit-Rock
of Jeolla-namdo, on the western slopes of Wolchul-san.  It is recorded that there was a common  rumor that he had
descended from a secondary son of Shilla's
Great King Taejong Muyeol (r.664-681).  His mother had a conception-dream
that she swallowed a beautiful pearl
(a symbol of pure wisdom), and for her first month of pregnancy chanted Buddhist
scriptures while abstaining from meat, onions and garlic.  Her son was a Buddhist prodigy from infancy onwards, learning
to chant basic Sutras soon after he could talk.  One local myth tells that he was accidentally abandoned soon after birth,
but was protected by birds at a gigantic boulder now called
Guksa-am [National Master Rock], found behind Wolchul-san's
Gukam-sa Hermitage
(where astronomer Choi Ji-mong is enshrined; this site's location is unknown, not on any map).
The portrait of Doseon painted in 1456,
kept at Wolchul-san's Dogap-sa
which is in
Yeongam-gun County of South Jeolla Province.
The portrait of Doseon painted in the 18th
Century, kept at Jogye-san Seonam-sa
in Suncheon City of South Jeolla Province.
Doseon draws much of his fame and significance as the most influential advisor to Wang Geon (born 877), destined to
Goryeo's King Taejo (r. 918-43) in founding the Goryeo Dynasty -- although they probably never met.   It is said that
in 875 when he passed by an aristocratic mansion under construction at
Songak-san (near today's Gaeseong City) he
recognized the grand auspiciousness of the site that would confer a fresh Mandate of Heaven
(needed, as Shilla was
, and told the young owner that in two years his wife would give birth to a son who would grow up to be a great
man, to lead a new age for Korea.  He gave the man a document (believed to be the
Doseon-bigi) in a sealed envelope
and told him to keep it safe and secret, only giving it to the boy when he attained maturity.  This was done, and the boy
born there as prophesied followed the advice in that document, becoming the Founding-King of the new Goryeo Dynasty.

The advice and ideas Doseon left behind him, especially in the
Doseon-bigi, were important in choosing the site of the
capital and other important cities and fortresses, and in constructing many new grand Buddhist temples at geomantically-
auspicious sites around the nation.  It is recorded that when Taejo Wang Geon had defeated the last of his rivals and
re-unified Korea, he built
Gaetae-sa [Exalted Beginning Temple] in a long narrow valley just south of highly-sacred
Gyeryong-san, where Doseon had recommend, to express his gratitude towards the Buddhas and Mountain-spirits, and
seek their further beneficence.  Some Koreans say that he first chose that area for his capital, and that temple was the
beginning of the city's construction, but then he changed his mind and selected his hometown Songak, which came to be
named Gaegyeong
(and is now Gaeseong City), located next to sacred Songak-san --- Doseon had advised that far in
advance, and supposedly predicted that
Samgak-san (Mongmyeong-yang-->Hanyang-->Seoul) would become the site of the
capital of the next dynasty in 500 years, and then southern Gyeryong-san would be the host of the following dynasty 500
years yet later.

Just before the King's death he issued the
Hunyo-shipjo (aka Ship-hunyo), a famous list of Ten Injunctions for his
successors, the second of which states that Doseon's advice on temple-locations should always be followed, lest Korea's
Earth-energies be wasted and diminished -- sites that he recommended should have temples built on them, and no
temples should be built on sites that he did not recommend
 (this latter point was a caution against building too many temples,
which would drain the national wealth)
.  Here is a translation of that Article 2 of the Hunyo-sipjo:
Doseon is recorded to have died in 898 (two decades before Goryeo was actually founded) while sitting in the lotus
position in front of his many disciples.  This was at Baekun-san Okryong-sa, but no
budo [stone funerary monument for
holding cremains] was found there.  It is considered possible that
the remarkable budo behind Yeongok-sa is his, and its
architectural elements support this theory, but its accompanying
biseok [stone history monument] is missing (probably
destroyed) and so we can't be sure.  It may have been established at Yeongok-sa instead of Okryong-sa for some
reason we no longer know, or might have been originally built at Okryong-sa after his cremation, but later moved to
Yeongok-sa for a no-longer-known reason.  Some Koreans are said to believe that he actually became a
[Daoist-type "Immortal"] upon achieving nirvana, and continued to advise Taejo Wang Geon in spiritual form.

After his death King Hyogong conferred the posthumous title
Yogong-seonsa [Essential-Emptiness Meditation-Master]
upon him.  His students erected a pagoda called
Jingseong-hyedeung-tap in his honor in Okryong-sa, but it does not
now exist.   Goryeo's King Sukjong
(r.1095-1105) posthumously promoted him to the rank of Wangsa [Royal Preceptor /
Teacher of the King]
and then King Injong (r.1122-46) further promoted him to the highest-possible rank Guksa [National
, with the name-title Seongak-guksa and common-usage title Doseon-guksa [Tao-Abundance National-Master,
although that rare "seon" character could also be read as "gathering" or even "asking"], the name he is best-known by to this
day.   It is also recorded that the following King Euijong
(r.1146-70) erected a monument for him in Goryeo's capital city
Gaeseong.  In mid-Goryeo a monk named Goi-yeon
(student of Hye-geun Wangsa 1320-76)  wrote a biography of him entitled
Goryeo Guksa Doseon Jeon" (this title-suffix jeon means a transmitted record).
"All of the temples here [built during my reign] were established at the places where Doseon-seonsa
decided they should be, considering his geomantic principles.  Doseon said that if temples were
indiscriminately established at places other than he had chosen for them, then wisdom and virtue will
be damaged because terrestrial energies would be sapped, and national fortunes would become  
inauspicious and the dynasty would decline.  I am concerned that if [future] kings, queens, officials
and aristocrats establish temples on their own authorities, selfishly seeking Buddha's blessings, it
will become a serious problem.  In the late Shilla times, as temples were established here and there
capriciously, terrestrial energies have been wasted and so the nation is collapsing as wisdom and
virtue were damaged.  We should carefully guard against repeating this."   
(adapted from "Doseon Gunksa [sic] (national monk)" at this site) and "Sources" below).
This may be Doseon-guksa's budo [stone funerary monument for holding cremains] and the capstone
and base for his
biseok stele, now behind Jiri-san Yeongok-sa -- see this page for details.
Yeongam County claims that Doseon spent at least part of his childhood (circa 835?) at Munsu-am [Bodhisattva of Wisdom
Hermitage, called a -sa Temple on their site; named Munju-am on some maps, a common variation]
which is just west (downstream)
from Dogap-sa on the western slopes of what is now Wolchul-san National Park.  They also claim that Doseon first had his
hair cut off so as to officially become a novice-monk
(the date of this is not stated) at Wolnam-sa [Moon-South Temple] on the
southeast side of Wolchul-san
(Wolnam-ri Village of Seongjeon-myeon District of Gangjin-gun County; site now marked as Wolnam-
saji, with only a pagoda and a seokbi monument remaining; this site may also be known as Nakbal-jiji)
.  They say that when Doseon
returned from his early studies in China he reconstructed Munsu-sa on the same site, renaming it Dogap-sa.   All that we
know for sure about this is that Dogap-sa was famous and prosperous during the Goryeo Dynasty, and its official history
claims Doseon as its Founder.  It's a well-known temple today, within the National Park.
Yeongam County has in recent times become proud
of being Doseon's "hometown", and has upgraded
Dogap-sa as a kind of shrine to him.  It opened the
Doseon-guksa-seongbo-jeon Museum (upper-left) to
preserve and display his relics (and other temple
treasures) in 2000.  It contains a seminar room where
documentary films about Doseon are continuously
shown for visitors, and the original manuscript of
Doseon-guksa-silrok, a detailed chronicle of his life
from the Joseon era.  Dogap-sa also contains a
Joseon monument of its history (lower-left) that mentions
Doseon, and a copy of the inscription on the
monument of Okryong-sa (see below).
In 1473 (in the early Joseon Dynasty) Dogap-sa was reconstructed by a monk named Sumi, and then in 1653 a
stone biseok monument named the
Dogapsa-doseon-sumi-bi was erected  to commemorate Doseon and Sumi.  
It is 4.8m tall, and considered a masterpiece of the Joseon period due to its exquisite carving and grand scale.  An
unusual feature is that on the back of the tortoise-base, lotus leaves are carved instead of the typical lotus flowers.
Doseon's doctrines remained highly influential in Korea for over a millennium.  It is recorded in the Joseon Dynasty annals
that when
Founding-King Taejo Yi Seong-gye (r.1392–1398) was deciding where to build his new capital city in 1390, he
sent out many
Pungsu geomancers to search nationwide for the ideal site.  The best initial choice was the valley south of
Gyeryong-san's summit (already regarded as a holy area).  Construction was begun with the setting of foundation stones,
but then Taejo Yi was persuaded to change his mind by the master-geomancer-monk Jacho Muhak-daesa (regarded as
the successor of Doseon or even his reincarnation), who successfully argued that Doseon had prophesied that the next
dynasty after Goryeo would be based at the walled-town Hanyang
(named Mongmyeong-yang in Doseon's time and then used as the
"southern capital" of Goryeo, then renamed Hanyang, it is known as downtown Seoul today)
and last for 500 years.  Taejo Yi decided to follow
that prophecy/advice and built his capital in Hanyang.  Muhak-daesa then used Doseon's Pungsu-jiri-seol to evaluate
Hanyang's sacred topography and select the site of the royal palace (Gyeongbok-gung) and design the city's new walls,
gates and so on.  The story behind the name of Seoul's Wangshimni neighborhood & station claims that Doseon appeared
as an elderly farmer
(in the manner that the Bodhisattva of Wisdom is famous for doing) to directly advise Muhak in doing so.

Doseon-guksa remains one of the Shilla Dynasty's most famous and cited figures, extremely influential throughout the rest
of Korean history until the present day.  His
Pungsu-jiri is a key factor in making traditional Korean culture unique, different
from the neighboring Chinese, Siberian, Mongolian and Japanese cultures.  His reputation is still quite high and strong
among contemporary South Koreans
(the attitude of North Koreans towards him is not yet known to me); his name tends to
come up when real-estate-sites, fortune-telling, prophecy, Korean sacred-geography and national destiny are discussed.
It is said that there are 3,800 sites in Korea that are associated with his relics, artworks, temples, doctrines and legends.

Gwangyang City is very proud of Doseon's long residence at Okryong-sa in the Baekhak-dong area, and is currently
restoring the ancient sites that were destroyed several times in more recent history.  A huge modern temple has been built
just east of the Okryong-sa site, and the village one km or so to its west has recently been re-named "Doseon Maeul"
ma-eul being the native Korean word for "village"), and there are obvious attempts to develop it as a new tourist attraction.
Sources for most of the above:  
Translation of the Jeungdung-hyedeung-tap biseok monument of Okryong-sa on pages
131-135, and also pages 154, 243-246 in
Sources of Korean Tradition Volume I,
Edited by Lee and de Bary, 1997, Columbia University Press, New York.

Pages 33-41 in
The Culture of Fengshui in Korea: an Exploration of East Asia Geomancy,
by professor Hong-Key Yoon, 2006, Lexington books, Plymouth, UK.

Pages 72-73 in
Korea -- A Religious History by professor James Huntley Grayson,
2002 revised edition, RoutledgeCurzon publishers, London

Tourism-promotion publications (including web-pages) of Yeongam-gun
County, Hadong-gun County and Gwangyang City, Korea.

Things learned during my own 20+ years of travels around Korea.
My study of maps and guidebooks of Korea.