|the Lower Courtyard, with 9th-Century stone Pagoda, decorated for Buddha's
Birthday 2549, on a foggy morning (above) and on a winter day in 2006 (below).
view from SE to NE, with Hongje-am and Yongtap-am visible to its left
|chanting-service in the huge Main Hall, dedicated to
Biro-bul [Vairocana Buddha of Cosmic Light] and named the
Daejeok-gwang-jeon or "Great Silent Luminescence Hall".
in the view of Haein-sa above you
can see the position of the Sumi-
jeongsang-tap, close-up at right.
|Lower-courtyard end-of-Shilla-era pagoda again
|the Pavilion for the Four Musical Instruments of Dharma
|Photos from a Korea Times Temple-Stay article
written by my colleague Roger Shepherd
|additional photos adapted from Wikimedia
| Hae-in-sa [Ocean Seal Temple, 해인사, 海印寺] is one of Korea’s Sambo Sachal (三寶寺刹, Temples of the
Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), said to represent the Dharma (法, Beop); therefore one
of the largest and most important monasteries in the nation.
It is situated on the floor of a deep, remote valley surrounded by the steep slopes and lofty peaks of Gaya-san
(伽倻山, Bodhgaya or Mahabodhi Mountain), in Hapcheon-gun County (陜川郡) of South Gyeongsang Province
(慶尙南道). It is in middle of the 77 km2 Gaya-san National Park, established in 1972, just east of the Baekdu-
daegan Range-line. It is most famous for housing the Goryeo Palman-daejang-gyeong (高麗八萬大藏經, the
Goryeo Dynasty Tripitaka Koreana) printing-woodblocks, and as the teaching-residence of some of the late
20th Century’s greatest Seon masters.
This temple takes its name from the Buddha's “Ocean Seal” Samādhi (deep concentration), which is described
in the Hwaeom-gyeong (華嚴經, Avatamsaka or Flower Garland Sutra) as when the mind is like the surface of a
perfectly calm sea in which the true image of all of existence is clearly reflected and everything is seen just as it is.
An unconfirmed story claims that Master Uisang (義湘, 625-702) himself first founded Haein-sa as a small
hermitage in the mid-600s. Haein-sa is more firmly recorded as built by masters Su-neung and I-jeong, his
dharma-descendants in his Hwa-eom-jong (華嚴宗, Avatamsaka or Flower Garland Sect), in 802, becoming
one of the Hwa-eom Sipchal [華嚴十刹, Ten Monasteries of that sect]. Legend tells that Sunung and his
disciple Ichong learned some esoteric techniques in Tang China, and the great Chinese Master Jigong
prophesied to them that they would establish a great temple at a profound mountain in their homeland.
After their return they cured the current Shilla Dynasty queen of a deadly disease by tying a silk thread
around her torso with the other end tied to a tree and chanting a special jin-eun [眞言, mantra, dharani] that they
had learned in China; the tree withered and died while the queen regained health. Grateful King Aejang
(哀莊王, r. 800–809) then gave them funding to build a new temple wherever they wished, and they made the
unexpected choice of this exceedingly remote valley, and became the first and second Juji (住持, Abbots).
Sometime during the next century two standing Buddha figures were created above the compound, a
spiritual-looking one carved onto a sheer cliff (designated as Korean Treasure #264) and a powerful,
dignified one carved on a huge boulder alongside the main trail to Mt. Gaya's summit (Treasure 222).
Thirteen decades after the founding came a dramatic change, with the Unified Shilla Dynasty collapsing and
the nation engulfed in a long civil war. The battle between the rising northern armies led by General Wang
Geon and the forces of "Later Baekje" led by warrior-king Gyeon Hwon was fought in 930 at what is now
the city of Andong, not far from Mt. Gaya. Great Dharma-Master Heui-rang, serving as the fifth Juji at that
time, persuaded the aristocratic clans of Andong to join the battle in support of Wang Geon, who eventually
emerged victorious. Other monks of the major Hwaeom temples further south such as Jiri-san Hwaeom-sa,
Busan's Beomeo-sa and the famous Bulguk-sa, supported Gyeon Hwon and Later Baekje in that war, which
led to a north-south split in the large and influential Hwaeom School. This continued as a doctrinal split in
the school for a couple more centuries, with the Namak [South Peaks] Branch headquartered at Hwaeom-sa
and the Bugak [North Peaks] Branch, founded by Heuirang, headquartered here at Haein-sa.
When Taejo Wang Geon then assumed the throne in Gaesong as founder of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392)
in 935, he rewarded Heuirang and his Haein-sa for his loyalty and vital assistance with extensive royal
patronage. The medium-sized temple was expanded into a major monastery that could support hundreds
of monks studying and practicing the Hwa-eom doctrines; it has flourished in that size and role for more than
1000 years since then. A unique life-size wooden statue of Master Heuirang (Treasure #999) is now housed
in Haein-sa's Seongbo-bakmul-gwan [聖寶博物館, Sacred Treasures Museum].
Late in the 20th Century this temple was the home-base of National Patriarchs Toe-ong Seongcheol
(性徹, 1912-1993) and Seonggwan Hyeam (1920-2001), regarded as among the most outstanding modern
meditation-masters. Master Seongcheol's funeral held there was a landmark national event, with hundreds
of thousands of citizens trying to attend in this difficult-to-access valley. The continuing influence on all
Korean Buddhism of their teachings and their many disciples has continued the status of this temple as
one of Korea's very most important.
The Gaya-san valley hosts numerous sub-temples and major hermitages that remain key centers of teaching,
practice, devotion and pilgrimage, with around 500 resident monks and hundreds of visitors every day.
The vast and impressive Beopdang (法堂, Main Dharma Hall) was rebuilt in 1818 and thoroughly renovated
in 2004. Differing from most temples, this main hall is a Daejeokgwang-jeon [大寂光殿, Great Silent Illumination
Hall] and enshrines seven treasure-quality statues of Buddha, including two ancient ones of Birojana-bul
[毘盧遮那佛, Vairocana the Buddha of Cosmic Light] in the center. When this hall was renovated in 1964,
royal robes of King Gwanghae-gun, who authorized the 1622 reconstruction, were discovered hidden in the
architecture, and are now kept in the Seongbo-bakmul-gwan Museum.
One of the new features of this ancient monastery is
found in the upper courtyard, where a kind of walking-
maze has been created around the ancient stone pagoda
(see photo above).
The square-angled pathway is a reproduction of Uisang's
Beopgye-do diagram of the Hwa-eom Dharma, designed
so that monks and visitors can practice walking-meditation.
This innovation cleverly reconfigures the age-old practice
of pagoda-circumambulation in a modern style fitting the
character of this temple, thematically tied to its very origin.
The many thousands of annual visitors to Gaya-san Haein-sa usually finish in the uppermost courtyard
viewing the Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks, marveling at what a fantastic technological achievement
they were at the time they were made and how well they have been preserved. The blocks are
designated as National Treasure #32, and the Janggyeong-panjeon library-buildings housing them
are designated as National Treasure #52 and also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
grand national treasure of 81,000 Goryeo Palman-daejang-gyeong (Tripitaka Koreana) wooden printing-blocks
was moved to the temple in 1398. The presence of these scriptural treasures has made Haein-sa Korea's most
important temple for doctrinal study, as well as a great center of meditation and other practices. It has therefore
become known as the “Dharma Jewel Temple” of the Sambo Sachal set. The temple complex was renovated
in 1488, 1622 and 1644.
Its isolation has in fact defended this most precious of artifacts against theft and destruction over the centuries.
In 1592, Korea was invaded by many thousands of samurai marauders (the Imjin Japanese Invasion) who
intended to include the Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks among the shiploads of looted treasures they were
sending back to Japan. Korea's leading Buddhist master at the time, Cheongheo Hyujeong Seosan (1520-1604),
organized Korea's monks to fight in defense, and his disciple, Yujeong Sa-myeong-dang (1544-1610) became
the leader of the resisters in the southern region from his base at Haein-sa. An army of the invaders was
stopped in the narrow twisting Hongnyu-dong Valley by brilliant guerrilla tactics, and the temple/woodblocks
were narrowly saved. Sa-myeong and the temple were well-rewarded by the Joseon authorities after peace
had been restored, including building Hongje-am Hermitage next to the main temple as Master Sa-myeong's
retirement residence and memorial temple. This entire chapter was a key victory and turning-point in the
Hoguk-bulgyo (nation-protecting Buddhism) tradition.
In other incidents, destruction of the woodblocks was avoided in near-miraculous ways. Most of Haein-sa was
accidentally burned in 1817, but a fortuitous wind saved the repository buildings from the fire. During the tragic
Korean War, communist guerrillas approached the temple to use it as a base, but the Juji Master Hyodang was
able to persuade them to withdraw. The South Korean army, however, didn't know that the rebels had not been
successful in their occupation and ordered it to be bombed to destroy them. Fortunately, the pilot of the plane
then refused. He was disciplined for disobeying orders at the time, but since then has been regarded as a hero
for his preservation of this site.
Haein-sa was refurbished in the 1960s-70s with funds and technical assistance from the Park Chung-hee
regime, as one of the selected sites of rebuilt national pride and modern tourism. This included a new paved
road from the nearest expressway exit, and a large parking-lot with motels and restaurants in the valley just
below the first gate. This transformed what was long one of the most isolated major temples into a major site
of domestic tourism, and then international tourism by the 1990s -- bringing far more public awareness,
support and donations. Modern buildings for residence, research-study, printing and teaching were added
as expansions, and the 17 hermitages on the slopes surrounding the main complex were upgraded into
beautiful and useful sacred-sites of their own, starting in the 1980s and continuing to today. It remains a
popular pilgrimage-destination, famous for its surrounding natural beauty, its profound traditions of study,
worship and practice, its great leading Jogye Order meditation and doctrinal masters such as Seongcheol,
and the many cultural treasures it has accumulated in more than 1200 years as one of the ten greatest
Hwaeom monasteries. Haein-sa (particularly the Tripitaka Koreana Repository buildings, became Korea's
second UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1995, further boosting its proud reputation and amount of
visitors. It operates a popular TempleStay program.
The statute was promoted to National Treasure status on September 1st, 2020 due to its high artistic quality and historic
importance. The Cultural Heritage Administration described it in this way: "This image, which was jointed after being carved
on several pieces of wood, has somewhat larger head compared with the body. The face is long, and the forehead has deep
wrinkles. The merciful eyes, upright ridge of nose, and serene smile on the lips express a benign old monk well. The robe
with red and green spots on white ground is draped on the lean body, with the green belted surplice on red ground put over it.
The gold color under the robe is exposed; thus, the original color is estimated to have been radiant gold. This image realistically
expresses the dignified appearance of an old monk by resolutely omitting the redundant things to emphasize the necessary part.
Made by whittling and chiseling the wood, the wood carving gives a warm impression. It is estimated to have been made
around 930 during the early Goryeo Period, and is evaluated as the best work among the sculptures made in the middle of the
10th century because it expressed the essence of realistic carving. It also has an important position in the history of art as the
only realistic wooden portrait among those discovered in Korea so far."