Foundation Site of the Jogye Order
Korea's Great "Sangha-Jewel" Temple
the old Sanshin-do of Songgwang-sa
is a great antique, figures clustered in the center
with a 'swirling' feel. The long tiger is classically
"folkish", the Daoist-cloud-capped Mtn-King has
his hands hidden in his royal sleeves, and 3 male
dongja attendants are interesting.
It's a pity that my 22-year-old photo is so poor...
This icon is no longer on public display, and I don't
know where it is -- probably in the Temple Museum
collection. There is no Sanshin shrine at this
temple, nor in its close hermitages (nor Dokseong,
Chilseong and Yong-wang)... this seems to be an
ideological decision by the Abbot? to exclude Korean
folk-Buddhist factors, following Master Seongcheol.
|Summer and Winter -- one of Korea's largest Buddhist temples, and with a deeply profound history
|The gigantic Main Dharma Hall, labeled a Daegwang-bojeon [Great Luminescence Treasure-Hall]
on its pyeonaek signboard; this was rebuilt around the year 2000.
|The main entrance Ilchul-mun or One-Pillar (on each side) Gate
|Halls to the left of the Main Dharma Hall. Areas to the right and behind are mostly closed to the
public, as there are devoted to serious study and meditation by dozens to hundreds of monks.
|old painted map of the entire compound
|Songgwang-sa 송광사 松廣寺, the Jogye-san Spreading-Pines Temple
(from my Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism)
One of Korea’s Sambo Sachal (三寶寺刹, Temples of the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and
Sangha), said to represent the Seungga (僧伽, Sangha, temple community); therefore one of the
largest and most important monasteries in the nation. It is located on the west side of Mt. Jogye-san
in northern Suncheon City and within the Jogye-san Provincial Park of Jeollanam-do Province.
It became the home of the Jeonghye Gyeolsa (定慧結社, Concentration and Wisdom Community) that
was started and led by the Guksa (國師, National Master) Bojo Ji-nul (普照知訥, 1158-1210), when he
found the remains of an older temple called Gilsang-sa Temple (吉詳寺) on Mt. Songgwang-san. The
temple was not large, but he wrote that “the site is outstanding and the land is fertile; the springs are
sweet and the forests abundant. It is truly a place that is appropriate for cultivating the mind.”
Work began on the reconstruction and expansion of the temple, and was completed in 1205. To mark
the occasion, Goryeo Dynasty (高麗, 918–1392) King Huijong (熙宗, 1204-1211), who much admired
Master Bojo Ji-nul, issued a proclamation calling for 120 days of celebration and renaming the
mountain to Jogye-san. This is a Korean transliteration of the name of the name of the mountain in
southern China housing the temple that the famous Sixth Chan Patriarch Huineng 慧能 taught at;
since Korean Seon schools are considered to be continuing the Dharma-lineages of Huineng, the
adoption of this name is of great significance, and led to the mainstream Korean Buddhist order
succeeding after Master Ji-nul becoming named the Jogye Order. The name of the temple that
Master Ji-nul reconstructed in greatly expanded form there was changed to Suseon-sa 修禪社 or
Practicing Meditation Temple), and later-on to Songgwang-sa, adopting the mountain’s original name.
Songgwang-sa has remained one of the leading monasteries of the nation’s dominant spiritual sect
for 800 years since Master Ji-nul passed away in it while still gripping his staff of office in 1210.
Several monks from his lineage succeeded him in the royally appointed position of Guksa; a total of
fifteen great monks based at this monastery attained that exalted rank over the centuries after Ji-nul
himself, beyond the hundreds said to have achieved enlightenment there, a legacy matched by no
other temple. Koreans say that this amazing record was predicted by the acquired name Songgwang
-sa itself, because those characters can be interpreted as implying 18 top-ranking resident masters
spreading the Buddhist teachings far and wide. It therefore contains several prominent shrines
dedicated to Ji-nul’s brotherhood that produced the Shipyuk Guksa 十六國師 or Sixteen National
Masters over the centuries so far – with two more such spiritual heroes predicted yet to come. It
is also said to have once featured 16 hermitages on the pine-covered slopes dedicated to them,
although only eight of them still remain. Monks consider it a great privilege to live and practice in
any one of them, honored by the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of so many former enlightened
sages produced by the “Retreat-Community of Concentration and Wisdom.” That very legacy is the
reason that Songgwang-sa became known as “the Temple of the Seungbo 僧寶 Sangha-Jewel,”
completing the conceptual-set of Korea’s Sambo-sachal.
Songgwang-sa’s deep traditions of spiritual attainment continued throughout the 20th century and on
into the 21st. During the dramatic revival of Korea’s seon traditions and the Jogye Order, some of
the most famous and important Patriarchs of Meditational Buddhism have studied, practiced and
exercised leadership here, such as Gyeongheo (鏡虛, 1846–1912), Hyobong (曉峰, 1888–1966),
Gusan (九山, 1910-1983), Seongcheol (性徹, 1912–1993) and Beopjeong (法頂, 1932-2010).
Master Hyobong refurbished this monastery to near its former glory in the first half of this century,
but then it was almost completely destroyed during the tragic 1950-53 Korean War. Master Gusan
led the reconstruction of it by the 1970s and then established Korea’s first International Seon Center
within it, training the first foreigners ever to become Korean Jogye monks and nuns. This led to
highly successful missionary works resulting in dozens of overseas temples, and dozens of non-
Korean monastics practicing here until a few years after his passing into nirvana.
The tangible legacy of Songgwang-sa now includes three designated National Treasures, the
Guksa-jeon 國師殿 or National Master’s Hall as #56, a Wooden Buddha Triad-Statue as #42,
and an original Edict of Goryeo King Gojong 高宗 as #43. Those items listed as Treasures on
a national scale include the “Sweet Dew” stone pagoda erected after Ji-nul Bojo’s death and a
biseok 碑石 or stele inscribed with his biography.
The Templestay program held here for the past seven years, emphasizing Seon practice, is very
popular with all kinds of visitors, despite the relatively remote location. All these factors have led
to the current lofty reputation of Songgwang-sa. It is now the Gyogu Bonsa 敎區本寺 or District
Headquarters Temple of the 21st District of the Jogye Order, and a very popular destination for
Buddhist pilgrims and tourists.