73 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu
HOURS: Daily 24 hours
SUBWAY: Samseong (Line 2)
When it was first founded almost 1,300 years ago, no one possibly could have imagined the surroundings the Bongeunsa Buddhist temple would eventually inhabit—a patch of land at the heart of one of Seoul’s prime office districts. This makes the place a study in contrasts, where peace and contemplation are set against the low rumble of traffic, and serene statues of the Buddha have skyscrapers as a backdrop.
After distinguishing itself as the nation’s preeminent center for seon (Zen) study in the 15th through early 20th centuries, it was nearly totally destroyed in the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Recent years have seen its reconstruction and steady expansion, thanks in no small part to the abundance of wealthy donors in the area. The complex now includes dozens of buildings. Among the most significant are a massive modern prayer hall that houses over 3,000 Buddha images and an older daeungjeon (main shrine) adorned with a breathtaking flared roof and meticulously painted religious symbols.
In the rear of the temple grounds is a seven-meter statue of the Matrieya or future Buddha, topped with a very Korean square hat, that the temple calls its “greatest treasure.”
Bongeunsa is equipped with a dedicated information center for foreign visitors and is a popular venue for the nationwide Templestay program, which allows participants to live among monks and participate in temple rituals for a day or even longer. It also runs shorter “temple life” programs that include instruction in arts such as meditation and dado (Korean tea ceremony). Details can be obtained at Bongeunsa’s information center or on its website.
© Jonathan Hopfner from Moon Seoul, 1st Edition