Bongeunsa (봉은사) is a 1200 year old temple located right in the middle of busy Samseong-dong (삼성동), Seoul. It was built in 794 C.E. and became the head temple of the Seon (Zen) sect during the Joseon Dynasty, when Confucianism was the main religion of the country. The temple also became an important part in the revival of the Seon practice movement as it produced great masters such as Master Seosan and Samyeong.
But in the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty, this temple was used to store and preserve Buddhist scriptures, as well as eighty-one engraved volumes of the Avatamsaka Sutra. In the 1960s, the Dongguk Translation Institute was established here to help with the translation of Buddhist scriptures and texts from Chinese to Korean. Today, the temple is at the centre of Buddhist practice. There are plenty of monks here everyday, chanting and doing plenty of communal work for the poor people in Seoul.
There are tons of little details all over the temple, from the elaborately painted wooden inlays in the doors, to the colourful murals painted all along the sides of buildings. I especially liked the different painted wooden tiles under the roofs and on the ceilings. It’s amazing to see how much time and effort went into the aesthetic design of the place. It also snowed a little while we were there, which just added to the serene and calm atmosphere.
For anybody that is interested, there are temple-stay programs at this place. For a period of two days (with an overnight stay), you can go on a temple tour, experience a tea ceremony and have monastic meals, and also make a Buddhist rosary. Even though I’m not a Buddhist myself, I was tempted to do this, even if just for the calming effect that the quiet temple has on the soul (but I didn’t have time. Boo.). And it only costs ₩50,000 per person, which is about $44.40. So cheap! I think it’s a really great experience that anybody who has the time should try. What do you think?