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 40 years after him.  He was a great Buddhist master of meditation
of the
Seon [Zen] tradition, and also an enlightened Sutra-Master, presaging the unification of Korean
Buddhism 300 years after him -- but the main reason for his fame is his masterful creation of Korea's
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 and
practices to the Korean landscape and cultural situation.  The system that he developed,is often called
" [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 Sinitic
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
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 honor.  (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
Doseon-sa., one of "Korea's Top-21 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
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
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 and
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 /
Amita-bul 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 and
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 & 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 to recognize the fading away of the auspicious
gi energy
of established sites,  causing ill-fortune to a family, king, region or nation,  and choose alternative sites where the
gi 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 Choi
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 no-longer-extant
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 [or Avatamsaka, Flower-Garland] 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,
astrological, mathematical, geomantic
(Feng Shui), cosmological and I Ching  [Juyeok-gyeong] teachings, especially
geomantic ideas of
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 its unique energies, communing with the many various
Sanshin 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,
Sanshin 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
Pungsu-jiri 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 [White
Clouds 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 County] 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 become
Goryeo's King Taejo (r. 918-43) in founding the Goryeo Dynasty -- although they probably never met.   The
tale often told is 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
(needed, as Shilla was collapsing), 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
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
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 as Dogap-sa.   All that we know for sure about this is that Dogap-sa was large, famous and
prosperous during the Goryeo Dynasty, and its official history claims Doseon as its
josa Founder.  It's a well-known
temple today, within the National Park -- it promotes Doseon as the leading factor of its legacy, and now has a
seongbo-bakmul-gwan museum dedicated mostly to him.
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 Wangsa (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
Mongmyeong-yang in Doseon's time and then used as the "southern capital" of Goryeo, then renamed Hanyang, it is known as downtown Seoul
and last for 500 years.  Taejo Yi decided to follow that prophecy/advice and built his capital in Hanyang.  
Muhak 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 named
Un-am-sa [Cloudy-Rock 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.
Master Doseon portrayed in the TV series "Taejo Wang Geon"
                                                                     (start at about 27:00)