Gyeongju's   Sogeumgang-san
Baengnyul-sa  
Memorial Temple of the Yi Cha-don Legend
Paintings of the execution of Ichadon, under command of King Beopheung,
from
Heungnyun-sa Temple, courtesy of Dale's Korean Temple Adventures and (right) from Hye-jin Shin, temple unknown.


Blog-post on the martyrdom of Ichadon by Sherwin Jones
The memorial portrait and tablet of martyred monk Ichadon  이차돈  異次頓  (503-527)
A small and simple ancient temple halfway up the western slope of Sogeumgang-san, consisting only of an old
Beopdang (Main Dharma Hall), Bell Pavilion, Samseong-gak and modern administration & residence building
(but with another, larger traditional Hall under construction in 2013).  This temple is highly significant, however, as the
official memorial institution for one of the key legends of Korean Buddhism -- the miracles of monk Ichadon's
death, which led to the official royal acceptance of Buddhism as the national religion of the Shilla Kingdom.
Large & beautiful bamboo forest on the way up, with new building glimpsed beyond.
"Ichadon" is the honorific title by which we know this young aristocrat of the Shilla Kingdom (新羅, ? – 668 CE)
who advocated the introduction of Buddhism to Shilla, becoming a monk and then a martyr for his cause (maybe
Korea's only Buddhist martyr for his religion?).   In both the Samguk-sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) and
the Samguk Yusa (Overlooked Legends of the Three Kingdoms), Ichadon is said to have been a nephew of
King Beopheung (r. 514-40).

Buddhism had failed to be accepted in Shilla despite the legendary missionary efforts of the legendary Ado
Hwasang, and was even declared illegal there until 527, about 150 years after it was accepted in the rival
Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms -- an amazing stretch of stubborn xenophobic conservative attitudes! -- due
to the weakness of the state's administrative power, and there was considerable resistance to the "new"
Chinese iron-age culture in general, especially its leading Buddhist ideology, among the Shilla aristocrats
and common people
who still adhered to the local religions.   King Beopheung is thought to have considered
permitting Buddhist teachings during his reign, wishing to employ it to strengthen and centralize royal power
as had been done in the rival states,
but he met a great deal of opposition from his courtiers.

In 527, however, Ichadon  presented himself to the royal court, announcing that he had become a Buddhist
monk and established a temple on his property.  The king then reluctantly ordered him beheaded as the law
prescribed and
outraged palace aristocrats demanded, and Ichadon prophesied that upon his death a miracle
would be seen that would prove Buddhism's truth and superiority.  Indeed,
when the executioner cut off his
head, it is recorded that white milk spouted-out instead of blood (white is the most sacred color in Korean culture),
and the head flew upwards out of the temple courtyard and landed on the peak of Mt. Sogeumgang-san, the
n
orthern sacred peak of Gyeongju City (in traditional Daoist geomancy or Pungsu-jiri, north is the direction of death).

Due to the wonder of these miracles and recognition of the greatness of Ichadon's sacrifice, the ministers no
longer objected to Buddhism, and it was accepted from then on.   Antique paintings of this event are in the
museum of
Mt. Gaya-san Haein-sa Temple and an ancient stone monument honoring his martyrdom taken
from the peak of Sogeumgang-san is in the National Museum of Gyeongju.
The Beopjong-gak  [Dharma Bell Pavilion]
The famously-unique Bell that commemorates Ichadon's martyrdom;
it remains unknown when this bell was cast.
The design on the ringing (eastern) side.
His head is carried away by wind-currents, on a lotus flower.
The slightly-different design on the opposite (western) side.
Another key feature of this temple is a faint but important ancient carving on the north-facing part
of this small cliff that stands opposite the Main Hall.  Look closely below and you can barely see
the outlines of a stone pagoda
(typical 3-story Shilla style) just left-of-center.  This is one of only 3
relief-carvings of pagodas from ancient Shilla
(the other two are together on the famous Tap-gol Rock).
There may be a human figure carved just to the right of the pagoda, but the rock-face is too
eroded to tell for sure.  The pagoda was apparently carved as replacement for the real one
that would usually stand in the center of the courtyard in front of a Main Hall, as this
doryang
courtyard is too small to easily contain one!
The west-facing sections of this cliff contain Hanja characters (somebody's name, and a Buddhist
inscription) and a monument-altar for the pagoda carving, and then it continues on beside the
Main Hall; then behind the Main Hall it rises up higher and the Samseong-gak is perched atop it.
According to the Samguk-Yusa, this temple was first built to commemorate Ichadon's martyrdom in
the reign of Shilla's 31st King Shinmun (r. 681–92), under the name Jachu-sa.  It was destroyed by
fire during the Imjin Japanese Invasion of 1592-98, but this Main Dharma Hall, a
Dae-ung-jeon, was
rebuilt in the 1800s, under the new name
Baek-ryul-sa [Chestnut Curd Temple], a folkish name -- it
is now Gyeongsang-bukdo Provincial Cultural Relic #4.  It used to contain a bronze statue (below)
of
Yaksa-Yeorae-Bul [Medicinal / Healing Buddha, Bhaisaiya-guru] cast in the 8th century, which is
considered one of the three best such bronze statues of the Shilla era
(along with the two at Bulguk-sa),
but it was moved to the Gyeongju National Museum 1n 1930 and designated as National Treasure #28.
In 1930 it was given replacement hands by the Japanese authorities
(right), but these are now removed.
Four colors of Dragons on the front doors
inner panel-murals of
dongja attendants
The Main Altar, Sakyamuni Buddha flanked by the Bodhisattvas of Wisdom and Benevolent Action
curved roof-beam, yellow dragons
dongja musicians on the ceiling
roof-supporting blue dragon on the ceiling
Statues of the 18 Nahan [best disciples
of Sakyamuni]
on the right side, making
this space a mini-Nahan-jeon Hall
foundations of stone lanterns from the Shilla era, just sitting out front by the bamboo
the modern & tantric Shinjung-taenghwa [Assembly of Guardian Spirits Altar-painting],
featuring Sanshin and Yong-wang
the modern Samseong-gak [Three Saints Shrine] of Baengnyul-sa, up behind the Main Hall
within it, this absolutely-ordinary matched-set triad of Dokseong, Chilseong and Sanshin paintings
Bukseong-shin [North Star Spirit of Longevity]  and  Dokseong [the Lonely Saint]
outer-side murals, together creating one more Sanshin [Mountain-spirit] icon!