Bongam-sa Monastery holds a highest-level reputation for intensive meditation practice.
It's one of the few temples that is closed to public visits every day of the year except on
the Buddha's Birthday Holiday, just like Jiri-san Taean-sa. It rests below the dramatic
southern face of Heuiyang-san, generally closed to hikers & climbers, a 998-m peak on
the central section of the Baekdu-daegan Ridge-line Trail. They are within Ga-eun-myeon
District of Mungyeong City, NW corner of North Gyeongsang Province. The beautiful
boulder-filled Bongamsa-gyegok Scenic-Gorge runs from below the temple to well above
it -- most of it similarly only open to the public one May day per year.
Famous Isolated Seon Meditation Temple
along the Baekdu-daegan Range
|the Biro-jeon Hall of Vairocana the Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light
|inside and outside the Main Dharma Hall [Daeung-jeon]
|the grand 9th-Century Shilla 3-story Pagoda
Bongam-sa Samcheung Seoktap
Bong-am-sa [봉암사, 鳳巖寺, Phoenix Rock Monastery] is a historically important meditation-
focused temple, founded by the Guksa (國師, National Master) Jiseon Doheon (智詵 道憲, 824-882)
as one of the Gusan-seonmun (九山禪門, Nine Mountain Meditation Gates or Sects of Korean Seon),
in 879 during the reign of King Heongang (憲康王), and he granted it the auspicious name it still has.
It flourished during the rest of the Unified Silla Dynasty (統一新羅, 668-935).
In 935, the 18th year of Taejo Wang Geon, the founding-king of the new Goryeo Dynasty, National
Master Jeongjin Guksa (靜眞國師) restored the decayed temple, and from that time it became the
main temple of what became called the Huiyang-sanpa [曦陽山派, Sunshine-Yang Mountain-School],
leader among the Gusan-seonmun. It was severely damaged by the 1592-98 Imjin Waeran
Japanese Invasion, and slowly rebuilt afterwards.
The temple has an important place in the recent history of Korean Buddhism since the Bongam-sa
Gyeolsa (鳳巖寺 結社, Phoenix Rock Temple Association) was formed in this temple in 1954 -- see
below. After several reconstruction projects, Bongam-sa was restored to its present shape by 1955.
In 1982 was officially designated as an exclusive Seon [Zen] center by the Jogye Order, the largest
temple of that type, and many monks aspire to serve at least one of their Angeo [安居, summer and
winter meditation retreats] in it. Unlike all other temples in Korea save an exclusive few, it does not
allow the public to enter except on one day every year, Butcheo-nim Osin-nal [釋迦誕辰日, Birthday
of Sakyamuni Buddha, national holiday], in order to maintain quietude for Seon practice. Thus, it is
also nicknamed ‘the Forbidden Temple’ like the ‘Forbidden City’ in Beijing, China.
Backed by dramatic Mt. Huiyang-san, this sacred monastery is surrounded by clean waters rushing
through rocky gorges and a deep pine forest, and so on that annual day it attracts numerous visitors.
The Bongam-sa Gyeolsa [봉암사결사, 鳳巖寺結社, Phoenix Rock Temple Association] was a very
important turning-point in modern Korean Buddhism towards restoration and reforms following
National Liberation in 1945 and the devastating 1950-53 Korean War. The resolution to create this
Association was initiated in 1954 by two venerable monks, Master Seongcheol (性徹, 1912-1993)
and Master Cheongdam (靑潭, 1902-1971) under the supervision of senior Master Hyobong
(曉峰, 1888–1966), at this monastery, then being reconstructed. It was thereafter agreed to by a
meeting there of 20 leading monks, as a landmark event for the development of Korean Buddhism
and the modern revival of the Jogye Order (曹溪宗).
The motto of “Back to Buddha and stick to Dharma” was an epoch-making moment for purifying
Buddhist communities that had been spoiled as a result of the Sachallyeong [寺刹令, Temple
Ordinances imposed by Japanese Colonialists]) during the colonial rule of 1910-1945. Especially,
the ‘Co-living Pledge (共住規約)’ resolved by the association has become the basic conduct code
for Seon practice, one of which is a principle of autonomous living that recommends monks to do
practical self-supporting work such as farming and refuse to directly receive donations.
This was the launch of the Jeonghwa Undong (淨化運動, Purification Movement of 1954)
that achieved epochal reforms of Korean Buddhism.