Korea's Greatest Maitreya Hall
Mireuk-bul 미륵불 彌勒佛 the Future Buddha
is the next to come in a series of Buddhas manifesting on
earth to teach and assist humanity and all other sentient
beings how to overcome suffering, as the successor of
Sakyamuni the historical Buddha. His current form-identity
is believed to be Mireuk-bosal [Maitreya, the Bodhisattva
of Future Buddha-manifestation) waiting in the Dosol-cheon
[兜率天, Tusita Heaven] for the right time to appear at some
future time. He is the only member of the Buddhist pantheon
to receive substantial cultic veneration in the guises of both
Buddha and Bodhisattva. He is the main focus of Mireuk
Sinang (彌勒信仰, Maitreya Faith), a devotional tradition.
Many temples specially devoted to Mireuk-bul and statues
(both indoor and outdoor), paintings and wall-murals
depicting him in full avatar-manifestation after his final
rebirth on earth and attainment of Buddhahood have been
created in Korea, starting in the Three Kingdoms Era and
continuing to the present. These were made in the wish
that devotional practices at them would cause the deity to
manifest in or from them. They are most popular in the
southwestern quadrant of the Korean Peninsula, roughly
the territory of the Baekje Kingdom (?–660 CE).
The focal-point of Geumsan-sa is its renowned Mireuk-jeon (彌勒殿, Maitreya Hall), over twenty
meters high, the only three-storied classical wooden hall still remaining in Korea, designated as
National Treasure #62. This “Geumsansa-Mireuk-jeon” enshrines a Standing Bronze Statue of
Mireuk-bul as the main Buddha, more than 12 meters tall and therefore the highest bronze statue
ever known to have been made in Korea before the late 20th century, flanked by two shorter
Bodhisattvas. Each story of the Hall has a different name written on a pyeon-aek (扁額, formal
signboard): the first floor is called Daejabo-jeon (大慈寶殿, Great Mercy-Treasure Hall), the second
floor Yonghwaji-hoe (龍華之會, Dragon-Beauty Gathering) and the third floor Mireuk-jeon.
The legend of Geumsan-sa’ reconstruction says that Master Jinpyo (眞表, 8th century) had decided
to build a temple to Maitreya called Geumsan-sa, but didn't know where the best site might be.
While he was searching outside of Jeonju, he met a Yong-wang (龍王, Dragon-king) who presented
the master with a jade robe and guided him to the ruined temple site in the lush forest on the western
foot of Moak-san, already a famous site of spiritual activities reputed to be the abode of a powerful
female Sansin (山神, mountain-spirit). There, miraculously, many men and women arrived from
everywhere and offered their assistance for construction. The temple was built in just a few days
and when it was completed Mireuk-bul manifested to give Jinpyo his final ordination, giving him
sacred relics of Sakyamuni the Original Buddha (563-483 BCE). In memory of this event, Jinpyo
built the gigantic Mireuk-jeon with its three standing bronze statues, and supposedly also created
the Gyedan [戒壇, precepts-altar; see previous page] there with a stupa to enshrine the relics.
|The Mireuk-jeon Hall and the titanic statues inside of it are together designated as National Treasure #62
|The temples serving as particular doryang of Mireuk-bul are led by the present Geumsan-sa,
and then include the Mt. Yonghwa-san Mireuk-saji, Mt. Palgong-san Donghwa-sa, Jeonnanm
Unju-sa, and those other temples featuring monumental statues of him listed just below.
His statue is frequently found on the buldan (main altars) of temples in the beopdang (Main
Dharma Hall) where he may flank Seokgamoni-bul in a triad, or in a Mireuk-jeon like this one
where he is the central figure. Behind it is usually a large colorful taenghwa (幀畵, altar-painting)
of him and associated figures, some of which are great historical treasures.
The hundreds of icons enshrined outdoors at temples or their former sites (or sometimes just village
shrines) range from very crude life-size stone statues and cliff-carvings to magnificent gigantic bronze
or granite statues like these. If you see a standing Buddha statue outdoors in Korea, it is probably of
Mireuk-bul; his most distinctive motif in this form is a hat shaped like the top story of a typical seok-
tap (石塔, stone pagoda). The best-known large ancient ones besides these here are located at
these temples: Nonsan Gwanchok-sa, Buyeo Daejo-sa, Palgong-san’s Gat-bawi, Hwasun-gun
Unju-sa and Gyeongju Nam-san and Danseok-san Sinseon-am Hermitage. The best-known large
modern ones are located at Sogni-san Beobju-sa and Seoul City’s Bongeun-sa.