|Headquarters-Monastery of the northern Chungcheong-namdo region,
with a grand history and charming scenic architecture
Magok-sa 麻谷寺, 마곡사 means "Hemp Valley Temple", and it is one of the few really important
monasteries in Korea that is not located at the foot of a major mountain; it is named as hosted by
Taehwa-san 泰華山 [Grand Flower Mountain, referring to the Lotus flower symbolizing enlightenment] (within
northern Gongju City of South Chungcheong Province), but the context is just a set of rolling hills descended
from the western summit, spread-out in gentle curves like a cut flower resting on a surface. This
temple is bisected by a lovely stream, and its gates and halls are arranged along the curving banks,
a unique layout; and it is therefore famous as one of the most charming temples of Korea, attracting
many visitors for its photogenic scenery and Daoist "good energy" who are unconcerned with its
historical, doctrinal or architectural significance.
It is, however, also an important historic temple. There are two rival stories about its foundation.
According to the first version, it was founded by Master Jajang Yulsa in 643 CE during the reign of
Queen Seondeok in the Shilla Kingdom; this seems curious because the territory of what is now
Gongju City was controlled by the rival-enemy Baekje Kingdom at that time, and so we wonder how
Jajang could have founded it, and who permitted that or was it done in secret as he passed-through?
The second version asserts that it was founded by Master Muyeom (無染, 800–888) upon his return
from Tang China in 845. The second version seems more credible in view of the fact that Seongju-
sa (聖住寺, one of the Gusan Seonmun temples), where Muyeom taught, is nearby. It was certainly
expanded in 1172 during the Goryeo Dynasty by Seon & Scriptural master Bojo Ji-nul (普照知訥,
1158-1210), who was appointed Guksa [National Master] and "unified Korean Buddhism" in 1200.
The current structures of the unique dual Beopdang dates back to the 17th Century, architect unknown.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Master Gyeongheo (鏡虛, 1849–1912) and
Master Mangong (萬空, 1875–1946) taught here at various times. It was here that Mangong took-
on a young village woman as his Seon [Zen] disciple, making her the first Biguni [female Korean
Buddhist monk] there had been in 200 years; she became the Great Seon Master Beophui, great-
grandmother in-lineage to the thousands of woman monastics today. Hundreds of twentieth-century
monks attained enlightenment at this temple. It was also here that an important second-generation
successor of Mangong, Master Seung Sahn (崇山), was ordained and trained in 1948.
|Magok-sa photographed in 1932
|Magok-sa enshrines several valuable Buddhist architectural heritages, such as its Five-storied Stone
Pagoda (nationally designated as Treasure #799), its Yeongsan-jeon Hall (Treasure #800), and then
its Dae-ung-bojeon (Treasure #801) and Biro-jeon Hall (Treasure #802) dual-Beopdang set. It now
serves as the gyogu-bonsa 敎區本寺 [district headquarters temple] of the 6th District of the Jogye Order,
controlling 78 branch-temples in northern Chungcheong-namdo. It operates a popular TempleStay
program and other public Buddhist educational and experience programs, and remains a highly
popular destination for both pilgrims and tourists.
The first thing that Magok-sa is famous for is its unique dual Beopdang 法堂 [Main Dharma Hall] that
was built in the 1600s, and refurbished a few times since then. Most temples have only one such hall,
but here there are two close-together, aligned on a slope. The lower and one-story building on the
north end of the Main Courtyard with Pagoda, where the standard Dae-ung-jeon [Great Victory/Hero
Hall, dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha] would normally be, is instead entitled on its signboard as a
Daegwang-bojeon [Great-Luminescence Treasure-Hall], dedicated to Birocana [Viarochana] Buddha of
Infinite Cosmic Light, primary deity of the Hwaeom scholastic school, and indeed Biro-bul is sitting at
the center of the main altar within. Behind this on a tight higher platform leveled from the steep slope
is a two-storey-seeming hall (very rare in Korean architecture, though common in China; only used in palace throne-
halls and a few other grand Buddhist halls such as at Hwaeom-sa and Geumsan-sa; there is no first-ceiling or second-
floor inside). It is entitled the Dae-ung-bojeon [Great Victory/Hero Treasure-Hall], with Sakyamuni Buddha
as the main deity enshrined. This type of hall is more closely associated with the Seon [Zen, Meditative]
School, and so in this dual set of Main Halls both the Seon & Scholastic types of Mahayana Buddhism
are represented, with Seon designated as superior -- and the third type, Devotional Buddhism, is then
represented by the prominent and unique pagoda in-front. Therefore this is all-together a sacred
architectural complex symbolizing the unity of Mahayana Buddhism that Korea alone accomplished.
|The main pagoda with five stories, a typical
motif of the Goryeo Dynasty, is unique in
Korea and the world, for its full-dagoba (a
Vajrayana style) finial-top made of bronze,
and for being made of four kinds of stone
(most pagodas in Korea are made only from
common Korean granite, the "green" here).
|Near the center of the large compound, stairs lead up to the modern-built Sanshin-gak.
|The spectacular 21st-century Sanshin Taenghwa [Mountain-Spirit Altar-Painting].
The male-female Sanshin couple is still a very rare motif in all Korea.....
There are seven dongja [child-attendants] serving them -- one of the highest numbers ever!
These lower photos on this page are from my temple-loving friend Dale Q
|An interior mural of the Dokseong [Lonely Saint].