If you are a newcomer or just visiting Seoul, you will want to put Bongeunsa Temple on your must-see places in Seoul list. When I first moved to Seoul in 2014, my neighbors invited me along on a visit to this temple and I fell in love.
My first impression was seeing all of these yellow mums lining the walkway leading up the entrance way. Next, I noticed a number of statues. Then quickly, realization set in that these weren’t just any statues but representations of the year you are born. A tiger, a mouse, a snake, and many more! I’m a tiger. How cool.
On your right before you enter, pick up a brochure/map outside at the information center. The brochure will tell you what each building and temple stands for and will enhance your experience with much more meaning. As you wander the grounds to see the multiple temples and pavilion houses, you may smell the aroma of incense, hear the beat of a drum from a ceremony, see worshipers at prayer, and feel the genuine peaceful, calming atmosphere of nature all around you. It is not uncommon to see monks wandering about the grounds.
Every September 9th of the lunar calendar, the Buddhist ceremony is held, where monks march carrying the scriptures on their heads and recite the Buddhist rites (Beopseongge).
A little history…Bongeunsa Temple (originally known as Gyeonseongsa Temple) is a Buddhist temple located in Gangnam, Seoul. Built in 794, during the reign of King Wonseong of Silla, Bongeunsa became the head temple during the Seon sect of the Joseon Dynasty when the government supported Confucianism while oppressing Buddhism.
Around 1550, Bongeunsa was expanded and became the head monastery of national Jogye Seon Order and was the main Buddhist Zen temple from 1551 to 1936.
In 1939, and again during the Korean War (1950-1953), fire heavily damaged or destroyed most of the temple buildings. Between 1941-1982, repairs and renovations were made to restore the buildings. The oldest standing building is the library which was constructed in 1856. The library contains over 3,400 Buddhist scriptures and contains Flower Garland Sutra woodblock carvings.
The temple’s highlight is the 28 meter (91 foot) stone statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha, and is one of the tallest stone statues in South Korea.
This temple was the birthplace of the Buddhist youth movement. Today, Bongeunsa has established itself as the center of Buddhist practice, a place of peace and tranquility in the center of one of the wealthiest and busiest places in the heart of Seoul. This makes Bongeunsa Temple an interesting cultural mix of both traditional and modern Seoul.
If you are new to the area or just visiting, put this 1,200+ year old temple in the heart of a modern Seoul on your bucket list of places to visit. If you desire to experience a taste of both the Korean and Buddhist culture, Bongeunsa can provide a two-day and one night Templestay program on the premises. You can experience the unique opportunity of the daily monastic way of life at a traditional temple, enjoy the peaceful sound of wind chimes in the fresh air, taste the fragrance of their tea all while spending time with a local monk. A place to soothe your mind and your body.
For more information about Bongeunsa or their Templestay, please call or email the temple directly. Reservations for a Templestay should be made three weeks in advance. Grounds are open daily to visitors and admission is free. Interpretation services are offered in English and Japanese. Pets are not permitted.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Bongeunsa Templestay
How to Get There:
Subway – Line 2 Samsung (Exit 6)
– Line 7 Cheongdam (Exit 2)
Parking facilities are available. Free first 30 minutes. 3,000 won for every one additional hour after.
*There are no programs during the New Year and Chuseok holidays.