Unlike most of the Korean temples, Bongeun-sa (봉은사) is located in the busy and crowdy city of Seoul. Set among the skyscrapers it reflects the contrast between traditional Korean architecture and the ultramodern buildings of Gangnam-gu (Seoul).
Founded during Shilla dynasty at the end of 8th century, the temple was originally called Gyeonseong-sa (=”seeing true nature“). The temple, destroyed by fire a couple of times, was rebuilt in 1498 and renamed Bongeun-sa (= “offering benefit“).
Interesting to know is that in 1562 the complete temple was moved about 1 km to its current location. In 1911, Bongeun-sa became the Head Temple, governing 80 smaller temples located in the capital city and the surrounding area.
In 1551, Bongeun-sa became the main temple of the Jogye Seon Order, the biggest order in Korean Buddhism. These days Bongeun-sa is the second temple of the Jogye order.
Many temple buildings were severely destroyed during Japanese occupation in 1939 and later on again during the Korean War in the 50′ ies. The temple was also temporarily closed after it was also burnt down in spring 2002.
Nowadays, Bongeun-sa is a holy place for worship and practice for about 250,000 lay Buddhists.
The temple is free to visit and offers different temple stay programs, including meditation, a tea ceremony, lotus lantern making. On certain days you can attend free Dharma Talk with some famous monks. In autumn 2014 I had the chance to attend a Q & A Dharma talk with Chong An Sunim, the `blue eyed monk from Hungary’.
Bongeun-sa is especially known for its 23 meter tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
The construction, started in 1986, took ten years to complete.
If you don’t have enough time to experience templestay than Bongeunsa is the right place for you. They provide a 2 hours guided tour in English to explain more about Korea Buddhism.
Once you entered the maingate you will be welcomed in English by one of the volunteers.
I’ve been visiting Bongeun-sa a couple of times, always combining it with a trip to the nearby trendy COEX-mall. After visiting the world largest underground shopping centre, Bongeun-sa is a beautiful and peaceful place for me to calm down in this busy and ultramodern metropolis.
Bongeunsa even in wintertime …
Bongeun-sa in wintertime