Did you think that there were going to be no Buddhist temples in forested hills in Busan. If you did, you were wrong, HA HA HA HA HA!
Beomeosa is in the northern outskirts of Busan city, not far from what was the main ‘Korean’ quarter of Busan when Korea was a Japanese colony. There is a ‘Beomeosa’ subway station, but it’s actually a few kilometers away from the temple.
Beomeosa has been constructed by a monk called Uisang during the time of the ancient Silla kingdom, and a few works of stone art in the temple are from the original Silla-era temple. The temple was burned to the ground in 1592 during the Japanese invasion. In was rebuilt in 1613.
This is Daeungjeon, the main hall. It was built in 1614, and is an official National Treasure.
Beomeosa has played an important role in preserving Korean Buddhism. The Joseon dynasty disapproved of Buddhism, and even forced all Buddhist temples in Seoul to close and expelled all monks and nuns from the city. Beomeosa was far from Seoul, and thus the Joseon monarchy did not bother them much.
Furthermore, Busan is one of the few areas in all of Korea which did not experience bombing or direct warfare during the June 25th war (a.k.a. the Korean war), which meant that, unlike most major Buddhist temples in Korea, Beomeosa was not wrecked in the 20th century.
Throughout it’s history, as well as in the present day, Beomeosa has been one of the most important centers of Buddhism in Korea.
I have seen countless Buddhist temples in Taiwan. I remember, when I took my uncle to Longshan temple in Taipei, he was really excited about seeing his first Asian Buddhist Temple (in fact, that was his very first day in Asia ever). However, he noticed that I was not excited, and asked me about it. “I live here. I’ve seen this before” was my reply. Before my uncle left Taiwan, he also noticed that after you’ve seen a few Buddhist temples … most of them tend to look the same.
By the time I arrived in South Korea, I had also seen countless Buddhist temples in Japan, as well as some Buddhist temples in Hong Kong.
But I was literally just off the boat when I first came to Busan, my very first destination in South Korea. I had never seen a Korean Buddhist temple before. And I thought this was a really pretty Buddhist temple, much prettier than most of those Buddhist temples in Taiwan and Japan.
Above is a statue of one of the four demon king guardians who tend to be at the front gates of Buddhist temples in order to drive out evil or something. For some reason, I noticed them more in South Korea than in Taiwan or Japan. I would eventually see so many of them that I stopped paying attention to them for more than a moment, but since this was my ~very first temple in South Korea~ it made more of an impression.
I ended up seeing lots of South Korean temples, and I saw that many of the features at this temple are actually very typical. But some are not. For example, though most Korean Buddhist temples have a series of front gates to purify visitors, most are not set up between sets of stone steps quite like at Beomeosa. And though I saw many Korean Buddhist temples with similar features, and they eventually made less of an impression on me than before, it turns out the typical Korean Buddhist temple looks beautiful.
All in all, I felt that Beomeosa was a good introduction to Korean Buddhist Temples for me.
You can learn more about Beomeosa at Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures.