Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism

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Korean Buddhism Culture UNESCO World Heritage
Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto

UNESCO World Heritage

Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism


Bulguksa Temple is the head temple of the 11th religious district of the Jogye Order. Its construction began in 751 based on the vows of Kim Dae-seong, and it was completed in 774, in the same period as Seokguram Grotto. Silla’s minster Kim Dae-seong is said to have established Seokguram to honor his parents from a previous life, and Bulguksa to honor his parents in his present life.
Bulguksa is a physical representation of the Silla era’s concept of the Pure Land, an ideal world located on “the other shore” of this world. It embodies three concepts: the “Lotus Sphere of the Buddha” based on the Lotus Sutra; the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha based on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life; and the Lotus Treasury based on the Flower Garland Sutra. Bulguksa Temple was registered on the World Heritage List in December 1995 along with Seokguram Grotto.

Located on the midriff of Mt. Tohamsan in Gyeongju, Seokguram Grotto is a manmade cave rotunda constructed of precisely laid slabs of granite. Recognized as a structure that comprehensively embodies architectural elements with religious and artistic values, it was registered on the World Heritage List in December 1995 as Korea’s first UNESCO heritage site along with Bulguksa Temple.
Volume 5 of Samguk yusa (Legends and History of the Korea's Three Kingdoms), compiled by Ven. Iryeon (1206–1289), provides the earliest historical record related to Seokguram Grotto, whose construction began in 751 by Silla’s then minister named Kim Dae-seong; it was completed in 774.
In terms of structure, Seokguram consists of a rectangular antechamber, a main rotunda, and a corridor that functions as passageway between them. Between the entrance and the main chamber where the main buddha is enshrined, the walls are inscribed with 40 realistic bas reliefs. Both walls of the antechamber—which one sees upon first entering the grotto—are each carved with four figures (total of eight) who represent the eight protectors of the Buddhadharma, and each of both walls leading to the main chamber is neatly inscribed with 2 vajra warriors in an orderly fashion. Both walls of the corridor are each decorated with 2 heavenly kings and 2 stone pillars. When one enters the main chamber, one sees the main buddha statue seated cross-legged on a round lotus pedestal in the center, with his hands making the Earth-Touching mudra. The main buddha is encircled by the Eleven-Faced Avalokiteshvara, 7 carvings of Brahma and Indra, and 10 major disciples, all intricately and elaborately carved. Although Seokguram Grotto was significantly damaged and destroyed by poorly-planned restorative work done by the Japanese occupation government, it still maintains its original form from the 8th century when it was first established. That is why its embodiment of Buddhist culture’s outstanding aesthetics and value is recognized all over the world.

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