Tongdosa, a large temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, is one of Korea’s most important Buddhist temples. Founded in the 7th century by Master Jajang, it is one of the “Three Jewel Temples” in Korea. Buddhists take refuge in the three jewels, namely the dharma, the sangham, and the Buddha. The dharma is the Buddha’s teaching. The temple of the dharma is Haeinsa, near Daegu. Haeinsa has the complete corpus of Mahayana Buddhist scripture carved on wood blocks. The sangha, or the community of Buddhists, is represented by Songgwangsa Temple in South Jeolla Province. As the temple representing the body of Buddhist believers, Songgwangsa is one of the major centres of Buddhist seminary training in Korea today. Lastly, we have Tongdosa, the temple which represents the Buddha himself.
Master Jajang brought with him some relics, said to be of the Buddha, with him to Korea. These were enshrined inside a stupa on the Geumgang ordination platform immediately behind in the main Buddha hall. Because a portion of the Buddha’s physical remains are said to be at Tongdosa, it was decided not to erect Buddha statues in the main Buddha hall. When you go inside, you will notice that there is the traditional Buddhist altar and a canopy over where the statues would be. Instead of statues, there is just a window overlooking the Geumgang ordination platform where the Buddha’s relics are said to reside.
This is not to say that there are no Buddha statues at Tongdosa. In other halls, you will find them, along with a shrine dedicated to the temple’s founder and the shrines to the various deities of Korean shamanism. All in all, it’s a very enjoyable temple to visit and definitely worth visiting if you’re in the Busan area.
To get to Tongdosa, buy a ticket at the Busan Nopo-dong Bus Terminal for Tongdosa. Take the bus going in the direction of Sinpyeong. Get off at the Tongdosa terminal. The temple entrance is about 500m away from the Tongdosa terminal. Once you enter the temple grounds, you have to walk for about 1 kilometer to reach the temple museum. Unlike other temples, such as Haeinsa, visiting Tongdosa doesn’t involve too much hiking, unless you’re planning on visiting the various hermitages around the temple grounds.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos.