Pohyon Buddhist temple, one of the few places of worship in North Korea open to foreign visitors, dates from 1042 and the Koryo dynasty. It was founded by a monk named Kwanghwak and is named after the saint that guards the morals of Buddha. The current incarnation of the temple mainly dates from post the Korean war (1951-53) when the temple complex was extensively damaged by US bombings with over half of the buildings completely destroyed.
During the late 16th century Imjin Wars the temple became a base for warrior monks, lead by 73 year old Sosan, who held out against the invading Japanese and indeed assisted in recapturing Pyongyang from the Japanese.
Set into Mt Myohyang the temple grounds and mountain views are quite stunning and worth a visit in themselves even if you have no interest in temples.
In addition to the beautifully carved and decorated temple buildings the temple is home to two very important pagodas – a 6 metre tall quadrangular 9-storey Pagoda (picture 3 with Manse Pavilion to the rear) and an octagonal 13-storey Pagoda (picture 1 with Taeung Hall to the rear). The 13-storey, or Sokka pagoda, dates from the 11th century and stands 8.5 metres high and supports 104 windbells, one attached to each corner of each of the 13 storeys.
In addition to these priceless pagodas, in one of the newly reconstructed temple buildings – the Changgyong Pavilion (picture 2) – is an archive of over 81,000 wooden blocks, being a treasured 13th century copy of the complete collection of Buddhist Scriptures – the famous Tripitaka Koreana – housed in Haeinsa, a Buddhist temple in South Korea.
Pohyon temple is also home to Korea’s largest bell at 7 tonnes.
The main hall (reconstructed and pictured below) of the temple – Taeung Hall – houses a number of Buddha including Bohyeon-bosal or Samantabhadra (the Bodhisattva of Benevolent Action). This makes Mt Myohyang the “northern home” of that deity and comparable to Emei-shan in China.
It was here, in Taeung Hall, that we were introduced to a monk by our local government guide. Our guide told us that this was an operating Buddhist temple but we only saw two monks and many of the group were unconvinced as to whether they were real monks or actors. I don’t know. The monk advised us that there were about 20 monks in residence and around 2,000 followers visit the temple at various times during the year. I did not note any worshippers there during my visit.
Religion and the Juche/Atheist philosophies of North Korea are strange and uneasy bed fellows. Under the North Korean constitution there is freedom of religion for all. The promotion of religion, particularly from outside, is absolutely prohibited and is one of the few things that ‘tourists’ get into strife for.
There are a handful of Christian churches in the country and more than a handful of Buddhist temples of which Pyohon Temple is the largest and most famous. Given the long history of Buddhism in Korea and the role it played in the development of the country the government has been, and probably still is, in a quandary as to how to deal with this religion.
In this instance, the Government has spared no expense and done a fantastic job in renovating this temple post US bombings during the Korean War.
While most temple complexes are symmetrical in the sense that you enter up through the centre via a number of gates and pass through buildings as you make your way to the main temple in the rear with other buildings on either side, this complex differs and the “main run” is off to the left and it and the other buildings surround a large grass central compound. This layout can be more clearly seen on my picture below of part of the large plan at the temples entrance.
I have added the numbers on this plan and they in turn show the location of the:
1. Temple Gates – As we entered from the car park we missed out on seeing the first (and from pictures, perhaps the nicest looking of the gates – Jogye). Also between this gate and the second gate (Haetal Gate or the Gate of Nirvana), via which we entered, are a number of steles detailing some of the temple’s history and displaying collateral damage marks from the 1951 US bombing of the complex. The inner or third gate is called the Chonwang Gate or the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings
2. Quadrangular 9-storey Pagoda
3. Manse Pavilion
4. 13 storey or Sokka Pagoda
5. Taeung Hall – the main temple building
6. Kwanum Hall (one of the older – pre Korean War – buildings used for Buddhist teaching)
7. Gift shop
8. Changgyong Pavilion – home to 81,000 wooden block scriptures
9. Temple Bell
All of the above (except the gift shop and Jogye Gate) are depicted in my pictures attached.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Mt Myohyang, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – International Friendship Exhibition – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Treasures in the Mountains.