4. A Temple Overlooking a River: Shilluk-sa
The temple overlooks the wide Southern Han River. Sitting in the little
traditional pavilion on the banks of the river, one can easily imagine
terror provoked by the dragon-horse...
On either side of the Southern Han River the people were being tyrannized
by a dragon-horse who lived on an island in the middle of the river. Master
Naong (1320-1376) put a magical bridle over it and tamed the wild animal.
Therefore the temple came to be called "Divine Bridle."
Apart from this legend, the founding of the temple seems shrouded in
mystery. One thing is certain, Master Naong definitely had a lot to do with
this temple. He was a remarkable man and his story is woven into almost
every aspect of Shilluk-sa.
Master Naong was ordained at the age of 20 and spent ten years in China. He
then became a celebrated Zen master who formed his own school of thought
using very dynamic teaching methods and was also appointed "King's
Teacher," a special position of great importance. He integrated chanting --
for him a state of mind in which there is no thinking -- into the dominant
Meditation School and advocated never forgetting the name of Amitabha, the
Buddha of the Western Paradise.
Master Naong lived most of his life at Shilluk-sa. At his death, clouds
of five colors covered the mountain and there was rain from a cloudless sky
falling on the temple. When the body was cremated, it yielded innumerable
relics, these were enshrined in a special bell-shaped stupa -- reminiscent
of Indian ones -- which is Treasure No. 228. Some time later, the temple
was greatly enlarged.
The tomb of King Sejong (r. 1418-1450) was moved to Yoju in 1469 and it
was decided that Shilluk-sa would become the royal memorial temple for the
king and the royal family. The temple was greatly rebuilt in 1472 when
about 200 rooms were repaired or newly made. The name was changed a number
of times, eventually becoming Shilluk-sa. After that many Confucian
scholars passed time at the temple -- in spite of the persecution of
Buddhism -- until the 16th century Japanese and 17th century Mongolian
invasions which left most of the temple in ruins. The final rebuilding was
The Main Hall is Provincial Asset No. 132. It is a Paradise Hall enshrining
Amitabha Buddha, Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Practice, and
Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The calligraphy board which
hangs there is the writing of Master Naong and it says "Hundreds of
Millions of Years." The hall is beautifully decorated. On the left wall
there is a painting of Ksitigarbha with entourage and on the back wall is
an altar for death and memorial ceremonies. Above the table there is a
picture of Ch'ilsong, the Seven Buddhas. One more picture shows the
guardian of the Buddha's teachings, Tongjin. He is accompanied by gods,
ministers and officials.
Originally, in the late 14th century, to the south of the Paradise Hall,
there was a Tripitaka Hall, a place for housing the Buddhist texts in the
form of wood-blocks. The monument there, Treasure No. 230, was written by a
famous scholar. It records various facts about the shape and style of the
building and the fact that the texts were carried to Haein-sa.
Especially beautiful is the Judgement Hall with Ksitigarbha and the Ten
Judges. Attending the kings are various servants and behind them are the
pictures of the various hells, with their tortures. From the Buddhist
viewpoint, hell is not necessarily somewhere else, it is here and now,
often created in our own minds.
In the compound of the house where the head monk lives, there is a special
trestle garden which dates from 1468. Also in the same compound there is a
statue of Master Naong. Behind the statue there is a picture of the master
with masters Muhak (1321-1405) and Chi-gong (?-1363). Muhak was advisor of
Yi Tae-jo who founded of the Choson Dynasty and moved the capital to Seoul
according to advice from Master Muhak who was a famous geomancer. (The name
"Seoul" is derived from the place near which the Buddha spent much time,
Sravasti. In Chinese, Sravasti became Sarbol and in Korean, Seoul.) Master
Chi-gong was an Indian monk whose Sanskrit name was Dhyanabhadra. Tibetan
monks believe that he is an incarnation of a Tibetan lama. He came to Korea
in 1328. After his death in China, his remains were brought back to Korea.
Other remembrances of Master Naong include a marvelous ginkgo tree planted
by the master at the foot of the hill. Also the master's meditation place
by the Southern Han River is marked by a pavilion next to a little pagoda.
To the east of the monastery is a hill on which is a seven-storey, brick
pagoda which is 9.4 meters high and is the only existing Koryo brick
pagoda. It was erected in honor of the famous monk Wonhyo who visited
Shilluk-sa. The base is granite and the rest is brick with various
impressed floral decorations.