Songdok Bell
Sokkuram Grotto
Ch'omsongdae Observatory
Kyongju City
National Kyongju Museum
Detail of Pulkuksa

The syllables Pulkuk in the word Pulkuksa mean the Land of Happiness. They show the aspiration for a country with no lack of anything, meaning no agony and no pain. This temple, built in the 15th year of 23rd king Pophung (528), was called Hwaombulguksa or Pobryusa. It was reset to work by the prime minister Kim, Dae-song in the 10th year of 35th king Kyongdok (751) taking 17-year to construct. It was rebuilt by the 36th King Hyegong (774) and since then it has been called Pulkuksa.

At the time of its completion, it was a very large temple comprising of 80 wooden buildings, and the two great monks, P'yohun and Shinrim were invited to stay there. Lasting through the Koryo and Choson Dynasties, it contracted and barely kept itself in existence. However, during the Imjinwaeran, the Japanese Invasion, all wooden buildings were destroyed by fire 819 years after its first complete construction.

After that, it was reconstructed little by little, but it was impossible to restore its old brilliant image. From 1969 to 1973 the construction site was excavated and on the basis of the excavation., it was rebuilt on a large scale to take on the present image.

Vernal view of the frontage with two stone bridges Ch'ilbo-Yonhwa and Ch'ongun-Paegun connecting secular world to Buddhist one

To get to the precinct of Pulkuksa, one must pass Iljumun which has a line of columns and a hanging board with the cab ligraphy of the name of the temple on it, then Haet'algyo which tells us to divest ourselves of agony and restraint, then Ch'onwangmun where Chigukch'onwang, Chungjangch'onwang, Kwangmokch'onwang, and Damunch'onwang, all in a word Sach'onwang, which protects Buddhism, are located, and finally we should pass Panyagyo, the bridge of wisdom. Then we find ourselves in the precinct where we can see the stone altar and stone bridge starting from the stone embankment. The upper part of the temple implies Buddhist paradise and the lower part represents the secular world. The temple can be divided into three areas: Daeungjon the main shrine where the statue of Shakamuni is enshrined; Kungnakchon, the hall of paradise where Amitabha Buddha who has control over Buddhist paradise, is enshrined; and Pirojon where Pirojanabul, who lights Yonwhajang world, is enshrined.

To reach the upper part of the temple, it was compulsory to pass thirty-three stairs symbolically shaping Torich'on because of the blocking stone altar. Recently. however, for the tourist's sake and for the protection of the stone bridge, it is impossible to pass the stone bridge and a door has been setup in the east-west corridor instead.

Though partly damaged over the years, the stone embankment was not made in an artificial way, but in natural way of simply building up large and small stones. The beauty of these stones, large and small, seems to show the difference in the magnitude and narrowness of the people.

The stone bridge suspending on the stone altar consists of two pairs of bridges: Ch'ongun and Paekun, and Ch'ilbo and Yonhwa. Except for a small part, the bridges have maintained their original image from 1200 years before.

This bridge connecting the secular world to the Buddhist paradise has a rainbow-like gate in the lower part, hence called the rainbow bridge. It is the bridge of hope and bliss. So the bridge consecrates the precinct of the temple, meaning the country of Buddha.

Rising on the right bridge comprising the Ch'ongun and Paekun bridges, we can reach Chahamun, a gate surrounded by the auspicious signs emanating from Buddha. Tabot'ap and Sokgat'ap are seen left and right respectively and between them is seen the main hall of Shakamuni based on Pobhwagyong, where one can feel we are close to Buddhist paradise.

Tabot'ap and Sokgat'ap are before the main hall. The two pagodas which are called the acme of Shilla's art, were built in the tenth year of the King Kyongdok (756) by the prime minister Kim, Dae-Song. However, they were not completed until after his death.

National Treasure No. 20, Tabot'ap is a four-story pagoda delicate and beautiful atop a square cornerstone. On each edge of the cornerstone is said to have been stone lion at the time of the first construction, but now only one is left.

Opposite to it is Sokgat'ap, which is also called Muyongt'ap meaning a pagoda without shadow. Its structure is simple and magnificent so it is contrasts with the skillfully structured Tabot'ap and but the same time adds beauty and elegance to Pulkuksa.

This three-story granite pagoda atop the two-story cornerstone has a legend, which beautifies religious belief and secular love. During the reconstruction and repair work in 1966, at the center of the body of a second story were found a 50cm relic hole, with a gilded relic case in it ,and tens of antiquities. The world's first wooden printed matter, Mugujongkwang-daedaranigyong was located within and was named the 126th National Treasure and is displayed at Kyongju National Museum.

Many royal palaces and historical remains are scattered over Pulkuksa which has been the monastery of the many monks who have protected the country day and night, so that the Pulkuksa should be protected for ever.

The extant Main Hall was reconstructed in 1765 (41st year of King Yongjo) atop the original building through thorough investigation. It is located on a stone embankment. It is big and long with servants' quarters on both sides. It is five kan (unit of length) long and four kan wide. Inside it, Sumidan is located in the front and on Sumidan is seated Sokkasamjonbul. The statue of Shakamuni is in the center with, Buddha-to-be Mirugbosal on the left, and Yondeungbul of the past Kallabosal on the right. The three statues represent the Buddhas of the past, the present, and the future.

In addition, the statues of two disciples Kasob and Anan are seated on the left and right respectively. So, in total, five statues are enshrined. Behind the main hall lies Musoljon on a stone embankment of seven kan wide. It is said to have been used as lectem by Uisangdaesa and his disciples Oiin, P'yohun, and other great monks.

This building shared the same destiny with other buildings of the Pulkuksa by being set on fire during Imiinwaeran, of being restored, and of being reconstructed in 1972 to take on its present appearance. The name Musol (no lecture) given to the lecture hall seems to have too much meaning to be ignored.

Paradoxically, the name indicates that the transmission of truth and arrival to it can be done through the mediation of language but much deeper meaning will be achieved through inner realization.

The main hall is surrounded by Tongiangrang to the east, Soiangrang to the west, and Namhaengrang to the south. These three galleries are connected to the main hall by Tongigmu and Soigmu.

All content Copyright 1998 Soyon Park
Questions and comments go to sopark@evl.uic.edu