Buddhist Travel
Traveler Tales

Paekyang-sa: The Temple Named After a Sheep

By Jeffrey Miller, The Korea Times Feature Writer, Oct 27, 2004

PAEKYANG-SA - Visit almost any Buddhist temple in Korea and there is likely to be some legend or myth associated with its name or how it was founded.

Paekyang-sa Temple, situated at the base of Mt. Paekam in the southern part of Mt. Naejangsan National Park, was called Paekam-sa when it was built in 632 during the reign of King Mu of the Paekje Kingdom. Later, in 1034 during the Koryo period, a monk named Chungyonsonsa changed the name to Chongto-sa after the temple was remodeled.

The name was changed again to Paekyang-sa during the reign of King Sonjo of the Choson Kingdom. According to legend, one day when one of the temple?s monks, Hwanyangsonsa, was delivering a sermon during a three-day ceremony, a white sheep came down from Mt. Paekam to listen.

On the last day of the ceremony, the sheep appeared again, this time in the monk?s dream. ``I was turned into a sheep after committing a crime in heaven,?? the sheep said, ``but I can return to heaven now having listened to your sermon.??

The next day, a white sheep was found dead in the temple. Afterwards, the name of the temple was changed to Paekyang-sa (meaning White Sheep Temple), where even a sheep can perceive the truth.

Today, the temple is a favorite among visitors to the park, who flock there to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Although the temple does not contain any national treasures, its cozy atmosphere, accented by Mt. Paekam in the background, makes it a popular destination, especially in autumn.

Visitors to the temple first pass through Sachonwangmun, which leads to the center of the temple compound. Inside are only a few buildings, including the main hall, Taeungjon, and the oldest building, Kuknakbojon, which was built during the middle of the Choson period. Interestingly, the main hall is to the right as one enters the compound; usually with temples the main hall is visible as one enters the main entrance. Likewise, the temple?s eight-story pagoda is located behind the main hall, not in front of it.

The temple has one notable National Cultural Property, the great priest Soyo?s budo, located near the entrance. A budo is a kind of a tomb where sarira, or the monk?s remains, are enshrined. Soyo, born in 1562, left home when he was 13 to become a monk. His budo is shaped like a stone bell and consists of an octagonal platform supported by a stone lotus. It is embellished with the carvings of a snake, a dragon, a monkey, a frog, and a crab, and is topped with a pattern containing four dragons and a cloud.

Sadly, despite the interesting legend attached to the temple, there is not much in the way of English information to guide visitors through the temple other than a sign outside Sachonwangmun and one explaining Soyo?s budo. Nonetheless, the temple is worth checking out if only to enjoy the magnificent natural surroundings and the majestic Mt. Paekam rising up in the background.