The Value of the Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in KOREA as World Heritage
Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)
Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea, are a living Buddhist heritage that preserves and carries on tangible and intangible cultural traditions of Korea to the present day. The seven temples constituting Sansa have continued Buddhist religious activities, rites, lectures and practices, even embracing the indigenous religions. The sangha community carries on the tradition of Seon practice, observes summer and winter retreats and engages in communal labor on tea and vegetable farms to sustain the sangha community up to the present day.
Many temples were founded on the Korean peninsula after various schools of Mahayana Buddhism were introduced and adopted from China in 7th-9th centuries. They are largely divided into those in downtowns and those in mountains. Most temples in downtown areas were forcibly closed under the anti-Buddhist policy during the Joseon period (1392-1910), but the temples and monasteries in mountains continued their due functions and roles for spiritual practice and belief of Buddhist monks. In the absence of the downtown temples, Sansa further extended their role to serve as places of religion for ordinary believers and started to accommodate spaces and facilities necessary for their practice.
The seven temples constituting Sansa are representative monasteries of Korea, preserving the characteristics of the Buddhist religious facilities intact. Located on mountain slopes and flanked by valley streams, they have open structure with natural boundaries. Walls mostly of modest size adapt to the natural topographical features, with the layout of the building taking the asymmetrical and non-regular shape. The temple facilities expanded, acquiescing to nature, and are classified, according to their location and environment, into three distinct types: valley bottom, slope and streamside.
Tongdosa Temple was founded in the Vinaya (Gyeyul) tradition. The Diamond Precept Platform at the temple testifies to the tradition of worshipping stupa holding the true relics (sarira) of the Buddha. Stupa worship is a typical prayer service, conducted in India and other countries exemplifying Theravāda Buddhism. The Diamond Precept Platform at Tongdosa indicates the vestige of stupa worship in the early formative years of Buddhism in Korea. This is also attested to by the fact that the Buddha statue was not enshrined at the Main Hall, adjacent to the Platform. Sarira are the sacred relics that embody the core belief in the Buddha. The Diamond Precept Platform has been a key place of Korean Buddhism to worship the Buddha. The presence of the Platform symbolizing the Buddha imbues Tongdosa Temple with special significance. The Platform is a sanctuary that embodies the spirit of Korean Buddhism.
As a spiritual pillar of Silla, Buddhism contributed to the unification of the Three Kingdoms and continued to provide the philosophical grounds on which the reign of monarchy rested following the unification. Under royal order, Great Master Uisang (625-702) founded Buseoksa Temple based on the thoughts of the Hwaeom (Avatamsaka) School in the doctrinal principle of Complete Unification (Wonyung). The thoughts played a significant role in establishing the centralized system of government in the Unified Silla Kingdom. Its philosophical characteristics are represented by the Buddhist artifacts related to the Avatamsaka Sect, including the 10 temples established across the nation by the Great Master Uisang in the principle of the sect. The foundation of Buseoksa Temple, one of the 10 Hwaeom temples, coinciding with the rise of the Unified Silla Kingdom, can be understood in this historical context.
Andong Protectorate (now Andong City), where Bongjeongsa Temple is located, was one of the major Neo-Confucian towns during the Joseon dynasty. The survival of the temple amid the dominance of and persecution under Neo-Confucianism in Andong is attributed to the cultural exchanges between the monks at the temple and the sarim (Neo-Confucian literati). The buildings around the Hall of Arhats (Eungjinjeon) were arranged in the shape of a square, following the example of the houses of Neo-Confucian literati. The writing on the wooden tablet fixed at the temple gate, Deoghwiru (changed into Manseru, later), represented the Neo-Confucian spirit. In addition, one of the most prominent Neo-Confucian scholars, Yi Hwang (1501-1570), and his disciples often visited Bongjeongsa Temple, and a pavilion called Myeongokdae was erected in a nearby area (buffer zone of the cultural property) in 1665 in remembrance of his visit to the temple. The temple operated a publishing house to print the Buddhist sutras as well as publishing the literary collections of local writers that contributed to increased revenues for the temple. The exchanges between the monks and the Neo-Confucian literati in Andong helped Bongjeongsa Temple maintain its religious role even during the Joseon dynasty.
As a royal vow temple during the Joseon dynasty, Beopjusa Temple was under the auspices of the royal court. Once designated as such, the temples could remain prosperous by easing its tax and corvee burdens as well as maintaining economic self-reliance. In 1765, Seonheuigung Shrine, dedicated to the Lady Yeongbin Yi, a concubine of King Yeongjo (1724-1776), was erected at Beopjusa Temple, a case testifying to the close relationship between Buddhist temples and the royal families maintained even under the anti-Buddhist policy of the dynasty.
Magoksa Temple, the stronghold of the monk-soldiers during the Imjin War of 1592-1598, sustained serious damages from the war. After the war, massive outdoor assemblies to mourn the dead were held at the temple, drawing huge crowds of people in the 17th century, and this made a significant contribution to the post-war temple restoration. As the outdoor assembly of worship was popularized, a giant-sized Buddhist scroll painting started to be used for the assembly from the 17th century. Magoksa and other temples in the central region of the Korean peninsula started to produce outstanding Buddhist scroll paintings, whose style was transmitted to the southeastern region (Gyeongsangnam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do) of the nation. The long scroll paintings befitting the unique styles of the temples provide valuable information about the post-war Joseon society. The notes on the hanging scroll, Magoksa gwaebul (The Buddhist Scroll Painting of Magoksa Temple) (1687), list the names of monks and lay believers who made donations for the construction of the temple. This indicates that the royal families or the central government, who supported the Buddhist projects to restore temples and hold religious services of massive scale, were being replaced by the local communities as sponsors of the temples in the late Joseon period.
Seonamsa Temple is characterized by the tea farm operated by the monks and its massive scale of living quarters. The multistoried buildings in the shape of a square in the temple, believed to have originated in the Goryeo dynasty, were the independently operating living quarters of the sangha community. The number of sangha residents at the temple facilities can be estimated by the size of the six buildings at the temple.
The massive size of living quarters at Seonamsa Temple attests to the significant role of the monastery in sangha education in the southwestern region in the modern era. The temple implemented a sweeping reform of the traditional sangha education in line with the modernization of the nation in the early 20th century. As a result, modern Buddhist educational institutions were established, including the Seungseon School (in 1906), Dharma Missionary Center in Gwangju (in 1914) and the district Buddhist schools (in 1920). The Seonamsa Temple’s Seungseon School was divided into an ordinary school and a Buddhist academy in 1913. The establishment of modern educational institutions and reform of the curriculum by Seonamsa Temple in the early 20th century are the significant example of the reform of the traditional sangha education system.
Daeheungsa Temple has a unique element of patriotic Buddhism, represented by Pyochungsa Shrine at the temple, dedicated to Ven. Seosan (1520-1604) in 1789 in memory of his feat of arms during the Japanese invasion of 1592. The national recognition of Ven. Seosan’s illustrious role in the fight against the Japanese, state-supported erection of the shrine and Confucian-style ritual for him enhanced the social status of monks. After the war, the sangha community was rejuvenated, with the lay believers joining the temple restoration projects.
Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries, are a historical heritage comprising seven representative temples of Korea. These temples embody the principles of the various Buddhist sects at the time of their foundation in the 7th-9th centuries and still preserve the facilities designated for religious service, practice and daily life of the sangha community. All of them perform their original functions in the present day. Sansa possess outstanding universal value in that the entire precinct of the temples is shaped by the openness of Korean Buddhism and preserves the characteristics as a Buddhist sanctuary.
Authenticity and Integrity
The Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea maintain authenticity in terms of the sustainability of use and function; location and setting; traditions, techniques and management skills; and intangible heritage. Even though the functions of certain buildings in the temples have changed, the original architectural elements have been carefully managed and preserved in accordance with the traditional architectural principles for repair and restoration. In sum, the religious tradition and functions of the Buddhist monasteries represent a high level of authenticity.
The seven inscribed temples also contain all elements representing outstanding universal value, including their location and settings, well-preserved buildings for religious practices and daily living, such as worship halls and shrines, meditation rooms, monastic academy, dormitories of monks, and various other auxiliary buildings.
All seven temples also exhibit elements reflecting Sansa’s outstanding universal value: their location at mountains, architectures for religious activities and daily life, Buddha Hall, the space for Seon practice, lecture hall and dormitories. They now face little external pressure posing as threats to the heritages. Without any serious alteration or loss of the temple facilities in the modern era, the seven temples remain intact. In spite of periodic changes, they continue to perform their original roles.
The Satisfied Selection Criteria (UNESCO World Heritage)
(iii) bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared .
Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries in Korea, are a group of monasteries where communities of monastics and lay believers have carried out Buddhist traditions of spiritual practice, religious worship and daily living up to the present day. The temples have preserved the authenticity of their spatial composition manifesting the values of Buddhism, an exceptional testimony to their lasting presence as sacred places.