Yongjoo Temple is recognized as the temple of “filial piety”. This characteristic dates back to the days of King Jeongjo. Suwon city, also, pays much homage to him. In 1790, he re-constructed Yongjoosa in honor of his late father, Prince Sado. The tale explains that the name “yong joo” (Dragon Jewel) came to King Jeongjo in a dream before a memorial ceremony to his father. Many Korean children visit the temple with their parents and they are taught about paying proper respect to their parents and ancestors. It is also a temple where guests may experience the Korean Templestay Program.
Departing the bus from Byeongjeom Station (병점역) to Yongjoosa, you’ll be presented with two directions. On the left hand side of the street, you’ll find a parking lot and large building. This is the area to sign-up and participate in the Templestay Program, where guests can experience the monastic temple culture. On the right- hand side is Yongjoosa.
The first building is the Cheonwangmun (사천왕문), or the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings. These are some of my favorite examples of the Four Kings. All of them have wide bulbous faces and a menacing presence. Although set behind by a fence, they are about 4 feet away, magnificently detailed and easy to photograph.
The sword-bearer is the Guardian of the East, Jiguk-cheonwang. Jiguk means “protect the nation”. The staff-bearer with pagoda is the Guardian of the West, Gwangmok-cheonwang. His job is to punish sinners and make them repent. The dragon-holder is the Guardian of the South, Jeungjang-cheonwang. Jeungjang means to “develop and prosper”. He also holds a wish granting gemstone.The guitar-bearer (or lute) is the Guardian of the North, Damun-cheonwang. He vigilantly listens to the dharma. Pure your minds as you enter the temple.
After passing the Gate of the Four Kings, you will have to pay a small entrance fee of 1,500 won. And to the left, before the red gate is the Hyohaeng Museum. The museum holds relics of King Jeongjo and Yongjoosa as well as explaining the history. Especially, there is a tablet kept here which holds the “Sutra of Filial Piety to One’s Parents“. This is a cultural treasure and guests may be able to use a replica to create their own souvenir scroll of the message.
Unique to Yongjoosa is a red gate called the Hongsal Gate. It is found at the entrance of royal burial grounds and gardens. It is meant to show the significance to the entrants and commemorate King Jeongjo’s wrongly accused father.
Passing the outer court wall is a tranquil courtyard. There is a 5-story pagoda, bell tower, and towering trees, which turn vibrant in the fall. It is a quiet place to sit and reflect before entering the main courtyard. Entering the main courtyard, you will go under the Cheonboru building. The plaque reads that guests should adjust their posture to pass the gate. It is symbolic of having a person to leave their concerns behind and attain enlightenment beyond. Imagine leaving the problems and stress of the physical world behind. A small souvenir shop to buy beads and “enlightenment” is underneath.
Inside the main courtyard of Yongjoosa are many shrines (too many to list). When you visit, bear in mind that it is one of the major temples of the Jogye Order. There will be many people praying or in meditation at the many shrine halls. Walk around and be respectful.
Additionally, Yongjoosa offers free lunches from 11:30 – 1:00 in the Hyorimdang. It is the hall to the far right after passing the Four Kings. If you visit during this time, many monks or lay patrons may ask if you’ve eaten. So, keep an empty stomach before visiting. They’ll invite you to the dining hall for a fresh meal of bibimbap. On the wall of the cafeteria, there will be a meditation prayer before eating your meal. It is meant to keep healthy pure thoughts as you consume the organically grown and farmed meal. Another sign says to eat in silence, but you’ll find that many patrons do not adhere to this rule. After eating, clean your own bowl and utensils outside, and stack them to dry.
Directions to Yongjoo Temple are quite simple. Ride the Subway line #1 to Byeongjeom Station (병점역). Exit the station on the right hand side and walk to the cramped bus stop. Board one of the regular buses numbered 34, 34-1, 46, or 50. Smaller yellow buses 35-1 or 66 will also carry you to the temple. Google Map Directions. Naver Map Directions
From October 19th – November 1, 2015, around Korea, the Fall Templestay Program is being held at a discounted price for one-day and overnight stays. A perfect time to visit the country’s temples during the autumn leaf changing season. Templestay Programs. Finally, the 2015 film Sado (사도) tells the story of King Jeongjo and his wrongfully murdered father. Watch it to learn more.