Daesoon Jinrihoe and the Visual Arts

Massimo Introvigne



* All the following dates refer to the lunar calendar, as this is the calendar commonly adopted by Daesoon Jinrihoe).

** We indicate the version of the main names in Chinese rather than Korean Hangul characters, as this is the common use in the movement.

1871 (September 19): Kang Il-Sun (later known as Kang Jeungsan, 姜甑山) was born in Gaekmang-ri, Wudeok-myeon, Gobu-gun, Jeolla Province (present-day Sinsong village, Sinwol-ri, Deokcheon-myeon, Jeongeup City of North Jeolla Province), Korea.

1909 (June 24):  Kang Jeungsan died.

1969:  Park Han-Gyeong, later known as Park Wudang (1917-1995, or 1918-1996 according to the solar calendar), created in Seoul a new religious order, known as “Daesoon Jinrihoe” (大巡眞理會), as an evolution of previous orders recognizing Kang Jeungsan as the incarnation of the Supreme God, the Lord of the Ninth Heaven.

1969: Junggok Temple Complex was inaugurated at the foothills of Yongma Mountain, Korea.

1984:  The movie The Road to Peace and Harmony was released.

1986:  Yeoju Cultivation Temple Complex was inaugurated in Gangcheon-myeon of Yeoju-gun (present-day Yeoju City), Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

1989:  Jeju Training Temple was inaugurated in Jeju Island, Korea.

1990:  The current Bonjeon (main building) and the Daesoon Assembly Hall were added to the Yeoju Cultivation Temple Complex.

1992:  Pocheon Cultivation Temple Complex was inaugurated in Pocheon-gun (present-day Pocheon City), Korea.

1993 (February):  Daesoon Jinrihoe’s headquarters were relocated from Junggok Temple Complex in Seoul to Yeoju Cultivation Temple Complex in Yeoju.

1993 (June 24):  A trial tolling of the Daewon Bell at Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex took place.

1995:  Geumgangsan Toseong Training Temple Complex was inaugurated in Toseong-myeon of Goseong-gun, Gangwon Province, Korea.

1997:  A giant Maitreya Buddha statue was enshrined in the Geumgangsan Toseong Training Temple Complex.


Daesoon Jinrihoe doctrine teaches that the Supreme God was incarnated in Kang Jeungsan (1871-1909) and was given the mission to restore the world’s order, which was compromised by the crisis and decadence of the Former World (Seoncheon). Kang Jeungsan was to usher in the advent of a glorious Later World (Hucheon) and to guide humanity by revealing a set of principles aimed at promoting “mutual beneficence” (Daesoon Institute of Religion and Culture 2014:12-13).

Perhaps the most important principle revealed by Kang Jeungsan is “the resolution of grievances for mutual beneficence” (Haewon sangsaeng, 解冤相生). Grievances were the principal problem of the Former World, and they extended to both humans and divine beings (Baker 2016:10; see Kim 2016). Kang Jeungsan opened a road to resolve the grievances accumulated for ages. However, to enter a world free of conflict humans cannot simply rely on the works accomplished by Kang Jeungsan; they should offer their active cooperation and involvement as prescribed by his works.

Daesoon Jinrihoe also teaches “the perfected unification with Dao” (Dotong jin’gyeong, 道通眞境). This refers to the realization of earthly immortality in an earthly paradise, filled with bliss and joy (see Kim 2015:187-94), through the renewal of human beings and the recreation of the world (Baker 2016:10-11). Beauty will be a key feature of the future earthly paradise, but beauty is also a tool to pursue Dotong jin’gyeong and to live the key principle of Haewon sangsaeng. Daesoon Jinrihoe has built temples that are not only functional for its rituals and gatherings but also express this divine beauty as an anticipation of the earthly paradise. At the same time, architectural elements, paintings, and sculptures in the movement’s temples help members to practice Haewon sangsaeng and serve the didactic purpose of teaching Daesoon Jinrihoe’s intricate cosmology.

Daesoon Jinrihoe teaches that, in pursuing the human quest for divine beauty, a special role is played by Dancheong. [Image at right] In Korean tradition, Dancheong is the art of harmonizing the twelve colors and is used to decorate important buildings, thus conveying an image of dignity and authority. Dancheong also serves the practical purpose of protecting surfaces against weathering, but it is much more than that. Harmonizing colors creates the image of an ideal world, where everything is in harmony. For Daesoon Jinrihoe, Dancheong is an expression of religious faith and devotion to the Supreme God. Practicing Dancheong is a form of Haewon sangsaeng, that created sacred and majestic spaces, where devotees can experience a taste of the future earthly paradise.


Although a few members of Daesoon Jinrihoe do have formal artistic training, the movement believes that the art of Dancheong and the basic principles of traditional Korean painting and sculpture can also be learned by those who did not attend art school. The sacred spaces created by Daesoon Jinrihoe are the result of a collective effort wherein many devotees cooperated with one another. Paintings and sculptures are not signed, and the name of the artists is not considered important. The collective exercise of Haewon sangsaeng through the creation of beauty is regarded as much more significant than the promotion of any one given devotee as an “artist.”

This does not mean, however, that Daesoon Jinrihoe did not create its own distinctive style in the visual arts. Although firmly rooted in Korean tradition, it also displays a certain otherworldly character, whose aim is to remind those who look at the buildings, the sculptures, and the paintings that Daesoon Jinrihoe announces the future earthly paradise. While the concept of “symbolism” is now disputed in the West, the movement’s works of art can be defined as “symbolist” in the sense that their symbolic significance is more important than their literal meaning.

In part, the other temples of Daesoon Jinrihoe replicate the features of Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex, and I would focus on some key artistic elements that are part of this temple. It should be noted, however, that Geumgangsan Toseong Training Temple Complex includes a unique feature, a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha completed in 1997. [Image at right] The stone statue stands sixty-four feet high. It wears a gat (a Korean traditional hat) and includes 105 pieces of golden beads in the area between his face and neck.

Again, the statue is reminiscent of traditional Korean iconography of Maitreya Buddha, the coming future Buddha, but it also exhibits unique features that are meant to underline the special association of Maitreya Buddha with Kang Jeungsan. Daesoon Jinrihoe believes that the Lord of the Ninth Heaven, the Supreme God, descended to Earth in the early nineteenth century at the Cheon-gye Tower (天啓塔), located “in the West” (although some believe the Tower to be located in the spiritual rather than in the physical world). Having closely examined the three realms of Heaven, Earth, and Humankind, the Supreme God came to inhabit the statue of the Great Maitreya Buddha in Geumsan Temple at Moak Mountain, Jeolla Province, Korea. He remained there for thirty years before incarnating in 1871 as Kang Jeungsan, who also proclaimed: “I am Maitreya.” The style and iconography of Geumsan Temple, one of Korea’s national treasures, later influenced the art of Daesoon Jinrihoe.

Visitors to the Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex enter through the Sungdo Gate, [Image at right] whose name means “Worshipping the Truth,” into the most holy area of the Complex, called “Jeong-nae” (sanctuary inner court). The Sungdo Gate conveys an impression of majesty, and is reminiscent of the gates in the royal palaces of the kings of Korea. Upon entering, disciples stand facing the Bonjeon, the main building, and bow with their hands together. On the wall of Sungdo gate, there are mural paintings including the pictures of the four guardian deities in charge of the four directions.

The most sacred place of the Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex is the Bonjeon, a four-storied building that outwardly appears to be only three stories high. [Image at right]  On the fourth and the highest floor of the Bonjeon is the Yeongdae, where Kang Jeungsan (as Gucheon Sangje, the Lord of the Ninth Heaven) and other “great deities” are enshrined in fifteen “holy positions.” In the second and third floor, only Kang Jeungsan is enshrined in a holy portrait. The fourth floor enshrined the fifteen Great Deities, including Gucheon Sangje, in holy portraits or holy tablets. The primary godships include Gucheon Sangje (Kang Jeungsan), Okhwang-sangje (the Great Jade Emperor, whom Daesoon Jinrihoe identifies with the divinized Jo Jeongsan, 1895-1958, recognized by the movement as Kang’s successor in the orthodox religious authority), and Buddha Sakyamumi, who are surrounded by other deities, in twelve holy positions. These include the Myeongbusiwang (the ten otherworldly spiritual kings who judge human souls in the afterlife), the  Oaksanwang (the five earthly spiritual kings in charge of the mountains in five directions of Earth), the Sahaeyongwang  (the four spiritual dragon kings in charge of the seas), the Sasitowang (the four earthly spiritual kings in charge of the four seasons), Gwanseongjegun (the Chinese general Guan Yu, who died in 220 CE and was divinized in Korean folk religion as a heavenly king protecting against evil spirits or demons), Chilseongdaeje (the Big Dipper kings who are in charge of human lifespan and fortune), the Jikseonjo (paternal ancestors), the Oeseonjo (maternal ancestors), Chilseongsaja (the Big Dipper messenger, who aids the Chilseongdaeje),  Ujiksaja and Jwajiksaja (the other two messengers who  aid the Chilseongdaeje), and Myeongbusaja (the psychopomp who guides the newly arrived souls in the afterlife).

Outside the Bonjeon, in Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex visitors encounter the Cheonggye Pagoda, which represents the cosmological view of Daesoon Jinrihoe and whose sculptures are at the same time one of the movement’s main artistic achievements. [Image at right] The Pagoda includes four parts: the pedestal, the lower body, the upper body, and the top. In turn, each part consists of different layers. The pedestal has three layers. The first includes a series of engraved pictures called Simudo, which reproduce the Simudo paintings (described below) and represent the cultivation process of the individual devotee. In the second layer, the Sashindo pictures portray the four symbolic animal deities who represent the four seasons and four directions. In the third layer, there are the twelve deities of the Chinese zodiac (Sibijisindo), who correspond to the twelve months and twelve directions.

The lower body of the Pagoda includes three octagonal layers, engraved with the twenty-four divinities who oversee the twenty-four seasonal subdivisions (i.e. twenty-four solar terms in the year, spaced roughly fifteen days apart). The upper body includes seven quadrangular layers, engraved with the images of the twenty-eight divinities in charge of the constellations. The top consists of nine round layers, representing the Ninth Heaven, the highest place in the universe and the seat of Sangje, who coordinates from there the whole universe. The Cheonggye Pagoda seems to have some of its artistic antecedents in the Korean tradition, yet its project is aimed at representing the peculiar cosmology of Daesoon Jinrihoe.

Wandering around Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex, devotees and visitors encounter several cycles of paintings and single pictorial works, of which two are particularly important, the Simudo paintings and the mural painting of Haewon sangsaeng. Simudo means “ox seeking pictures,” and the cycle of six pictures depicts the journey of spiritual self-cultivation (Sudo) by using the metaphor of a boy finding an ox (Religious Research and Edification Department of Daesoon Jinrihoe 2017:52-53). Great care was exerted in preparing these paintings, which are reproduced in other temples and are aimed at conveying the essential of Daesoon Jinrihoe’s spiritual journey.

The first Simudo picture is called Simsim-yuoh (deep contemplation leading to awakening). The boy, under a pine, contemplates the greatest questions of human existence. The second picture is Bongdeuk-singyo (to find and follow Heavenly Teachings). The boy finds the hoof prints left by the white ox. These prints symbolize the guidance of divine beings, who introduce the seeker to the truth. But the truth has not yet been grasped, and in the third picture, Myeoni-suji (to keep training and overcome hardships), the boy finally starts seeing the ox. The ox soon disappears behind a rocky peak, while the young seeker should follow a bumpy road under a storm and lightning. This is the stage of the problems and difficulties each seeker of the truth should overcome. But the boy does not give up, and in the fourth picture, Seongji-useong (to keep devoting oneself to the Dao of Daesoon Truth), his efforts are rewarded, and we see him finding and petting the white ox under a clear sky. The seeker has found the truth, and the truth would carry him into a higher life. This is depicted in the fifth painting, Dotong-jingyeong (perfected unification with the Dao of Daesoon Truth), where the boy rides the white ox, which means perfected unification with the Dao. [Image at right] He quietly plays a flute while the season has changed to autumn, which means “coming to fruition for the consistent exertion” (Daesoonjinrihoe 2017)  The sixth painting is called Doji-tongmyeong (the Later World of Earthly Paradise). The boy has perfectly unified with the Dao of Daesoon Truth and becomes an earthly immortal. The world is transformed into a land of beauty, where heavenly maids play music, elixir plants are in full bloom, and cranes leisurely enjoy peace in a nearby meadow. This represents the earthly paradise, where Daesoon Truth is fully realized.

Another pictorial representation of the principles of Daesoon Jinrihoe is what the movement calls the Haewon sangsaeng painting. It depicts a woman carrying her baby on her back and walking down a country road, with a snack basket set on her head. The mother’s look towards her child is one of unconditional love, and the child can find no other place safer or more comfortable than her mother’s back, despite the weight she is carrying. There are no grievances, nor seeds for future grievances, as mother and child are in perfect harmony between each other. [Image at right] Haewon sangsaeng implies that all human relationships can be based on trust and love, just like that of the mother and child in the painting. The dignified and harmonious style of the painting evokes the Korean traditional ideals of Injon (human nobility), by which people can respect each other and live in genuine harmony in the coming Later World. This is an earthly announcement of the harmony of the future paradise achieved through the practice of Haewon sangsaeng.

The Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex also includes the so called Sacred Paintings, which illustrate the life of Kang Jeungsan and Jo Jeongsan. The hall where they are displayed is normally accessible to members of the religion only. Compared to the highly symbolic Simudo paintings, their style is somewhat simpler and they serve primarily a didactic purpose.

Two images frequently encountered in the iconography of Daesoon Jinrihoe and its temples are the phoenix and the holy symbol of Dao. The phoenix is a well-known sacred bird in East Asian mythology and legends. It is a symbol of auspiciousness and peace. In Daesoon Jinrihoe, its meaning is directly connected with the announcement of the coming earthly paradise. The East Asian phoenix is usually depicted in a seated posture with its wings folded, but in Daesoon Jinrihoe’s iconography the bird often has a short tail and dynamically flies on its wings, indicating the imminence of the earthly paradise. [Image at right]

The version of the holy symbol of Dao used by Daesoon Jinrihoe is unique to the movement. The three circles in black, gold, and red represent the three realms of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity. The Chinese character 大 [] is repeated four times, positioned in the four directions of East, West, North, and South. It has multiple meanings: the four 大 []s represent the four stages of nature (Birth 生, Growth 長, Harvest斂, and Storage藏), as well as the four cycles of the Heavenly Dao (Origination元, Proliferation 亨, Benefit利, and Firmness貞), of the Earthly Dao (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter), and of Humanity’s Dao (Benevolence仁, Propriety禮, Righteousness義, and Wisdom智). [Image at right] In this symbol, there are five colors (blue, red, yellow, white, and black), symbolizing the Five Elements and the interaction of Yin and Yang.

Significant artistic elements of the Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex, replicated in some other temples, include the great bell named “Daewon Bell,” which symbolizes the humanity’s deep wish to live in harmony and mutual beneficence, free from conflict. This 29.7 U.S. tons (27 metric tons) bell, 91.7 inches in diameter and 13 feet high, had a trial tolling ceremony on June 24, 1993 (lunar calendar). [Image at right] It is placed inside a Jonggak Pavillion (i.e. a pavilion built in the shape of the Chinese character 井 [jǐng]) which represents the four seasons and the flow of all directions. On top of the roof, the nine round layers are built to symbolize the Ninth Heaven. The bell  is tolled four times on normal days and eight times on special days (i.e. once every five days). In the Geumgangsan Toseong Training Temple Complex, there is another similar Daewon Bell, located inside a Jonggak Pavillion.

Visual arts also include cinema. In 1984, Daesoon Jinrihoe released the movie, The Road to Peace and Harmony. Although conceived by members of the movement, the movie was directed by a well-known Korean movie director, Kang Dae-jin (1935-1987), who was not part of Daesoon Jinrihoe. This was also true for the well-known actors Jeon Un (1938-2005) and Lee Soon-jae (b. 1935), who starred respectively as Kang Jeungsan and Jo Jeongsan (Religious Research and Edification Department of Daesoon Jinrihoe 2017:19). Although Kang Dae-jin had his own recognizable style as director, he adapted to the pedagogical needs of Daesoon Jinrihoe, producing a movie that is primarily didactic. Jeon Un and Lee Soon-jae produced memorable performances as Kang Jeungsan and Jo Jeongsan respectively. According to Daesoon Jinrihoe, the actors were not familiar with the movement before starring in the movie, but became close to it after having been deeply moved by the characters they interpreted. [Image at right.


Image #1: An example of the use of Dancheong in Daesoon Jinrihoe.
Image #2: Statue of Maitreya Buddha, Geumgangsan Toseong Training Temple Complex.
Image #3: Sungdo Gate, Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex.
Image #4: The Bonjeon, Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex.
Image #5: Cheonggye Pagoda, Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex.
Image #6: Dotong-jingyeong, the fifth painting in the Simudo cycle.
Image #7: Haewon-sangsaeng painting.
Image #8: Phoenix painting.
Image #9: The holy symbol of Dao used in Daesoon Jinrihoe.
Image #10: Daewon Bell.
Image #11: Original poster for the movie, The Road to Peace and Harmony.


Baker, Don. 2016. “Daesoon Sasang: A Quintessential Korean Philosophy.” Pp. 1-16 in Daesoonjinrihoe: A New Religion Emerging from Traditional East Asian Philosophy, edited by Daesoon Academy of Sciences. Yeoju: Daesoon Jinrihoe Press.

Daesoon Academy of Sciences (The) (ed.). 2016. Daesoonjinrihoe: A New Religion Emerging from Traditional East Asian Philosophy. Yeoju: Daesoon Jinrihoe Press.

Daesoon Institute of Religion and Culture. 2010. Daesoonjinrihoe: The Fellowship of Daesoon Truth. Yeoju: Daesoon Institute of Religion and Culture.

Daesoon Jinrihoe. 2017. “Explanations of Paintings for Sacred History of Daesoon.” Accessed from http://eng.idaesoon.or.kr/upload/resource/resource20591_0.hwp on 27 May 2017.

Kim, David W. 2015. “Sangje and Samkye: The Cosmology of Daesoon Jinrihoe in East Asian New Religions.” The Journal of Daesoon Academy of Sciences 25:189-229.

Kim, Taesoo. 2016. “Research on the Relational Characteristics of ‘Guarding against Self-deception’ in Daesoon Thought: Focusing on the ‘Resolution of Grievances for Mutual Beneficence.’” A paper presented at CESNUR 2016 international conference, Pocheon City, Korea, 5-10 July 2016. Accessed from http://www.cesnur.org/2016/daejin_taesoo.pdf on 17 May 2017.

Religious Research and Edification Department of Daesoon Jinrihoe. 2017. Daesoon Jinrihoe: The Fellowship of Daesoon Truth. Second Edition. Yeoju: Religious Research and Edification Department of Daesoon Jinrihoe.

Post Date:
30 June 2017



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