Guardian Painting : Sinjungtaenghwa

Sinjung Tanghwa

Guardian Painting (Shinjung Taengwha, in Korean)

The Shinjung Taengwha, a painting featur-ing Tongjin Posal, is commonly found in Korean temples. Its frequent presence, however, in no way seems to make its meaning well-known. The only point on which most people agree, Buddhists in-cluded, is that they don’t know much about the Shinjung Taengwha.

There are twelve to twenty figures de-picted in the Shinjung Taengwha. The central image is of Tongjin Posal, who is easily identi-fied by his elaborate headdress which resembles a fan of feathers. One of a number of beings who guard the doctrine, Tongjin Posal is the Bodhi-sattva who protects the Saddharma-pundarika, the Lotus Sutra of the True Law, one of the most revered Mahayana texts which explains that the truth is conveyed by silence and gestures as well as words.

There are different interpretations of the Shinjung Taengwha. One is that the figures sur-rounding Tongjin represent beings who are well-acquainted with the Three Refuges: the Buddha, his teaching (Dharma), and the Buddhist community (Sangha). Another is that the figures are historical personages such as Confucius, or lesser deities like the Kitchen God. The four, or sometimes five, figures at the base of the paint-ing or to the sides of Tongjin Posal, are clearly guardians. One guardian often carries a rolled-up scroll, representing the doctrine which he protects.

Depending on the size of the temple, and consequently on the number of halls or shrines therein, the Shinjung Taengwha is found in any one of many buildings, but most often on the right wall of the Main Hall.

It is interesting to note that, as the gods are beings in the realm of pleasure, they cannot attain enlightenment. Therefore the monks and nuns turn to the Taenghwa when they chant the Heart Sutra in order to help the gods attain a human birth in their next life and so reach enlightenment. In addition, as humans need help from the gods, often people will bow towards the Taenghwa as a gesture of respect and humility in the understanding of the fact that it is difficult to reach attainment alone.