The Bongnimsa sect was located at the Bongnimsa-ji Temple Site in present-day Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do. The founder of this sect was Hyeonuk (787-868 A.D.). The temple was first founded during the reign of King Hyogong of Silla (r. 897-912 A.D.).
Hyeonuk’s family name was Kim, and he was from Dongmyeong. His father was the vice minister of defence, and his name was Kim Yeomgyun. His mother belonged to the Bak clan. Hyeonuk was born in 787 A.D., and he used to build sand stupas since the time he was a little boy, so people used to say that he would eventually become a great Buddhist monk. When Hyeonuk grew up, he received his precepts in 808 A.D. He would later travel to Tang China (618–690, 705–907 A.D.), where he received formal recognition of the Seon teachings from Mazu’s disciple Zhangjing Huaihui (756-816 A.D).
As a sign of respect to the Silla prince, Prince Kim Uijong, Hyeonuk followed him back to Silla. They arrived in Silla in 837 A.D., and Hyeonuk resided at Silsangsa Temple. Afterwards, he moved to a hermitage he built at the foot of Mt. Hyeilsan. He was honoured as a master by four kings. They were King Minae of Silla (r. 838-839 A.D.), King Sinmu of Silla (r. 839 A.D.), King Munseong of Silla (839-857 A.D.), and King Heonan of Silla (r. 857-861 A.D.).
In 868 A.D., Hyeonuk ordered his attendant to strike the “Impermanence Bell” to announce his passing. That spring, he would die. His posthumous name is Wongam. After his passing, Hyeonuk’s disciple, Jingyeong Simhui (854-923 A.D.) founded Bongnimsa Temple which helped spread the teachings of the Bongnimsan sect of Seon Buddhism. In total, Hyeonuk had some five hundred disciples. And as a result, the Bongnimsan sect became famous.