Gilsangsa Temple – 길상사 (Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Mt. Jeongbyeongsan and a highway overpass together at Gilsangsa Temple in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Gilsangsa Temple is located on the eastern outskirts of Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Situated next to Changwon University, and under the Highway 25 overpass, Gilsangsa Temple is beautifully framed by the neighbouring Mt. Jeongbyeongsan.

First approaching from a little rural road off of Highway 25, you’ll find the Gilsangsa Temple parking lot that hikers also use so that they can explore Mt. Jeongbyeongsan. Passing under a towering overpass, and past an artificial pond, you’ll finally approach the temple courtyard. The first things to greet you are the beautiful gardens and a Koi pond. During the summer months, these gardens come alive with baby-blue hyacinths and pale pink lotus flowers. As for the Koi pond, it’s well stocked with colourful Koi and a Japanese maple situated on an elevated island in the middle of the pond.

Having passed through trees that help canopy the temple gardens, you’ll finally notice the two-story golden main hall at Gilsangsa Temple. It’s the only hall at the temple (besides the monks’ dorms and the visitors’ centre). Out in front of the elevated golden main hall is a stone relief of a triad of figures. In the centre stands Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This relief is then joined by a row of beautiful pink, potted lotus flowers.

Either heading right or left towards the stairs that lead up to the main hall, you’ll pass by a dense bamboo forest that surrounds the golden Geukrak-jeon on all sides. The bamboo forest is decorated with a string of white paper lanterns. Uniquely, the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon faces towards the left and not front to back. But when you realize that the main altar faces the west and that the Geukrak-jeon main hall is built for housing Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), the main hall’s peculiarity starts to make a bit more sense. And joining Amita-bul on the main altar is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

To the far right, and still on the first floor of the Geukrak-jeon, you’ll notice a set of stairs. These stairs lead up to the second story of the main hall. The first site to greet you are row upon row of miniature Buddha statues. The rows upon rows of Buddhas inside the Cheonbul-jeon Hall are joined on the main altar by three larger statues. In the centre of these three statues sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the far left of this collection of statues hangs a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This rather plain looking shaman deity is also joined by a solitary statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), who is tucked away in the far left corner.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to any temple is to take a taxi from the closest intercity bus terminal and Gilsangsa Temple is no different. From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take a taxi to Gilsangsa Temple. It’ll take about 22 minutes and cost about 13,500 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Without a doubt, the beautiful two-story golden, Geukrak-jeon main hall is the star attraction at Gilsangsa Temple. With its large open concept that packs a collection of shrines inside this hall, you’ll need to take your time to make sure you see all that the hall has to offer. In addition to this hall, you can also enjoy the unique combination of nature and construction with the closeness of a 500 metre tall mountain that runs up against Highway 25. Additionally, the temple’s gardens are something to enjoy for their vibrancy and colour.

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Another beautiful view of the overpass and nature, together.

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The reflection of the overpass imprinting itself on the artificial pond.

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The forested pathway that leads towards the temple’s main hall.

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A beautiful baby blue hyacinth.

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A Koi swimming around the shallow pond.

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One of the lotus flowers at Gilsangsa Temple.

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The golden Geukrak-jeon main hall that’s beautifully framed by the fog covered Mt. Jeongbyeongsan.

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A stunning pink lotus flower in full bloom.

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A closer look at the two-story golden main hall.

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A line of white paper lanterns adorning the thick bamboo forest at Gilsangsa Temple.

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The front entrance to the golden main hall.

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The main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The winding stairs that lead up to the second-story inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The rows of smaller sized Buddha statues.

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Yaksayore-bul who is tucked away in the corner.

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Yaksayore-bul is joined by this mural of Sanshin.

Sudasa Temple – 수다사 (Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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 The jovial dharma that greets you at Sudasa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sudasa Temple, in Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do, is located on the southern slopes of Mt. Giyangsan. Sudasa Temple was first called Yeonhwasa Temple, which means “Lotus Flower Temple.” It was founded by Jingam-guksa during the reign of Silla King Munseong (r. 839-857). The temple was named Yeonhwasa Temple because Jingam-guksa saw a lotus in full bloom on neighbouring Mt. Yeonaksan. Tragically, the temple was destroyed by fire. However, it was rebuilt in 1185 by the monk Gakwon-daesa. At this time, the temple was renamed Seongamsa Temple. But in 1273, the temple, once more, was destroyed; this time, by floods. The temple was rebuilt in the middle of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) by the famed monks Seosan-daesa and Samyeong-daesa. It was at this time that the temple was renamed Sudasa Temple. In 1684, all but for the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at the temple, all other buildings were destroyed by fire. Now, Sudasa Temple has a handful of temple halls.

When you first approach the temple, after passing the simplistic Iljumun Gate, you’ll arrive at the temple parking lot and the fattest and most jovial stone dharma you’ll ever see is waiting to greet you. It’s past this stone statue, and up a set of stairs, that you’ll enter the temple’s main courtyard.

The first of the buildings to greet you is Sudasa Temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall, which is also the oldest shrine hall at the temple. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with various murals including the Dragon Ship of Wisdom and the sufferings of souls in the Underworld. It also includes some fading murals at the entrance of the hall. Inside the shrine hall sits a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by ten large seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Up in the rafters of the shrine hall are some beautiful, wooden dragons.

Next to the Myeongbu-jeon Hall is the temple’s main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with some vibrant Palsang-do murals. Inside this hall, and seated on the main altar, sits a large golden statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The statue of Amita-bul dates back to 1649. This statue is backed by a Vulture Peak Assembly mural that was painted in 1731. This mural also just so happens to be Treasure #1638. Up near the rafters of the main hall are two unique incarnations of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) in painted form. So have a look up when visiting the main hall at both of these paintings, as well as the floral ceiling.

Between both the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon, and up a bamboo grove, is the temple’s Sanshin-gak. Housed inside this solitary hall is a seated mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Dressed all in red, he’s joined by a large dongja who is carrying a cup of tea for Sanshin.

Past the main hall, and the monks’ dorms, you’ll find Sudasa Temple’s Samseong-gak. It’s past a bridge and up a set of stairs that you’ll find this hall. The three shaman murals are more modern-looking than that Sanshin mural up in the Sanshin-gak. This Sanshin mural, alongside Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars), sits in front of a peach tree and underneath a twisted red pine.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Sudasa Temple is from the Gumi Train Station. From the train station, you’ll need to take a taxi to the temple. The drive should take about 40 minutes and cost you about 25,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10. Both of the Sanshin paintings inside their respective halls are a contrast in style about an identical subject, which is quite rare to find at a single Korean Buddhist temple. The pair of Sanshin murals are joined by the early 18th century Vulture Peak Assembly mural, and the 1649 Amita-bul statue, as highlights at Sudasa Temple. A bit out of the way, the natural surroundings are also something to enjoy while visiting this isolated Gumi temple.

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Both the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Sudasa Temple.

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One of the Underworld paintings adorning the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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Another of the Myeongbu-jeon paintings; this time, it’s the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.

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Inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall with a look at Jijang-bosal.

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One of the red-faced Vajra warriors at the entry of the Myeongbu-jeon.

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The bamboo trail that leads up to Sudasa Temple’s Sanshin-gak.

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The Sanshin-gak.

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The mural of Sanshin inside the Sanshin-gak.

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A look across the front of the main hall with the temple’s guard dog looking in on the morning service.

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One of the Palsang-do murals adorning the exterior walls.

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Some of the temple’s landscaping at Sudasa Temple.

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The temple bridge.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Sudasa Temple.

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And the second Sanshin mural, a more modern version of the Mountain Spirit, inside the Samseong-gak.

Bulgulsa Temple – 불굴사 (Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The historic Buddha statue at Bulgulsa Temple in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On Mt. Muhaksan, and just past the local mental institution, lays Bulgulsa Temple in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Bulgulsa Temple dates back to 690 A.D. During its peak, the temple housed over 50 buildings and had 12 associated hermitages.

When first approaching the elevated temple grounds, you’ll notice a collection of buildings that are under construction. It’s to the right of these buildings that you’ll first notice the simple bell pavilion. Up a set of uneven stairs, and past a garish, plastic Heavenly King, you’ll enter the temple’s courtyard.

Straight ahead lays the main hall. Out in front of the main hall stands a three-tier stone pagoda that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D.). The 7.43 metre tall pagoda is both well preserved and rather common for the pagodas of this era in Korean history.

Surrounding the exterior walls to the main hall are a nice collection of Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and similar to the main hall at Tongdosa Temple, there is simply a window where statues should be seated on the main altar. This window looks out onto a stupa. Purportedly, this stupa enshrines some sari (crystallized remains) from the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Other than this, the only other things that the main hall houses is a guardian mural on the far right wall, as well as seated statues of the Buddha with white paper hats on their heads.

To the right of main hall, and excluding the monks’ dorms, there are a couple of halls that visitors can explore at Bulgulsa Temple. The first is a diminutive Dokseong/Sanshin-gak. Housed inside this shrine hall are two rather plain shaman deities. The other hall, the Myeongbu-jeon, is attached to part of the monks’ dorms. This rather long, narrow hall houses a solitary statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This statue is joined by an assortment of Bodhisattva paintings which include Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

To the left of the main hall, and the real highlight to the temple, is the ancient stone statue of the Buddha. The exact date and image of the Buddha are unknown; however, the statue has been well preserved. The 233 centimetre tall statue is placed on a natural ridge of rock. The chubby faced Buddha holds a jar in his left hand, while his right hand is pointed down towards the ground below. Uniquely, the shrine hall has been built around the statue.

Perched over top of the temple southwest of Bulgulsa Temple is Hongjuam Hermitage. In and among the natural contours of the mountain’s rocks is a beautiful relief of Seokgamoni-bul. And on another mountain ridge, to the southeast, stands a statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

HOW TO GET THERE: Because of its remoteness, the only way that you can get to Bulgulsa Temple from the neighbouring city of Gyeongsan is to take a taxi from the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride should take about 55 minutes and it should cost about 25,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Bulgulsa Temple has a few things for visitors to enjoy. One is the purported earthly remains of Seokgamoni-bul housed in a stupa behind the main hall. Another highlight is the ancient Buddha statue, as well as Hongjuam Hermitage that lays up in a neighbouring mountain ridge.

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The elevated bell pavilion at Bulgulsa Temple.

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The temple courtyard.

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A closer look at the three-tier stone pagoda and the main hall.

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A look through the window inside the main hall out towards the stupa that houses the Buddha’s sari.

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One of the white-hatted Buddhas inside the main hall.

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One of the Shimu-do paintings from the set of ten murals.

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A closer look at the stupa that houses the Buddha’s sari.

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A look towards the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak.

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The rather ordinary Sanshin mural.

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The entrance to the Myeongbu-jeon hall to the far left.

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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall.

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The shrine hall that houses the historic Buddha statue.

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A look at the actual Buddha statue.

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A better look at both the Buddha and inside the shrine hall.

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One last look around the temple courtyard.

Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Some beautiful flowers enjoying a bit of springtime rain at Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Heugguksa Temple, which lies just north of the Yeosu city centre, is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Yeongchwisan (Vulture Peak Mountain). The name of the temple, Heungguksa Temple, means “Temple of Flourishing Kingdom Temple,” in English. Heungguksa Temple was first built in 1196 by the famed monk Jinul. The temple was built in this location to fulfill a former monk’s prophecy. The prophecy stated that if a temple was built on the grounds that Heungguksa Temple now occupies, the nation would flourish. The temple was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After some of the temple buildings were rebuilt after this invasion, they were destroyed once more during the Imjin War in 1592 and 1597. Heungguksa Temple was rebuilt once more in 1642 by the monk Gyeteuk.

You first approach the temple grounds past the stately Iljumun Gate. The first sign that you’re approaching the temple grounds is a grouping of twelve stupas that also include the earthly remains of Jinul, as well as other prominent monks from eastern Jeollanam-do. A little further along, and just before you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate, is a turtle-based stele that dates back to 1703. The history of the temple’s reconstruction is written on the body of the biseok.

Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four descriptive statues of the Four Heavenly Kings that stand on an elevated enclosure. To the left of this gate is the temple’s museum which houses an 18th century Gwaebul painting of Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The museum is joined by a weathered bell pavilion that houses an equally old looking collection of Buddhist percussion instruments.

Straight ahead of the Cheonwangmun Gate, and just before you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Beopwangmun Gate. Originally constructed in 1624, the interior of this gate is rather spacious.

Having stepped inside the main temple courtyard, and straight ahead, lays the Daeung-jeon main hall at Heungguksa Temple. The main hall dates back to 1624. Out in front of the main hall is some beautiful masonry, which includes a turtle based stone lantern (which now looks more like a demon than a turtle), as well as some decorative reliefs on the stairs that lead up to the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are pastoral paintings. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jaehwagara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues date back to 1628-1644. The masterful main altar painting that backs these statues dates back to 1693. In the back left corner is a historic all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) front and centre. These statues date back to the 17th century and are backed by elaborate paintings of the worlds that the Ten Kings rule over in the afterlife.

To the rear of the main hall is the Buljo-jeon, which houses some ancient artifacts from the temple. Unfortunately, this hall is locked at all times. To the rear of this hall, and slightly up an embankment, are a pair of halls. Passing under a low lying entry gate, the first of the two halls is the Palsang-jeon. This hall houses eight replica paintings from the Buddha’s Life (Palsang-do murals). To the left of the Palsang-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. Newly rebuilt, the hall houses replicas of original paintings of the Nahan.

The final pair of halls that visitors can enjoy at Heungguksa Temple lie to the rear of the temple grounds. The first is the Wontong-jeon, which houses a multi-arm and headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Purportedly, the hall was first constructed in 1633, but judging from the architecture, it’s probably closer to the 19th century because of the brackets holding up the hall. Just below the Wontong-jeon is an artificial cave that houses a dragon-spout well, as well as two stone reliefs dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang (The Dragon King).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #52 to get to Heungguksa Temple. The bus leaves every 40 minutes from the terminal, and the ride should take about an hour from the terminal to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Heungguksa Temple has a wide variety of shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring the temple grounds. Beautifully situated under Mt. Yeongchwisan on large grounds, the stone masonry in and around the main hall is something to enjoy at the temple. The ancient buildings, as well as the artwork that adorns the halls both inside and out, are something to take your time with, too. There’s a little of something for everyone at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you at Heungguksa Temple.

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The pathway that leads you towards the temple courtyard.

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Part of the set of twelve prominent stupas at the temple.

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The large commemorative stele at the entry of Heungguksa Temple.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The hollow Beopwangmun Gate.

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A look through the gate towards the main hall at Heungguksa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon.

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The turtle-based stone lantern out in front of the main hall.

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A closer look at the turtle-based stone lantern. Looks a little more like a goblin these days.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar and the 17th century statues.

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The uniquely supported dharma drum at Heungguksa Temple.

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A collection of dongja (attendants) that line the museum walls.

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The unpainted Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.

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A look inside at the 17th century statues of Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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A look past the Buljo-jeon towards the upper courtyard.

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The diminutive gate that welcomes you to the upper courtyard and the Palsang-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Palsang-jeon.

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And the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.

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The secluded Wontong-jeon at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Yongwang-dang at the temple.

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With a look inside the shaman shrine hall.

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Enjoying the rain and the view.

Hyangiram Hermitage – 향일암 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Hyangiram Hermitage in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do on a rainy day.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the very southern tip of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, and perched in and around the crags and crevices of Mt. Geumosan, is Hyangiram Hermitage. The hermitage was first founded in 644 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa. It was here that Wonhyo-daesa had a vision of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Originally, the temple was known as Wontongam Hermitage, until the High Priest Yun Pil changed the name of the hermitage to Geumoam Hermitage in 950 A.D. while studying there. In 1592, the entire hermitage was burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War. In 1715, the hermitage was rebuilt by the monk Inmuk-daesa. It was also at this time that the hermitage was renamed with its present name of Hyangiram Hermitage, which means “Looking Out at the Sun Hermitage,” in English. On December 20th, 2009, the main hall at the hermitage, as well as the bell tower, was completely destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the rest of the hermitage was spared from this fire, and both the main hall and the bell tower have been rebuilt in recent years. Hyangiram Hermitage, alongside three other hermitages like neighbouring Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, are four holy sites for the worship of Gwanseeum-bosal.

You first approach the hermitage grounds past a large collection of stores and restaurants. About half way up the mountain, you’ll come to the hermitage’s admission booth. After paying your 2,000 won entry fee, you can either head left towards the stately Iljumun Gate and large turtle-based stele, or you can head right up the road that monks use for their vehicles at the hermitage. I would suggest the much more beautiful, and scenic, left pathway.

The aforementioned trail will zig-and-zag its way up the mountain, until you arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage grounds. Just outside the temple grounds, once again, you can either head right towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or head left towards the main hall. Again, I would recommend heading left and making your way through a narrow opening in the rocks and up a flight of stairs sculpted from the mountain’s rock face.

It’s only after appearing on the other side of these naturally occurring obstacles that you get a great view of the South Sea from the hermitage’s main courtyard. You also get to see some islands that dot the horizon, as well as a neighbouring harbour.

Behind you stands the newly rebuilt Daeung-jeon main hall at Hyangiram Hermitage. Lining the exterior walls are a set of Palsang-do murals, as well as a collection of phoenixes and zodiac animals that line the eaves of the hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall, and up a set of stone stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Again, and from this elevated vantage point, you get an amazing view of the South Sea. Inside the main hall are a pair of haunting murals dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). As for the exterior walls, there are a pair of tigers, one of which has its ferocious mouth wide open.

To the left of the main hall, and past the newly rebuilt bell pavilion, are a set of stairs that lead you to the rear of the Daeung-jeon. It’s through an opening in the mountain’s face, and up a set of stairs situated in a crevice on the mountain, that you’ll finally come to the Gwaneeum-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar, and backed by a simplistic black mural, is a rather small seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of this hall stands a three metre tall stone statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Yet another great view of the seaside landscape awaits you from the heights of the Gwaneeum-jeon. It’s also from this vantage point, and if you look down towards the greenery that lies at your feet past the arm rail, you’ll notice a rock outcropping with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it. It’s from here that Wonhyo-daesa also enjoyed the amazing view way back in the 7th century.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hyangiram Hermitage from Yeosu and back, it will probably take you the better part of the day to do. From the Yeosu Bus Terminal, you’ll need to cross the road and take either Bus #111 or Bus #113 to get to the Impo bus stop (임포 향일암). The bus ride should take about an hour and a half to do. From the bus stop, go 100 metres up the road with the ocean to your left. At the GS 25 convenience store, turn right and start the ascent up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to the entry gate where you have to pay. After that, just follow the signs the rest of the way towards Hyangiram Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. For the view alone, this hermitage rates as high as it does. But when you add into the mix the narrow crevices and cracks that link all the halls together, as well as the beautiful artwork all around Hyangiram Hermitage, and you know why this remote hermitage is a must see for any temple adventure seeker.

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The stairs that lead up to Hyangiram Hermitage.

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A large stele along the way.

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A closer look at the Iljumun Gate as the rain continues to fall.

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One of the crevices you’ll have to pass through on your way up to the hermitage courtyard.

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A flight of stairs and you’ll finally see all that Hyangiram Hermitage has to offer.

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The foggy view of the South Sea with an obscured island off in the distance.

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A foggy harbour down below.

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A look up towards the Daeung-jeon and Mt. Geumosan.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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As well as some amazing eaves’ work on the Daeung-jeon.

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Both the bell pavilion and Daeung-jeon roof close together.

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A cave entryway at the hermitage.

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The flight of stairs that lead through another large crevice and up towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon through the rain.

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The front facade of the Gwaneeum-jeon.

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The meditative stone that Wonhyo-daesa prayed upon, as well as a foggy South Sea off in the distance.

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A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon at the main altar inside.

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To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

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And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Hyangiram Hermitage.

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The obscured view from the rolling fog from the Samseong-gak towards the Daeung-jeon.

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A decorative, and ferociously posed, tiger on one of the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.

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The view from the Samseong-gak.

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The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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And a look out onto the rain from the shaman shrine hall.

Jinhongsa Temple – 진홍사 (Geumgok, Busan)

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Inside the main hall during Buddha’s birthday at Jinhongsa Temple in Geumgok, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone,

Jinhongsa Temple in Geumgok is a rather new temple in the northern part of Busan. While smaller in size, the temple is highly popular among the local population.

Located next to a university and a crowded amount of apartments, Jinhongsa Temple is the last structure before the forested hills of Mt. Geumjeongsan. The first structure to greet you at the temple is the simplistic Iljumun Gate. To the left of the Iljumun Gate lies a collection of stupas and a stele.

Past these introductory structures, and up a bit of an incline, are the three temple buildings at Jinhongsa Temple. To the far left is the monks’ dorms and visitors centre. Straight ahead, and above the temple’s kitchen on the first floor, is the temple’s main hall. The exterior walls to the main hall are beautifully decorated with Palsang-do murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined on either side Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The triad sit under a stunning red canopy that are adorned with twisting blue dragons underneath the canopy. And on the far left wall is a wooden guardian relief.

To the right of the main hall stands another two storied temple hall. The second of which is a shrine hall for people to pray in at Jinhongsa Temple. The exterior walls to this hall are lined with dongja (assistants) either playing or helping. Once you enter this hall, which you enter from the east, you’ll be greeted by a large red canopy. Underneath this canopy sit three slender statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined by the familiar statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And on the far wall there hangs a red mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take exit #6 at Geumgok subway station (#238) on the second line. At the first major road, you’ll need to cross the street and head east towards Mt. Geumjeongsan. Follow this road to the right of the university for 1.6 km. The hike should only take you 5 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While not the most overwhelming of temples to visit in Korea, it’s a nice little oasis in northern Busan. While the temple buildings are made from concrete, all the statues on the main altars are masterfully sculpted, as are the paintings adorning the exterior walls to all the halls. There is also a restive Koi pond at the base of the main hall at Jinhongsa Temple. So while not the most expansive of temples in Korea, it makes for a nice little break from the urban clutter in northern Busan.

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The stupas and stele at the entry of Jinhongsa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate at the temple.

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The temple’s main hall during Buddha’s birthday.

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The meditative Koi pond out in front of the main hall.

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One of the Korean style Palsang-do murals adorning the exterior walls of the main hall.

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The nearness of nature at Jinhongsa Temple.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar.

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The unpainted wooden guardian relief inside the main hall.

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The other shrine hall at Jinhongsa Temple.

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One of the dongja murals that adorns the exterior walls to this shrine hall.

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Some of the decorative Buddhist artwork underfoot.

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The main altar inside the adjoining shrine hall.

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The Jijang-bosal mural at Jinhongsa Temple.

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One last look at one of the shrine halls at Jinhongsa Temple.

Jukrimsa Temple – 죽림사 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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One of the beautiful stupas at the entry of Jukrimsa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just below Mt. Yubongsan, and west of the Geumho River, is Jukrimsa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. About a kilometre and a half up a mountainside road lies Jukrimsa Temple. The first thing to greet you at the temple is the Iljumun Gate, which has a pair of chubby pillars at its base.

A little further up the road, but before you arrive at the temple grounds, you’ll notice an ornate stupa to your right. This stupa is a near replica of the one at Seonamsa Temple on Mt. Baekyangsan in Busan. With ornate ornamental dragons, tigers, and Biseon, as well as a decorative Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) at the entrance of the stupa, this stupa is probably the most beautiful piece of funeral stone masonry in all of Korea. The pair of large sized stupas are joined by smaller sized stupas.

With the slight incline of the mountain elevation kicking in, you’ll finally near the outskirts of the temple courtyard. Passing under the Boje-ru Pavilion, which is beautifully adorned during Buddha’s birthday, the pavilion is surrounded on all sides by rose bushes, Japanese maples, and shrubs.

Stepping into the temple courtyard, a three-tier stone pagoda welcomes you to Jukrimsa Temple’s courtyard. The monks’ dorms lie to the left, while the main hall stands straight ahead of you. In front of the main hall are a collection of granite statues. To the far right is a triad statue centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the far left are two more statues. The first is the “hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil,” motif statue; while the other statue is a graceful granite statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Surrounding the main hall’s exterior walls are a collection of simple Palsang-do murals. Inside the hall, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal. There are a few accompanying murals housed inside the main hall like the guardian mural that hangs on the left wall, as well as a red mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal that hangs on the right wall. Interestingly, and just to the left of the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife, there are a collection of pictures of former presidents like Park Chung Hee (and his wife), and Roh Moo Hyun.

To the left of the main hall are two shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring Jukrimsa Temple. The first to the immediate left of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Of the three shaman murals that include Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), it’s the tiger-riding Sanshin mural that stands above the others for its originality.

The other hall at Jukrimsa Temple is the Nahan-jeon. The white-clothed stone statues of the Nahan are joined on the main altar by Seokgamoni-bul. Also, the stone statues are backed by beautiful murals of the Historical Disciples of the Buddha.

HOW TO GET THERE: There is no direct bus that will take you to Jukrimsa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. So the most direct way to get to Jukrimsa Temple is to take a taxi from Yeongcheon Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should last about 25 minutes and cost about 7,200 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. The main highlight at Jukrimsa Temple are the two ornate stupas at the entry of the temple. The beautiful grounds are filled with masterful statues of Gwanseeum-bosal and Amita-bul. And to top it off, you can also enjoy all the murals housed inside both the Nahan-jeon and the Samseong-gak at Jukrimsa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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The chubby pillared Iljumun Gate at Jukrimsa Temple.

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A look towards a pair of stupas.

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A closer look at one of the ornate stupas.

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Adorning the door on the stupa is this image of Jijang-bosal.

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Some of the tiger reliefs on the stupa.

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As well as a decorative dragon.

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A look up towards the Boje-ru Pavilion at Jukrimsa Temple.

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The temple courtyard in preparation for Buddha’s birthday.

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The main hall at Jukrimsa Temple.

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The statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The chubby “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil” statues.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.

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Inside the main hall at Jukrimsa Temple.

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The view of the grassy temple courtyard at Jukrimsa Temple.

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A look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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A look inside the Samseong-gak; yes, with a ladder in it.

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A better look at the tiger-riding Sanshin mural.

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The Nahan-jeon at Jukrimsa Temple.

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And a look inside the Nahan-jeon.

Gwangsansa Temple – 광산사 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautifully framed temple courtyard at Gwangsansa Temple in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

You first approach Gwangsansa Temple up some country back-roads and then finally up a long winding road that runs part of the way up Mt. Gwangryeosan in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do. With all 752 metres of the towering mountain to frame the temple, it makes for quite the beautiful location.

As you first approach the temple grounds, the view is blocked by a stone front façade. Up a set of stairs, you’ll pass through the Haetalmun Gate to enter the temple courtyard. Straight ahead lays the temple’s main hall. Surprisingly, a stone pagoda is missing out in front of the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to the main hall are some masterful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s flanked on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). Hanging to the right of the main altar is a painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and hanging to the left is the main hall’s guardian mural.

The other two halls that visitors can explore at Gwangsansa Temple are two shamanic halls. The first, which lies to the right of the main hall, is the Sanshin-gak. Before entering the hall, have a look on the right exterior wall to see a fiery coloured tiger with her two cubs. As for inside this hall, there hangs a modern painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a ginseng carrying donja (attendant) that has the ginseng, for some unexplained reason, wrapped in white cloth. To the left of the main hall stands the hall dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). While this hall was locked when I visited, you can peer through the front latticework to get a look at the equally modern incarnation of Dokseong.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to exit the terminal and make your way to the bus stop across from the Juchajang Pharmacy parking lot. From there, take Bus #710 for 12 stops, or about 20 minutes. Get off at the Lotte Mart stop and walk to get to the Samgye Hyundai apartments. It’s really close, about 150 metres, so you should be able to see the apartments. From the Samgye Hyundai apartments, take Bus #52 for 12 more stops, or 18 minutes, and get off at the Sinmok pongjeom stop, which is also the last stop on the route. From this stop, walk about 10 minutes, or 650 metres, to Gwangsansa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are just a couple highlights to Gwangsansa Temple like the beautiful location and the masterful modern painting of Sanshin. But be warned, there is an older Korean woman that volunteers at the temple that will not allow any photography of the temple, even though the temple is little known and less traveled by foreign visitors. So if you want to get a couple pictures of the place, be forewarned that it might be difficult with her around.

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The stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.

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A look through the Haetalmun Gate.

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The view from the Dokseong-gak towards the main hall.

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One of the Shimu-do murals.

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The entry to the main hall.

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The main altar inside the main hall with Amita-bul front and centre.

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The Jijang-bosal mural to the right of the main altar.

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A look towards the Sanshin-gak.

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The sign for the Sanshin-gak.

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The decorative tigers adorning one of the exterior walls of the Sanshin-gak.

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And a look at the Mountain Spirit.

Sujeongam Hermitage – 수정암 (Boeun-Gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage near Beopjusa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the south-west of the famed Beopjusa Temple is the affiliated Sujeongam Hermitage. And while the courtyard is under an extensive renovation, there are still a couple buildings for a visitor to explore in and around the grounds.

Walking down a beautiful pathway that skirts a neighbouring stream, and past a budo field, you’ll finally come to the compact hermitage grounds. Welcoming you at the gate are a pair of protective Vajra warriors.

Directly to your right, and a bit past the monks’ dorms, is the Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage. Beautifully wrapped around the exterior walls to the main hall are a collection of rustic Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the right of this triad is a golden stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). While the date of this statue is unknown, it’s historic in nature. This statue is joined on the right wall by a red-motif guardian mural.

But the real highlight to this hermitage lies just to the left of the main altar. There are a collection of older looking shaman murals. Of the set of three, which also includes a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars), it’s the mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that is the most original of the lot. With a folk-style tiger to his left, Sanshin can be seen holding tight to one of his dongja (an attendant). The painting almost appears as though Sanshin is proudly holding tight to a son of his. A definite first for me!

The other hall to the right of the Geukrak-jeon that visitors can explore is the tiny Josa-jeon Hall. Like sometimes happens at other hermitages, it appears as though the Josa-jeon Hall at Sujeongam Hermitage also acts as a storage hall, as well. However, there are three murals resting on the main altar inside this hall dedicated to prominent monks that once called Sujeongam Hermitage home.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sujeongam Hermitage, you’ll first need to take a bus to Boeun city. From the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to take a direct bus to Mt. Songnisan. This bus runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. When you arrive at Songnisan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes towards Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan Ticket Office. However, a couple minutes shy of Beopjusa Temple, you’ll need to hang a left where Sujeongam Hermitage resides.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Beautifully located in Songnisan National Park, and buttressed up against the amazing Beopjusa Temple, is Sujeongam Hermitage. With its collection of highly original shamanic paintings, as well as a historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside, there is more than enough reason to visit Sujeongam Hermitage while enjoying a day out at Beopjusa Temple.

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The path that leads to Sujeongam Hermitage.

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The Geukrak-jeon main hall at Sujeongam Hermitage.

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One of the Palsang-do murals around the exterior walls of the main hall.

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A look inside the Josa-jeon Hall.

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The red guardian mural as you first step inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The historic Yaksayore-bul statue inside the main hall.

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A look at the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The Dokseong mural to the left of the main altar.

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He’s joined by this elaborate mural dedicated to Chilseong.

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And the dongja holding Sanshin mural.

Seonsuam Hermitage – 선수암 (Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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A look inside the well-populated interior of the Gwaneeum-jeon at Seonsuam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the south-west of the temple courtyard at Sudeoksa Temple is Seonsuam Hermitage. Directly associated with the famed Sudeoksa Temple, Seonsuam Hermitage is built for Korean Buddhist nuns.

When you first approach Seonsuam Hermitage, just before the Sacheonwangmun Gate at Sudeoksa Temple, you’ll notice a miniature Dabo-tap pagoda from Bulguksa Temple halfway up the path. Nestled under towering trees, the pagoda is an exact replica of the stone monument, but just a quarter of its size.

Finally entering the hermitage’s courtyard, you’ll notice the large main hall to your right with the nuns’ quarters off to the left. The main hall itself is adorned with a dual set of murals around its exterior walls. The ones on top are vibrant Palsang-do murals dedicated to the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life, while the second set are various murals from the various stages of life. The latticework on the front door to this hall are beautiful flower blossoms in full bloom. Strangely, but caringly, there is a large umbrella to shield people from the sunlight while worshiping at the main entry.

Inside the hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a large seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The entire interior to this hall is decorated with various murals. To the right of the main altar are a set of four such murals. To the far right is the dynamic guardian mural joined to the left by an elaborate Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. This is then joined to the left by one of the larger Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) murals you’ll find in Korea. Rounding out the set is an equally large mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

To the left of the main altar is another collection of Buddhist murals. The first of the four to the left of Gwanseeum-bosal is a larger, multi-arm and headed mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The next mural to the left is the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural. Another in the set is an intricate mural dedicated to the Ten Kings of the underworld. The final mural in the set is a beautiful Gamno-do mural with various acts of misdeeds at the base of the Sweet Dew mural for the dead.

It should be said that one of the nicest Buddhist nuns (or monks for that matter), I met at Seonsuam Hermitage. Her name was Nama, for Namaste. She took the time to explain some of the details behind each painting. Also, she gave me a beautiful wooden dancheong piece of artwork. If your Korean is good enough, and she’s around, take the time to talk to this beautiful soul.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Seonsuam Hermitage, you’ll first need to get to Sudeoksa Temple. There are a variety of ways that you can get to Sudeoksa Temple. From Seoul, you’ll need to get to the Nambu Bus Terminal and board a direct bus to Sudeoksa Temple. The bus ride lasts about two and half hours and should cost about 8,000 won. From anywhere else in the country, you’ll first need to get to the Yesan Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you can take a rural bus to Sudeoksa Temple. Here is a list of potential buses that you can take: Bus #553 (8:20), Bus #547 (9:40), Bus #558 (10:50, 17:35), Bus #551 (12:00, 15:00), Bus #557 (13:20), Bus #549 (14:00), Bus #555 (15:55), Bus #556 (19:15). These buses will take about an hour and forty minutes to get to the temple.

Once at Sudeoksa Temple, make your way towards the main temple courtyard. Just before the Sacheonwangmun Gate, hang a left and head towards Seonsuam Hermitage. It’s about 100 metres up the pathway.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There is a beautiful collection of Buddhist and shaman artwork inside the Gwaneum-jeon main hall at Seonsuam Hermitage. Also, and if you’re lucky enough to meet her, Nama can help explain some of the finer points of the hermitage and Korean Buddhism as a whole. So if you’re visiting the neighbouring Sudeoksa Temple, drop by Seonsuam Hermitage along the way.

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The miniature Dabo-tap pagoda at Seonsuam Hermitage.

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The main hall at the hermitage.

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Some of the beautiful latticework adorning the main hall.

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One of the life cycle pieces of artwork on the exterior walls of the main hall.

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Which is joined above by some vibrant Palsang-do murals.

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The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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Joined by the Sanshin mural.

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The Jijang-bosal mural to the right of the main altar.

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Gwanseeum-bosal sitting in the middle of the main hall.

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A mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion to the left of the main altar.

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Joined by Dokseong.

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As well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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The final painting in the collection is this Gamno-do mural.