Daedunsa Temple – 대둔사 (Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The temple courtyard at Daedunsa Temple in Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daedunsa Temple is located east of Mt. Bokwoosan in northern Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The temple is believed to have first been established in 446 A.D. by the famed monk, Ado. This very same monk built the first Silla Dynasty temple, Dorisa Temple. In 1231, Daedunsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire by the invading Mongols. The temple was rebuilt during the reign of King Chungryeol (r.1274-1308). Not long after the Imjin War (1592-98), in 1606, the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa, enlarged Daedunsa Temple to house 10,000 warrior monks if a war should arise, once more, with the Japanese. Now, while not quite as large as it once was, Daedunsa Temple gives you an insight into its former glory.

You first approach the temple up a steep incline. It’s along this incline, in a rather remote part of Korea, that I saw my first wild deer. Nearing the temple’s parking lot, a young deer skittered across the long entry to the temple. To the right of the large stone retaining wall, and up a set of stairs, you’ll stand in the centre of the temple courtyard.

Straight ahead stands the temple’s main hall. This hall was constructed in the late 1600’s. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with guardian murals. Stepping inside the hall, you’ll notice a lone Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) statue sitting under a tall, red canopy. The statue dates back to Late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The head and body of the statue are made of dry lacquer, while the hands are made from wood. This is one of the very few lacquer statues in Korea, and it also just so happens to be Treasure #1633. To the right of the main altar hangs a guardian painting. And between both the main altar and the guardian mural is an older-looking Amita-bul mural.

To the left of the main hall, and slightly up an embankment past an old, gnarled tree, is the temple’s Samseong-gak. It’s inside this hall that you get to look at an older set of shaman murals. The tiger with its intimidating eyes inside the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural, as well as the white spider crawling over Dokseong (The Lonely Saints) right ear, are something to look for while inside this hall.

Directly to the right of the main hall is Daedunsa Temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Uniquely, there are the twelve zodiac generals adorning the exterior walls to this hall. Housed inside this dimly lit hall, and resting on the main altar, is a golden statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Jijang-bosal is backed by a beautiful wooden relief of himself, as well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Other statues inside this hall are ten seated statues of the kings, as well as two fierce Vajra warriors at either entry. Adorning the interior walls are murals dedicated to the Ten Kings and the worlds they rule over in the Underworld, as well as a Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural.

Perched to the far right, and past a field of vegetables, is the Nahan-jeon Hall. While largely unadorned on the exterior walls, all but for the fading, and unrecognizable murals near the top of the eaves, it’s what’s inside that matters most about this temple hall. Resting on the main altar is a triad of unusual looking statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). They are surrounded on both sides by rather large wooden statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gumi Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch a bus bound for Angye Bus Terminal. The trip should last one hour and cost 6,300 won. From Angye Bus Terminal, you’ll next need to take a taxi to Daedunsa Temple. The ride should take about 40 minutes and cost about 18,000 won. Of course, the best option is a personal car, but this isn’t always an option for an expat.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While lacking one keynote feature, Daedunsa Temple is an accumulation of features for temple adventurers to enjoy. They start with the main hall itself and leads in towards the 14th century Amita-bul statue. Other interesting features around the temple are the shaman murals, as well as the statues inside the Nahan-jeon. And who knows, if you‘re lucky like me, you might just see a wild deer running through the surrounding forests at Daedunsa Temple.

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The entry at Daedunsa Temple where I saw the wild deer.

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The tall, stone retaining wall at the temple.

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The main hall at Daedunsa Temple.

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The main altar inside the main hall with the 14th century Amita-bul statue front and centre.

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 The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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The older-looking Amita-bul painting inside the main hall.

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And an older image of Yongwang (The Dragon King) inside the above mural, as well.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Daedunsa Temple.

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The amazing Sanshin mural at Daedunsa Temple.

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The guardian paintings that adorn the late 17th century main hall.

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A picture of Jijang-bosal inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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An up-close with one of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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One of the fierce-looking Vajra warriors.

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The Nahan-jeon at Daedunsa Temple.

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Inside the Nahan-jeon.

Janggoksa Temple – 장곡사 (Cheongyang, Chungcheongnam-do)

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The lower courtyard at Janggoksa Temple in Cheongyang, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in Cheongyang, Chungcheongnam-do on the slopes of Mt. Chilgapsan, Janggoksa Temple was first established in 850 A.D. by Master Bojo-guksa. Janggoksa Temple is beautifully situated in the western part of Chilgapsan Provincial Park. Additionally, the temple is home to two National Treasures and four Treasures.

The first structure to greet you at Janggoksa Temple is the temple’s stately Iljumun Gate. An additional four hundred metres up the road will bring you to the temple parking lot. Staring back at you is Janggoksa Temple’s front façade with both an overhanging bell pavilion and a compact Unhak-ru Pavilion to pass under. Passing through the pavilion, and only after climbing the uneven set of stone stairs to be situated in the lower temple courtyard, will you notice National Treasure #300 housed inside the Unhak-ru Pavilion. Before exploring anything else at the temple, have a look inside the Unhak-ru Pavilion at the large Gwaebul mural that dates back to 1673. Standing over 8.6 metres in height and nearly 6 metres in width, the massive mural was painted by five monks. It was painted in hopes that King Hyeonjong (r.1659 to 1675), and his Queen, would live a long life. In total, there are six Buddhas and six Bodhisattvas painted on the mural with a commanding Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) standing in the centre. His crown has four Buddhas on it, and the mural is similar to a Vulture Peak mural.

To the front of the Unhak-ru Pavilion is the lower Daeung-jeon at Janggoksa Temple, which dates back to the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Typically, it’s Seokgamoni-bul that’s housed inside the Daeung-jeon; but at Janggoksa Temple, the lower courtyard’s main hall houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). This gilt-bronze statue dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). This statue is flanked on both sides by to separate paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), as well as a guardian mural on the far right wall.

To the right of the lower Daeung-jeon stands the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Housed inside this hall is a golden-capped statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal. To the left of the lower courtyard’s main hall is the Seolseon-dang, where people can meditate.

Climbing the stairs to the upper courtyard, you’ll find three more halls at Janggoksa Temple. Shaped in an “L,” The first of the two buildings is the Upper Daeung-jeon. Uniquely, the hall has brick lotus-shaped flooring. There are three statues that sit inside this hall; of which, it’s the Yaksayoure-bul statue that sits on a stone pedestal that’s the most famous. Dating back to the late 9th century, this statue is designated National Treasure #58. Joining this statue of Yaksayore-bul are two additional statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). The Birojana-bul statue is believed to have been built during the Goryeo Dynasty. Strangely, all three statues are absent earlier in the morning; instead, just a cloth hat appears on the pedestal until the statues make an appearance later in the day.

The adjoining hall next to the Upper Daeung-jeon is the Eungjin-jeon. With a solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul on the main altar, he’s surrounded by stone statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) in the hall. It’s also from this part of the upper courtyard that you get an amazing view of the valley where Janggoksa Temple takes up residence, as well as the lower courtyard, as well.

The final hall that people can visit at the temple is the crowning Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Up a side-winding pathway, you’ll be led up to a hall that houses three masterful shaman murals. While both the Dokseong (The Lonely Spirit) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) murals are amazing in their own rights, it’s the Santa-like mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that stands above the others in its artistic execution.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongyang Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch a taxi to Janggoksa Temple. It’ll cost around 17,000 won and take about 25 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. It’s rare for a Korean Buddhist temple to house a single National Treasure, but Janggoksa Temple houses two of them. Both the vibrantly painted Gwaebul and the stone seated iron incarnation of Yaksayore-bul add a lot to this valley hugging temple. In addition to its national identity, Janggoksa Temple also houses several other Treasures, as well as two distinctly situated courtyards.

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The bell pavilion that welcomes you to the temple grounds.

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 The view as you enter the temple’s lower courtyard.

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The Gwaebul painting at Janggoksa Temple, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #300.

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The lower Daeung-jeon at the temple.

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A look inside the lower Daeung-jeon with Birojana-bul front and centre.

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The neighbouring Myeongbu-jeon.

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A look inside reveals a golden capped Jijang-bosal.

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The long stairs that lead up towards the upper courtyard.

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The view from the upper courtyard.

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Both the upper Daeung-jeon and the Eungjin-jeon, together.

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A look inside the upper Daeung-jeon. Unfortunately, the three treasured statues were conspicuously absent.

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A look inside the Eungjin-jeon at both Seokgamoni-bul and the Nahan.

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The view across the front face of the upper Daeung-jeon.

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The trail that leads up towards the Samseong-gak.

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A better look at the Samseong-gak.

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Which houses this amazing Sanshin mural.

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 A look down towards the upper Daeung-jeon from the Samseong-gak.

Now and Then: Magoksa Temple

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Magoksa Temple in the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Magoksa Temple, in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, is thought to have first been established either in 640 or 642 by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple relates to Jajang-yulsa, as well. Legend has it that when Jajang first established the temple on the eastern slopes of Mt. Taehwasan he called it “magok,” which means “Flax Valley,” in English. Jajang believed that if several good monks came from the neighbouring area, they could “cause the rapid growth of Buddhism” just like the rapid growth of flax that grew in the area. Another story about the creation of the temple relates that the name of the temple was created when a believer looked at the temple and said that it looked like a flax stack in a flax field. This was said as the famous monk Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. Either way, Magoksa Temple, in English, means “Flax Valley Temple.”

The temple was later reconstructed by the monk Bojo-guksa (or Jinul) in 1172. In fact, manuscripts found at Magoksa Temple were made with liquid gold and silver that date back to the late Goryeo period (918-1392).

Throughout the years, the temple was used as a place for refuge starting as far back as the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). And remarkably, the temple was spared any damage that other temples suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). In fact, the temple didn’t suffer any damage in wartime from 1392 to 1910. Even in the 20th century, Magoksa Temple was used as a hiding place for the Korean independence leader, Kim Gu.

In more recent years, Magoksa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay program that provides their program entirely in English. In addition to its natural beauty and the Taeguk-shaped Taegeuk-cheon stream that meanderings around and through the temple grounds, Magoksa Temple also houses five Treasures. Of these five treasures, one that you should definitely keep an eye out for is Treasure #799. The five-story Stone Pagoda is topped by a beautiful bronze finial, and it’s Tibetan inspired. The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda is only one of three in the entire world.

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The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda with both the Daegwangbo-jeon Hall in the foreground and the Daeungbo-jeon Hall in the background.

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A more recent picture of part of the Taeguk-shaped stream that flows through Magoksa Temple.

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As well as a more recent picture of the temple grounds.

Wibongsa Temple – 위봉사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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The stately Ijumun Gate at Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the south-western slopes of Mt. Wibongsan is Wibongsa Temple. There’s some disagreement as to when Wibongsa Temple was first established. Some believe that Wibongsa was first constructed in 604 A.D. by the monk Seoam-daesa. Others, on the other hand, believe that it was created by Choe Yonggak at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). According to this story, and the legend that surrounds it, the temple was named Wibongsa Temple because while riding a horse one day, he looked around at the features of the land and it looked like three phoenixes were wrapped around it. Later, in 1358, the famed monk Naong rebuilt and enlarged the temple in 1358. Then, in 1466, the temple was repaired by Seokjam-daesa.

You first approach the temple grounds through the top-heavy, yet stoic, Iljumun Gate. It’s a fine example of Korean Buddhist architecture. The next structure to line up with the Iljumun Gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which houses four contemplative Heavenly Kings. It’s through the third, and final entry-like gate, the Boje-ru Pavilion, that you’ll gain admittance to the Wibongsa Temple courtyard.

To your right, as you enter the courtyard, is a larger sized Beopjong-gak bell pavilion, as well as the nuns’ dorms and a centrally located mature twisted red pine. But beyond all these is the temple’s main hall, the Bogwangmyeon-jeon (The Limitless Light Hall). This hall is designated Treasure #608. The shrine hall houses a triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre sits a seated statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by two standing statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). It’s believed that this hall was first constructed during the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Behind the main altar is a large all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal. There are several older paintings spread throughout the interior of various Biseon playing musical instruments. The main altar’s canopy is decorated with dragons and yeouiju (a magic stone).

To the right of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with some fine depictions of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Housed inside this hall on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul, who is then joined by colourful statues of the Nahan.

To the left of the main hall is the Yosa-jeon and Gwaneum-jeon Halls. Kinda a two for one deal. This historic building is shaped like an “I” with the two dorms acting as bookends with the central room housing the Gwaneum-jeon shrine hall.

And to the left rear of the grounds is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Either this building has been newly built or refurbished. Either way, the colourful interior is complimentary to the three shaman murals that hang inside this shaman shrine hall. Still in the upper courtyard, but off-limits, is the Wibong Seonwon for nuns to meditate in at the temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, you’ll first need to get to neighbouring Jeonju. From the city of Jeonju, take local Bus #806 and get off at Wibong Village. From there, you can either walk or take a taxi (if you can locate one).

Or you can go to Wibong Village or take a bus from Jeonju, Buses #814 or #838 and get off near neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple. From the temple, you can either walk the  distance (about six kilometres) or take a taxi (again, if you can locate one).

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While beautifully situated under the mountainous peaks of Mt. Wibongsan, Wibongsa Temple’s main highlight is the Bogwangmyeon-jeon. This hall, which is dedicated to Amita-bul, houses several features like the ornately decorated canopy and the large mural on the backside of the main altar.

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The welcoming gates at Wibongsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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One of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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A look at the Boje-ru Pavilion at Wibongsa Temple.

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 The central highlight at Wibongsa Temple: the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The painting of Gwanseeum-bosal on the backside of the main altar.

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Just one of the Biseon paintings floating around the main hall.

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The view from the Nahan-jeon towards the main hall.

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One of the masterful Nahan paintings adorning the exterior walls of the Nahan-jeon.

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

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The Yosa-jeon/Gwaneum-jeon at Wibongsa Temple.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look inside the colourful shrine hall.

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The temple’s main courtyard.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate towards the Iljumun Gate, as it was time to go.

Now and Then: Donghwasa Temple

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Donghwasa Temple during the early 20th century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Donghwasa Temple was first established in 493 A.D. by the monk Geukdal-jonja, and the temple is located on the beautiful southern slopes of the famed Mt. Palgongsan in Daegu. The name of the temple, in English, means “Paulownia Blossom Temple.” The name of the temple relates to the creation of Donghwasa Temple. According to legend, the name comes from the reconstruction of the temple in 832 A.D. During its reconstruction, even in the deadest of winter, the wild paulownia trees would bloom all around the temple grounds. With this in mind, the temple was renamed Donghwasa Temple from its former name of Yugasa Temple. The reconstruction of the temple in 832 A.D. was initiated by the monk Simji-wangsa, and it was during the reign of King Heungdeok (r. 826-836). The last major rebuild at the temple occurred in 1732. And the last major addition was the impressive thirty metre tall stone statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), which was completed in November of 1992 in the hopes of one day reunifying the Korean peninsula.

From its reconstruction in 832 A.D., Donghwasa Temple remained one of the most important temples in Korea. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the temple was only one of four temples that administered the civil service exam for monks. And even during the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which saw harsh restrictions placed on Korean Buddhism, Donghwasa Temple continued to flourish, which was made evident by the continued construction of new buildings at the temple.

In more recent years, it’s the 9th regional headquarter of the Jogye-jong Buddhist Order, which is the largest sect in Korea. The temple houses thirteen treasures including paintings and pagodas, and it also takes part in the highly popular Temple Stay program.

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The main hall at Donghwasa Temple at the turn of the last century.

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And the Geukrak-jeon Hall, as well.

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Another long, old, look at Donghwasa Temple.

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A look at the main hall today.

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And the impressive thirty metre tall statue of Yaksayore-bul built in 1992.

 

Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, not to be confused with the more famous temple by the same name in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do, was first constructed in 867 A.D. by the monk Bojo-jejing. Originally, the temple was called Baekryongsa Temple, but the temple was eventually renamed by the famed monk Jinul (1158-1210) during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was largely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98), but was later rebuilt in 1620. It was completely restored to its former glory when King Injo (r. 1623-49) designated the temple as a special place for praying for the welfare of the nation as well as for the safe return of his two sons that had been taken hostage by the Qing Dynasty. King Injo was to call Songgwangsa Temple the “great temple of Zen Buddhism.” Interestingly, it’s believed that the main hall, Nahan-jeon, and/or the Jijang-jeon perspire in times of national crisis as well as to one’s prayers. In total, the temple houses three designated Korean Treasures.

Because of its former large size and prominence, the Iljumun Gate that stands at the temple entry was previously located three kilometers away. In more recent times, in 1944, the Iljumun Gate was relocated. In its current location, the uniquely designed gate welcomes any and all visitors to Songgwangsa Temple.

The next gate to welcome you, which is perfectly aligned with the Iljumun Gate, is the Geumgangmun Gate (or Diamond Gate). Passing through this gate, you’ll notice two warriors known as Geumgang-yeoksa housed inside, as well as the child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just beyond this gate is the largest of the three introductory gates at Songgwangsa Temple. This gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate and it houses Treasure #1255 inside, which is a bit misleading because there are four statues that comprise the designated Treasure. Housed inside this hall are the Four Heavenly Kings that were first made in 1624. Built from clay, they are the oldest of their kind in Korea.

Finally emerging on the other side of the impressive temple gates, you’ll be welcomed by the temple’s bell pavilion slightly to the left. The bell pavilion is Treasure #1244, and it’s the only cross-shaped two-story bell pavilion ever built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). To the right of the bell pavilion, and past the jovial dharma statue, are the Jijang-jeon and the Geukrak-jeon. Inside the Jijang-jeon is a large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and he’s joined by ten equally large-sized statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Rather plainly, Amita-bul sits alongside Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

But it’s the Daeung-jeon main hall, with the pyramids of colourful paper lanterns out in front of it that’s the highlight to Songgwangsa Temple. Designated Treasure #1243, the main hall dates back to 1636, when it was rebuilt by National Preceptor Byeogam-guksa. Housed inside this massive main hall are three equally massive clay statues that date back to 1641. Seated in the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The ceiling of this hall is beautifully adorned with floating Biseon. The exterior walls are uniquely painted with various large-sized guardian murals.

To the immediate left of the main hall is the rather long Gwaneum-jeon. On the far right wall of the hall is a intricately sculpted statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who is backed by an equally elaborate mural of herself.

To the rear of the main hall are three additional shrine halls that visitors can explore, as well as a large statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Next to this simple, yet elegant statue of the Buddha of Medicine is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three paintings housed inside this hall are expertly rendered, but it’s the central painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) that stands out for its originality and complexity.

To the right of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is the Nahan-jeon, which was first constructed in 1656. Seokgamoni-bul is surrounded, uniquely, by the sixteen Nahan, as well as the expanded 500 Nahan. The sixteen are more expressive and large in size, but the smaller ones are beautiful, as well. To the far right sits the temple’s Yaksa-jeon.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the neighbouring city of Jeonju, you can take Local Bus #806, #814, or #838 and get off at Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The three gates that welcome you to Songgwangsa Temple are really second-to-none in Korea. With their Treasures, as well as beautiful symmetry, they are something not to pass up. Then when you add into the mix all that the Daeung-jeon has to offer in both paintings, as well as historic statues, and you should find your way over to Wanju, Jeollabuk-do to explore Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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And a look at the Geumgangmun Gate.

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One of the Vajra warriors inside the Geumgangmun Gate.

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The child-like Munsu-bosal inside the gate, as well.

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Finally, the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look inside at the historic Heavenly Kings.

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The treasured bell pavilion at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The jovial dharma with the Geukrak-jeon in the background.

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

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A look towards the neighbouring Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Some of the temple’s artwork.

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The temple’s amazing main hall.

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Some of the stone masonry outside the Daeung-jeon.

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A look inside the main hall at the massive 17th century altar pieces.

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A long view of the Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon with the Bodhisattva of Compassion seated all by herself.

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The stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The intricate painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

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And a look towards the mountains and the Nahan-jeon.

Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple

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A look at Silsangsa Temple from the turn of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silsangsa Temple is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, and it was first established in 828 A.D. by the monk Jeunggak (Hongcheok). The name of the temple means, in English, “True Nature Temple.” In the early 800s, Hongcheok traveled to Tang China with Monk Doui to learn more about Buddhism. After a time, they returned to the Korean peninsula after both were certified in the new Seon (Zen) lineage. It was at this time that Hongcheok was named a National Master (Guksa) by the Silla king. In the same year as the temple’s creation, Hongcheok established the Silsang-sanmun, or the “True Nature Mountain Gate,” in English, as one of the Nine Mountain Schools. The reason that he decided to build Silsangsa Temple on the northern part of Mt. Jirisan was based on geomantic principles. Hongcheok believed that if he didn’t build a temple on this site that Korea’s spiritual energy would flow over and into Japan. Around the same time, Master Doui similarly constructed Borimsa Temple, which was another member of the Nine Mountain Schools (Gajisan). After the establishment of Silsangsa Temple, Master Hongcheok continued to spread the new Seon teachings throughout the Silla Kingdom. Uniquely, Silsangsa Temple is founded on an open plain and not up in the mountains like a lot of Korean temples. Currently, it’s surrounded on most sides by farmers’ fields.

Throughout the years, the temple has been renovated, re-built, and destroyed. In the early 900s, Silsangsa Temple was expanded under royal order according to the geomantic advice of master Doseon. Tragically, the temple was destroyed in 1597 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Slowly, the temple was rebuilt, when in 1684 the Geukrak-jeon was restored. Eventually, the temple complex would grow large enough to house thirty-six buildings by 1700. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple faced a period of decline, as well as a destructive fire. In fact, the temple was completely destroyed by fire in 1882. After this fire, the temple was restored to its current, much smaller, size. And during the Korean War (1950-53), parts of the temple were harmed by fighting forces that passed through this area of combat. Fortunately, most cultural relics were spared.

While visibly not quite as grand as its former glory, parts of that past still remain. In total, the temple houses eight Treasures. In addition to these eight Treasures, the neighbouring Baekjangam Hermitage, which is directly associated with Silsangsa Temple, houses National Treasure #10 in the form of a highly unique Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), three-story, stone pagoda. Silsangsa Temple also houses the largest steel statue of a Buddha in Korea in the form of a Unified Silla Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Also, the temple lies within the park limits of the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

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One of the temple buildings at Silsangsa Temple.

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 Another building at Silsangsa Temple.

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The temple grounds around the turn of the last century.

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One of the temple’s stone lanterns out in front of the main hall.

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One of the original spirit poles that stands guard out by the entrance of the temple.

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The ancient biseok dedicated to Hongcheok.

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Silsangsa Temple’s main hall today.

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The temple grounds at Silsangsa Temple.

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The biseok dedicated to the founding monk, Hongcheok.

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The exact same spirit pole as it appears now.

Yeoyeojeongsa Temple – 여여정사 (Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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 Inside the Upper Chamber of the Yaksa-jeon Hall at Yeoyeojeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Yeoyeojeongsa Temple is located on the southern side of Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do and not far from the neighbouring city of Yangsan near Mt. Cheontaesan.

You first approach the temple up a set of rural roads and past a collection of tombs. When you do finally near the temple grounds, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of stone lamps and four towering statues dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings that line the road that leads up to the temple.

Underneath a gnarled tree is a golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by the Bodhidharma to the left, as well as part of the collection of 108 stone dongja (attendants) that playfully appear at both of the larger statues’ feet.

A little further along, and where the path forks to the left, you’ll notice a twisting dharma underneath a grove of bamboo trees. It’s just past this, as well as a few more playful dongja statues, that you’ll notice the temple’s main hall: the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The Daeungbo-jeon Hall sits on the second floor of the two story building. There are seven statues spread across the main altar. Seated in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul. The murals that back these seven statues are highly unique and original. The first floor of the main hall acts as the Geukrak-jeon Hall. Sitting all alone on the elevated main altar rests an Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) statue. And in front of the main altar there are numerous wooden alcoves that jet off to the side that are well lit with a golden hue that emanates from tiny Buddha statues.

To the left of the Daeungbo-jeon are even more stone statues of the dongja. In addition, there are a triad of roughly cut stone statues with Seokgamoni-bul in the centre. There is also some hot water for tea underneath a wooden pavilion for visitors to enjoy at Yeoyeojeongsa Temple.

But the main highlight, and the real reason you’ve probably come to Yeoyeojeongsa Temple, is the Yaksa-jeon cave hall at the temple. The entry to this cave lies to the left of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. As you step inside this cave entrance, you’re instantly greeted by a number of statues. Hanging a right, you’ll be welcomed to the lower chamber by a triad of standing statues centred by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). A little further along, and past even more white granite statues, you’ll notice a seated statue dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Finally, at the end of the stone hall, you’ll be welcomed by a cul-de-sac of smaller sized Buddha statues with another large statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul in the centre.

Having exited this hallway, and making your way up the first corridor and past a collection of brown Nahan statues, you’ll enter the upper Yaksa-jeon chamber. The wooden paneled ceiling is met by the beautiful splendor of the small wading pools of water and the Koi fish that swim in their midst. In the centre of the rows of smaller sized Buddhas is another serenely seated statue of Yaksayore-bul. He’s joined on either side by water-pouring statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), as well as a line of bronze statues of the 33 incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal.

Over a stone bridge to the right of the central statues is a small ante-chamber that houses a stone statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King), who is backed by a beautiful wooden relief of the shaman deity. And it’s only with good eyes, as you step into this ante-chamber, that you’ll find a small rock opening for the Sanshin-gak. Inside this shaman off-shoot is a statue and mural dedicated to both Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Busan Train Station, you’ll need to take a Mugunghwa train to the Samrangjin Train Station. From there, take a taxi to Yeoyeojeongsa Temple. The trip should take 8.4 kilometres and cost you 11,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. There’s very little doubt that the Yaksa-jeon Hall is the main star of this out-of-the-way temple. And yet, pictures simply don’t suffice for the hall’s spectacular beauty. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before in all of my travels in Korea. So while it might be hard to get to, it’s well worth the time and effort just to find yourself exploring the Yaksa-jeon cave hall at Yeoyeojeongsa Temple.

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The Buddha and the Bodhidharma, together.

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One of the 108 dongja at Yeoyeojeongsa Temple.

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Another Dharma underneath a bamboo grove.

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The Daeungbo-jeon Hall and a triad of statues.

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A rather cool dongja.

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The main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Daeungbo-jeon.

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The entrance to the amazing Yaksa-jeon cave shrine hall.

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The main altar in the lower chamber.

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A corridor through the lower chamber.

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Wall-to-wall Buddhas with a statue of Sanshin in the centre.

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Another healing image of Yaksayore-bul.

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Pictures simply don’t suffice!

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One of the Nahan that lines the way towards the upper chamber of the Yaksa-jeon Hall.

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Gwanseeum-bosal on a turtle mount surrounded by statues on all sides.

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Another Gwanseeum-bosal statue surrounded by more wall-to-wall statues and stone.

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Koi swimming in the shallow pools of water.

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Five of the thirty-three incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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One more image of Gwanseeum-bosal next to the entry of the Yongwang-dang.

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Yongwang both in wooden relief and stone.

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The entry to the Sanshin-gak.

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A devotee praying in front of Gwanseeum-bosal.

Now and Then: Bongeunsa Temple

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Bongeunsa Temple at the turn of the 20th century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bongeunsa Temple was first founed in 794 A.D. by Yeonhui. Yeonhui was the highest ranking monk in the Silla Kingdom, and Bongeunsa Temple was originally known as Gyeonseongsa Temple. After the collapse of the Silla and Goryeo Kingdoms, Buddhism during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was highly suppressed by Confucian leaders. However, by 1498, and under the patronage of Queen Jeonghyeon (1462-1530), the temple was reconstructed. It was also at this time that the temple was renamed to its present name: Bongeunsa Temple.

With continued support from the royal court, this time from Queen Munjeong (1502-65), Buddhism continued to thrive during the mid-16th century. It was at this time, from 1551 until 1936, that the temple acted as the headquarters for Seon (Zen) Buddhism in Korea. And from 1552-64, the temple was used as the centre for the Buddhist National Exam. It was also during this time, during King Myeongjong’s reign (r. 1545-67), who was the son of Queen Munjeong, that the temple was relocated to its current location. Formerly, the temple was located a kilometre southwest of its current Gangnam home.

In 1902, Bongeunsa Temple was named one of Korea’s 14 major temples; and then, in 1939, the temple was almost completely destroyed by fire. The remaining parts of the temple that weren’t already destroyed at this time were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-53). Ever since then, Bongeunsa Temple has undergone numerous renovations, reconstructions, and growth. It was only after Japanese Colonial rule that Bongeunsa Temple became subordinate to Jogyesa Temple and the Jogye-jong Order, which just so happens to be the largest Buddhist sect in Korea.

More recently, Bongeunsa Temple is in dispute with the Seoul municipal government over potentially relocating it from its posh Gangnam neighbourhood. Bongeunsa Temple is home to one treasure, Treasure #321, which is a Bronze Incense Burner with Silver-inlaid Design.

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The Iljumun Gate at Bongeunsa Temple in 1950.

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A look into Bongeunsa Temple’s past.

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Bongeunsa Temple a little more recently.

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Bongeunsa Temple and its Gangnam neighbourhood.

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And the modern 23 metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Gwanchoksa Temple – 관촉사 (Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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The amazing 18 metre tall Mireuk-bul statue at Gwanchoksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Situated on the eastern slopes of the diminutive Mt. Banyasan (elevation 100 metres) in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do, Gwanchoksa Temple was first established in 968 A.D. by the monk Hyemyeong at the start of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

You first approach the elevated temple grounds from the north passing through the two-pillared Iljumun Gate. After passing through this gate and making your way past all the local restaurants, you’ll next encounter the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside this hall are the shrunken-headed Four Heavenly Kings.

You’ll make your ascent up a zig-zagging set of stairs towards the temple grounds. After passing under the Banya-ru Pavilion, you’ll be greeted to the grounds by the massive two-story Daegwangmyeong-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall, uniquely, are decorated with various Nahan murals. Also, the front latticework is second-to-none. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll be welcomed by a long, slender main altar and canopy. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the left by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and to the right by Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). Hanging on the far left wall is a large guardian mural, as well as numerous, smaller golden Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) statues that will prepare you for the historic Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. With a staff pointed outwards sits a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) inside this hall. Up a set of wandering stairs, and next to twisted red pines, is the temple’s Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are a set of underwhelming murals dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea: Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

But let’s be honest, the main reason you’ve come to Gwanchoksa Temple is to see the famed 18 metre tall statue of the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple. And it’s from the heights of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that you get your first look at the iconic Goryeo Dynasty statue. Korean Treasure #218 was built over a 38 year period. From 967 to 1002, the massive statue was built. Known as the Eujin Mireuk Buddha, it’s the largest stone Buddha in Korea. With its elongated and capped head, Mireuk-bul looks otherworldly compared to other statues in Korea. According to legend, while a woman was picking wild herbs on Mt. Banyasan, she heard a baby crying. When she went to the spot where she heard the baby crying, there wasn’t a baby. Instead, there was a large rock sticking out from the ground. Learning this, the government ordered a Buddha statue to be made from this rock. And this statue would become, you guessed it, the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

In front of this statue is the Stone Lantern of Gwanchoksa Temple. Like the statue of Mireuk-bul, the stone lantern is a treasure: Treasure #232. These two are then joined by a four-tier stone pagoda and a stone worshiping square with a beautiful lotus pattern etched on it.

The final building at the temple that people can visit is the Mireuk-jeon, which is dedicated to Mireuk-bul. Interestingly, there are several paintings on this building dedicated to the discovery and creation of the famed stone statue on it. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll notice no statues on the main altar. Instead, there’s a golden ring painted on the front window that looks out onto the Goryeo-era Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple. To the side of the main altar, besides a rather plain guardian mural, is an altar for the controversial Park Chung Hee and his wife, Yuk Young Soo.

After seeing everything at the temple, you can pass through the historic Haetalmun Gate that’s believed to date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to leave Gwanchoksa Temple.

Admission to the temple is 1,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Nonsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can simply take a taxi to Gwanchoksa Temple. The ride should cost you about 4,000 won and last about seven minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. It’s surprising that the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple isn’t a National Treasure. There simply isn’t anything like it for its originality, age, and size. Take your time and get your fill of this unique statue because you’ll not see anything like it in Korea. Couple this statue with the other treasures around the temple, as well as the massive main hall, and you can have quite the nice visit to Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate as you approach the temple grounds.

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 A look back at some of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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A beautiful bridge that guides the way up to the Gwanchoksa Temple grounds.

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A beautiful view of the Banya-ru Pavilion.

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A closer look at the welcoming pavilion.

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The Daegwangmyeong-jeon main hall at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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The surrounding mountains up close against the temple’s main hall.

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One of the muscular Nahan adorning the main hall.

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The long, slender main altar inside the Daegwangmyeong-jeon.

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Some of the cute, miniature Mireuk-bul statues.

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The Myeongbu-jeon and Samseong-gak halls at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon at Jijang-bosal.

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And a look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The Mireuk-jeon and four-story pagoda at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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One of the paintings dedicated to the creation of the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A look through the main altar glass inside the Mireuk-jeon out towards the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A group photo at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A closer look at the 10th century statue of Mireuk-bul.

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An opportunity to see the sheer size of the 18 metre tall statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul.

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And finally, the Haetalmun Gate that you can exit or enter through at Gwanchoksa Temple.