Now and Then: Donghwasa Temple

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Donghwasa Temple during the early 20th century.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Now and Then: Woljeongsa Temple

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Woljeongsa Temple in 1929.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Woljeongsa Temple was first constructed in 643 A.D. by the great monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple, in English, means “Moon Vitality Temple.”

According to the temple’s foundation myth, Jajang was praying on a mountain next to a pond. He was chanting before a stone statue of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) in an attempt to see the Bodhisattva. On the seventh day, Jajang had a vision where the Buddha gave him a four line poem in Sanskrit. The next day, Jajang was visited by a monk. The monk was surprised by Jajang’s appearance and commented that the monk looked both pale and troubled. Master Jajang explained that he had been given an unreadable poem by the Buddha that he simply couldn’t understand. The mysterious monk explained the four lines to Jajang and told him he needed to travel to Mt. Odaesan where he could find 10,000 Munsu-bosals. After seven more days of chanting and prayer, a dragon appeared to Jajang. The dragon told Jajang that the mysterious monk that he had formerly met was in fact Munsu-bosal. So the dragon implored Jajang to travel and build a temple to the Bodhisattva. So in 643 A.D., Jajang reached Mt. Odaesan. Unfortunately, when Jajang arrived, the mountains were covered in a thick fog. This prevented the monk from building a temple. Instead, Jajang built a thatched house while waiting for the fog to lift. This house, that he built over three days, would eventually become the site for the famed Woljeongsa Temple.

Throughout the years, Woljeongsa Temple has suffered through repeated destruction and reconstruction. The most recent of these events took place during the Korean War, when the Korean army burned down ten temple buildings because the temple had become a hiding place for rebel forces. More recently, these buildings have been restored. In total, Woljeongsa Temple houses two National Treasures and three Treasures. Of this collection, it’s National Treasure #48, the Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda of Woljeongsa Temple that stands out above the rest. The early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) pagoda, with a seated stone statue of a Bodhisattva out in front of it, is something to both marvel at and enjoy. The pagoda is also believed to house 37 sari (crystallized remains) of the Buddha. In addition to the temple’s beauty, it’s also scenically located in Odaesan National Park.

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The main hall and the famed Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda at Woljeongsa Temple.

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A closer look at National Treasure #48.

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Soldiers seen during Japanese colonial rule at Woljeongsa Temple.

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Japanese monks during colonial rule (1910-45).

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The temple after the destructive Korean War (1950-53).

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And Woljeongsa Temple today.

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A 2014 picture of the octagonal pagoda and main hall.

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Better days at the temple.

Muryangsa Temple – 무량사 (Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do)

DSC_2182-1024x678 A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Muryangsa Temple in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located at the foot of Mt. Mansusan, Muryangsa Temple was first built during the reign of King Munseong (r. 839-856). It was built by National Preceptor Beomil, and it was later repaired during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Like so many temples throughout the Korean peninsula, Muryangsa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War in 1592. Later, it was rebuilt by the monk Jinmuk during the reign of King Injo (r. 1623-1649). In total, the temple houses five Korean designated Treasures. It was also the last home to Joseon Korean scholar and author Kim Siseup.

You first approach the temple past the aged Iljumun Gate at the entry and across the Mansu-cheon Stream. It’s looking through the boxy Cheonwangmun Gate with its mutant looking Four Heavenly Kings that you get a great view of the historic Geukrak-jeon and the treasured five-tier pagoda at Muryangsa Temple.

Beautifully framed by a low-lying tree and the surrounding mountains, the five-tier pagoda is believed to have been built sometime between the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C to 660 A.D.) and the Unified Silla Dynasty (668 A.D to 935 A.D). But it’s the two story Geukrak-jeon main hall at Muryangsa Temple that truly stands out. Treasure #356 dates back to the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and houses the three largest seated statues in all of Asia. The triad is centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), and 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 these structures lies the temple’s bell pavilion and Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Inside the bell pavilion is stored the Muryangsa Temple bell that dates back to 1636. As for the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, there’s a slender statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) that’s surrounded by ten equally slender seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

To the left of the Geukrak-jeon main hall are a collection of shrine halls. The first of these halls underneath another mature tree at the temple is the Cheonbul-jeon Hall with a thousand tiny white Buddha statues inside. These statues are joined by a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. To the front right of this hall is the Yeongjeong-gak with a mural of the famed patriot, Kim Siseup, inside. And the final hall in the collection is the Wontong-jeon with a multi-armed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside. He’s joined by hundreds of wooden statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Just a little further up the path, and just before taking a trail that leads you to the top of the neighbouring Mt. Mansusan, is the temple’s Samseong-gak. To the left of the head monks living quarters is the unassuming shaman shrine hall. The frowning/contemplative look of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), as well as the tiger-riding Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) are something to keep an eye out for when visiting the Samseong-gak.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Nambu Terminal in Seoul, you should take an express bus to the Buyeo Intercity Bus Terminal. From this terminal, head left out the exit and continue to walk towards the big street. After crossing the road, take Bus #127 from the Buyeo Market Bus Stop. Then, at the Muryang Village Bus Stop, which is 37 stops away, get off and walk about 400 metres towards Muryangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. With a number of Korean Treasures, it’s the much vaunted Geukrak-jeon Hall that stands out the most at this serenely located Muryangsa Temple in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do. Other highlights to your visit will include the shrine hall dedicated to Kim Siseup, as well as the massive statues housed inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The Iljumun Gate at Muryangsa Temple.

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The Mansucheon Stream at the temple.

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The path that makes its way up to Muryangsa Temple.

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The mutant-looking Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look towards the treasured five-tier pagoda and Geukrak-jeon.

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A different angle with the 19th century Myeongbu-jeon in view to the right.

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The 1636 bell at Muryangsa Temple.

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The slender Jijang-bosal statue inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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A look at the two-story Geukrak-jeon at Muryangsa Temple.

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The largest seated statues in Asia inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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A look towards the Cheonbul-jeon.

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A look towards the Yeongjeong-gak.

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With a framed picture of Kim Siseup inside the Yeongjeong-gak.

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 The Wontong-jeon with Gwanseeum-bosal front and centre.

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Some of the surrounding wooden statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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Awaiting you is the tiger-riding Sanshin painting.

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 One last look at two Korean Treasures.

Now and Then: Unjusa Temple

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The mysterious Unjusa Temple in black and white.

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Unjusa Temple is located in Hwasun County, Jeollanam-do, and its origins are largely unknown. But whatever the date of its creation, it’s believed that master Doseon-guksa established the temple according to geomantic principles. In fact, the name of the temple, Unjusa Temple, can have two meanings. One meaning is “the place where clouds stay.”

Another meaning, and perhaps the more relevant one to the temple’s founding myth, is “Driving the Ship Temple,” in English. The reason this name is important to the principles behind the creation of Unjusa Temple is that Doseon-guksa, according to geomancy, believed that this part of the peninsula would be uneven, and potentially capsize, if it wasn’t righted. Compared to the eastern side of the Goryeo Kingdom, Yeongnam (which means “south of the passes,” in present day Gyeongsang Provinces), the western portion of the peninsula, Honam, had an apparent lack of mountains. So to counter this listing, Doseon decided to build one thousand Buddhist images and one thousand pagodas. By not listing, the ship could be brought back to port (and home).

To counteract this imbalance in nature, Doseon decided to call down stone masons from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas. However, before the final Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed as the night drew to a close. With this, all the heavenly masons were recalled back to heaven, leaving two incomplete statues left lying unfinished on the temple grounds. These two unfinished statues, which visitors are able to see on a neighbouring mountain top, are called Wabul in Korea, or “The Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha,” in English. In all probability, however, Unjusa Temple was created as a school for stonemasons.

Presently, of the original one thousand Buddha statues and pagodas, twenty-one stone pagodas and ninety-four Buddha sculptures still remain on the temple grounds. Of these stone structures, three are listed as Korean treasures, while Unjusa Temple itself is considered Historic Site #312. Among all the potential temples you can visit throughout Korea, Unjusa Temple definitely has a mysterious feel to it. More recently, and from 1984 to 1991, the Jeonnam National University Museum conducted four excavations and two academic studies to uncover some of the temple’s greater mysteries.

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A closer, older, look at the valley of pagodas.

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 The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine: Treasure #797.

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A combination of both historic pagodas and statues.

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The twelve metre long Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha.

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A more recent photo from Unjusa Temple towards the valley of pagodas.

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 The unique Hwasun Stone Shrine.

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Some mountainside statues and a crowning pagoda.

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A contemporary picture of the twelve metre long Lying Buddhas.

Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The dragon’s head at Daewonsa Temple in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Without a doubt, Daewonsa Temple in northern Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is one of the strangest and most unique temple’s you’ll visit in all of Korea. Located on the south side of Mt. Obongsan and just north of Chilpo Beach, you’ll find Daewonsa Temple.

You first approach the temple over the Chilpo Bridge and the stream that flows into the East Sea. Uniquely, Daewonsa Temple is divided into an upper and lower courtyard with the older portion of the temple in the lower courtyard. But it’s the snaking hundred metre long blue dragon that flows from the base of the temple up to its main hall heights that sets the temple apart. Approaching from the south, you can see the wide-open mouth of the dragon with a red exercise ball as the dragon’s tonsils. Across the bridge, and the pond that it spans, you’ll have to push your way past the dragon’s tonsils to enter the dragon. A little further ahead, you’ll find a door that gains you entrance to the temple’s lower main hall. As you enter the main hall, you’ll be welcomed by row upon row of various Buddhas. Next to these golden rows of Buddhas is a large shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Resting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). And to the right of the main altar is a simplistic guardian mural.

There are a couple other shrine halls in the lower courtyard like the Chilseong-gak, the bell pavilion, as well as the Sanshin-gak. But it’s in the Sanshin-gak that you’re in for the greatest surprise. Housed inside the shaman shrine hall is one of the most original murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). With a winged helmet, a mix of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin motifs, as well as Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal intermingling with donja (attendants), this style of painting is completely unheard of, so enjoy!

Back at the head of the dragon, and up a steep incline, is the temple’s upper main hall. Surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds, the upper main hall is adorned with the Zodiac generals around its exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the cavernous main hall, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And to the left and right of this triad, and resting on their own altar, are Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal. Adorning the remaining walls is a guardian mural and a Chilseong mural.

Just outside the upper courtyard’s main hall are a row of granite statues. Once more, the triad is centred by Birojana-bul. Interestingly, and at the base of the dragon’s tail, there’s a door with a Nathwi on it. It’s through this door that you can walk through the remainder of the dragon’s body. Housed inside the dragon’s body are various shamanic murals.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #510. After 34 stops, or about 50 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Chilpo 1-ri stop. From the stop, you’ll need to walk 500 metres, or 8 minutes, towards Daewonsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just because it is so different than all the rest, and it has a slight amusement park feel to it, Daewonsa Temple rates as highly as it does. Not only can you see paintings throughout the entire length of the dragon’s body, but you can also gain entrance to the lower courtyard’s main hall. In addition to this outlandish, yet strangely appropriate dragon, is the highly original Sanshin mural located just to the north of the side-winding blue dragon. There are quite a few customary things to explore at Daewonsa Temple, but it’s these to oddities that make the temple stand out.

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The welcoming dharma at Daewonsa Temple.

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The unique dragon’s head at the temple.

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A closer look at the blue dragon.

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In the jaws of the dragon with the red exercise ball as tonsils.

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The entry to the lower courtyard’s main hall.

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The welcoming rows of miniature Buddha statues.

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The main altar inside the lower courtyard’s main hall.

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A look from the exterior at the older main hall at Daewonsa Temple.

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To the right of the older main hall is this amazing Sanshin mural.

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The side-winding blue body of the dragon as you make your way up to the upper courtyard’s main hall.

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A look at the newly built Daeung-jeon.

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The main altar inside the newly built Daeung-jeon.

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The Dragon Ship of Wisdom with Jijang-bosal at the helm.

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The neighbouring statues with Birojana-bul to the far right.

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And the entrance to the dragon’s body.