Colonial Korea: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

First built in 802 A.D., Haeinsa Temple has grown throughout the centuries both in size and significance. The name of the temple means “Temple of the Ocean Mudra Temple,” in English; and alongside Tongdosa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple, they comprise the three jewel temples. Of the three, Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma teachings of the three jewels (삼보사찰, in Korean).

The temple is located in Mt. Gayasan National Park just outside Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Both Suneung and Ijeong, two Buddhist monks, helped establish the temple. After curing King Aejang’s wife of a serious illness, King Aejang of Silla (r. 800 A.D. to 809 A.D.) ordered the construction of Haeinsa Temple as a show of appreciation. Another story written by Choe Chiwon in 900 A.D. states that the temple gained the support of the queen after she had converted to Buddhism. Either way, and through the financial support of the king and queen, the famed Haeinsa Temple was built.

The temple has grown numerous times throughout the years. The very first of these efforts started during the 10th century. Haeinsa Temple’s growth was to continue in 1488, 1622, and 1644. In 1817, Haeinsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt the following year; in total, Haeinsa Temple has been devastated by fire seven times in total over the course of its history.

Haeinsa Temple’s claim to fame is the Tripitaka Koreana. The Tripitaka Koreana was first housed at the temple in 1398. In total, the Tripitaka Koreana are comprised of some 81,258 wooden blocks that have the various Buddhist teachings written on them. The Tripitaka Koreana are housed in the Janggyeong-panjeon library to the rear of the temple grounds at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, the first set of wooden blocks were completely destroyed by the invading Mongols. It would take from 1236 to 1251, under the royal orders of King Gojong (r. 1213 to 1259), to right this historic wrong.

In September of 1951, during the Korean War that lasted from 1950-53, a crisis was averted at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was nearly destroyed after the Battle of Incheon. At this stage in the war, the allied forces were turning the war around; however, some North Korean forces refused to retreat. Roughly a thousand North Korean soldiers remained in and around the Haeinsa Temple grounds as guerrilla fighters. The allied forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa Temple using four bombers to clear the area of enemy forces. Fortunately for Korea, and Haeinsa Temple in particular, the leading pilot of the bomber planes, Kim Young, disobeyed the order. In time, the North Korean forces retreated from the Haeinsa Temple perimeter and the temple was saved from bombing.

In total, Haeinsa Temple houses three national treasures and an additional thirteen treasures. Not surprisingly, all three of the national treasures are linked to the Tripitaka Koreana. And in 1995, Haeinsa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Haeinsa102 - Iljumun

The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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The intricate design of the Iljumun Gate.

Haeinsa - Iljumun Pagoda - Samjung Seoktap

A three tier pagoda next to the Iljumun Gate in 1916.

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The Gugwang Pavilion at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The Seokjo in 1917 out in front of the Gugwang Pavilion.

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The Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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Some of the amazing woodwork adorning the ancient hall.

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A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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And another look around the main hall.

Haeinsa1 - main hall samjung seoktap

The ancient three tier pagoda that stands out in front of the main hall at Haeinsa Temple in 1916.

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The stone lantern, or seokdeung, out in front of the main hall in 1916.

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The Myeongbu-jeon and Josa-jeon halls at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The amazing Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. The picture dates back to 1933.

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A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.


The Iljumun Gate in 2015


The Gugwang Pavilion in the fall of 2015


The restored Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall.


A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 2013.


A modern look at the Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana.


A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.

Bulgwangsa Temple – 불광사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam)


One of the monks at Bulgwangsa Temple out for a morning walk with the temple’s duck.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bulgwangsa Temple is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. And Bulgwangsa Temple is really nothing more than a visitors’ centre, the monks’ facilities, and the main hall. When you first enter the gravel courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the visitors’ centre to your immediate left. Straight ahead are the monks’ facilities, which includes the monks’ dorms and kitchen

The only real place that a Korean temple adventurer would be interested in is the rather long main hall at Bulgwangsa Temple. To the left of the temple’s main watering hole is a display case with a statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King) inside. He is stoically sitting on a throne with a flaming pearl in his right hand and a root in his left. Backing this watering hole is a larger stone statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). He is joined by a square stone engraving of a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The triad seems to be centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

Surrounding the exterior of the main hall are some beautiful murals. There are a variety of them like Wonhyo-daesa’s awakening, the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, as well as various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. At the rear of the main hall is a bricked pagoda that is used for ceremonies for the dead as is made evident by the neighbouring Judgment painting along the exterior of the main hall.

I was surprised when I visited the left side of the main hall to see a red beaked duck that all the workers at the temple, as well as the monks, greeted the duck with a revered “hello.” I’m not sure what this means, but since the monks walk and pet the duck, and the workers feed it, it must have some unexplained meaning.

Inside the elongated main hall, which can obviously accommodate a few hundred worshippers, is an equally long main altar. In the centre is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light), and he’s flanked by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the left and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Buddha Body) to the right. There is a gorgeously designed statue of the multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the left. In front of this statue is a picture of a white tortoise. This picture ties into both Gwanseeum-bosal and the aquarium next to the monk lectern in front of the main hall. According to Buddhist scripture, Gwanseeum-bosal will return as a white tortoise. And on the far right is a statue of a glass encased Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He is fronted by a beautiful brass statue of the contemplative Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Finally, the left side wall has a rather large guardian painting that must have over one hundred guardians. Surrounding this mural, much like the right side, are dozens of smaller sized statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like Jijang-bosal.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Bulgwangsa Temple in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or #301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Before ascending the mountain, you’ll see a Buddhist temple to your left. This is Bulgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. This is a temple that should be seen with a more prominent temple. And fortunately for you, Bulgwangsa Temple is perfectly situated at the base of Mt. Cheonseongsan just before you make your way towards either Mitaam Hermitage or Hwaeomsa Temple. Besides filling up on water and taking a rest before the hardy climb, Bulgwangsa Temple has a few highlights like the temple duck, the main altar aquarium, and the multi-armed and faced Gwanseeum-bosal statue.


The main hall at Bulgwangsa Temple with Mt. Cheonseongsan looming in the background.


A collection of statues at the temple.


A statue of Yongwang near the temple’s watering hole.


The beautiful Wonhyo and Uisang painting that adorns the exterior wall to the main hall.


The brick pagoda to the rear of the main hall.


The well-loved duck at the temple.


The temple’s abbot feeding the red-beaked duck.


A look inside the main hall at the main altar.


Surprisingly, there’s an aquarium inside the main hall with this albino turtle inside it.


The guardian mural inside the main hall.


The triad of statues that rest on the main altar with Birojana-bul in the centre.


To the left of the main altar is this elaborate statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.


And to the right of the main hall is this statue of Mireuk-bul and Jijang-bosal.

Colonial Korea: Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 (Gyeongju)


The front facade to Bulguksa Temple in 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Before there ever was a Bulguksa Temple on the Bulguksa Temple grounds, there was a much smaller temple occupying the grounds. However, in 751 A.D., and under the guidance of Prime Minister Kim Daeseong, Bulguksa Temple was built to replace the earlier, and smaller, temple. Bulguksa Temple was first built to help pacify the spirits of Kim Daeseong’s parents. Twenty-three years later, Bulguksa Temple was completed in 774 A.D. after the death of Kim. It was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point, in 774, that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, which means “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English.

Throughout its long history, Bulguksa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations took place during the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Tragically, all the wooden buildings were completely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98). In a decade, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and further expanded. And over the next two hundred years, Bulguksa Temple would undergo a further forty renovations.

In the late Joseon Dynasty, and after 1805, Bulguksa Temple fell into disrepair. In fact, the temple was often the target of looting. It was during Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945 that the Japanese started the restoration of Bulguksa Temple. It was only after the defeat of the Japanese in World War Two that the restoration process was completed by Korea. Under the orders and watchful eye of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969-73, extensive investigation, restoration, and repair were completed at Bulguksa Temple.

Bulguksa Temple is nearly unmatched as a temple on the Korean peninsula. In total, because of its architectural and artistic beauty, Bulguksa Temple houses some six national treasures and three additional treasures.


Another look at the famed front facade of Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


And yet another of Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


The left side of the front facade has Yeonhwa-gyo (Lotus Bridge) and Chilbo-gyo (Seven Treasures Bridge) from 1916.


To the right of the front facade is Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 1916.


A closer look at Baekun-gyo and  Cheogun-gyo in 1916.


A look at Cheongun-gyo with Seokga-tap pagoda in the background from 1916.


A closer look at Cheongun-gyo in 1916.


The near collapse of the Hamyeong-ru Pavilion on the front facade in 1916.


The elevated Seokga-tap pagoda in the main courtyard in 1916.


The blueprints to the front facade from 1916.


The Daeung-jeon main hall at Bulguksa Temple in 1932.


A look around the inside of the Daeung-jeon from 1932.


The intricate Dabo-tap in 1916.


A closer look at the finial of Dabo-tap in 1916.


And a look at the body of Dabo-tap in 1916.


A neglected Seokga-tap in 1916 with the main hall in the background.


The stone lantern in front of the main hall in 1916.


One of the stupas at Bulguksa Temple in 1916.


And another stupa near the rear of the temple grounds in 1916.


Birojana-bul from 1917. It’s National Treasure #26.


Amita-bul from 1917. It’s also National Treasure #27.


Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 2006


And Baekun-gyo (White Cloude Bridge) and Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) in 2011.


A look across the famed front facade at Bulguksa Temple in 2011. In the foreground stands Yeonhwa-gyo (Lotus Bridge) and Chilbo-gyo (Seven Treasures Bridge).


Dabo-tap Pagoda from 2012.


Seokga-tap Pagoda circa 2011.


One of the ornate stupdas next to the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 2011.


Birojana-bul from 2012. It’s National Treasure #26.


One more picture of the front facade but from 2014.

Seongraksa Temple – 성락사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The replica Dabotap pagoda in the foreground with the large main hall in the background at Seongraksa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Originally, I had been attempting to visit a neighbouring temple, when I stumbled upon Seongraksa Temple. At first, I thought it would be a small and non-descript temple, but I was happily mistaken.

When you first approach Seongraksa Temple, which is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, it’s in one of the city’s better hidden back alleys. The first things to greet you at this temple are two large and colourful guardian statues. Up the winding entrance road, on either side of the curbs, are two rows of granite Buddha statues. These statues either hold really unique items in their hands, or their hands are striking a specific mudra (a symbolic ritual gesture). Some of the better ones are the ones where the Buddha holds a tablet or a tiny temple in his hands. Another really good one is the twisted hand that points to a tiny pinched speck of air. There are duplicates, and sometimes triplicates, of these statues as you make your way up to the temple courtyard, but they certainly don’t disappoint.

Finally, when you make it to the crest of the hill, and the corresponding courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a near exact replica of the Dabotap Pagoda from the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Unlike the original version of the pagoda in Gyeongju, this pagoda has all four of the fierce guardian lions on each corner. Also, it has the amazingly intricate finial at the top of the pagoda. The only difference between the two is that instead of housing a stele inside the centre of the body, like at Gyeongju, the new version of this brilliant masonry houses a stone statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light).

Behind the pagoda is a very large main hall. Finally, standing in front of the two story main hall, you’ll be greeted by a row of lotus holding seated stone statues of the Buddha. Behind these statues, and engraved along the stone base, are four uniquely sculpted Cheonwang (Heavenly Kings).

Housed inside the first floor of the main hall are the monks’ dorms, the kitchen, and a conference room. The meditation hall, and the true main hall of the temple, sits on the second floor of the building. The corners of each roof panel are adorned with large horned dragons. And the artwork that surrounds the second floor are rather simple Shim-u-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

As you step into the meditation hall, you’ll be greeted by a rather large interior. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre, is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s flanked by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the right and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha) to the left. To the left of this main altar is a standing statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Interestingly, there didn’t seem to appear to be a guardian painting, but there are hundreds of tiny golden and jade statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the right front corner is a unique triad of statues. In the centre of this triad is Jeseok-bul. To the right of Jeseok-bul is a statue of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a fierce looking tiger in front of him. And to the left is Okhwang-sangje (The Daoist Jade Emperor of Heaven). While this triad isn’t the most expensive looking set of statues, it’s pretty amazing that they’re even housed together as a triad. To the right of this triad, and along the right wall, is an unknown statue. The statue, with clenched fists, almost looks like a Yongwang that has lost his weapons. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s Yongwang (The Dragon King) and there was no one around to ask who he was. Perhaps next time…

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangsan Subway Station, Line 2, stop # 243, you’ll need to catch a taxi. The taxi ride should take about 12 minutes and cost you about 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are really three main highlights to this temple. The first, and most obvious, is the replica of the Dabotop Pagoda from the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. The other two highlights are the originally designed Buddha’s that line the road that leads up to the temple, and the unique triad of Sanshin, Jeseok-bul, and Okhwang-sangje. While a bit out of the way, the temple has a few hidden gems, and not so hidden gems to make your trip worth it.


The road that winds its way up to Seongraksa Temple.


Just one of the Buddhas that lines the entrance at the temple.


And another.


And this one, through an anatomic miracle, points to a speck of dust.


As you approach, a near replica of Dabo-tap Pagoda, from  Bulguksa Temple, awaits you.


A better look at the pagoda that rests in the temple courtyard.


The one telling difference between the two temples’ pagodas is this image of Birojana-bul at the heart of the pagoda at Seongraksa Temple.


The massive main hall at Seongraksa Temple.


The beautiful Buddhas that line the main hall.


Adorning the main hall is this relief of one of the Heavenly Kings.


A look across the front of the second story of the main hall.


One of the realistic Shimu-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the second floor of the main hall.


A look inside the second floor hall. In the centre sits Birojana-bul. And he’s joined by Seokgamoni-bul and Nosana-bul.


A shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal inside the main hall.


The extremely unique triad of Jeseok-bul in the centre flanked by Sanshin to the right and Okhwang-sangje to the left.


An unknown statue that has an altar all to himself. This statue is to the right of the extremely rare triad of Jeseok-bul, Sanshin, and Okwang-sangje.


And the view from the main hall out onto the temple courtyard.

Colonial Korea: Muwisa Temple – 무위사 (Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)

Muwisa6Part of Treasure #1315 is a painting centred by Amita-bul from 1476. This black and white picture was taken in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Muwisa Temple is located in the beautiful Wolchulsan National park on the south side near the city of Gangjin, Jeollanam-do. The temple is first believed to have been built back in 617 A.D. by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. At this time, the temple was known as Gwaneumsa Temple after the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Gwanseeum-bosal. Later, in the 10th century, it was expanded by the equally famous monk, Doseon-guksa. It was at this time that the temple came to be known as Muwigapsa Temple.

In total, the temple houses two National Treasures and four additional Treasures. The first of the national treasures, National Treasure #13, is the main hall at Muwisa Temple: the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to 1430. The other national treasure is National Treasure #313, which is a mural of Amita-bul that backs the triad of statues on the main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural is believed to date back to 1476.


The exterior of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall in 1933. The hall is National Treasure #13.


Some eaves from the main hall at Muwisa Temple.


And some more from the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.


And a final picture that captures some more of the intricate woodwork on the main hall at Muwisa Temple.


A look inside the Geukrakbo-jeon at the historic painting of Amita-bul. This picture was also taken in 1933.


Another historic painting of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas inside the Geukrakbo-jeon from 1933.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon. The mural backing the main altar is National Treasure #313.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.


The ceiling inside the main hall above the main altar at Muwisa Temple.


The Geukrakbo-jeon as it appeared in 2014.


The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon with National Treasure #313 backing the triad of altar statues.


The decorative ceiling above the main altar.


The Gwanseeum-bosal mural on the back side of the main altar.


One of the historic murals that adorns the interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon.


As well as another.

Anjeongsa Temple – 안정사 (Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The beautifully framed Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Anjeongsa Temple in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Anjeongsa Temple is located on Mt. Byeokbangsan in northern Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Anjeongsa Temple was first constructed in 654 A.D. by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. The temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds; the last of which was completed in 1751.

You first approach Anjeongsa Temple up a trail that leads you towards the surrounding mountains. The first structure at the temple to greet you is the two pillared Iljumun Gate that is elaborately painted.

A little further along, and next to the neighbouring stream that leads up to the temple grounds, and you’ll find the beautiful Manse-ru Pavilion that dates back to 1686. While subsequently destroyed, the pavilion was later rebuilt in 1841 in the typical late-Joseon style of Gyeongsangnam-do. During its rebuild, the size of the pavilion was downsized from its much larger former self. To the right of the set of stairs that lead up into the temple courtyard is the towering bell pavilion. The first story houses the temple’s bell that dates back to 1580, while the second story houses the rest of the temple’s percussion instruments.

Mounting the stairs and standing in the grassy temple courtyard, you’ll notice the Daeung-jeon main hall straight ahead. The main hall is externally decorated with murals that have all but faded and are now unidentifiable. Housed inside the Daeung-jeon, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of statues that date back to 1358. Sitting in the centre is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the left of the main altar is the uniquely painted Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural, as well as the temple’s guardian mural. To the right of the main altar hangs an elaborate Gamno-do mural for the dead, as well as an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) statue. Be careful while inside this hall, because the ancient floor boards are completely uneven inside with several centimetres sometimes separating one wooden board from another.

To the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon. This natural wood exterior is housed with a triad of all-white statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre is a simple Seokgamoni-bul statue. He’s joined by two lines on either side of the main altar of the sixteen Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). And to the left of the Nahan-jeon is a monks’ dormitory. Out in front of this dorm are large pictures of former president Park Chung Hee and his wife, Yuk Young Soo.

To the right of the main hall, besides the monks facilities, are two more shrine halls that visitors can explore at Anjeongsa Temple. The first of the two is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are a set of four paintings. The first to the far left is the older, and uniquely designed, earring wearing Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). He’s joined to the right by a rather plain Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural, as well as a rather ordinary Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural. Also housed inside the Samseong-gak is what looks to be a monk painting on the far right wall.

The final shrine hall a visitor can explore is the Myeongbu-jeon shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The interior of the hall is lined with the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as a large black-haired statue of Jijang-bosal resting all alone on the main altar. There are numerous haunting pictures of the dead inside this hall, so please be on your best behaviour.

HOW TO GET THERE: From in front of the Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal, there is a bus stop. It’s from this bus stop that you’ll need to board Bus #661 bound for Anjeongsa Temple. After 20 stops, or 40 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Anjeongsa Temple bus stop. From there, follow the signs towards the temple for about 400 metres.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While not a temple that will overwhelm you with just one thing, Anjeongsa Temple has several unique features to offer a temple adventurer. One such feature is the set of pictures dedicated to Park Chung Hee and his wife, as well as the 14th century main altar statues inside the Daeung-jeon. Adding to the temple’s overall appeal are the uneven set of ancient floor boards, the hard to find Gamno-do mural, as well as the earring wearing Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak. Adding them all up, and you can make a pretty nice day of it in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.


The two pillared Iljumun Gate at Anjeongsa Temple.


The Manse-ru Pavilion at the temple.


The two storied bell pavilion at Anjeongsa Temple.


The monks’ dorms and Nahan-jeon Hall.


The two pictures out in front of the monks’ dorms. The one to the left is of former president Park Chung Hee and the other is of his wife.


The main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.


The Daeung-jeon main hall at Anjeongsa Temple.


The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon. The statues date back to 1358.


The beautiful canopy over top of the main altar’s triad of statues.


The Gamno-do painting to the right of the main altar.


And to the left rests the temple’s guardian mural.


The Yongwang mural that hangs inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.


The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the right.


The uniquely designed Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.


The monk mural of five inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, as well.


A look around the Myeongbu-jeon Hall with the golden Jijang-bosal to the right.


One of the Ten Kings of the Underworld inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.


The view from the Myeongbu-jeon Hall out onto the Mt. Byeokbangsan.

Colonial Korea: Silleuksa Temple – 신륵사 (Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do)


Sillleuksa Temple in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do from 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silleuksa Temple is located in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do. The name of the temple means “Divine Bridle Temple,” in English, and it has to do with a legend that surrounds the temple. The name of the temple relates to a horse that was uncontrollable. The horse was reined in by the power of the Buddha.

There is little known about the early years of the temple. There are two stories related to the establishment of Silleuksa Temple. One believes that Silleuksa Temple was first established during the reign of King Jinpyeong (r. 579-632); while another story relates how the temple was first founded by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa (617-686).

However, after the temple was first established, Silleuksa Temple has been expanded and destroyed by fire. And in 1469, Silleuksa Temple became the prayer sanctuary to the royal mausoleum to the great King Sejong. Silleuksa Temple has a scenic location and beautiful shrine halls; it also houses numerous treasures.

Silleuksa - Main Hall Geukrak

The Geukrak-jeon main hall at Silleuksa in 1932.

Silleuksa3 - Main Hall Geukrak

A closer look at the front facade of the main hall at Silleuksa Temple.

Silleuksa1 - Main Hall Geukrak

A look at some of the eaves work on the main hall.

Silleuksa2 - Main Hall Geukrak

A look around the decorative interior of the Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1932.

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The seven tier marble pagoda that lies out in front of the Geukrak-jeon Hall in 1933.

Silleuksa101 - 7 tier

A closer look at the marble pagoda.

Silleuksa102 - 7 tier

And an even closer look at the base of the pagoda.

Silleuksa4 - Josajeon

The Josa-jeon Hall. It’s also the oldest building at the temple. This picture dates back to 1932.

Silleuksa5 - Josajeon

The intricate woodwork adorning the Josa-jeon Hall.


The six-story brick pagoda. The picture was taken in 1916.


A closer look at the design of the bricks.


The Geukrak-jeon Hall in 2015.


The seven tier marble pagoda as it appears today.


A closer look at the unique pagoda.


The six story stone pagoda that overlooks the river.


A thing of beauty.

Geumwangsa Temple – 금왕사 (Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The view that this Vajra Warrior gets to enjoy at Geumwangsa Temple in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Geumwangsa Temple, which is located south of the city centre of Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, is ten to fifteen years old and definitely has that new feel to it. While largely overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Boriam Hermitage, Geumwangsa Temple has some pretty spectacular views of its own.

Part of the Geumsan mountain range, Geumwangsa Temple is precariously perched on the edge of one of the mountain’s ridges. The ascent up towards the temple grounds is rather steep at times; but when you finally do arrive, you’ll be welcomed by the fan like folds of the mountain where Geumwangsa Temple is located.

After climbing a steep set of stairs, you’ll finally be looking at the temple’s main hall, which also acts as the visitors’ centre and temple kitchen. The main hall at the temple is a Geukrak-jeon. Sitting all alone on the main altar is a granite statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To his left, and resting on the wall, is a large black guardian mural.

Just before you start to climb another set of stairs, which Geumwangsa Temple has a lot of, you’ll notice an artificial cave to your right. Inside this dwelling rests a solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the cave’s right is the diminutive temple bell pavilion.

Up the set of stairs to the right of the Gwaneum-jeon cave, you’ll climb to another plateau where a triad of statues rest overlooking the harbor down below. This triad is comprised of Amita-bul in the centre. He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the right of these statues is a natural cave that acts as the temple’s Yongwang-dang. Just outside the low-lying cave entry is a fierce statue dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) above. As for inside this cave, and resting in a glass display case, while resting in a pool of mountain water, is yet another statue dedicated to Yongwang.

As you climb yet another flight of stairs, you’ll pass by numerous Nahan (The Buddha’s Historical Disciples) that rest in and among the mountain shelves and crevices. Like you, they’re enjoying the view of the mountains and the harbor down below. The Nahan are joined by a playful collection of Dongja (attendants), as well.

Once you’ve finally summited the stairs, you’ll be welcomed by a solitary statue standing in the clearing. This statue is dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). All around you, you’ll now notice all the irregular rock formations that make up the mountain peak at Geumwangsa Temple.

If you’re lucky, and to the left of the Mireuk-bul statue, the gate for the Sanshin-gak, which is perched at the highest point on the temple grounds, will be open. However, the Sanshin-gak also acts as the head monk’s meditative retreat, so it might not always be open (like when I visited). But if you’re lucky enough to enjoy the Sanshin-gak, make sure you bring a good pair of hiking shoes, because the zig-zagging path that leads up to it looks a bit treacherous.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Geumwangsa Temple is to take a taxi from the Namhae Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride from Namhae Intercity Bus Terminal to Geumwangsa Temple should take about 35 minutes and cost you 25,000 to 30,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Geumwangsa Temple is one of the most beautifully located temples in Korea. With its beautiful scenic ocean views, as well as the beautiful rocks that crown the mountain peaks, and you’ll have more than enough reason to visit this little known temple. Add into the mix the beautiful statues spread throughout Geumwangsa Temple, and you’ll have to visit this temple the next time you’re visiting the neighbouring Boriam Hermitage.


The cute puppy that followed us all around the temple grounds.


The Geukrak-jeon at Geumwangsa Temple.


A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar with Amita-bul front and centre.


The amazing view from the Geukrak-jeon.


The temple’s bell pavilion that’s surrounded by mountains.


The cave-like structure that houses Gwanseeum-bosal.


The triad of statues of Amita-bul, Gwanseeum-bosal, and Jijang-bosal under one of the mountain’s peaks.


The spectacular view that they get to enjoy.


The statue of the Dragon King out in front of the Yongwang-dang cave entry.


Inside the compact Yongwang-dang.


The watery main altar inside the Yongwang-dang.


One of the playful dongja at Geumwangsa Temple.


Mt. Geumsan off in the distance with a collection of Nahan down below.


Another of the amazing views from Geumwangsa Temple.


One of the unique rock formations near the peak of the mountain.


Yet another look at the peak.


The statue of Mireuk-bul in the foreground with the towering mountains in the background.


The Sanshin-gak at Geumwangsa Temple.

Colonial Korea: Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)


Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This week, in the latest installment of the Colonial Korea series, I thought I would focus, instead, on a temple south of the DMZ. So this time, I thought I would focus on the famed Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Rather famously, Tongdosa Temple is part of the three Korean jewel temples (삼보사찰). Tongdosa Temple serves as the “Bul” or Buddha aspect of the three jewels. Tongdosa Temple is joined by Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do to comprise the three Korean jewel temples.

First founded in 643 A.D. on the southern slopes of the beautiful Mt. Chiseosan, Tongdosa Temple means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English. The temple was founded by Jajang-yulsa, and the reason that Tongdosa Temple is the “Bul” component of the three Korean jewel temples revolves around him. After traveling to China to further his Buddhist studies, Jajang-yulsa visited Yunjisi Temple. It was here that he obtained the holy relics of the Buddha. These holy relics included the Buddha’s begging bowl, a portion of his skull, as well as numerous sari (crystallized remains). After returning to the Korean peninsula, and through the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), Jajang-yulsa helped spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). A part of Buddhism’s growth throughout Korea was helped by the establishment of Tongdosa Temple to store the Buddha’s partial remains.

From the very moment Tongdosa Temple was established, it has thrived throughout the centuries and millennia. From state-sponsored Buddhism to the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Tongdosa Temple has always been at the forefront of Korean Buddhism. However, in 1592, and much like the rest of the Korean peninsula, Tongdosa Temple was laid to waste by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. Finally, in 1645, the temple was reconstructed, including the beautiful Daeung-jeon main hall. In more recent years, Tongdosa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds, which includes the new temple museum. Tongdosa Temple is Korea’s largest temple.


The second of two Iljumun Gates at Tongdosa Temple as of 1933.


The stately Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933


The bell pavilion at Tongdosa Temple from 1933


The Yeongsan-jeon Hall in the lower courtyard in 1933.


A closer look at the intricate woodwork adorning the Yeongsan-jeon Hall.


The compact Yaksa-jeon in 1933.


A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall.


The three tier stone pagoda in the lower courtyard in 1916.


The Bulimun Gate in 1933, as you transition to the upper courtyard.


A closer look at the Bulimun Gate.


The highly popular Gwaneum-jeon Hall in 1933.


The stone lantern in front of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 1916.


A closer look at the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


The Seokong from 1917, which purportedly houses some of the Buddha’s relics.


The Eungjin-jeon Hall in 1933.


The Eungjin-jeon Hall up close.


The famed Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.


A look at one of the entrances of the Daeung-jeon Hall.


Some of the beautiful latticework that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.


A look around the eaves of the Daeung-jeon Hall.


And a look inside the Daeung-jeon.


How the second of two Iljumun Gates looks today.


The view from the Geukrak-jeon towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A look towards the temple’s bell pavilion.


The view of the three story stone pagoda and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall backing it.


The Yaksa-jeon Hall as it looks in 2015.


The back of the Gwaneum-jeon with the Seokong behind it. The Bulimun Gate lies in the background.


Both the Daeung-jeon Hall (right) and the Eungjin-jeon (left) together.


The view from the left of the main hall.

Hongjeam Hermitage – 홍제암 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The beautiful view from the Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple in Gayasan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having recently revisited Haeinsa Temple, and Hongjeam Hermitage, as well, I thought I would do a re-write of the hermitage. I don’t usually do such a thing, but I think I might have understated the hermitage’s beauty because I overlooked half of what it had to offer. So with that in mind, this is the re-written article on Hongjeam Hermitage.

Hongjeam Hermitage was first built in 1608 for High Priest Samyeong by King Seonje. The King did this in appreciation for the Buddhist priest’s contribution in defending the country from the Japanese during the Imjin Invasion of 1592 by raising a Buddhist monk army. The famous priest would spend the remaining years of his life at Hongjeam Hermitage. And when he died a stupa and stele were made in 1610. The biography of the great priest is written on his stele. Stupidly, the stele was damaged by the Japanese police chief in Hapcheon during Japanese colonial rule in 1943. Fortunately, it was repaired in 1958. In total, the hermitage has been rebuilt seven times throughout the years; the most recent being 1979, when the hermitage was completely dismantled under the patronage of then president, Bak Chung Hee.

You first approach Hongjeam Hermitage from the east after passing by the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple. The first thing to welcome you at the hermitage are a row of stupas and steles. Of the nine stupas and steles, it’s the turtle based stele in the centre that belongs to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa. You’ll easily be able to identify it, because the body of the stele has been broken in the middle into four pieces. Amazingly, it was able to be repaired. To the right rear of these stone monuments, and lying on the hillside that overlooks Haeinsa Temple, is an courtyard memorial for those that fought in the Imjin War (1592-98).

When you approach the hermitage grounds either through the side or main entrance, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of buildings. The ones to the far left are the monks’ facilities like the kitchen and dorms; as to the right, there stands the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage. Stepping inside the elevated main hall, you’ll first notice the elaborate main altar that houses seven statues. Sitting in the centre is a large golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on his immediate right and left by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Rounding out the five larger statues are a pair of book-ending statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). The interior walls are lined with elaborate Palsang-do murals. Also, there hangs a painting that depicts three Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) images.

To the left of the main hall is a tucked away Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Immediately upon entering this hall, you’ll notice a diminutive statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar with a colourful altar mural backing this Bodhisattva. Hanging over top of the entry, and slightly to the right, is a Gamno-do mural. But the most interesting pair of murals hang to the left of the main altar. The first is an older guardian painting, while the other is an equally older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Now, this is where Hongjeam Hermitage gets interesting. If you exit the first hermitage compound to the left rear, you’ll come out on the other side next to a rolling stream and a large cabbage patch field. It’s to the rear of the cabbage patch and the building that backs this produce that you’ll come to an amazing Sanshin-gak. Resting inside this shaman shrine hall is a statue and painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. But what sets this apart from the hundreds of other Sanshin murals I’ve seen in Korea is that this Sanshin appears to be a Bodhisattva. In this painting and statue, the spiritual roots of Korea are blended between Shamanism and Buddhism. To the left of the Sanshin-gak are two encased rows of Nahan statues. In addition, and among the rocks that pop out from the ground, are a pair of granite statues dedicate to Jijang-bosal to the left and Yaksayore-bul to the right.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hongjeam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to find the trail that leads up to Haeinsa Temple for about a kilometre, which starts to the left of the temple museum. From the Iljumun Gate, which is the first gate at Haeinsa Temple, you’ll have to continue left as you face this gate. Head towards the parking lots on your left and cross the narrow stone bridge where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the monk cemetery at Hongjeam Hermitage. In total, it’s about 300 metres from the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While initially underrating this hermitage the first go around, I won’t make the same mistake the second time around. Hongjeam Hermitage is the eternal resting place to one of Korea’s most famous monks: Samyeong-daesa. In addition to such a unique claim, it also houses Korea’s most unique images of Sanshin. Finally, Hongjeam Hermitage is beautifully situated in Gayasan National Park next to the famed Haeinsa Temple.


The entry at Hongjeam Hermitage.


The fall colours at Gayasan National Park.


The entrance marker welcoming you to Hongjeam Hermitage.


The shrine dedicated to the Imjin War dead at Hongjeam Hermitage.


Another look with Haeinsa Temple and the colourful mountains framing the shrine.


The collection of stupas and steles at Hongjeam Hermitage.


The stele dedicated to the famed warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa.


The hermitage grounds as you approach the entrance gate.


A closer look around the hermitage grounds and the main hall.


The amazing view from the hermitage courtyard.


The wooden corridor just outside the main hall’s entrance.


The main altar inside the hermitage’s main hall.


The Dongjin-bosal mural to the right rear of the hall.


Just one of the beautiful murals that adorns the interior walls of the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage.


As well as this all-white incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal.


To the left of the main hall is this shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal.


The large Gamno-do mural near the entry of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.


An aged Sanshin mural hangs inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.


The cabbage patch to the left rear of the main hermitage compound.


The Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage.


With this spectacular statue and painting of a Bodhisattva-like image of Sanshin.


The ceiling to the Sanshin-gak.


The rows of Nahan statues at the hermitage.


They’re fronted by these two beautiful stone statues of Jijang-bosal and Yaksayore-bul.