Wongaksa Temple – 원각사 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The temple courtyard at Wongaksa Temple in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the central part of a wide eastern valley on Mt. Muhaksan (761 m) Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do lies Wongaksa Temple. In fact, halfway up the aforementioned valley, you’ll first see a rather plain looking Iljumun Gate with the name of the temple written on it. Passing through this gate, and past a collection of rundown buildings, you’ll eventually come to a paved clearing where Wongaksa Temple lies.

Immediately you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot the blue metal banner with the words “원각사” written on it. It’s behind this metal banner that you encounter yet another entry gate for the temple. This temple gate is a lot more refined than the first with beautiful floral murals adorning it, as well as a pair of fierce guardians painted on its doors.

Stepping inside the main temple grounds, you’ll immediately notice the temple bell pavilion straight ahead of you. Uniquely, there is a large bronze bell under the wooden structure with another equally good sized bronze bell exposed to the elements with only a neighbouring tree as protection.

To your immediate right is the temple’s visitors’ centre. It’s next to this building that you’ll find the unique main hall at Wongaksa Temple. Stepping inside the nearly square shaped main hall, which is all but unadorned except for the dancheong colours, you’ll first notice the main altar. The main triad consists of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On either side of this triad is a smaller wooden pagoda and a stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And all five statues are fronted by a much larger golden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. The interior of the main hall is lined with smaller statues of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Sitting all alone on the main altar is a seated black haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This older looking statue is backed by an equally older looking painting of Jijang-bosal. To the right of the main altar is a triad of older shaman paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Across the temple’s main courtyard, and over a bridge that spans a narrow stream, is the southern portion of the temple. Housed inside an unassuming brick façade is the temple’s Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall, besides pooling water from the neighbouring stream, is a tall granite statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.

While the Gwaneum-jeon Hall lies to the right, there is a small courtyard that houses a collection of stupas, stele, and a slender five tier pagoda.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, there are several buses that go to where Wongaksa Temple is located. One of these buses is Bus #707. After eight stops, or sixteen minutes, you’ll need to get off at the “Seowongok Ipgu” stop. From the stop, walk about eleven minutes, or 800 metres, to get to the temple. There are various signs leading you in the direction of Wongaksa Temple. You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal. A taxi ride will set you back 6,000 won over the 15 minute ride.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are a few highlights to Wongaksa Temple. The first is the older collection of shaman paintings housed inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Another is the main altar inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple. The final highlight to Wongaksa Temple, besides the beautiful Mt. Muhaksan in all directions, is the unassuming shrine hall that houses an elegant statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A spider lily outside the temple grounds.

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The first of two gates that welcome you to Wongaksa Temple.

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The shacks that line the route towards Wongaksa Temple.

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The blue metal banner and the second entry gate at Wongaksa Temple.

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The stream that divides the temple in half.

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The second entry gate at Wongaksa Temple.

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One of the guardian murals that adorns the second entry gate.

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As well as this beautiful floral mural.

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The temple bell pavilion.

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The main hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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The unique main altar inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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A look across the Myeongbu-jeon Hall towards the main hall.

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The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall with Jijang-bosal front and centre.

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The amazing and old shaman triad of paintings inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The view from the Myeongbu-jeon Hall out onto the the temple courtyard.

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Across the stream is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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Inside is this beautiful stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the left of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is this stupa and stele field.

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As well as this slender five tier pagoda.

Geumryongsa Temple – 금룡사 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The unique entry to Geumryongsa Temple in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Ever since visiting the neighbouring Seongdeokam Hermitage in the winter of 2015, and passing Geumryongsa Temple by, I thought I would revisit this temple as well as the eastern portion of Mt. Muhaksan in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

You first approach Geumryongsa Temple down some narrow side streets, until you eventually stumble upon the outskirts of the temple grounds and the welcoming Iljumun Gate. Besides the two pillar entry gate, and a steep incline to crest before entering the main temple grounds, you’ll also notice a golden three tier pagoda standing on the heights of the temple grounds to the left of the Iljumun Gate.

Walking up the paved incline, you’ll finally have a better idea of what Geumryongsa Temple has to offer a visitor. To your immediate right and left are the temple’s visitors’ centre and monks’ dorms. It’s also to your right that you’ll be welcomed to the temple by a jovial, golden statue of Podae-hwasang.

Straight ahead, on the other hand, is the Daeung-jeon main hall at Geumryongsa Temple. The exterior is painted with various Biseon either offering up fruit or playing a musical instruction. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll be able to see a main altar centred by a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on either side.

To the left rear of the main hall is a small overgrown pond with an even smaller granite bridge spanning its depths. It’s to the left of the main hall, and up a steep set of stairs, that you’ll next come to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are three newer, well executed, shaman paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

The final shrine hall to be visited at Geumryongsa Temple lies up another set of stairs; this time, to the rear of the Samseong-gak. Rather strangely, this diminutive shrine hall is a Gwaneum-jeon Hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), which is made apparent by the solitary golden statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take Bus #101, or City Bus #122 at the Daeshin Bookstore, which is just outside the terminal. You’ll need to take either bus for ten stops and get off at the Burim Market stop. You’ll need to walk towards the hill for ten minutes from the stop to get to Geumryongsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. While certainly not as impressive as the neighbouring Seongdeokam Hermitage, Geumryongsa Temple has a few highlights of its own like the small pond and the shaman paintings inside the Samseong-gak, as well as the very entry to the temple. In combination with Seongdeokam Hermitage, or along the way, Geumryongsa Temple can make for nice little add-on to your temple adventure in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The cityscape from the entry of Geumryongsa Temple.

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The steep incline towards the main temple grounds at Geumryongsa Temple.

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The statue of Podae-hwasang that greets you at the temple.

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Part of the grounds at Geumryongsa Temple.

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The Daeung-jeon Hall.

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Some of the decorative Biseon that adorn the exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar and Seokgamoni-bul.

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The pond to the left of the main hall.

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The view as you near the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall with the city of Masan all around you.

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The previous pond down below as you continue to climb the stairs.

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A look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The painting of Sanshin that adorns one of the exterior walls to the Samseong-gak.

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The Chilseong mural inside the shaman shrine hall.

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As well as a mural of Dokseong inside the Samseong-gak.

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A look over top of the Samseong-gak.

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From the rather strangely placed Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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And inside the Gwaneum-jeon is this solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

Nawonsa Temple – 나원사 (Gyeongju)

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The five tier pagoda, which is also National Treasure #39, at Nawonsa Temple in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the northern part of Gyeongju, and on the former site of a much older temple, is Nawonsa Temple. This newer temple points to a much older and glorious past in Korean history.

Along a few country roads and past the scenic Hyeongsan River is the well hidden Nawonsa Temple. When first approaching the temple, you’ll pass through the temple parking lot, which appears to be situated out in front of the old temple site. Passing through this clearing, you’ll notice an elevated pagoda to the rear. This nearly ten metre tall white pagoda, which dates back to the 8th century, is National Treasure #39. In the past, this pagoda appeared to the rear of the main temple building during the Unified Silla Period. Now, with the original temple no longer in existence, the historic pagoda stands alone. The body of the pagoda consists of one solid stone and stands five tiers in height. The most remarkable thing about the pagoda is that it’s retained its pure white colour for over a thousand years.

In a bend in the road to the left of the elevated pagoda, and at the base of a small mountain, is Nawonsa Temple. Straight ahead, and past a collection of temple facilities to your left, is the diminutive concrete main hall. The exterior of the main hall is unpainted, but there are a pair of stone lanterns out in front of the elevated main hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll notice a collection of white statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of the seven statues is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the far left wall is the temple’s guardian mural as well as a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The only other hall to be enjoyed at Nawonsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall. Up a set of innumerable stairs, you’ll finally arrive at this little hall. Housed inside the unadorned exterior are three paintings. Resting on the main altar is a simple Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the left of Chilseong rests a mural of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and to the right is a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you need to take Bus #232. After 21 stops, or 30 minutes, get off at the Nawonsa Temple entrance stop (나원사 입구).

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. By far, the main highlight to Nawonsa Temple is the ancient five tier pagoda that also acts as National Treasure #39. The interior to the Daeung-jeon main hall is rather inviting, as well.

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The five tier pagoda as you first approach it.

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The picture does no justice to just how massive this pagoda truly is.

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The bend in the road to the left where the newer Nawonsa Temple is located.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Nawonsa Temple.

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Some little trinkets that people have left behind out in front of the main hall.

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A paper Dragon Ship of Wisdom that hangs out in front of the main hall entrance.

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A look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar.

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To the rear of the main hall.

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Where this long flight of stairs rests on your way up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look at the underwhelming Samseong-gak.

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The Chilseong mural that rests on the main altar.

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With a mural dedicated to Yongwang to the left.

Seongjuam Hermitage – 성주암 (Gyeongju)

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The 8th century Amita-bul rock statue at Seongjuam Hermitage in south-western Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seongjuam Hermitage is located in south-western Gyeongju near the Yuldong train station. More specifically, the small hermitage is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Byeokdosan (437m).

You first approach the hermitage up some very rural roads in Gyeongju and eventually up a mountainside road. Standing in the remote hermitage parking lot, which has the feel that no one’s parked there for decades, you’ll find the head of the trail that leads up to the hermitage to the right of the parking lot retaining wall. Through a bend in the trail to the left and then to the right, you’ll see a sign that is the surest indication that Seongjuam Hermitage is up ahead. The sign describes the history behind what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.

Up the mountain trail for one hundred metres, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage. Uniquely, the first thing to greet you to the right is the hermitage’s Sanshin-gak. The diminutive shrine hall has a beautiful signboard that denotes the name of the hall above the entry. Stepping inside the Sanshin-gak, you’ll see that Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is making a mudra with his left hand, while the psychedelic eyes of his tiger companion stare out at you.

To the left of the Sanshin-gak, and up a set of uneven stone stairs, is the hermitage’s main hall. Both the main hall and the monks’ dorms are one. The L-shaped building houses the monks’ dorms to the far left, while the main hall is to the right. Inside this extremely small main hall are a set of red paintings that illustrate the guardian mural as well as the Sermon on Vulture Peak.

But it’s to the right rear of this L-shaped building that you come across what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad. This triad, which also acts as Korea’s Treasure #122, was first created in the 8th century during the Unified Silla Dynasty. The triad looks out towards the west and has a slightly smiling Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. This image is flanked on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul) to the left. The triad is reminiscent of the images found at Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site in central Gyeongju.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yuldong Train Station in Gyeongju, you need to exit the train station to the south. Along the way, follow the signs that read “경주두대리마애석불입상.” These signs are leading you towards the famed Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad at Seongjuam Hermitage. The trek is about one kilometre long.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While the temple buildings at Seongjuam Hermitage are largely disappointing outside of the beautiful painting housed inside the Sanshin-gak, a bit of the luster that is lost from them is regained by standing in front of the amazing 8th century Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.

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The head of the trail that leads up to Seongjuam Hermitage.

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The actual trail that leads towards the hermitage grounds.

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The Sanshin-gak at Seongjuam Hermitage.

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The unique signboard that is placed above the entry of the Sanshin-gak.

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The amazing Sanshin mural housed inside the shaman shrine hall.

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A look towards the monks’ dorms and the main hall at the hermitage.

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A closer look at the L-shaped building.

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The plateau where the 8th century triad is located.

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A look at the amazing triad!

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A closer look at Amita-bul.

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Daesaeji-bosal.

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And Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The view from the stone platform out towards the Sanshin-gak.

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As well as some of the beautiful flowers that line that side of the hermitage trail.

Gukcheongsa Temple – 국청사 (Geumjeong-gu, Busan)

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The three tier pagoda at Gukcheongsa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Gukcheongsa Temple is located on the southern portion of Mt. Geumjeongsan in Busan. Gukcheongsa Temple is also just south of the Geumjeongsan Fortress walls. Gukcheongsa Temple was first constructed by the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625-702) during the Silla Dynasty. The temple was also used as a strategic military command post for the Buddhist warrior monks against the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Later, in 1982, a three tier pagoda that sits out in front of the main temple grounds, and in a pond, was constructed to console the spirits of Buddhist monks that gave up their lives to defend Gukcheongsa Temple.

You approach Gukcheongsa Temple up one of the roads that connects it to the mountainside Sanseong community. The first thing to greet you is a stout two pillar Iljumun Gate that is colourfully painted. A little further up the temple road and to the right, you’ll notice the beautiful temple pond with the three tier pagoda in the centre of it. Surrounding the overgrown pond are various stone statues that include Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

A little further along, and past the temple parking lot, are the main temple buildings at Gukcheongsa Temple. But before you enter the main temple courtyard, you’ll notice an old monks’ residence that is no longer used. Have a look at its unique stone exterior.

Finally facing the Daeung-jeon main hall at Gukcheongsa Temple, you’ll notice two buildings book-ending the main hall. These are the new monks’ dorms and the visitors’ centre. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with masterful Ox-Herding murals, as well as the Bodhidharma and the myth behind the wooden moktak. As for inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful triad of statues that rest on the main altar. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the left of the main altar triad is an older Shinjung Taenghwa guardian mural. And to the right is a newer mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

The only other shrine hall to visit at Gukcheongsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls are adorned with a majestic tiger mural, as well as a mural dedicated to the myth of the golden well on top of Mt. Geumjeongsan. As for inside this shaman shrine hall, there are three rather plain murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Gukcheongsa Temple, you’ll first have to travel to Hwamyeong subway station on the second line (#235). From here, you’ll have to catch a Busan city bus from the Deokcheon Rotary. Take the Busan city bus identified as “Sanseong – 산성”. Ride this bus until you get to the centre of the mountain community of Sanseong, which will probably take 15 to 20 minutes. Nearing the outskirts of this community, get off near a large bathroom complex (yes, you heard me correctly). Facing this community bathroom, head in the direction that your back faces. You’ll see a small brown marker sign that directs you towards the northern gate (북문) of the Busan Mountain Fortress (Geumjeongsanseong). Follow this road for one kilometres. Along the way, you’ll come across Gukcheongsa Temple to your right. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the sort of out of place Iljumun Gate for the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Gukcheongsa Temple is beautifully located on the southern slopes of the towering Mt. Geumjeongsan. Adding to its natural beauty is the three tier pagoda that sits in the temple’s pond, as well as the triad of statues that sits on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The entry stone at Gukcheongsa Temple.

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The stout Iljumun Gate at the temple entrance.

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The temple pond and the three tier pagoda that sits in its centre.

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A better look at the overgrown pond and pagoda.

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The stone statue that stands near the temple pagoda and pond.

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The temple grounds at Gukcheongsa Temple as you first approach it.

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The old monks’ dorms at the temple.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Gukcheongsa Temple.

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One of the ten Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.

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As well as this moktak mural.

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And this Bodhidharma mural.

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The elaborate main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The older guardian mural that takes up residence to the left of the main altar.

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

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall.

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The relaxing tiger that adorns one of the exterior walls to the Samseong-gak.

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As well as this winged golden fish that helps depict the golden well associated with Mt. Geumjeongsan.

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The paintings inside the Samseong-gak.

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And the view from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

Daeheungsa Temple – 대흥사 (Gyeongju)

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The main temple courtyard at Daeheungsa Temple in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daeheungsa Temple is located in the northern part of Gyeongju and just south east of the towering Mt. Jioksan (569m). You first approach Daeheungsa Temple past several farmers’ fields. The temple in fact seems out of place surrounded by agriculture on all sides.

Standing in the centre of the temple parking lot, you face a large retaining wall, past which lays the temple grounds. Climbing the large set of stairs, you’ll finally pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Daeheungsa Temple to enter the lower temple courtyard. Housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four rather underwhelming statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Finally standing inside the lower courtyard, you’ll first notice the ornateness of the temple. To your immediate left is a statue of Podae-hwasang. And a little further left is the temple’s bell pavilion which houses a beautiful bronze bell. Straight ahead, on the other hand, is a large granite statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who stands in a shallow flowing pond. To the left rear of this pond is an elevated altar that houses a statue of the Eight Spoke Buddhist Wheel, and it’s backed by a seated stone image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). While to the right rear of the pond is another elevated altar. This time, the altar is fronted by a large metal Geumgang-jeo (Diamond Pounder) and backed by another stone image of Seokgamoni-bul.

Climbing a flight of stairs directly to the rear of the pond and Gwanseeum-bosal, you’ll come to the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas. Just outside this hall are large paintings of the sixteen Nahan, as well as smaller stone statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. As for inside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas, and resting on the main altar, is triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And this triad is surrounded on all sides, as you might have guessed it, by one thousand smaller images of Amita-bul.

Up another flight of stairs, and passing through the beautiful dragon adorned entry gate, you’ll be welcomed by a large concrete main hall. While the exterior of the hall is all but unadorned except for the traditional dancheong colours, you’ll notice a large triad resting on the main altar. Again, Amita-bul is front and centre in this triad. And he’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

To the left of the main hall, besides the monks’ dorms and a training centre for the monks, is a large statue to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). But it’s to the right of the main hall which probably draws most of your attention. The all white shrine hall, which looks to be Indian-inspired, houses sari (crystallized remains) inside. But before stepping inside this elevated hall, you’ll first have to pass by two intimidating stone Vajra warrior statues. Once you step inside the circular hall, you’ll notice that the wall’s to the hall are painted with the Palsang-do murals that recreate Seokgamoni-bul’s life. And resting on the main altar is a sari.

Just behind the white circular shrine hall, and to the right of the main hall, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hidden hall are three rather common paintings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Yongwang (The Dragon King), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, take Bus #203 for 45 stops., which will last one hour and twenty minutes. Get off at Oksan 2-ri and walk 850 metres towards Daeheungsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While a bit out of the way from the usual tourist trappings of Gyeongju, Daeheungsa Temple is well worth the visit to the northern part of the ancient city. With all its stone statues and altars, the trip is worth it alone. But when you add into the mix the white circular sari hall, as well as the massive main hall that’s ornately adorned inside, and you’ll have to find a way to get to the newer Daeheungsa Temple.

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The entrance to Daeheungsa Temple.

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Rather uniquely designed stupas at the base of the temple entrance.

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A walk towards the beautiful Daeheungsa Temple.

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One of the Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The lower courtyard at Daeheungsa Temple.

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The Podae-hwasang statue at the entry of the temple.

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The bell pavilion to the left of the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The Eight Spoke Buddhist Wheel platform at Daeheungsa Temple.

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And to the right is another platform backed by Seokgamoni-bul and fronted by a large metal Geumgang-jeo (Diamond Pounder).

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The stairs leading up to the main hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

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Inside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.

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One of the Nahan paintings outside the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.

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The entry gate to the upper courtyard.

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One of the ornamental dragons that hangs from the upper courtyard gate.

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The unique hall that houses sari inside.

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One of the stone guardians that protects the entry to the sari hall.

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The main altar inside the sari hall.

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A closer look at the main altar with the sari in the centre.

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A look back at the entry.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

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The Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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The large concrete main hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

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

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The Mireuk-bul statue to the left of the main hall.

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The view from the upper courtyard down towards the lower courtyard.

Cheongryeonam Hermitage – 청련암 (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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Cheongryeonam Hermitage to the east of Namjijangsa Temple in southern Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Cheongryeonam Hermitage is located east of its affiliated Namjijangsa Temple. Both are located in southern Daegu on the south side of Mt. Choijeongsan (905m). Like Namjijangsa Temple, Cheongryeonam Hermitage was first constructed in 684 A.D. by a monk named Yanggae. Both were constructed on the behest of the Silla king, King Sinmun (r. 681-692). Like Namjijangsa Temple, Cheongryeonam Hermitage was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Cheongryeonam Hermitage, during the Imjin War, was used as a training centre for warrior monks. The hermitage was rebuilt several times from 1653 to 1714. Once more, the hermitage was destroyed by fire in 1806. The current hermitage structures date back to 1808.

Cheongryeonam Hermitage is situated just 200 metres to the east of Namjijangsa Temple through a beautiful lush forest. Past a hillside full of picnic benches, and along the dirt trail, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage grounds.

The first thing to greet you, as you make your way towards the eastside entry gate, is a tall traditional stone fence. Upon entering the squeaky three door gate, you’ll be welcomed by an “L” shaped main hall, which also acts as the monks’ dorms.

To the right of the main hall is a storage shed, which is joined by a biseok statue. As to the left of the main hall, there is the hermitage’s garden from which the monks draw sustenance. It’s also joined by another storage shed.

To the rear of the main hall, and the real highlight to this temple, is the unpainted Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The shaman shrine hall is surrounded on all sides by dense shrubs and hydrangeas. On the front side of the Samseong-gak are four fading paintings of guardians. As you step inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). These paintings are joined on the far right wall by an older, yet beautiful, guardian mural. Also, have a look at the low-lying beams inside this shaman shrine hall. In particular, look for the vibrant murals of the blue dragons.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu train station, walk about 15 minutes (930 metres), to get to Chilseong market (where the NH Bank is located) bus stop. Take the bus that reads “Gachang2” on it. After 50 stops, or one hour, get off at the “Urokri” (last stop) and walk about 2.7 km, or 41 minutes, to get to the temple. When at Namjijangsa Temple, head right while travelling through the temple parking lot. Head up a dirt road for about 200 metres until you come to Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Daegu train station. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs 23,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. Cheongryeonam Hermitage is beautifully located on the southern side of Mt. Choijeongsan. The trail leading up to the hermitage is one of the more beautiful you’ll find in this area. But without a doubt, the real highlight to this temple is the unpainted Samseong-gak; and rather strangely, the tall stone wall that acts as a barrier between the outside world and Cheongryeonam Hermitage is a highlight, as well.

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The dirt road that leads up to the hermitage.

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The beautiful vista along the way.

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The dirt road and forest as you near Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

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The entry gate to the diminutive hermitage.

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The main hall and monks’ living quarters at Cheongryeonam Hermitage.

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The hermitage’s garden and storage shed.

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The path that leads up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look up at the camouflaged Samseong-gak shaman shrine.

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Rather uniquely, the Samseong-gak is unpainted all but for the four guardians at the entries.

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One of the decorative guardians.

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As well as another.

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The Sanshin mural housed inside the Samseong-gak.

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The older guardian mural housed inside the Samseong-gak, as well.

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This blue decorative dragon adorns one of the Samseong-gak’s roof beams.

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And the view from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

Namjijangsa Temple – 남지장사 (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the Samseong-gak at Namjijangsa Temple in southern Daegu.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Situated south of the Daegu city centre, and south of the towering Mt. Choijeongsan (905m), is Namjijangsa Temple. The name of the temple means “South Bodhisattva of the Afterlife,” which shouldn’t be confused with Bukjijangsa Temple to the north of the Daegu city centre.

Namjijangsa Temple was first established in 684 A.D. by the monk Yanggae. Eventually, Namjijangsa Temple would grow to eight shrine halls, as well as a bell pavilion and the Cheonwangmun Gate. However, in 1592, like much of Korea, the temple was completely destroyed by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Afterwards, from 1652 to 1769, the temple underwent an extensive rebuild. Historically, the famed warrior monk Samyeong-daesa used Namjijangsa Temple as the staging site for battles against the Japanese during the Imjin War. The temple functioned as a headquarters for the Yeongnam region. Also, it was home, at one point in his life, to the monk Muhak, who would help advise the Goryeo Dynasty founding king, King Taejo.

You first approach Namjijangsa Temple down some country roads, until you eventually arrive at the temple parking lot. It’s next to a beautiful large water fountain that you’ll climb a set of stone stairs on your way through the temple entry gate. The entry gate, rather uniquely, houses the temple bell. At some temples, the temple bell is housed on the second floor, but not at Namjijangsa Temple. As you pass through the entry gate, you’ll see the bell to your right through wooden slats.

Finally entering the main temple courtyard, you’ll notice the monks’ quarters to your left and the visitors’ centre to your right. Straight ahead rests the Daeung-jeon Hall. In front of the main hall stands a five tier stone pagoda that’s adorned with various trinkets that visitors have left behind as a sign of devotion. Adorning the exterior walls to the main hall is a beautiful set of Palsang-do murals, which depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on both sides by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Rounding out the interior of the main hall is a massive guardian mural hanging on the far right wall.

To the right rear of the main hall is the temple’s Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Both the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) murals are of a red hue, but it’s the angry tiger tail holding Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that is the main highlight to this shaman shrine hall.

To the left of the main hall sits the newly constructed Geukrak-jeon Hall. As you enter the hall have a look at the amazing dragon doors. At the base of these doors are some amazing Nathwi (Monster Masks). As for the interior, and resting on the packed main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

And just left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall, in an open pavilion under a canopy, is a shrine for Yongwang (The Dragon King). The large painting dedicated to Yongwang is joined by a spring.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu train station, walk about 15 minutes (930 metres), to get to Chilseong market (where the NH Bank is located) bus stop. Take the bus that reads “Gachang2” on it. After 50 stops, or one hour, get off at the “Urokri” (last stop) and walk about 2.7 km, or 41 minutes, to get to the temple.

You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Daegu train station. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs 23,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Without a doubt, the biggest highlight to this temple is the curmudgeonly Sanshin painting in the Samseong-gak. Adding to the temple’s overall appeal is the large guardian mural inside the main hall, the Yongwang mural, as well as the temple’s beautiful location.

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The entry to Namjijangsa Temple.

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The temple bell that’s housed inside the entry gate.

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The slender five-tier pagoda with the Daeung-jeon Hall behind it.

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One of the Palsang-do murals that depicts the Buddha’s life.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall with Seokgamoni-bul front and centre.

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The view from the Daeung-jeon Hall out towards the main temple courtyard.

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The visitors’ centre at Namjijangsa Temple.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at the temple.

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An all-red Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural.

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Joined by this angry looking Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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The beautiful view at Namjijangsa Temple.

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The Geukrak-jeon Hall to the left of the main hall.

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This amazing Nathwi adorns one of the Geukrak-jeon Hall’s doors.

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The main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall with Amita-bul sitting in the centre.

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And to the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is this shrine for Yongwang (The Dragon King).

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An up close of the Yongwang mural.

Geumsuam Hermitage – 금수암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The entry to Geumsuam Hermitage on the Tongdosa Temple grounds in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Geumsuam Hermitage, which is located on the north-western portion of the Tongdosa Temple grounds in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, means “Golden Water Hermitage,” in English.  Geumsuam Hermitage is a hermitage meant for the daily worship practices of the Buddhist monks. With that in mind, Geumsuam Hermitage is a place to be on your best behavior.

When you first approach Geumsuam Hermitage up a winding road that twists and turns through the Korean countryside, you’ll finally arrive at a car bridge at the base of the hermitage. There is a newer looking white building as you approach. The road will lead to the right, which circumnavigates around the large garden that supports the monk population at the hermitage.  At the entrance is a cute looking younger dog that can be a bit rabid at times, so try not to pet it (just in case you were thinking of petting it).

As you approach the hermitage, you’ll see a beautiful gate that is usually closed to the public for the purpose of maintaining peace and quiet for the monks. Fortunately, it was open when we visited.  As you pass through the hermitage gate, you’ll see a beautiful metal dragon crest holding the ringed door knob. Decoratively, the gate is adorned with paintings of monster masks. The Korean name for these masks are “nathwi”. “Nat” means face, while “hwi”, in Chinese characters, means multi-coloured. These monster masks are placed on Korean Buddhist structures as guardian spirits. And depending on their gaze, that is the direction they are protecting.

After passing through the gate, you’ll enter into the simple and compact courtyard at the hermitage. There are only two hermitage structures in the courtyard at Geumsuam Hermitage. To the right, is the main hall, and to the left is a meditation pavilion. The highlight of the hermitage is a tranquil Koi pond in front of the meditation pavilion. There are two smaller sized pagodas on either side of the meditation pavilion. There are also numerous atypical statues of Bodhisattvas in the courtyard.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes. Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner. The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops. Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight, turn right and continue heading in that direction for one kilometre.  There are a cluster of hermitages. Follow the signs the rest of the way to Geumsuam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING:  2.5/10. Because Geumsuam Hermitage really isn’t meant for the public to visit, like Jajangam Hermitage or Biroam Hermitage, there is very little to actually see and enjoy at Geumsuam Hermitage. While there are a couple highlights, like the compact Koi pond, the meditative pavilion, and the atypical Buddhist statues, this hermitage should be saved for all but the greatest of Korean temple adventurers.

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As you first approach the hermitage grounds.

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The fields at Geumsuam Hermitage used by the monks for sustenance.

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As you approach the hermitage entry gate.

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The guard dog that welcomes you to the hermitage.

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The view through the hermitage gate.

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The ornamental door knocker at Geumsuam Hermitage.

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A decorative Nathwi painting that adorns the entry gate at the hermitage.

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The main hall at Geumsuam Hermitage.

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A statue of Yaksayore-bul outside the main hall.

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And the tiger riding Munsu-bosal in statue form.

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A fish designed wind chime that hangs from the main hall.

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The hermitage’s beautiful meditative pavilion.

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Colourful Koi swim in the pond.

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Protective guardians at the entry of the pavilion.

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One of the twelve Zodiac Generals.

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A slender statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

Ilchulam Hermitage – 일출암 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ilchulam Hermitage in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just east of the airport and south of Mt. Unbongsan in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is the diminutive Ilchulam Hermitage (Sunrise Hermitage). Next to a flowing stream, you’ll need to head down a country road to find this little known hermitage.

Upon arriving at the hermitage grounds, you’ll need to climb a set of stairs with rails next to it. The rails are used to bring items up to the hermitage. After summiting the stairs, you’ll be greeted by the main hall straight ahead of you. While a bit boxy in design, the main hall is adorned with masterful Ox-Herding murals all around its exterior walls. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll first notice a triad of statues resting on the main altar. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right, he’s joined by a long-haired statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Hanging on the right wall is an older looking guardian mural that’s joined by a beautiful Koi and hummingbird mural. And to the left of the main altar is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural.

To the right of the main hall is the monks dorms. But it’s to the rear of the main hall, and up a set of stairs that’s joined by the sheer face of the neighbouring mountain, that you’ll come across the second shrine hall that visitors can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage: the Dokseong/Sanshin-gak. While the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural is rather plain in composition, it’s the Sanshin mural that’s pretty unique. Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is holding the tiger’s tail, while the tiger smiles in its folk like design.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #200. After 26 stops, or 50 minutes, get off at the “Sangjeong Geomunso Stop.” Walk about 700 metres, or 10 minutes, to get to Ilchulam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While rather underwhelming for the amount of buildings you can explore at Ilchulam Hermitage, it’s the murals like the Sanshin mural and the Ox-Herding murals that make the hermitage worth a visit. In addition, the main altar statues inside the main hall and the guardian mural add to the hermitage’s overall artistic beauty.

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The grounds as you first approach Ilchulam Hermitage.

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The main hall at the hermitage.

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One of the beautiful Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.

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A look around the interior of the main hall.

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The guardian mural to the right of the main altar.

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A hummingbird and Koi mural to the left of the guardian mural.

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The unique Chilseong mural to the left of the main altar.

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It’s joined by this mural inside the main hall, as well.

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The rock walls that surround the hermitage grounds on all sides.

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A statue that a devotee left behind at Ilchulam Hermitage.

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The Dokseong/Sanshin-gak at the hermitage.

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A rather ordinary painting of Dokseong.

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Who is joined by the tiger-tail holding Sanshin.