Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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The extremely rare image of Samshin Halmoni at Sinbulsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

After being told about this place from a friend, and seeing a couple pictures, I couldn’t help but visit Sinbulsa Temple (신불사) on the southwestern part of Ulsan. I’m not too sure how the friend found it, because it doesn’t show up on any map on the trusty GPS in my car, but Sinbulsa Temple was well worth the treasure hunt to find for a couple of unique features that it houses.

When you first arrive at the temple, after wandering around the outskirts of the Samsung factory, you’ll first see a stone sign that reads “신불사.” Down the elbowed road, the road splits to the right and the left. To the right is the temple compound and to the left are a row of buildings (more on that later).

Straight ahead, on the right road, is a newly built bell pavilion that houses a really large sized bell, especially for how small the temple is. Adorning the bell are beautifully large Biseon and Korean poetic writing. Walking past the bell pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the main hall to the left, and straight ahead is the monks’ dorm.

The exterior walls of the main hall are rather plain in their decoration. The four paintings that adorn the exterior walls seem rather childish in composition. However, inside the main hall, the hall is both colourful and beautiful. Sitting on the main altar is a set of six Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the centre of the set is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the Buddha’s immediate right and left are statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And next to these statues are statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). And next to Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Left of this set of altar statues is a statue of a traditional looking Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And next to this statue is an even more unique statue of Jijang-bosal: this time, he’s seated on an elephant and backed by individual paintings of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. On the far right wall is another statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a beautifully large guardian painting.

Just past the main hall is the monks’ dorm. And next to that is a shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Inside this shrine hall is a seated golden statue of Yongwang with a beautiful mural behind him. This mural has Yongwang to the left and a blue dragon to the right. Just in front of the golden statue of Yongwang is an open pit where the mountain water flows, and to the immediate left are rows upon rows of green jade statues of Buddhas. Next to this shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang is an open outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse). Again, this shrine is large and golden, much like Yongwang, and the mural that backs this statue is beautifully rendered.

Across the creek, and over the bridge, is a courtyard with a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of the grounds. There are two beautiful flanking stone lanterns and a tiny stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the courtyard. It’s rather plain and cluttered, but the design of the stone sculptures and statues are beautiful.

Now, heading back through the temple grounds, and back to where you first began, you should now head left where the road originally forked. This part of the temple, and this row of shrine hall buildings, is definitely the highlight of Sinbulsa Temple. To the right of the shrine halls is an interesting little display case that opens. Inside is a painting of Samshin Halmoni. She is extremely rare to find at a Korean Buddhist temple, as she’s almost exclusively used in Korean shamanism. Inside the first shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak with a nice statue and painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Uniquely, there’s a large stone boulder from the neighbouring mountain inside the hall. To the left of the Sanshin-gak shrine hall is yet another highly unique painting of Samshin Halmoni with Dangsan Cheonwang. Inside the final shrine hall are some older looking paintings of guardians I am unfamiliar with.

HOW TO GET THERE: To say that this temple isn’t the easiest one to find in Korea is to put it mildly. First, you will have to take a bus to Yangsan. From the Yangsan Health Centre, near the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take either local city bus 63 or 67. The bus ride until your destination is about one hour. You will then have to get off at the SDI (Samsung Development Institute) factory. Take the first left that heads towards the main entrance gate at the factory. The road will fork to the left just before you arrive at the entrance gate. Follow this road, as it twists and turns for a good two to three kilometres. But don’t worry, there is good signage leading you towards the temple the entire way. On your way, you’ll pass by a forested area, as well as a few factories to the rear of the SDI facility.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While the temple buildings themselves and temple statues are rather unimpressive, it’s the statues and halls dedicated to the shaman deities that make this temple so special. So if you have the time and the energy it takes to find this temple, it’s well worth the effort.

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The entrance to Sinbulsa Temple.
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The view of the temple complex as you approach down the winding road.
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The view of the newly built bell pavilion as you head right towards the temple complex.
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A better look at the rather large bell at Sinbulsa Temple.
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A vibrant look up at the main hall at the temple.
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A look at the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang, as well as the outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong.
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Inside is this golden statue of Yongwang with an elaborate painting of Yongawang, as well.
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A closer look at a golden Dokseong.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) from the courtyard at the temple.
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Inside the beautiful and colourful main hall.
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A beautiful rendering of the guardian painting to the right of the main altar.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the main altar.
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A unique statue of Jijang-bosal riding an elephant with all ten of the Kings of the Underworld behind him.
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And next to one Jijang-bosal, is another statue of a more traditional statue of Jijang-bosal.
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The buildings to the left of the main courtyard. Inside these halls are some extremely unique paintings.
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Like this one inside the first shrine hall.
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As well as this one.
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The entrance to one of the most unique shrine halls I’ve ever seen at a Korean temple. This one is dedicated to Dangsan Cheonwang and Sam shin Halmoni.
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A better look at the two holding hands.
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Another shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak shrine hall dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit.
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Accompanying San shin are these two paintings to the side of the altar.
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Yet another interesting part of this temple was this altar dedicated to Samshin Halmoni.
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A picture of the painting of Samshin Halmoni inside the altar.

Sujeongsa Temple – 수정사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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One of the most impressive interiors to a main hall can be found at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another amazing temple was recommended to me by a friend. And after a few attempts to find it, we finally found Sujeongsa Temple. And the effort to locate this well hidden temple was well worth it.

After traveling down a narrow one lane road for three kilometres, we finally arrived at the Sujeongsa Temple (수정사) grounds. When you first arrive, a nun complex with the dorms and kitchen are to your immediate right, with a view of the main hall straight ahead. In front of the main hall, in a grassy courtyard, is a five metre tall statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue of Amita-bul is beautifully rendered with some equally amazing guardians at the base of the statue.

Straight ahead is the ornately decorated exterior of the main hall. Surrounding the exterior are the Palsang-do paintings that depict the life of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). In addition to these eight paintings are two paintings on the left side of people being judged by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. On the right side of the main hall are beautiful Biseon and triad paintings. There is gorgeous latticework at the front of the main hall. At the front of the main hall are all of the Spirit Generals (zodiac animals) adorning the latticework. And even though they are covered in a mesh to protect them from the elements, you can still see them to be able to recognize just how brilliant they look.

When I was outside photographing the latticework, I heard my wife exclaim “wow” inside. And when I stepped inside the main hall, I completely understood what she meant with her “wow.” Without a doubt, the interior of the main hall is one of (if not the) most beautiful interiors I’ve seen in all of Korea. The interior is completely covered in absolutely stunning wood carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. Luckily, the very kind head-nun at the temple came out and explained some of the designs inside the main hall. She told us how she had a dream, and later sketched her dream about how the interior of the main hall should appear. And with the assistance from a professor at the Dongguk University, she was able to finalize her planned design. Sitting on the main altar is a radiant Seokgamoni-bul in the centre, and he’s flanked by two equally radiant statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). These three statues sit upon a wooden altar that is gorgeously carved. The altar depicts the Palsang-do series, and will soon be an Ulsan city treasure. To the right of the altar is a beautifully carved statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Jijang-bosal shrine are sixteen statues of Gwanseeum-bosal, who is the Bodhisattva of Compassion (more on them later). On the far left wall is the guardian carving with over one hundred guardians that are depicted. Next to the guardian carving is another seventeen Gwanseeum-bosal wood carvings. We were told by the head-nun that she had a dream about the thirty-three Gwanseeum-bosals that inhabit Botasan Mountain in China. And finally, there is a beautiful octagonal dragon crest at the centre of the ceiling in the main hall. And the gorgeous pink lotus lamp that hangs from the ceiling is made from the same material as airplaines (yes, airplanes!). Again, the main hall is one of the most beautiful and spectacular main halls in Korea as a result of the gorgeously made wood carvings of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians.

The only other shrine hall at Sujeongsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall to the left of the main hall. And much like the originality of the main hall, the Samseong-gak shrine hall is equally unique. There is a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of a Samseong-gak shrine hall. The head-nun, continuing with us on our tour of the temple, told us how she had another dream: this time, about San shin (The Mountain deity). Originally, the head-nun at the temple had planned on simply knocking down the 200 year old Samseong-gak shrine hall and building a new one in its place. However, San shin appeared to the head-nun in a dream three times. So the head-nun decided to build a cheaper quality protective building around the older Samseong-gak. Strangely, during a ceremony being performed at the Samseong-gak shrine hall the photographer captured a picture of a pine tree on the neighbouring mountain appear as though it was on fire. The head-nun took this as a sign and decided to build a beautiful new Samseong-gak shrine around the 200 year old original Samseong-gak shrine. She did this, as she explained, because she felt that if she didn’t “someone would die.” An amazing story that goes perfectly with an amazingly original design with the Samseong-gak shrine hall inside another Samseong-gak shrine hall.

Finally, there’s a Yongwang shrine dedicated to the Dragon king near a cascade of water beside the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Interestingly, the head-nun told us a story about a stone that sits out in front of the Yongwang shrine altar. She said that you can pick up the stone without first praying; however, once you do pray, you’re unable to pick the stone up off of its altar. Testing this story, it actually came true, as I was unable to lift the stone off of its altar.

For more on Sujeongsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: Without a mode of transportation, whether it be a scooter, motorbike, or car, as well as an amazingly accurate GPS system, this temple is next to impossible to both locate and find. This temple is located on the western side of Ulsan in the countryside. Other than that, it’s next to impossible to explain its location. In fact, I was the only the second foreigner ever to visit this temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Even though this temple only has two shrine halls and an outdoor shrine, for so many other reasons this temple rates as highly as it does. Starting with the zodiac latticework on the exterior of the main hall, and continuing inside, the extremely ornate and skillfully designed and rendered interior main hall, is just one reason this temple is worth the effort to find. Another reason is the highly original Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. And finally, the mind-bending prayer rock at the Yongwang altar, all make Sujeongsa Temple an amazing destination for a Korean temple adventurer.

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A look at the nuns’ dorms, kitchen, and the courtyard with a statue of Amita-bul to the left.
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A view of the very impressive main hall at Sujeongsa Temple.
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A look across the front of the main hall.
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The gorgeous latticework with the Spirit Generals (zodiac signs) depicted in each frame.
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And below the zodiac signs are these cross-eyed Nathwi.
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On the left side of the exterior walls on the main hall is this grotesque judgment painting.
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And wrapped around the entire length of the main hall are the Palsang-do murals depicting the Buddha’s life.
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And inside the main hall is one of the most impressively decorated interiors in all of Korea.
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Carved at the base of the main altar are the eight Palsang-do scenes from the Buddha’s life. In this panel, on the right, is the Buddha teaching, and on the left is the Buddha dying from his earthly life. Absolutely stunning craftsmanship.
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To the right of the main altar is the shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Just sixteen, of the thirty-three, Gwanseeum-bosal statues both to the immediate right and left of the main altar.
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An upclose of one of the Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Each of the altar statues is beautifully painted and carved.
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The amazingly elaborate one hundred plus guardian rendering.
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An upclose of the central figures in the mural, including the winged Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Dharma).
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The octagonal dragon crest that sits in the centre of the ceiling with the lotus lamps made from airplane material.
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A look at the unpainted Samseong-gak shrine hall side-by-side with the main hall.
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A closer look reveals a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. This set-up is definitely a first for me.
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A look inside the interior Samseong-gak shrine hall at the main altar. A statue of San shin (The Mountain god) is in the centre, with a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right, and a wooden tablet depicting Chilseong (The Seven Stars) to the left.
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A better look at an older and atypical painting of The Recluse, Dokseong.
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An arrow points to the fire that appeared during a San shin ceremony. The nun was adamant that it was San shin making an appearance.
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The Yongwang (The Dragon King) shrine with the prayer rock out in front of the altar. Make a wish and see what happens.

Seoknamsa Temple – 석남사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

Picture 038A view of the cascading pools of water that greet you at Seoknamsa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

Originally, we were supposed to visit Seoknamsa Temple the same day we visited Unmunsa Temple, but we ran out of time.  Today, we decided to head up to Eonyang and visit Seoknamsa Temple. So with my father-in-law and wife, we headed out early.

Seoknamsa Temple (pronounced Seongnamsa) means “Southern Rock Temple” because of its southern location on the Gaji mountain range. Seoknamsa Temple was first built in 824 by monk Master Doui. The temple was continuously enlarged until the Japanese Invasion of 1592, when the temple was completely destroyed. However, in 1674, under the watchful and loving eye of Zen Masters Takyoung and Sunchol, it was rebuilt. And through the years it was enlarged both in 1803 and 1912. More recently, and after the Korean War, nuns (bhikkuni) have been residing at the temple. Presently, the temple is under the supervision of Abbot Monk Inhong who has remodeled and rebuilt many buildings including the Daeung-jeon (The Main Hall) and Geukrak-jeon (Paradise Hall).

Situated under the towering Mount Gaji, and alongside a cascading river valley, is Seoknamsa Temple. After passing through the colourful Iljumun gate, you’ll make one of the most beautiful one kilometre walks up to a temple in all of Korea. After the beautiful walk, you’ll come to an opening where there’s a new  bridge.  Underneath the bridge are cascades of water that pool crystal clear. There are rocks that act as steps that lead the way down to the base of these cascades.  The potential pictures you can take here are endless, so take your time and enjoy the view. After getting your fill make your way across the bridge and up a twisting road. Again, cross over another newer looking bridge and head left around the elevated outskirts of the courtyard. Passing under a meditation centre, you’ll pass through uniquely painted entrance doors. Instead of having the customary guardian paintings, there are four Sanskrit circles.  Each aids in ridding yourself of bad karma. And at the centre of the entrance doors is the Buddhist sign for enlightenment, as well as the Buddhist Wheel of Life. Up the staircase, you’ll first be greeted by the ancient Silla pagoda that stands in the temple courtyard. The three-tiered Seokgomoni Pagoda was built by the founding monk, Doui, in 824 in hopes of protecting the country from foreign invasion. Unfortunately, this intention didn’t come to fruition, because the pagoda was destroyed in 1592 by the Japanese invasion. In 1973 the pagoda was restored by monk Inhong. Behind this pagoda is the main hall, Daeung-jeon (“Great Hero Hall”). The main hall is externally painted with beautiful paintings of Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes of the Historical Buddha’s Life). These paintings are peeling but unbelievably realistic. Also, throughout the eaves Buddhas are painted with smoke uniquely rising from their heads. Inside the main hall, and sitting at the main altar, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with two accompanying Buddhas: Mireuk-bul (The Buddha of Future Salvation) and Dipamkara-bul (The Buddha of the Past).

To the right of the main hall is an area that is off-limits to the general public as it’s a living quarters and meditation area for the nuns. To the left of the main hall, on the other hand, is Geukrak-jeon (Paradise Hall). Inside the main hall, and on the main altar, is Amita Bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. To his left is Gwanseum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Great Power). The exterior of this buidling contains numerous unique paintings to this temple like monkeys playing. Even further left is the more compact three-tiered pagoda that dates back to the late Silla Dynasty.  Behind the Geukrak-jeon Hall is Josa-jeon, which is a hall for placing the portraits of historic priests that resided at the temple. At the centre of these paintings is a painting of the founding monk, Doui. To the right, and behind the main hall up a couple flights of stairs and well-manicured grounds, is a stupa that contains the earthly remains of the founding monk, Doui. From this stupa, you can see the entire temple compound.  There are some beautiful views of the valley, the temple, and the mountains above from here.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll either have to get to Miryang, Ulsan or Eonyang to get a connecting bus to the SeoknamsaTemple. From Miryang, you can take one of the numerous buses that travels throughout the day from the Miryang Bus Terminal.  The cost of the bus ride costs about 5,000 Won. You can take bus number 807 or 1713 from near the Ulsan intercity bus terminal. Also, you can take the Eonyang city bus that travels out to the temple eleven times during the day.

OVERALL RATING:  7.5/10. While not as impressive as the neighbouring temple, Unmunmsa Temple, Seoknamsa Temple has a lot to offer the Korean temple adventurer.  One of the highlights of the temple is where Seoknamsa Temple is situated with the beautiful and cascading stream, as well as towering Mount Gaji. Also the imposingly ancient three-tiered pagoda is another highlight to the adventure. Uniquely, the temple also has the remains of the founding monk in a stupa that overlooks the temple grounds. For all these reasons, I would recommend visiting this little traveled hidden gem of a temple.

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The colourful Iljumun Gate at Seoknamsa Temple.
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There were numerous Biseon (Flying Angels) paintings throughout the temple like this one on the colourful Iljumun entrance gate.
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The beautiful pine canopied walk towards the temple.
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The pooling and cascading view of the temple as you first approach it.
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A view under the bridge and down the valley that leads to Seoknamsa Temple.
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A walk around the outskirts of the temple compound with the ever-present Gaji mountain in the background.
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The uniquely painted entrance doors at the temple with the partial sign of enlightenment and the Buddhist Wheel of Life.  In the smaller circles are Sanskrit signs for shedding ones bad karma.
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A view of the ancient Silla pagoda and main hall as you first walk up to the temple courtyard.
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A better look at the intricacies of the the pagoda.
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A better view of the 1200 year old pagoda and Daeungjeon Hall (Main Hall).
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A beautiful view of the harmony of Buddhism and nature together.
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In front of the main hall were a few of these beautiful lotus flowers growing in a tiny pond.
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The altar pieces inside the main hall: Seokgomoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with Mireuk-bul (The Buddha of Future Salvation) and Dipamkara-bul (The Buddha of the Past).
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The peeling, yet realistic, painting of the Buddha’s earthly death.  Uniquely, there is a dragon, a tiger, and a white elephant in attendance to the right, as well as a turtle to the left.  All are highly symbolic in Buddhist artwork.
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Just one, of the many, Buddhas with smoke rising from his head.
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A beautiful angle of the main courtyard at Seoknamsa Temple.
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Just one of the many beautiful paintings at the temple.  This one illustrates Podae-hwasang.
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A view of Daeungjeon (The Main Hall) to the right,  Geungrak-jeon (Paradise Hall) to the left, and Josa-jeon (A Monk Portrait Hall) in the centre.
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The altar inside Geungrak-jeon (Paradise Hall) with Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre and to his left is Gwanseum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Great Power) to the right.
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An extremely unique painting that depicts monkeys playing.  I’ve never seen this at any other temple in all of Korea.
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I’ve seen this painting at several other temples; however, what makes this one different is the lion looking down at the man.  Usually, it’s a white elephant that looks down at the struggling man.
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A look inside Josajeon (The Monk Portrait Hall).  The painting of the founding monk, Doui, is the very first painting on the left.
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A view of the entire temple complex with the neighbouring Gajisan in the background.
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A bumble bee busy at work upon some of the beautiful pink flowers that were in bloom on the hillside.
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And a look at the physical, and symbolic, crown of the temple: founding monk Master Doui’s Budo, which contain his earthly remains.