The Story of…Donghaksa Temple

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The main hall and courtyard at Donghaksa Temple in Gonju, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had first visited Donghaksa Temple, just outside Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, back in 2004. Ever since quickly visiting the temple in the spring of 2004, on a late afternoon day with a friend, I had wanted to go back. The opportunity to revisit this beautifully situated temple came during the summer of 2011.

Unlike the previous time I had visited Donghaksa Temple, the sky was overcast and starting to rain. I was feeling a bit unwell, and the weather certainly wasn’t helping.

The long walk up to the temple was a bit hazardous, as they were just starting to lay the ground work for paving the road. However, during this stage of construction, and because of the rain, the road was nothing more than a massive mud puddle.

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 The beautiful stream that flowed beside the muddy road at Donghaksa Temple.

During our trek up to the temple through the mud, it had been raining on and off. Sometimes it was nothing more than spitting and other times it was a deluge. Having finally arrived at the temple courtyard, we started to explore Donghaksa Temple when the rain rolled in once more. Not only that, but it brought thunder and lightning with it. With umbrella in hand, a la a lightning rod, we quickly took shelter in the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Other than the occasional nun that went running by seeking shelter, my wife and I were the only ones crazy enough to visit a temple during a thunderstorm.

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 The downpour as seen from the Samseong-gak.

With all that being said, and if it’s possible for a temple to be romantic, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As the rains beat down all around us, and the thunder and lightning lit up the neighbouring valleys with noise and light, we looked out onto the storm without a care in the world. It was just the two of us, in the eye of a storm, waiting for the storm to pass us by as we hunkered down.

For more information on Donghaksa Temple.

Temple Stay: Sudeoksa Temple (Chungcheongnam-do)

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The main hall at Sudeoksa Temple, which dates back to 1308, and is the oldest wooden structure in Korea. (Courtesy of Wikipedia).

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

The exact date as to when Sudeoksa Temple was established is unknown; however, it’s believed to date back to the reign of the Baekje king, King Wideok (r. 554-598 A.D.). Sudeoksa Temple was a large temple from the Goryeo Dynasty through to the Joseon Dynasty. In 1984, the temple was awarded the distinction of becoming a Chongmin Temple, which includes a Seon room, Sutra school and a Precepts school. In total, there are only five of these types of schools in all of Korea, with the others being Haeinsa Temple, Songgwangsa Temple, Tongdosa Temple, and Baekyangsa Temple. There are many cultural properties housed at Sudeoksa Temple, but it’s best known for the Daeung-jeon Hall (The main hall). Sudeoksa Temple was one of the very few historical temples not to be destroyed during the destructive Imjin War (1592-1598). As a result, the main hall, which dates back to 1308, is the oldest wooden structure in all of Korea. Additionally, the Samcheung-tap pagoda that dates back to around the Goryeo Dynasty, the intimidating Heavenly Kings that welcome you to the temple, and the numerous temple buildings, highlight the ancient Sudeoksa Temple.

Sudeoksa Temple is one of the more popular Temple Stay programs with foreign visitors. The program is highlighted by monastic meals, a tea ceremony, and a conversation with monks from Sudeoksa Temple. A visitor can also enjoy the scenic beauty that surrounds Sudeoksa Temple by taking a beautiful hike to the top of Mt. Deoksungsan. You can also enjoy the neighbouring Jeonghyesa Temple and the amazing views from the peak.

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(Courtesy of Wikipedia)


There are two ways to get to Sudeoksa Temple from Seoul. First, take subway line # 2 to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, or you can also take subway line # 3 to the Nambu Bus Terminal, and get a bus to Yaesan (about 2 hours 30 minutes). From the Yaesan Bus Terminal, you can take a local bus directly to Sudeoksa (about 1 hour).

The other way is to take subway line # 2 to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, or you can take subway line # 3 to the Nambu Bus Terminal, and get a bus for Hongseong (2 hours 10 minutes). From Hongseong Bus Terminal, you can take a local bus directly to Sudeoksa (40 minutes).

General Schedule:

Day 1 :

15:30 ~ 16:00: Distribution of Uniforms and Room Assignments
16:00 ~ 17:00: Orientation to Temple Etiquette.
17:00 ~ 18:00: Evening Barugongyang
18:20 ~ 19:00: Evening Prayer Service
19:00 ~ 20:30: A Conversation with a Monk
20:30 ~ 21:00: The Study of Banyasimgyeong Text
21:00 ~ 21:30: Walking Meditation
21:30: Sleep

Day 2
03:00 : Rising and Washing
03:00 ~ 04:00: Doryangseok Ritual and Morning Service
07:00 ~ 09:00: Hiking in Mount Deoksungsan
09:00 ~ 11:00: Hot Spring Bath
11:00 ~ 11:30: Buddhist Memorial Service
11:30 ~ 12:00: Afternoon Meal

(Courtesy of the Sudeoksa Temple Stay website)

Sudeoksa Temple Information:

Address: 20, Sacheon-ri, Deoksan-myeon Yesan-gun Chungcheongnam-do
Tel: +82-41-337-0137 / Fax: +82-41-337-0072


Adults: 100,000 won; Teens: 50,000 won; Under 13: 0 won


Reservations for the Sudeoksa Temple Stay program.

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(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Gakwonsa Temple – 각원사 (Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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A look up at the beautiful Amita-bul statue that stands 15 metres tall at Gakwonsa Temple.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

I had never really heard of Gakwonsa Temple until my wife suggested we go on the last day of our summer vacation trip to visit a few of the more remote temples from our home. After reading up on it a bit, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, and you’ll see why.

Gakwonsa Temple (각원사) has undergone so much recent reconstruction that it almost seems like a new temple. Gakwonsa Temple is located at the foot of Mt. Taejosan a few kilometres east of the downtown area of Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do. As you first approach the temple, you’ll first have to climb the 203 stairs to see what the temple is famous for. It’s a long sweaty walk, so be prepared. Once you arrive at the top of the massive flight of stairs, you’ll see an equally massive statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This massive statue was first started in 1976, and it was the largest statue in all of Korea until the statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) was constructed at Beopjusa Temple in 1988. And in 1994, it was surpassed by the tonnage of a statue in Korea by the bronze Buddha statue at Songgoksa Temple. However, the refinement of this aging green coloured bronze statue of Amita-bul is far more stunning than either one. In total, this serenely seated Amita-bul weighs a massive 60 tons of bronze, and it sits 15 metres in height. So large is this statue that its ears are nearly 2 metres in length. Having been completed on May 9, 1977, it was enshrined for the reunification of North and South Korea. The statue itself is serenely seated on an equally massive lotus-bud base. It’s  left arm lies on its lap as the right hand is raised. Its almond eyes and lightly draped clothes are delicately draped over the figure as it benevolently looks out on the city and valley below. It truly is one of the most beautiful statues of a Buddha that you will find in Korea, perhaps only surpassed by the Seokgamoni-bul stone statue at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.

From on high, you’ll see a great view of the expansive temple grounds at Gakwonsa Temple. But down the hill, as you descend, you’ll see all the halls that are also massively built as you, as though they were in competition with the statue to see who could be bigger. The first hall you’ll encounter is the Nahan-jeon Hall dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The inside of the hall is elaborately decorated with floral and Nahan paintings. The exterior of the hall is also decorated with floral and Nahan paintings, but it also has beautiful paintings of Biseon, and uniquely designed bronze fish wind chimes.

Directly across from this part of the temple is the massively built main hall. As you walk towards it, you’ll notice some beautiful artwork on tiles from people from all around the world that have visited the temple. Have a look because some of it is really well done. Much like the gigantic Amita-bul statue that overlooks the entire temple, the main hall is one of the largest wooden halls in all of Korea. Standing beside it, it almost seemed as though I had instantly grown shorter. Housed inside the temple massive main hall is an equally large triad Buddha and Bodhisattvas. In the centre of the triad is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha); he’s flanked by, what seems to be, the young Ananda (representing the intellect) and the aged Kasyapa (representing experience and wisdom). The exterior of the main hall houses some extremely rare paintings unique to Gakwonsa Temple that you’ll have to see to believe. Also, there is beautiful floral lattice work and Nathwi (Monster Mask) wood carvings on the doors.

In the last section of the compound that houses halls dedicated Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Shaman deities, you’ll first come across the San shin-jeon hall dedicated to the namesake of the hall: San shin. The inside of the hall is beautifully decorated with an altar painting of an eloquently rendered San shin (The Mountain Spirit). There are other paintings of saints in the hall. The exterior of this hall is beautifully decorated with unique paintings up near the eaves of the hall. There are gorgeous tiger drawings that are emblematic of San shin. There’s also a painting of what looks to be a Haetae (The mythical fire consumer and controller), but it’s a little bit different, which makes me wonder what it’s actually supposed to be. Next to this hall, to the right, is a hall that houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s surrounded by one thousand miniature statues of Buddhas in various poses and positions. On the exterior of this hall, there are eight beautiful paintings of the Historical Buddhas life that are called the Palsang-do Paintings. The paintings are a bit plain, but well executed.

The rest of the temple compound is a maze of dorms and study halls for both lay people and monks. There’s a large parking lot that can store up to 100 cars at a time. Everything at the temple is done on a grand scale, including the bell pavilion that is a bit obstructed by the parking lot that stands between the main hall and the bell pavilion.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the city of Cheonan, you can take city bus number 102, which connects the downtown area of the city with Gakwonsa Temple. The ride shouldn’t be too long in duration, certainly no longer than 20 minutes.

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OVERALL RATING:  8.5/10. This one took me a bit of time to think about. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to rate it, because it certainly has some highlights, but at the same time, it’s size is a bit much, much like Manbulsa Temple. The highlight of this temple, by far, is the beautifully built, and delicately designed, 15 metre tall Amita-bul statue. The main hall is equally beautiful in its size and decorative designs that adorn the hall both inside and out. The only drawback about Gakwonsa Temple, as I said, is the lack of refinement and modesty (at times). With all that being said, if you’re in the area, and you want to see a beautiful statue of Amita-bul, I would recommend that you go.

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The massive Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) that first greets you at Gakwonsa Temple.
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A better look at part of the 15 metre tall Buddha.
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A look down at the temple compound.
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Just one of the beautiful pink lotuses that was in bloom out in front of the Amita-bul statue.

Picture 717Heading down the stairs that leads to the rest of the temple. But before we did, just one last look back at the beautiful 15 metre tall seated bronze statue of Amita-bul.Picture 066The Nahan-jeon Hall is the first hall you’ll encounter after descending down the stone stairs. This hall is dedicated to the disciples of the Historical Buddha.Picture 701

A look up at the unique fish wind chime that adorns the exterior of the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The altar inside the Nahan-jeon. You can see small statues of the Nahan on the altar. This altar is flanked by paintings of the Nahan doing various things.
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A look up at the main hall at Gakwonsa Temple with a view of the beautifully painted tiles as you approach.
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A good look at just how massive the main hall is at Gakwonsa Temple.
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Just one of the unique Nathwi that adorns the doors of the main hall.
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And a look up at the beautiful floral lattice work that adorns the massive doors on the main hall.
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Just one of the unique paintings that adorns the exterior of the main hall.
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The altar inside the main hall with a massive Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre.
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A look over at the bell pavilion that is strangely placed in front of the parking lot.
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A look up towards the Sanshin-gak Hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain god).
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A look at the courtyard to the right of the main hall. To the right is the San shin-gak with the massive main hall straight ahead.
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A look inside the San shin-gak with a beautiful painting of San shin on the altar.
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This is just one of the unique paintings adorning the exterior walls of the San shin-gak Hall.
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This is yet another of the beautifully decorative paintings adorning the exterior walls of the San shin-gak Hall.
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This smaller sized hall to the right of the San shin-gak is dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).
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The Palsang-do paintings depicting the eight scenes of the Historical Buddha’s life adorns the exterior walls of the hall that houses Birojana-bul.
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Inside the hall, sitting on the altar, is Birojana-bul, and he’s surrounded by hundreds of smaller versions of himself.
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And one last different look up at Amita-bul before we headed back home to Yangsan.

Magoksa Temple – 마곡사 (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)

Picture 056The bridge that spans the stream that encompasses Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Perhaps one of the most beautifully situated, and one of my favourite temple’s in all of Korea, is Magoksa Temple in Chungcheongnam-do. It was another one of those temples in Gongju that I had long wanted to visit for several years. Fortunately, over this summer vacation I was able to revisit one of Korea’s hidden temple gems.

Magoksa Temple (마곡사) was first built in 640 by the famous monk, Jajang-yulsa. He is the same monk that built the famous Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. It was later reconstructed by monk Bojoguksa during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1172. Like all temple creation stories, Magoksa Temple also has a great one. The name of the temple, Magoksa Temple, was created when a believer looked at the temple and said that it looked like a flax stack in a flax field. This was said as the famous monk Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. Uniquely, this temple was spared any damage during the Imjin War. This is unique since almost all major temples in Korea, outside of Buseoksa Temple in northern Gyeongsangbuk-do, were completely destroyed.  In fact, this temple didn’t suffer any damage in wartime during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Magoksa Temple is beautifully situated on Mt. Taehwasan. It’s located just 24 kilometres outside of the city of Gongju on the northwest side. The walk in, like the location of Magoksa Temple, is perhaps the most beautiful in all of Korea. As you walk down the road for a kilometre, you’ll notice a wandering stream to your right. This stream is shaped like the Yin and Yang symbol, and it flows from the mountains above, through the Magoksa Temple, and into the picturesque valley below. There are numerous places that you can capture some amazing pictures.

You’ll first catch a glimpse of the temple over the stream and through the trees. As you first approach the temple, you’ll notice that the temple is divided up into three beautiful parts. The first part of the temple houses three gates, monk’s dorms, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, and the Sanshin-gak. The first gate you’ll pass through, the Iljumun Gate, you’ll see in the first 500 metres of your hike towards the temple. It’s a beautifully decorated gate. Now, on the outskirts of the temple courtyard, you’ll see two more gates with the monk’s dorms to your immediate left. The first gate you’ll pass through is a highly unique gate. Back in 2004, when I first visited the temple, it was the first time I had ever seen such a gate like it. This gate is known as the Liberation Gate, and there’s only one other gate like it that I know of in all of Korea at Beopjusa Temple. This gate was first built in 1864, and it’s meant to inspire those visiting the temple to seek liberation from earthly problems. Inside this gate are housed two Bodhisattvas and two Vajra devas that help guard the temple. The two Bodhisattvas are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), who rides a blue tiger; and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), who rides on a white elephant all alone. The next gate you’ll pass through is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which is more commonly known as the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, in English. Inside this gate are the Four Heavenly Kings. If you look close enough at one of them, Damun Cheonwang, you’ll notice that he isn’t holding a pagoda like he usually does. Instead, he is holding a bowl of fruit in his left hand. These variations were once very common throughout these gates and these Kings; however, these differences are far less common nowadays, so it’s nice to see them when you can. The other beautiful thing on this side of the stream is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The seated Jijang-bosal is surrounded by the 10 Kings of the Underworld. Behind each of these Kings and their corresponding assistants, are murals of the worlds that they reside over in the Underworld. It’s one of the better renderings and constructions of a Myeongbu-jeon in Korea, so have a look. Lastly, up the hill, above the Myeongbu-jeon hall, is a bit of a non-descript Sanshin-gak with a larger sized rendering of Sanshin that is beautifully painted.

Across the picturesque, and ancient bridge, is the stream that you walked beside the entire way up to the temple. Across the bridge you’ll first be greeted by the large bell pavilion at the lower courtyard of the temple. Also in this courtyard stands a slender five-tier pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Uniquely, the top of the pagoda is adorned with a Tibetanesque finial. Straight ahead is the Daegwangbo-jeon hall that dates back to 1813, which was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original structure. This hall houses the solitary Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). Uniquely, Birojana-bul is situated in the left of the hall, much like Birojana-bul at Buseoksa Temple’s main hall, Muryangsu-jeon.  He is seated to the left, in the west, so that he can face the east. This beautiful Buddha statue is surrounded by equally beautiful, but fading, paintings inside this hall. Everywhere you look you’ll find paintings of saints, dragons and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). In the rear of the hall are the guardian paintings and the Yeongsan Assembly painting that are older looking in style. Outside, this hall is all but unadorned except for the guardian paintings on the left side of the hall as well as some uniquely sculpted dragon’s with pearls and fish in their mouth near the main entrance of the hall. To the right of the Daegwangbo-jeon hall are the monk’s dorms and the temple stay building. To the left of the Daegwangbo-jeon hall is the Eungjin-jeon hall that houses the 15 disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). These golden sculptures flank a golden Seokgamoni-bul that sits on the altar on a red silk pillow. In front of this hall is the former residence of the patriot Kim Gu. And in front of this hall is a hall dedicated to famous monks that resided at the temple including Jajang-daesa, the founding monk of Magoksa Temple.

Around the corner of these buildings, you’ll notice the same winding stream that you first walked in beside, snaked around the outer edges of the west side of the lower quarter yard. This is another beautiful place to take pictures out by the cascading water. Up the bank, you’ll arrive at the upper courtyard, where the main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, is housed. This hall was rebuilt in 1651 and is one of the few double storied main halls with any historical importance throughout Korea. Inside this hall are housed a big and beautiful triad of Buddhas. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), and to the left is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The age of the hall is evident with the leaning of the structure. The pillars of the hall are decorated with the signatures of prominent people that have visited it through the centuries. There are two beautiful paintings of Sanshin and a guardian painting on either side of the hall’s walls.

Admission to the temple is a very reasonable 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Gongju, you can catch Bus number 7 at the Gongju Bus Terminal (NewBuilding), and get off at the last stop of the bus ride. It’s a 30 to 40 minute bus ride and buses leave from 6 in the morning until 8:30 at night. You can also take a taxi from the Gongju Bus Terminal if you’re really willing and wanting to get there as soon as possible. The taxi ride should only take you 20 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Without a doubt, Magoksa Temple is one of my favourite temples throughout Korea. With its serenely situated location and the beautifully built temple halls, it’s no wonder I love this temple so much. It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a pretty easy trip if you’re located anywhere near the city of Daejeon; and if not, the city of Gongju makes for a nice little weekend away with all the other temple’s so closely located to Magoksa Temple.

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The decoratively painted Iljumun Gate at Magoksa Temple.
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The beautiful stream that leads you into the temple.
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The Yin and Yang stream that flows under the ancient bridge at Magoksa Temple.
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The highly unique Liberation Gate is in the foreground and the Cheonwangmun Gate is behind it.
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Inside the Liberation Gate is Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) riding his blue tiger.
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And Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on top of his white elephant.
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And inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, The Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, is this rarely accessorized Damun Cheonwang.
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Off in the distance, in the first area of the temple, sits Myeongbu-jeon hall which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall is Jijang-bosal sitting on the main altar with his 10 accompanying Kings of the Underworld.
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Up the hill, and behind the Myeongbu-jeon hall, is the Sanshin Hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
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Inside the San shin hall is this big and beautiful painting depicting the Mountain Spirit.
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The lower courtyard at Magoksa Temple.
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A better look at the bell pavilion at the temple.
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A rare dragon with a fish in its mouth that adorns the outside of Daegwangbo-jeon Hall.
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Inside Daegwangbo-jeon hall is housed this beautiful Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).
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Also inside Daegwangbo-jeon are these older murals decorating the surface of the hall as well as another decorative dragon head.
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At the back of the hall is this older looking Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). This is definitely one of the older paintings of this Shaman deity that I’ve seen.
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The two shrine halls left of Daegwangbo-jeon hall. The one on the left is dedicated to the Nahan, while the one on the right is dedicated to the patriot Kim Gu.
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Inside the Nahan-jeon hall were Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) seated to the left on the red velvet pillow with the flanking 16 Nahan disciples.
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A picture inside the shrine hall dedicated to famous monks that resided at the temple.
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Another view of the Yin and Yang shaped stream that surrounds the temple at every bend.
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Finally, a look up at the two-storied main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, through the darkness and up to the light.
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The main altar inside Daeungbo-jeon. On the altar sits Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) to the right, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre, and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the left.
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One last look at the courtyard at Magoksa Temple.

Gapsa Temple – 갑사 (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)

Picture 333The eerie waters that flow under a bridge that leads you to Gapsa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Like Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, I had long wanted to revisit Gapsa Temple. And much like Donghaksa Temple, it was raining torrential rain. But I guess that should be expected from this summer. However, Gapsa Temple was just as beautiful as I remembered it, even though it was raining.

Gapsa Temple is located on the west side of Gyeryong-san National Park, and it’s one of the oldest temples in all of Korea. It dates back to 420 A.D. when monk Ado, who helped introduce Buddhism to the Silla Dynasty. Gapsa Temple was later expanded in 556 A.D. by monk Hyemyeong. It was after this time that the temple became one of the top ten temples in the Hwaeom Buddhist Order as ordered by monk Eusang in 679. Then the temple was expanded one more time in 887 by the monk Muyeom. Unfortunately, like most important temples in Korea, all the temple buildings at Gapsa Temple were burnt to the ground during the Imjin War in 1592 to 1597. Luckily for us, the temple was rebuilt in 1604. It was further expanded in 1654. Originally, the temple was called Gyerong Gapsa during the early Joseon Period; but it was subsequently shortened to its present name: Gapsa Temple.

Initially, the trail will quickly fork to the left and right next to the parking lot. The path to the right leads through a gauntlet of Korean restaurants. If you want to avoid this, take the trail that leads left. You’ll walk for about 500 metres before coming to the temple’s ticket booth and the stately Iljumun Gate. Not long after this gate, you’ll cross over a bridge that allows you to cross over the cascading water below you. There is an older looking Chinese character graffiti littered amongst the rocks. Continuing your climb up the ascending hillside towards the temple, you’ll next come to the beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate that houses the Four Heavenly Kings. These fierce looking Kings are trampling equally fierce demons under their feet.  After making the one kilometre hike up the trail, you’ll come to a bend in the road, this is the surest sign that you’ve arrived at Gapsa Temple, that and the fact that you’ll finally be able to see the temple buildings.

When you first arrive at the temple grounds the first building you’ll see on the elevated hillside is the hall called Gangdang, which was formally a lecture hall. This hall is now dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Inside this hall, as you’ll later see when you climb the stairs to the main courtyard, is an altar with a taller seated Jijang-bosal. Behind him, in this cavernously lit hall, is a wall of smaller sized Jijang-bosal statues around the altar. To the right of the altar is a beautiful black painting depicting Jijang-bosal and his assistants.  To the rear of the hall is a unique structure with handles on it. This elaborately coloured wooden top that stands about two and a half metres in height is meant to be spun around by an individual. It’s said that whoever spins this top will have their bad karma dissolved. Still in the lower courtyard, you’ll also see a little pavilion. Inside this little pavilion is the temple’s bronze bell. This bell was cast in 1584 and stands a stout one metre in height.

Climbing the stairs, the Jijang-bosal hall will be to your immediate left. Stepping forward, you’ll be greeted by a lush and grassy green courtyard, which is somewhat atypical of a Korean courtyard that is usually just made of dirt. To the far right is the lecture hall and administrative centre, which is off limits. To the far left are the monk dorms. Immediately ahead of you is the main hall, Daeung-jeon Hall. Inside this large hall are seven altar pieces: three seated Buddhas and four standing Bodhisattvas.  On either wall of this elaborately decorated interior are guardian paintings. Atypically, the main hall has no paintings decorating this main hall that dates back to 1604. To the back, and to the right, is the newly built Three Spirits Hall. The exterior of this hall is decorated with paintings representing the three Shaman gods housed inside this hall. The inside of the hall has three beautifully rendered paintings of the Shaman gods.

There were a few things that we were unable to see while at Gapsa Temple, but they are things I would like to talk about just in case someone out there might want to see them. One of the things we didn’t see was the Daejeok-jeon hall. This hall is just down the hill in a clearing. It’s where the original temple was situated. Inside this hall are housed Seokgamoni-bul, Amita-bul, and Birojana-bul who is in the centre of this triad. Next to this hall is a stupa that is highly unique. The base has swirling dragons and lotus buds. The body of the stupa is decorated with the Heavenly Kings, while the top is capped with a tile roof. Another part of the temple we didn’t see was the hall, Pyochungwon, which houses a portrait of Yeonggyu-daesa. He was the warrior monk that helped lead during the wars of the 1590’s against the Japanese. This hall was built in 1738 to commemorate Yeonggyu-daesa and two other monks. And finally, there is a standing figure of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) that is housed in a small trailside grotto 100 metres from the temple courtyard. So unlike us, don’t miss them!

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Gapsa Temple is from the city of Gongju. You can take the frequent buses that leave from the Gongju bus terminal. Take bus number 2, and the ride will take you about 30 minutes. Or you can take bus number 2 from the neighbouring city of Yuseong. The travel time of this bus is about 50 minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. There’s a lot to see and do at one of the oldest temples in all of Korea. The beautiful main hall at Gapsa Temple is adorned with beautiful paintings and Buddha and Bodhisattva statues. The newly renovated Jijang-jeon is beautifully adorned with a wall of smaller sized, but eerily lit, Jijang-bosal statues. To the rear of the hall is a Buddhist top for dispelling bad karma. Finally, if you have the time, you can explore some of the things that aren’t housed in the main courtyard at Gapsa Temple like Daejeok-jeon hall, the uniquely designed stupa, the hall for housing a portrait of a warrior monk, or the rock grotto dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

Iljumun Gate
The fiercely adorned Iljumun Gate at Gapsa Temple.
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A look along the bridge that spans a roaring stream.
A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate that houses some really interesting statues.
Like these two, of the four, Heavenly Kings that reside inside this second gate at Gapsa Temple.
And under one of the Kings’ feet is this foaming and crying demon with his tongue out.
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A look up the trail as you near the temple.
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This is the lower courtyard at the temple with the bell pavilion straight ahead and the Jijang-jeon Hall that is situated on the upper courtyard of the temple.
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The bricked gated opening that leads up to the monk’s living quarters.
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A look up at the main hall at the temple with the almost surreal looking green grass in the courtyard. (And this is how it actually photographed without any photoshop!)
A better look at the Jijang-jeon Hall that houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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A look inside darkly lit Jijang-jeon with a shaded Jijang-bosal on the altar accompanied by a few hundred tiny statues of himself.
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This uniquely built walking wheel is there to dispel bad karma.
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This beautiful black mural of Jijang-bosal sits to the right of the main altar of the Jijang-jeon Hall.
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A better look at Jijang-bosal.
monk dorm
A look at some of the study halls at the temple.
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A better look up at the main hall with the rain falling all around it.
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A look at another one of the off-limit living quarters at the temple. To the right is a unique guarding painting.
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A look across the front of the main hall at Gapsa Temple.
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The seven statues that make up the main hall altar.
guardian painting
The unbelievably beautiful guardian painting inside the main hall at Gapsa Temple.
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A look up at the Samseong-gak Hall to the right of the main hall. Usually, these shrine halls are to the left of the main hall.
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Just one of the beautiful paintings that adorns the exterior walls at the Samseong-gak Hall.
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And another. This time it’s a tiger, which is symbolic of San shin (The Mountain god).
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A look inside the Samseong-gak Hall with Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre and San shin to the right, and Dokseong (The Recluse) to the left.

Donghaksa Temple – 동학사 (Gonju, Chungcheongnam-do)

Picture 416The wandering valley that leads up to Donghaksa Temple.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

It had been a long time since I lasted visited Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, and it’s been just as long since I wanted to visit it again. The only difference this time is that it was raining like crazy and the paved road that leads up to the temple was under construction and had been turned into a mud. All the same, it was quite the temple adventure.

Donghaksa Temple (동학사) is beautifully situated in the east valley of Gyeryongsan Mountain. Legend has it that the temple was first built in 724 by the priest Sangwon Josa. Originally, the temple was called Sangwonsa Temple when the monk Heoeu built the pagoda to preserve the remains of his master Sangwon. However, the temple was burnt down in 1754. Fortunately, the temple was rebuilt sixty years later in 1814 by Geumbongworin hwasang. The temple then underwent further rebuilding and reconstruction in 1864 by Boseon seonsa. Originally this temple was built for monks, now it is used for both a study and teaching centre for Buddhist nuns (biguni).  It was the first of such temples in Korea, and in total there are about 150 nuns that study and reside at the temple. When we were there, there were at least ten to fifteen nuns that we saw doing their daily duties of maintaining the temple’s halls and grounds. With this in mind, please be sensitive to the needs of those nuns that make the temple their home.

When you first approach the temple down the heavily constructed main road, you’ll first pass by two hermitages: Mitaam Hermitage and Gilsangam Hermitage. Both are nicely maintained and worth a look if you have the time. Continuing up the trail, and next to the beautiful stream that wanders beside you, you’ll first arrive at a memorial shrine compound that houses three halls. The most prominent of these halls is Sungmo-jeon, which is a hall that was first built in 1456 by the Joseon Dynasty scholar, Kim Shi Seup. He and several other officials refused to shift their loyalty from the deposed boy king, Danjong, who had been usurped by his uncle, King Sejo. Six individuals were killed for attempting to restore Danjong to the throne. This shrine has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The other two shrine halls that exist at this compound are Donggyesa and Sameungak. Donggyesa hall contains the memorial tablet dedicated to Bak Jae Sang who died under the Japanese. This hall was built in 1956. Finally, Sameungak hall is dedicated to the wisest scholars in the country in the 14th century: Jeong Mong Ju, Yi Mokeun Saek, and Gil Yaeun Gae. The hall was first built in 1394.

Continuing up the trail, after a one kilometre walk, you’ll finally come to Donghaksa Temple. The temple and temple grounds are well maintained and beautifully kept.  Straight ahead is the main hall. The main hall is beautifully decorated both inside and out. On the outside of the main hall are the Palsang-do paintings depicting the Historical Buddha’s (Seokgamoni-bul) life. These paintings are beautifully rendered, and it’s the first time that I’ve seen these paintings accompanied by an English explanation to all eight paintings. The highlight of this temple are the gorgeously designed front doors to the main hall. Inside the main hall there is a beautiful triad of Buddhas on the altar with a guardian painting to the right. From the main hall you can get a great view of Munpilbong Peak, which was ghostly in the falling rain. The most impressive hall at the temple is the Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three Shaman deities. All three, Chilseong(The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), are beautifully depicted. There is, however, a fourth addition to the hall, which I’ve never seen at any other temple in Korea. On the left wall, with the crystal lotus flowers, is a painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King). The inside of the hall is also illustrated with various murals that are older looking. There are especially beautiful paintings of phoenixes up on the ceiling that are a bit faded. Next to this hall are extensive halls for the housing and education of all the nuns at the temple. To the right of the main hall is the kitchen area of the temple.  In the courtyard is an older looking pagoda from the Silla Period with a newly constructed base. This pagoda dates back to 723 A.D. Also, there is a garden with various flowers including pots for water lilies. While this temple is smaller in size, it has a refined feminine touch that makes it different than a lot of the temples throughout the rest of Korea.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

For more information on Donghaksa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Donghaksa Temple is to take a bus from Daejeon. You can either take express city bus number 12 from the express bus terminal or Daejeon Station. These buses go through Yuseong city before reaching the park entrance below Donghaksa Temple. You can also take Bus 107 from the Hyeongchungwon Station (Daejeon Subway Line 1, exit 3) if you live in Daejeon.

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OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. Donghaksa Temple makes for a nice little adventure away from the city life. It definitely has the refined touch of a nunnery to it. Look for the stunningly decorative front doors to the main hall with their various tree designs. Also, the Samseong-gak hall for the Shaman gods is another beautiful aspect to the temple with the beautifully rendered gods and the rare presence of Yongwang, the King of the Sea, amongst the fading phoenixes and crystal lotus flowers. Finally, as you walk up the beautiful valley with the wandering stream, you’ll come across the unique Sungmo-jeon hall that is dedicated to the loyalist of the deposed child-king, Danjong, who were unwilling to shift their loyalty to the usurping king, Sejong. With so many other beautiful temples in the area, including Donghaksa Temple, these temples can make for quite a nice little get away.

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Just one of the beautiful cascades that rolls its way up to Donghaksa Temple.
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The entrance to the memorial shrine halls, the most prominent of which is Sungmo-jeon.
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Inside the courtyard to the three memorial shrine halls just outside Donghaksa Temple.
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The unique water fountain that you can drink from after the one kilometre hike.
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The first building that greets you to the temple is this bell pavilion.
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The main hall at Donghaksa Temple.
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Just some of the beautiful flowers in the temple’s courtyard.
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Just one of the lotus flowers that adds a feminine touch to the temple that is dedicated to nuns.
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A look along the main hall at the dorms at the temple.
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The first painting in the series of Palsang-do murals. Uniquely, these paintings have English explanations on them.
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Inside the main hall is the beautiful triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
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The shrine hall, Samseong-gak, is dedicated to three of the Shaman gods common to all major temples in Korea.
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 A painting of Sanshin, the Mountain Spirit, inside the shrine hall. This painting has a feminine San shin in front of it.
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This highly unique painting of Yongwang, the Dragon King, can be found in the shrine hall. I’ve never seen a similar painting throughout all of Korea.
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The fading, but beautiful, mural of a phoenix adorning the shrine hall ceiling.
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A look at the main hall from the shrine hall.
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And a look at the nun’s dorms just before the thunder, lightning, and rain rolled in.
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Trapped at the shrine hall as the rain just pours.
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Waiting to be rescued with an umbrella as I look out at the main hall from Samseong-gak hall.
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One last look at the temple courtyard pagoda. The rain had lessened, but it was still falling.