Colonial Korea: Geumsansa Temple – 금산사 (Gimje, Jeollabuk-do)

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The Bangdeung-gyedan shrine in 1916 at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The famed Geumsansa Temple is located on the western slopes of Moaksan Provincial Park in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do. Geumsansa Temple, which means Golden Mountain Temple, in English, was first established in either 599 or 600 A.D. Unlike its prominence today, Geumsansa Temple was not an important temple at the time of its construction. But then, from 722 to 766 A.D., Geumsansa Temple was rebuilt and expanded by master monk, Jinpyo.

Geumsansa Temple has a long history associated with Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). And this association comes from a vision Jinpyo had of Mireuk-bul. In a dream, Jinpyo received a book on divination, as well as 189 divination sticks directly from Mireuk-bul. From this dream, a statue was made of Mireuk-bul and placed inside the main hall. As a result of these actions, Geumsansa Temple becamse known as a headquarters for practicing the worship of Mireuk-bul during the Unified Silla Period (668-935 A.D.).

During the destructive Imjin War in 1592, Geumsansa Temple acted as a training centre for Buddhist monks in the defence of the Korean peninsula. As a result of these efforts, Geumsansa Temple, and its neighbouring hermitages, was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. Then, in 1635, over forty years later, Geumsansa Temple was rebuilt. And from its rebuild in the 17th century, Geumsansa Temple has grown in both size and importance within the Korean Buddhist community.

In total, Geumsansa Temple houses one national treasure, the Mireuk-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #62. It also houses nine additional Treasures.

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The Geumgangmun Gate in 1933

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A closer look at the Geumgangmun Gate.

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The Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933 at Geumsansa Temple.

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A closer look at the main hall.

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 The hexagonal black stoned pagoda that just so happens to be Treasure #27. This picture was taken in 1916.

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The Daejang-jeon Hall that houses an amazing Mireuk-bul statue in 1933.

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A closer look at the Daejang-jeon.

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The intricate main altar inside the Daejang-jeon Hall.

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The towering Mireuk-jeon Hall in 1933. It also just so happens to be National Treasure #62.

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A better look at the Mireuk-jeon Hall.

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The Bangdeung-gyedan shrine in 1916.

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The five tier pagoda in front of the shrine from 1916.

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And another angle for the five tier pagoda.

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The stone sculpture in the centre of the Bangdeung-gyedan shrine. Inside are housed the Buddha’s partial remains.

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One of the stone guardians around the gyedan in 1916.

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And one of the biseok at Geumsansa Temple in 1916.

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The main temple courtyard at Geumsansa Temple in 2014. The main hall is to the right with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall and the Daejang-jeon Hall to the left.

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A closer look at the Daejang-jeon Hall with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall in the background from 2014.

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The Bangdeung-gyedan shrine and Mireuk-jeon Hall in 2014.

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 The hexagonal black stoned pagoda and Bangdeung-gyedan shrine in 2014.

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A closer look at the pagoda in front of the Bangdeung-gyedan shrine in 2014.

Wibongsa Temple – 위봉사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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The stately Ijumun Gate at Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the south-western slopes of Mt. Wibongsan is Wibongsa Temple. There’s some disagreement as to when Wibongsa Temple was first established. Some believe that Wibongsa was first constructed in 604 A.D. by the monk Seoam-daesa. Others, on the other hand, believe that it was created by Choe Yonggak at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). According to this story, and the legend that surrounds it, the temple was named Wibongsa Temple because while riding a horse one day, he looked around at the features of the land and it looked like three phoenixes were wrapped around it. Later, in 1358, the famed monk Naong rebuilt and enlarged the temple in 1358. Then, in 1466, the temple was repaired by Seokjam-daesa.

You first approach the temple grounds through the top-heavy, yet stoic, Iljumun Gate. It’s a fine example of Korean Buddhist architecture. The next structure to line up with the Iljumun Gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which houses four contemplative Heavenly Kings. It’s through the third, and final entry-like gate, the Boje-ru Pavilion, that you’ll gain admittance to the Wibongsa Temple courtyard.

To your right, as you enter the courtyard, is a larger sized Beopjong-gak bell pavilion, as well as the nuns’ dorms and a centrally located mature twisted red pine. But beyond all these is the temple’s main hall, the Bogwangmyeon-jeon (The Limitless Light Hall). This hall is designated Treasure #608. The shrine hall houses a triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre sits a seated statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by two standing statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). It’s believed that this hall was first constructed during the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Behind the main altar is a large all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal. There are several older paintings spread throughout the interior of various Biseon playing musical instruments. The main altar’s canopy is decorated with dragons and yeouiju (a magic stone).

To the right of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with some fine depictions of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Housed inside this hall on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul, who is then joined by colourful statues of the Nahan.

To the left of the main hall is the Yosa-jeon and Gwaneum-jeon Halls. Kinda a two for one deal. This historic building is shaped like an “I” with the two dorms acting as bookends with the central room housing the Gwaneum-jeon shrine hall.

And to the left rear of the grounds is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Either this building has been newly built or refurbished. Either way, the colourful interior is complimentary to the three shaman murals that hang inside this shaman shrine hall. Still in the upper courtyard, but off-limits, is the Wibong Seonwon for nuns to meditate in at the temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, you’ll first need to get to neighbouring Jeonju. From the city of Jeonju, take local Bus #806 and get off at Wibong Village. From there, you can either walk or take a taxi (if you can locate one).

Or you can go to Wibong Village or take a bus from Jeonju, Buses #814 or #838 and get off near neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple. From the temple, you can either walk the  distance (about six kilometres) or take a taxi (again, if you can locate one).

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While beautifully situated under the mountainous peaks of Mt. Wibongsan, Wibongsa Temple’s main highlight is the Bogwangmyeon-jeon. This hall, which is dedicated to Amita-bul, houses several features like the ornately decorated canopy and the large mural on the backside of the main altar.

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The welcoming gates at Wibongsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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One of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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A look at the Boje-ru Pavilion at Wibongsa Temple.

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 The central highlight at Wibongsa Temple: the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The painting of Gwanseeum-bosal on the backside of the main altar.

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Just one of the Biseon paintings floating around the main hall.

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The view from the Nahan-jeon towards the main hall.

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One of the masterful Nahan paintings adorning the exterior walls of the Nahan-jeon.

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A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the main altar.

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The Yosa-jeon/Gwaneum-jeon at Wibongsa Temple.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look inside the colourful shrine hall.

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The temple’s main courtyard.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate towards the Iljumun Gate, as it was time to go.

Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, not to be confused with the more famous temple by the same name in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do, was first constructed in 867 A.D. by the monk Bojo-jejing. Originally, the temple was called Baekryongsa Temple, but the temple was eventually renamed by the famed monk Jinul (1158-1210) during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was largely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98), but was later rebuilt in 1620. It was completely restored to its former glory when King Injo (r. 1623-49) designated the temple as a special place for praying for the welfare of the nation as well as for the safe return of his two sons that had been taken hostage by the Qing Dynasty. King Injo was to call Songgwangsa Temple the “great temple of Zen Buddhism.” Interestingly, it’s believed that the main hall, Nahan-jeon, and/or the Jijang-jeon perspire in times of national crisis as well as to one’s prayers. In total, the temple houses three designated Korean Treasures.

Because of its former large size and prominence, the Iljumun Gate that stands at the temple entry was previously located three kilometers away. In more recent times, in 1944, the Iljumun Gate was relocated. In its current location, the uniquely designed gate welcomes any and all visitors to Songgwangsa Temple.

The next gate to welcome you, which is perfectly aligned with the Iljumun Gate, is the Geumgangmun Gate (or Diamond Gate). Passing through this gate, you’ll notice two warriors known as Geumgang-yeoksa housed inside, as well as the child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just beyond this gate is the largest of the three introductory gates at Songgwangsa Temple. This gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate and it houses Treasure #1255 inside, which is a bit misleading because there are four statues that comprise the designated Treasure. Housed inside this hall are the Four Heavenly Kings that were first made in 1624. Built from clay, they are the oldest of their kind in Korea.

Finally emerging on the other side of the impressive temple gates, you’ll be welcomed by the temple’s bell pavilion slightly to the left. The bell pavilion is Treasure #1244, and it’s the only cross-shaped two-story bell pavilion ever built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). To the right of the bell pavilion, and past the jovial Podae-hwasang statue, are the Jijang-jeon and the Geukrak-jeon. Inside the Jijang-jeon is a large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and he’s joined by ten equally large-sized statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Rather plainly, Amita-bul sits alongside Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

But it’s the Daeung-jeon main hall, with the pyramids of colourful paper lanterns out in front of it that’s the highlight to Songgwangsa Temple. Designated Treasure #1243, the main hall dates back to 1636, when it was rebuilt by National Preceptor Byeogam-guksa. Housed inside this massive main hall are three equally massive clay statues that date back to 1641. Seated in the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The ceiling of this hall is beautifully adorned with floating Biseon. The exterior walls are uniquely painted with various large-sized guardian murals.

To the immediate left of the main hall is the rather long Gwaneum-jeon. On the far right wall of the hall is a intricately sculpted statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who is backed by an equally elaborate mural of herself.

To the rear of the main hall are three additional shrine halls that visitors can explore, as well as a large statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Next to this simple, yet elegant statue of the Buddha of Medicine is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three paintings housed inside this hall are expertly rendered, but it’s the central painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) that stands out for its originality and complexity.

To the right of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is the Nahan-jeon, which was first constructed in 1656. Seokgamoni-bul is surrounded, uniquely, by the sixteen Nahan, as well as the expanded 500 Nahan. The sixteen are more expressive and large in size, but the smaller ones are beautiful, as well. To the far right sits the temple’s Yaksa-jeon.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the neighbouring city of Jeonju, you can take Local Bus #806, #814, or #838 and get off at Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The three gates that welcome you to Songgwangsa Temple are really second-to-none in Korea. With their Treasures, as well as beautiful symmetry, they are something not to pass up. Then when you add into the mix all that the Daeung-jeon has to offer in both paintings, as well as historic statues, and you should find your way over to Wanju, Jeollabuk-do to explore Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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And a look at the Geumgangmun Gate.

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One of the Vajra warriors inside the Geumgangmun Gate.

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The child-like Munsu-bosal inside the gate, as well.

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Finally, the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look inside at the historic Heavenly Kings.

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The treasured bell pavilion at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The jovial Podae-hwasang with the Geukrak-jeon in the background.

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar.

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A look towards the neighbouring Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Some of the temple’s artwork.

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The temple’s amazing main hall.

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Some of the stone masonry outside the Daeung-jeon.

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A look inside the main hall at the massive 17th century altar pieces.

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A long view of the Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon with the Bodhisattva of Compassion seated all by herself.

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The stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The intricate painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

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And a look towards the mountains and the Nahan-jeon.

Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple

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A look at Silsangsa Temple from the turn of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silsangsa Temple is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, and it was first established in 828 A.D. by the monk Jeunggak (Hongcheok). The name of the temple means, in English, “True Nature Temple.” In the early 800s, Hongcheok traveled to Tang China with Monk Doui to learn more about Buddhism. After a time, they returned to the Korean peninsula after both were certified in the new Seon (Zen) lineage. It was at this time that Hongcheok was named a National Master (Guksa) by the Silla king. In the same year as the temple’s creation, Hongcheok established the Silsang-sanmun, or the “True Nature Mountain Gate,” in English, as one of the Nine Mountain Schools. The reason that he decided to build Silsangsa Temple on the northern part of Mt. Jirisan was based on geomantic principles. Hongcheok believed that if he didn’t build a temple on this site that Korea’s spiritual energy would flow over and into Japan. Around the same time, Master Doui similarly constructed Borimsa Temple, which was another member of the Nine Mountain Schools (Gajisan). After the establishment of Silsangsa Temple, Master Hongcheok continued to spread the new Seon teachings throughout the Silla Kingdom. Uniquely, Silsangsa Temple is founded on an open plain and not up in the mountains like a lot of Korean temples. Currently, it’s surrounded on most sides by farmers’ fields.

Throughout the years, the temple has been renovated, re-built, and destroyed. In the early 900s, Silsangsa Temple was expanded under royal order according to the geomantic advice of master Doseon. Tragically, the temple was destroyed in 1597 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Slowly, the temple was rebuilt, when in 1684 the Geukrak-jeon was restored. Eventually, the temple complex would grow large enough to house thirty-six buildings by 1700. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple faced a period of decline, as well as a destructive fire. In fact, the temple was completely destroyed by fire in 1882. After this fire, the temple was restored to its current, much smaller, size. And during the Korean War (1950-53), parts of the temple were harmed by fighting forces that passed through this area of combat. Fortunately, most cultural relics were spared.

While visibly not quite as grand as its former glory, parts of that past still remain. In total, the temple houses eight Treasures. In addition to these eight Treasures, the neighbouring Baekjangam Hermitage, which is directly associated with Silsangsa Temple, houses National Treasure #10 in the form of a highly unique Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), three-story, stone pagoda. Silsangsa Temple also houses the largest steel statue of a Buddha in Korea in the form of a Unified Silla Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Also, the temple lies within the park limits of the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

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One of the temple buildings at Silsangsa Temple.

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 Another building at Silsangsa Temple.

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The temple grounds around the turn of the last century.

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One of the temple’s stone lanterns out in front of the main hall.

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One of the original spirit poles that stands guard out by the entrance of the temple.

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The ancient biseok dedicated to Hongcheok.

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Silsangsa Temple’s main hall today.

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The temple grounds at Silsangsa Temple.

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The biseok dedicated to the founding monk, Hongcheok.

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The exact same spirit pole as it appears now.

Temple Stay: Naesosa Temple (Buan, Jeollabuk-do)

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The main hall at Naesosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Naesosa Temple was first constructed in 633 A.D. by the monk Hyegu. This was during the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C. – 660 A.D); presently, it’s on the southern outskirts of Byeonsan Bando National Park. At first, the temple was known as Soraesa Temple, but fell into disrepair. About a thousand years later, the temple was rebuilt in 1633 by the monk Cheongmin. It was also around this time that the temple changed its name to its current name: Naesosa Temple. The name of the temple roughly translates as, “Anyone who enters here can get a fresh start on all their problems.”

The Temple Stay program at Naesosa Temple offers a visitor a chance to enjoy the nature that surrounds the temple, as well as what life is like as a Buddhist monk in Korea. With community work built into the program, as well as a trip to a neighbouring waterfall, a visitor gets a first-hand view of what spiritual life must be like for a Korean Buddhist monk.

For more information on Naesosa Temple.

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Nature at its finest at Naesosa Temple.

Directions:

You’ll first need to get to Buan Bus Terminal in Jeollabuk-do. From this bus terminal, you can take a direct bus to Naesosa Temple. The bus will let you off 800 metres outside the temple grounds. You’ll need to make your way towards the entry gate and past all the stores and restaurants that line the way. You can take a bus or a taxi, which takes about 50 minutes from the Buan Bus Terminal, and it will cost you around 30,000 won. The official website says 30 minutes, but this just isn’t true, so be warned.

General Schedule:

Naesosa Temple runs a single Temple Stay program at its temple.

A: Naesosa Regular Schedule: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

14:30: Registration and get a room

15:00: Opening ceremony and an orientation towards temple customs

16:00: Information about Naesosa Temple and introduction to each shrine

17:10: Dinner

18:00: Striking the temple bell and the evening Buddhist ceremony

18:30: Tea ceremony and a conversation with a monk

21:00: Bedtime

Day 2:

04:00: Wake up time

04:20: Early morning Buddhist ceremony

05:00: 108 bows and meditation

06:00: Monks’ meal

07:10: Community work (clear a room, wash bowls, etc)

08:00: Trekking to Jick-so waterfall and have lunch

12:00: Writing about your impressions

13:00: Closing Ceremony

13:30: Good-byes

 

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(Courtesy of the Temple Stay website).

Naesosa Temple Information:

Address : 268, Seokpo-ri, Jinseo-myeon Buan-gun Jeollabuk-do

Tel : +82-63-583-3035 / Fax : +82-63-583-7280

homepage : http://www.naesosa.org

E-mail : naesosa@templestay.com

Fees:

Adults: 60,000 won; Teens: 40,000 won (Naesosa Regular Schedule)

Link:

Reservations for the Naesosa Regular Schedule Temple Stay program.

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The beautiful view of the Sanshin-gak at Naesosa Temple.

Baekjangam Hermitage – 백장암 (Namwon, Jeollabuk-do)

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National Treasure #10 housed at Baekjangam Hermitage in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekjangam Hermitage lies a kilometer up a mountainside road. Baekjangam Hermitage is a small hermitage with only a couple shrine halls to visit. Immediately, you’ll see the newly built main hall standing front and centre. Hidden behind this beautiful structure is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that is joined by the monks’ dorms to the far right.

Out in front of the main hall is the highlight to Baekjangam Hermitage. The three-story stone pagoda is National Treasure #10, which is quite extraordinary for this out of the way hermitage to house. But that’s the charm of Korean temples: the hidden treasures that are tucked away throughout the Korean countryside. This pagoda dates back to the Unified Silla Period in Korean history, which lasted from 668 A.D. to 935 A.D. This pagoda is unconventional in its design with its base being as wide as the body. The pagoda is well preserved with various Bodhisattvas and guardians carved on its base. In addition, a lotus design is carved just below the finial, which is also well preserved. Behind the pagoda is an equally old stone lantern that dates back to the 8th century. While rather plain in comparison to the neighbouring stone lantern at Silsangsa Temple, it does have a nice lotus-shaped design just below the open chamber. In front of the pagoda and stone lantern are four stupas and a top to a stone lantern.

Behind this collection of stone monuments is the main hall. Painted on the exterior walls are guardian murals, as well as painted depictions of both the stone lantern and the famed pagoda. Sitting inside the main hall are a triad of statues upon the altar. The shiny statue in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the right of this altar is the older looking guardian mural, and the interior walls are painted with Nahan murals. Between both the guardian mural and the statues sitting on the main altar is a painted representation of the altar statues.

Just to the right rear is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. This low ceilinged, and natural wood exterior, has a couple of beautiful shaman paintings inside. To the right is the vibrantly painted Dokseong (The Recluse) mural. And to the left hangs an older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), who holds a large green leafed fan in hand. This hall is backed by a lush bamboo forest.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, whether you live in Seoul or Busan. From the Namwon Terminal, pretty much the only way you can get to Baekjangam Hermitage is by taxi. It will take 40 minutes, and it’ll cost you 28,000 won.


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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Without doubt, the main highlight to this temple is National Treasure #10. This 8th century stone pagoda is well preserved with vivid depictions of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas around its body. It’s joined by ancient stupas and an equally older looking stone lantern. The cavernous main hall houses a shiny new collection of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas on the main altar. And the paintings inside the shaman shrine hall are certainly something not to be missed. So if you’re visiting the neighbouring Silsangsa Temple, make sure you drop by and visit Baekjangam Hermitage, as well.

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The mountains where you can find Baekjangam Hermitage.

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All of the hermitage halls and stone structures.

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One of the stupas in front of the historic pagoda.

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Another well preserved stupa.

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Both the historic stone lantern and pagoda housed in front of the main hall.

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A closer look at some of the Bodhisattvas carved onto the pagoda.

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Another image of the guardians etched near the top of the pagoda.

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The front facade to the colourful main hall.

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A painted representation of the pagoda on the right side of the main hall.

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Two of the statues sitting on the main altar: Seokgamoni-bul and Gwanseeum-bosal.

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They’re joined by Jijang-bosal.

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The older looking guardian mural hanging on the right wall.

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To the right rear of the main altar is a painted representations of the statues.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A vibrant mural of Dokseong.

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 The older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin.

Silsangsa Temple – 실상사 (Namwon, Jeollabuk-do)

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 The amazing gaze of the Unified Silla-era Yaksayore-bul statue at Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silsangsa Temple was first constructed in 828 by the monk Jeunggak. Upon returning from Tang China, Jeunggak built this temple and it was one of nine special seon (zen) temples, better known as the Gusan Seonmun (The Nine Holy Seon Buddhist Mountains). The temple was built in its location to allow for Korea’s good spirit to take root and prosper and so it couldn’t be taken away to Japan. The temple faced a period of decline when it was destroyed during the Imjin War in 1597. The temple was reconstructed and restored in 1700. Silsangsa Temple was almost completely destroyed once more in 1882 as a result of a fire. Bad luck continued when it was partial destroyed, once more, during the Korean War.

Rather remarkably, the temple is surrounded on most sides by rice fields and beautiful views of Mt. Jirisan. You first enter the temple through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside are some of the happiest and non-threatening Heavenly Kings, you’ll find inside this type of gate. As you enter, and just to your right, is a three-tier pagoda made of roof tiles. Just behind it is the temple’s compact bell pavilion. Just to the right of these two structures is an elevated portion of land. Formally, a nine-story wooden pagoda once took up residence at Silsangsa Temple. Standing over twenty metres in height, it must have been something pretty special; unfortunately, all that remains now are some of the foundation stones.

In the back right corner of the temple complex looks to be a newer-looking temple hall. Inside this minimally painted hall is one of the most amazing iron statues of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) in all of Korea. From the Unified Silla Period, the iron statue stands 2.69 metres in height. While it’s undergone a few repairs throughout the years, it stern determination still rests on its face with enlightenment in its eyes. Have a look and take your time, because there are very few others that compare in age and artistry to this statue at Silsangsa Temple.

Slightly to the left, and back towards the leveled pagoda, is the Myeongbu-jeon. Again, there is very little colour on the external walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is an older looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on either side by standing statues of Domyeong-jonja (The Disciple of Jijang-bosal) and Mudok-gui Wang. Mudok-guk Wang, who is a king, was a guide for Jijang-bosal in his former life. Of note, he captured the key to hell in a box. As a result, he manages hell. He also gets rid of evil thoughts in people. This triad on the main altar is surrounded by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

In the open courtyard stands a pair of pagodas and a uniquely designed stone lantern. Both three-story stone pagodas date back to the Unified Silla Period and stand 5.4 metres in height. Of note, both are in remarkably great shape for their age. Between these pagodas, and slightly behind them, is the round based stone lantern. With lotus designs and a set of portable stairs, you can light a candle in any one of the eight long openings around it’s centre.

Behind this collection of stone monuments is the understated main hall. Plain in colour, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sits in the centre of the main altar. He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). In the back right corner is a rather simple painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the left of the main hall is a compact shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

The final hall you can visit is the Geukrak-jeon, which is to the far left of the main hall and beyond the monks’ dorms. You’ll need to cross a bridge to get to this hall. In fact, you’ll have to enter into a compound with monks’ dorms to your right. Inside the only vibrantly painted hall at Silsangsa Temple sits a solitary statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the far right wall is an older guardian mural with an interesting depiction of Yongwang (The Dragon King). The Geukrak-jeon dates back to the 19th century, when its predecessor was burnt to the ground by Confucian scholars attempting to take the temple by force.

In front of the Geukrak-jeon compound is a stele dedicated to the memory of Jeunggak. While slightly the worse for wear, you can still see its smooth turtle head and face. And just to the left rear of this stele and the Geukrak-jeon compound is the intricate stupa that houses the earthly remains of monk Jeunggak.

Just as I was leaving, and because I didn’t see it when I first arrived, I took the time to take a look at the three stone spirit poles that date back to 1725. Uniquely, all three are male and wear caps. Instead of being fiercely designed to ward off evil spirits, these three poles seem more humourous than anything. Near the ticket booth to the temple, there remains only one with the other being washed away by water. The other two are just over the bridge as you make your way to the temple grounds.

Admission to the temple is 1,500 won, but there was no one at the booth when I visited, so it was free. I assume admission just depends on when you go.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, which is the closest city to Silsangsa Temple, you’ll need to take a bus to Inwol Bus Terminal (인월버스터미널). From Inwol Bus Terminal, take a local bus bound for Sannae (산내). Get off at the Silsangsa Temple stop. Perhaps even ask your bus driver if they’re going to Silsangsa Temple just to be sure.


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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While Silsangsa Temple is a temple with a more glorious past than its present, it still has some pretty unique highlights.The iron statue of Yaksayore-bul is one of the best examples of artistry from the Unified Silla Period. Also, the rarely seen stone spirit poles are humourous in design. Finally, the remnants of the temples past glory found in the foundation stones of an ancient pagoda, the near perfectly preserved pagodas and stone lantern, as well as the stupa and stele dedicated to Jeunggak are just some of the stone features to the strangely located Silsangsa Temple.

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 The Cheonwangmun Gate that first greets you at Silsangsa Temple.

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 One of the rather jovial, and not so intimidating, Heavenly Kings.

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 The amazing view from the Cheonwangmun Gate at neighbouring Mt. Jirisan.

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 The temple’s bell pavilion and roof tile pagoda.

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 A view across the leveled wooden pagoda at the foundation stones and Mt. Jirisan off in the distance.

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 The newly built hall that houses the amazing Yaksayore-bul.

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 A first look at the iron Buddha that dates back to the Unified Silla Period.

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 A better look at its serene, yet stern, expression.

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 The intricacies of design: Look at the feet curled up in the lotus position.

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 The plainly painted Myeongbu-jeon with the twin pagodas to the right.

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 The triad of statues inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.

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 A better look at the well preserved stone pagodas from the Unified Silla Period.

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 And the matching stone lantern with the main hall in the background.

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 A look inside the main hall with a monk conducting morning prayer.

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 The Chilseong-gak to the left of the main hall.

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 The painting of Chilseong inside the shrine hall sporting its own name.

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 The well-worn stele dedicated to Jeunggak.

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 The stupa dedicated to the founding monk with the Geukrak-jeon framing it.

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 The statue of Amita-bul inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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 One of the bulbous nosed spirit poles at the entrance of the temple.

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 Yet another. This one has a pretty good set of bulging eyes.

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And finally, across the river lies this tall hatted spirit pole.

Eunsusa Temple – 은수사 (Jinan, Jeollabuk-do)

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 The beautiful scenery that surrounds Eunsusa Temple in Maisan Provincial Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Eunsusa Temple, which means “Silver Water Temple,” in English, is located just above Tapsa Temple on the ridge. The temple was first known as Sangwonsa Temple in the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It later changed its name to Jeongmyeongam Hermitage. Finally, the temple changed its name to its present name, Eunsusa Temple, when King Taejo (the founder of the Joseon Dynasty) visited the temple. After he made the comment that the water flowing nearby was as clean and smooth as pure silver, the temple became known as Eunsusa Temple.

You first approach the temple up a short, paved path. Eunsusa Temple is situated under Sutmaibong Peak, which is better known as Elephant Rock, because it literally looks like an elephant. Finally, you’ll come to a clearing with the monks’ dorms to the right. Just behind the monks’ dorms is a shrine hall dedicated to Dangun Wanggeom, who was the legendary founder of Gojoseon (the first Korean Kingdom). The exterior walls to this hexagonal shrine hall are adorned with various shamanistic motifs like a sun and moon high in the sky above a red pine and four mountain peaks. Inside this hall, and adorning the ceiling to this hall, is a swirl of kaleidoscope colours. Below this ceiling are a collection of framed pictures. Straight ahead, and on the main altar, is a rather non-descript painting of Dangun. To the right is an all white-clad painting of Sanshin-dosa, who is often used as an icon for pass-spirits. On the left wall is a hierarchy of shaman deities.

Just up the embankment, and straight ahead, is Natural Monument #386, which is a collection of Cheongsil pear trees. They are thought to only grow at Eunsusa Temple on the entire Korean peninsula. Close to these pear trees is the temple’s bell pavilion. While completely underwhelming, it does house the largest wooden drum in Korea. It was made back in 1982 and is rather large in size.

Just behind these two features are a collection of temple halls. The first to the far left is the main hall at Eunsusa Temple. As you enter the main hall, you’ll notice a triad of smaller sized statues on the altar. In the centre sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the left by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And to the right rests Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). In the far left corner is a collection of statues which include various Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), as well as Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). And on the far right wall is a guardian mural, as well as an older looking painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Next to this hall is the Geukrak-jeon hall. Inside this hall, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined, as usual, in this type of hall by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). In the far left corner is an altar dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). He is joined by a large guardian mural.

The final shrine hall, and housed on the upper terrace, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Besides it being one of the lowest ceilinged buildings I’ve been in at a Korean temple, it’s also rather unique, as well. As you enter this hall, and to your left, is an older looking guardian mural that will welcome you to this shaman shrine hall. On the main altar sits a statue of Sanshin-dosa, as well as a statue of Sanshin. These two figures are backed by a red robed, almost Dokseong-looking, mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the right of this collection are seven statues that represent Chilseong (The Seven Stars). These seven figures are backed by one of the larger murals dedicated to Chilseong that I’ve seen in Korea.

To the right of this hall, and back on the lower terrace, is an earthen shrine for shaman rituals. Just to the side of it is a large bronze statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King), as well as some silvery mountain water that pours into a granite fountain.

Admission to the temple, by way of Tapsa Temple, is 2,000 won. However, if you pay 3,000 won, you can see three temples: Tapsa Temple, Geumdangsa Temple, and Eunsusa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Jinan Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take a bus bound for Maisan Provincial Park. These buses leave every 40 minutes and start at 7:30 in morning and run until 18:00. Once you’re dropped off at the entry to Maisan Provincial Park, you’ll need to walk up the path that leads to Tapsa Temple. Once at Tapsa Temple, after hiking the leisurely 1.5 kilometre trail, you’ll need to head up a steep set of stairs to the right of Tapsa Temple. Hike up this trail for 300 metres, and you’ll come to Eunsusa Temple.


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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. In combination with Tapsa Temple and Geumdangsa Temple, Eunsusa Temple makes for a pretty amazing day trip. On its own, Eunsusa Temple has quite a few unique features like the shrine hall dedicated to Dangun and Sanshin-dosa. Also, there’s the pear trees that only grow around Eunsusa Temple in all of Korea. Finally, the red robed Sanshin painting, the seven wooden figures that symbolize Chilseong, the largest wooden drum in all of Korea, and the Elephant Rock backdrop allow Eunsusa Temple to stand out on its own.

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 The trail that leads up to Eunsusa Temple.

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 The temple halls as you first approach the temple grounds.

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The hexagonal shrine hall dedicated to Dangun.

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 A look inside at the colourful ceiling and the mural of Dangun, the founder of Korea.

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 The mural of Sanshin-dosa to the right of the main altar.

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 A closer look at Dangun.

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 The Geukrak-jeon hall beneath Elephant Rock.

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 A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar.

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 The guardian mural inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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 The shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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 The fish gong which hangs next to the largest drum in all of Korea (so they say).

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 The triad of statues inside the main hall.

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 The assortment of statues to the left of the main altar inside the main hall.

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 You’ll then have to pass by the Geukrak-jeon hall to get to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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Finally, a look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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 The red-robed image of Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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 The mural and statues dedicated to Chilseong.

Geumdangsa Temple – 금당사 (Jinan, Jeollabuk-do)

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 The Goryeo-era pagoda and golden roofed main hall at Geumdangsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Geumdangsa Temple, which means “Golden Hall Temple,” in English, was first built in 814 A.D. It’s well known as a place where the Goryeon monk, Naong-hwasang, practiced his form of Buddhism. In fact, if you look closely up in the mountains, you can find Naongam Hermitage, which is a secluded grotto where Naong once meditated. More recently, in 1894, General Jeon Bongjun’s daughter sought refuge at the temple. Gen. Jeon Bongjun led the anti-foreigner campaign, mainly against the Japanese, for the brutal punishment meted out to Korean farmers during the Donghak Peasant Revolution. Geumdangsa Temple also acted as a base for Korean guerrilla troops in the Jinan area during Japanese Colonial rule from 1910-1945.

When you first arrive at the temple, which is about a kilometer west of Tapsa Temple, you’ll first be greeted by the gift shop/visitors’ centre to the right. Just a little further along and there are a pair of mythical Haetae that bookend a set of stairs that leads into the main temple courtyard.

To the far left is a golden statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) behind a beautiful artificial pond. Just before you reach this pond, you’ll notice a large collection of stacked stones that travelers have left behind for good luck and a safe journey.

Just to the right of this golden statue and pond is an all-new, yet to be painted, hall dedicated to the historic Gwaebultang painting. In the centre of this large sized painting, which dates back to 1682, is a solemnly faced Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This dominant figure in the painting is surrounded by twenty images of the Buddha in a multi-coloured fiery nimbus. In the past, the painting would be carted out and the monks would offer up prayers for rain during droughts. It is said to be one of the three most important historic murals in Korea alongside the ones at Tongdosa Temple and Muryangsa Temple. This painting is masterful in its execution.

Next to this hall, and to the right, is what looks to be the Yeongsan-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with the Palsang-do murals. As for the interior, and uniquely hanging on the main altar, are a triad of paintings. It’s unique because there are usually three statues and not just paintings. In the centre is a painting dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two elaborate paintings of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just up the embankment, and to the right, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are two newer paintings of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). These vibrant paintings flank the older looking mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Strangely, between the main hall and this hall is a stone with an inscription on it with a large golden tiger crawling at the top of it.

The most unique hall at the temple is the golden roofed main hall. This newly built shrine hall has some rather crude Palsang-do murals surrounding the exterior walls. Inside the barren interior of the main hall sits a triad of statues on the main altar. The reason I say barren is that there is no large mural backing the triad of main altar statues. Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by familiar company: Bohyun-bosal and Munsu-bosal. On the far right wall are a collection of wooden Nahan statues, as well as a guardian mural.

The final hall at the temple is the Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this all-natural exterior is a stately looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on either side by some extremely unique yellow based murals. The one to the left is a mural dedicated to the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, while the one to the right is dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

The final thing you can see out in front of the main hall is the smaller sized five-tier pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty.

Admission to the temple, by way of Tapsa Temple, is 2,000 won. However, if you pay 3,000 won, you can see three temples: Tapsa Temple, Geumdangsa Temple, and Eunsusa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Jinan Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take a bus bound for Maisan Provincial Park. These buses leave every 40 minutes and start at 7:30 in morning and run until 18:00. Once you’re dropped off at the entry to Maisan Provincial Park, you’ll need to walk up the path that leads to Tapsa Temple. A couple hundred metres up the path, and just beyond the restaurants and stores, you’ll see Geumdangsa Temple to your left. It only takes about 5 minutes from where the bus lets you off to get to this temple.


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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Surprisingly, for a smaller sized temple, there’s a fair bit to see at Geumdangsa Temple. The two main attractions are the large sized mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as the five-tier historic pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Other highlights are the extremely unique murals inside the Myeongbu-jeon, the vibrant shaman murals inside the Samseong-gak, the tiger crawling stone monument, and the golden roofed main hall. It’s a nice little stop along the way, as you head up towards the much more famous Tapsa Temple.

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The beautiful sites that greet you at Geumdangsa Temple.

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The collection of stacked rocks left by travelers to the temple.

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The large golden statue of Mireuk-bul, which backs a beautiful artificial pond.

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The hall that houses the historic Gwaebultang painting.

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A look at the beauty of the amazing painting.

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An even better look at the face of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the right of the former hall is the Yeongsan-jeon hall.

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Just one of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the Yeongsan-jeon hall.

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A unique look between the two halls to the left of the main hall.

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The murals, and not statues, that hang on the main altar inside the Yeongsan-jeon.

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The rather plain, and stout, Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A close look at Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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And a look at the equally vibrant mural dedicated to Yongwang.

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The golden tiger topped stone monument with the Samseong-gak in the background.

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The golden roofed, and newly built, main hall at Geumdangsa Temple.

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One of the amateurish looking Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.

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A look inside at the main altar. Uniquely, there’s yet to hang a mural behind this triad.

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A collection of wooden Nahan to the right of the main altar.

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To the right of the main altar, and in between the monks’ dorms, is the Myeongbu-jeon.

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

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The beautiful and unique yellow mural dedicated to the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.

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Off in the distance is the grotto where the monk Naong used to meditate.

Naesosa Temple – 내소사 (Buan, Jeollabuk-do)

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 The beautiful interior of the main hall at Naesosa Temple in Buan, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the southern outskirts of Byeonsan Bando National Park lies Naesosa Temple. It was first built by the monk, Hye-gu, in 633, during the Baekje Dynasty. Originally, the temple was called Soraesa Temple. It was later rebuilt one thousand years later, in 1633, by the monk, Cheong-min. It was around the Imjin War that the temple changed its name to Naesosa Temple.

You first approach the temple past the ticket window and the Iljumun Gate. There is about a 600 metre long hike to the Cheonwangmun Gate that is beautifully lined with mature fir trees. Near the very end, and right before this gate, are cherry trees. The rather tall Cheonwangmun Gate houses four rather expressive Heavenly Kings. These kings’ expressions are then matched by the demonic faces of the demons they are trampling under foot.

Just as you emerge on the other side of the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be met by an ugly and gnarled Dangsan tree that is over 1,000 years old. The base of this tree was once used as a site for prayer. Just up the stairs, and on opposite ends of the temple grounds, are two separate bell pavilions. The one to the right houses the contemporary bells used in morning and evening rituals. The compact bell pavilion to the left houses a bronze bell that dates back to 1222, and it has an image of a Buddha on a lotus flower with two Bodhisattvas standing at his side. Originally, this temple belonged to Cheongnimsa Temple, but was moved to its current location in 1850. And even though the bell is compact in appearance, it still weighs 420 kilograms.

You’ll next pass under a meditative pavilion that has little pieces of paper hanging from it with people’s thoughts and prayers on them. Finally, you’ll reappear out from under the pavilion and on the terrace where the main hall is located. Out in front of the main hall is a three-story stone pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. As for the main hall itself, which was constructed in 1633, it’s said that not a single nail was used in its construction. If you look close enough, you’ll see that there are wooden slats that connect the frame. There is beautiful floral latticework adorning the front doors to the temple, as there are unpainted dragons up in the eaves. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, sits a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar hangs a colourful and well populated guardian mural. And to the left hangs a uniquely painted red mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). If you look up at the beams, you’ll see an intricate ceiling decorated with dragons and cranes.

There are a collection of monk facilities and dorms to the right of the main hall. But the remaining halls that people can visit at Naesosa Temple are to the left of the main hall. The first is the Josa-jeon Hall. Rather uniquely, there are a lot of these halls in the Jeolla-do area, which honour prominent monks at a temple. The building to the Josa-jeon’s immediate left is the Myeongbu-jeon. This newer looking hall is adorned with some of the most elaborate paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld along the exterior walls. Each is represented in their own painting judging over their own territory in the underworld. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a golden-capped, but green-haired, Jijang-bosal. He is joined by newer looking, and vibrantly painted, Ten Kings of the Underworld statues. To the far left is a shrine for the dead, so be respectful while looking in this hall.

Behind these three halls, and slightly up the embankment and a stone trail that winds its way up to it, is a plain looking Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are three folk-like paintings of the three most popular shaman deities to be found at a Korean Buddhist temples: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse). It’s also from this hall that you get a great view of the temple grounds down below and the towering mountains all around.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: You’ll first need to get to Buan Bus Terminal in Jeollabuk-do. From this bus terminal, you can take a direct bus to Naesosa Temple. The bus will let you off 800 metres outside the temple grounds. You’ll need to make your way towards the entry gate and past all the stores and restaurants that line the way. You can take a bus or a taxi, which takes about 50 minutes from the Buan Bus Terminal, and it will cost you around 30,000 won. The official website says 30 minutes, but this just isn’t true, so be warned.


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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Like so many temples in Jeollabuk-do, Naesosa Temple is beautifully situated. It doesn’t get much better than Byeonsan Bando National Park, which quickly becomes apparent with the fir and cherry trees that lead the way up to the temple grounds. Once there, the statues inside the Cheonwangmun, both kings and demons, as well as the 13th century bell housed inside its own bell pavilion, are a nice introduction to Naesosa Temple. Then the nail-less main hall and the paintings inside it, as well as the murals adorning the exterior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon, and the folk-like shaman paintings inside the Samseong-gak, are really something to look forward to as a temple adventurer.

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 The beautiful fir tree trail that leads up to the temple.

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 The rather tall Cheonwangmun Gate at Naesosa Temple.

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 The expressive Cheonwang inside the gate.

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 The equally expressive demon being trampled under foot.

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 The bell pavilion that houses the ancient bell from the 13th century.

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 The diminutive bell from 1222.

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 The much more modern bell pavilion that’s used by the monks everyday.

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 The plain pavilion you pass under to see the main hall at Naesosa Temple.

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 The papers with wishes on them from temple visitors.

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 The 17th century main hall at Naesosa Temple.

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 The amazing interior to the main hall with the intricate ceiling above and the triad of altar statues below.

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 The rather different looking red painting of Jijang-bosal.

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 The vibrantly coloured guardian mural inside the main hall.

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 The monks’ dorms to the right of the main hall.

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 The view from the side of the main hall.

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 Both the Josa-jeon and the Myeongbu-jeon together.

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 One of the horrifying depictions of the underworld that adorns the Myeongbu-jeon.

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 And yet another amazing mural.

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 A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon at Jijang-bosal.

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 To the rear of the temple grounds, and up an embankment, is this plain looking Samseong-gak.

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 Inside is this folk-looking Sanshin mural.