Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage

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Seokguram Hermitage in 1930.

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Alongside Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. by then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The hermitage was completed in 774 A.D. not long after Kim Daeseong’s death. Originally, the temple was called Seokbulsa Temple, which means “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English. The reason that the hermitage was first constructed, at least according to legend, was to pacify Kim’s parents in his previous life.

The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage houses the most beautiful Buddhist sculpture in all of Korea. Underneath the nearly seven metre tall man-made dome, and measuring nearly 3.5 metres in height, is the serenely smiling Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Seokgamoni-bul looks out towards the East Sea and he is surrounded on all sides by equally beautiful sculptures of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Nahan, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Throughout its history, the hermitage largely remained untouched for the first one thousand years of its design. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this changed under Confucian religious rule in 1703 and 1758. It was left seriously damaged before colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The hermitage was first discovered by a visiting Japanese postman. From its discovery, Seokguram Hermitage underwent three rounds of full-scale restoration. The first of these restorations started in 1913 and lasted until 1915. Under the efforts of leading Japanese architect and scholar, Tei Sekino, Seokguram Hermitage was completely disassembled and reassembled. It was at this time that a one metre thick outer concrete dome was formed around the artificial grotto. With the addition of 200 stones, the original grotto was irrevocably damaged.

Compounding these mistakes was the renovation that took place in 1917. Because of the moisture forming in the grotto from the concrete shell formerly installed by the Japanese, moss was collecting inside the grotto. So to alleviate this problem, the Japanese installed a drainage pipe. Additionally, the concrete was covered in lime mortar and clay.

And finally, from 1920 to 1923, a third round of renovations was conducted. This time, once more, the renovations were conducted to lessen the mistakes from the first time around. This time, waterproof asphalt was added on top of the formerly applied concrete. However, this still didn’t help the moisture problem inside the grotto.

Through their efforts, and after being liberated from the Japanese, Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto. It wasn’t until 1966, with the installation of an air handling unit, that the problem was finally fixed. And in 1971, the glass partition was installed to protect the sculptures and statues from any damage that visitors might do to the historical grounds, as well as control the moisture level inside the grotto.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The path that formerly led up to the grotto in 1912.

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A look at the grotto before Japanese repairs.

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A better look at the extensive damage and neglect.

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Japanese restoration.

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The dismantling of the grotto.

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Seokguram Hermitage stripped down.

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The landscaping at Seokguram Hermitage after Japanese restoration efforts.

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Some Japanese posing in front of the grotto during its occupation of Korea.

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How the grotto looks today.

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A look inside the grotto at the amazing statue of the Buddha in 2014.

Now and Then: Bulguksa Temple

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Bulguksa Temple from the early part of the last century.

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I thought I would start up an all new series. It’s been a while since I have, and I thought there was no better way than to explore the history of Korean temples through historical pictures. Throughout the years, I’ve collected my fair share of historical Korean temple pictures, and I thought I would reveal a few of them through a now and then perspective. So I hope you enjoy this all new series.

The first temple I thought I would reveal through pictures is the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Before Bulguksa Temple was first constructed, a smaller sized temple first occupied the exact same grounds. Later, in 751 A.D., Prime Minister Kim Daeseong decided to build Bulguksa Temple to replace the former. It was built to soothe the spirits of his parents. Finally, in 774 A.D., after Kim’s death, the temple was completed by the Silla royal court. It was at this point that the temple was renamed Bulguksa Temple, or “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds. One of the earliest renovations was during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But during the Imjin War (1592-98), all the wooden buildings at Bulguksa Temple were completely destroyed. Only a few years later, in 1604, Bulguksa Temple was reconstructed and expanded. This was followed by forty more renovations over the course of the next 200 years.

After 1805, the temple fell into disrepair, and Bulguksa Temple was often the target of looting. It was during colonial rule by the Japanese, from 1910-1945, that the Japanese started the restoration process. After the Japanese defeat at the end of World War II and the Korean War, did the Korean government start to restore the temple to its past glory. Under the orders of President Park Chung Hee, from 1969 to 1973, extensive archaeological investigation, restoration, and repair were conducted on the temple. Finally, after almost two hundred years of neglect, Bulguksa Temple was rebuilt to its past glory. And with all of the stonework and pagodas of the temple dating back to the original construction date, as well as the beautiful wooden artistry and paintings, Bulguksa Temple is nearly unrivaled for its beauty among Korean Temples. In addition to all this artistry, the temple also houses six national treasures and three additional treasures!

Now, Bulguksa Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in Korea. Also, with its front façade that sports two national treasures, which include the first set of stairs that are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); while the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”), it’s perhaps the most recognizable temple in all of Korea for international visitors. Two additional national treasures that people can enjoy are Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas that stand stoically in the main temple courtyard. In addition to all this stone masonry, there are over a dozen temple buildings visitors can explore and enjoy. And in 1995, in combination with the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without a doubt, Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju is one of the most beautiful Korean temples on the peninsula.

Now, enjoy a look into Bulguksa Temple’s past through pictures!

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The neglected front facade of Bulguksa Temple from the early 20th century.

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Another vantage point of the two national treasures.

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One more look at what 200 years of neglect looks like.

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National Treasure #22 : Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

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The front facade of the temple from 1919.

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A look at two more national treasures from the turn of the last century: Dabo-tap and Seokga-tap pagodas.

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A closer look at National Treasure #20: Dabo-tap pagoda.

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What Bulguksa Temple’s main hall used to look like.

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A better look at more of the temple grounds from 1914.

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Park Chung Hee inspecting the newly renovated temple grounds in 1973.

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And a look at Bulguksa Temple today.

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A closer look at Dabo-tap pagoda today.

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And now, a better look at the entire renovated temple grounds.

Jungsaengsa Temple/Neungji-tap – 중생사/능지탑 (Gyeongju)

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The beautiful Neungji-tap Site in Gyeongju.

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Located on the west side of Mt. Nangsan, which is more of a hill than a mountain at an elevation of a couple hundred metres, is the famed Neungji-tap Site. Located just outside Jungsaengsa Temple is the four and a half metre tall two-story stone pagoda. The pagoda was first built during the Unified Silla Period (668-935 A.D). It’s believed that the pagoda was built as a tomb. Also, it’s believed that the famed King Munmu’s cremation might have taken place at this site. The foundation to the Neungji-tap Pagoda was reconstructed in 1979, and the two story pagoda was once believed to tower five stories in height. And around its granite base are all 12 of the zodiac generals. The open field is lined by mature red pines, and the left over stonework from its reconstruction in 1979 are left lying to the north of the site.

Just a little further along the narrow dirt road, and you’ll come to the beautiful Jungsaengsa Temple. Straight ahead is the compact, but older looking, main hall. The exterior walls to the main hall are lined with two sets of paintings. The first, which is on top, are quickly fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. These bluish tinged murals are joined by pastoral paintings in a yellow hue. As for inside this hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s backed by two beautiful dragon murals. The entire interior to the main hall is lined with older Buddhist themed murals like Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) together in the same mural. There is also a curmudgeonly looking dharma, an agwi, as well as a whole host of murals inside. An older looking guardian mural hangs to the left of the main altar.

To the right of the main hall are a set of temple buildings, including the temple’s kitchen. It’s just past this building, and up a long set of stairs, that you’ll come to the newly built Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. There is a pair of fierce-looking tigers just outside the hall’s doors. These paintings prepare you for some of the most beautiful shaman paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) in all of Korea. Have an especially close look at the colourful peacock fan that Sanshin is holding. Simply stunning!

And just to the left of the main hall, and past the monks’ dorms, is the Rock Carved Seated Buddha Triad of Mt. Nangsan. Up a little pathway, and under a newly built wooden pavilion, rest the badly faded triad. In the centre sits the best kept of the three: an image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). You’ll have to look closely to see the almost unrecognizable stone reliefs dedicated to the other two images of the Bodhisattvas. If you look close enough, you’ll notice that these Bodhisattvas are holding weapons. It’s believed that this relief dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #604 towards the Gyeongju National Museum. The bus ride lasts 9 stops, and you’ll need to get off at the Cheotbaeban Stop (첫배반). From the stop, walk nice minutes uphill towards both Jungsaengsa Temple and Neungji-tap.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Combining the two together, both Neungji-tap and Jungsaengsa Temple, makes for a pleasant trip to one of the lesser known sites in Gyeongju. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but they are well worth a visit. Neungji-tap pagoda is beautiful in its quiet simplicity, while Jungsaegsa Temple has a little bit of everything for everyone from its masterful shaman paintings to its ancient rock relief. So if you want something a bit different, and outside the norm in Gyeongju, then look no further than these two sites.

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The two-story Neungji-tap Site in central Gyeongju.

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A look as you first approach the pagoda up the pathway.

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A closer look at the second-tier of the pagoda.

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Just one of the zodiac generals that guards the base of the structure.

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One last look before heading towards Jungsaengsa Temple.

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The view as you first enter the temple grounds.

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The pavilion that houses the fading images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

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A closer look at the fading triad. Look closely!

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Perhaps a better angle to see Seokgamoni-bul joined to the left by a fading Bodhisattva.

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The main hall at Jungsaengsa Temple.

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One of the yellow pastoral paintings that adorns its exterior walls.

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The main altar with Birojana-bul front and centre.

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To the left hangs this guardian mural.

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If you look up towards the rafters, you’ll see a pair of beautifully crafted dragons’ heads.

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A curious looking agwi.

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The newly built Samseong-gak.

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A smiling Dokseong.

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Joined by an equally stunning Sanshin mural.

Jusaam Hermitage – 주사암 (Gyeongju)

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The amazing fall foliage at Jusaam Hermitage in northern Gyeongju.

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Located on the northern part of Mt. Obongsan in the northern portion of Gyeongju sits Jusaam Hermitage. Up a long and winding road that is precarious in parts, you’ll finally arrive at the end of the road where the beautiful hermitage lies.

In a gap in the mountain’s rocks is the entry to Jusaam Hermitage. In fall, this part of the hermitage is beautifully coloured in autumnal hues. Past the hermitage’s visitors centre aligns a row of hermitage buildings that begins with the main hall, or the 큰법당, as it’s called at the hermitage. The exterior walls are painted in variously themed Buddhist motifs. As for the interior, and rather interestingly, the entire interior is lined with miniature statues of what looks to be Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Resting on the main altar are five smaller sized statues in vaulted wooden alcoves. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either immediate side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal. And on the far left wall is a descriptive guardian mural.

Next to the main hall is the newly constructed Nahan-jeon. Housed inside this shrine hall is a triad of statues resting on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of these statues is a rather squat, golden statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by wooden depictions of the Historical Disciples of the Buddha.

Out in front of the Nahan-jeon is a beautifully placed bell pavilion that has a scenic view of the mountains off in the distance and the rolling valley down below. Just to the rear of the bell pavilion, and up a set of side-winding stairs, is the Samseong-gak. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are some of the oldest murals dedicated to these shaman deities in a collection at one hermitage. The scowling Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is of special interest. However, Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King) are something to enjoy, as well.

Down the set of stairs to the left of the bell pavilion, and to the right of the monks’ dorms, is a beautiful, rocky cliff that looks out over nature from 600 metres up. The name of the rocky cliff is Madang Bawi, and it was the location for the very popular Korean T.V. drama about the famed Queen Seondeok. But the views, truly, are outdone by very few other places in Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #704 towards Ahwa. You’ll need to ride the bus for 18 stops and get off at the Ahwa Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you’ll need to take a taxi the rest of the way. The ride will take about 30 minutes, and it’ll cost about 10,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The first place to start with this hermitage is its location. With its beautiful fall leaves to its dazzling views, Jusaam Hermitage truly has it all when it comes to nature. And then, when you add into the mix the historically, and beautifully crafted, shaman paintings, as well as the uniquely designed interior to the main hall, and you’ll need to make your way all the way up to Mt. Obongsan to see the beautiful Jusaam Hermitage in Gyeongju. A bit off the beaten path, it’s well worth the trek.

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The road that leads up to the hermitage.

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The V-like entry of rocks at Jusaam Hermitage.

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Some of the beautiful fall foliage at the hermitage.

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The row of hermitage buildings at Jusaam Hermitage.

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A look inside the rather unique main hall.

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The Nahan-jeon to the left of the main hall.

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

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The amazing view that the bell pavilion gets to enjoy.

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A look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The curmudgeonly-looking Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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And the accompanying Yongwang painting.

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The beautiful view from the Samseong-gak.

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A look out towards Madang Bawi.

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The amazing view!

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A look towards some of the neighbouring fall foliage.

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Another amazing view.

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One last look out towards northern Gyeongju.

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A canopy of fall colours at Jusaam Hermitage.

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And one last look from the main hall before it was time to go.

The Story Of…Bulguksa Temple

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Korea’s most famed temple: Bulguksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The very first temple I ever visited in Korea way back in the fall of 2003 was Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Korea today is very different than Korea from even a year ago, so you can imagine just how much change has gone on over the course of ten years. Not much was known about Korea. This was before Facebook, Twitter, and the regular supply of most western foods. Back then there were only a couple English channels on TV, and Costco only existed in North America. So suffice is to say, I didn’t know all that much about Korean temples, or even about the famed Bulguksa Temple at that point in time. So when my roommate asked me if I wanted to go to Gyeongju on Saturday and see the beautiful Bulguksa Temple, I first said what’s that? Then when I found out it was perhaps Korea’s most famous temple, I jumped at the opportunity.

Before I had a car, I would take buses to better known temples throughout the Korean peninsula. Now that I have a car, I can go to lesser known temples; but back then, I had to rely on the Korean transportation system, which is one of the best in the world, to get me to these beautiful Buddhist temples throughout Korea.

So making our way to the Nopo-dong Bus Terminal in northern Busan from our centrally located apartment, the three of us headed out. Somehow, our strange co-worker had invited himself to go to Gyeongju with us. It wasn’t much of a problem, because we would have Bulguksa Temple to distract us. The hour-long bus ride from Busan to Gyeongju went rather smoothly for three newly landed teachers. In a bit of confusion, we were able to find the bus that ran its way up to the temple from the bus terminal. It was the first time I really got a good look at Korea outside of Busan.

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Dabotap Pagoda: Just one of the sites we were looking forward to at Bulguksa Temple.

When we finally arrived at the large temple parking lot, we made our way up to the temple with a lot of anticipation, or so I thought. I knew I was really excited, as the ticket booth finally came into view; so I thought my companions were, as well. And I was right, at least in part. My friend, who I am still friends with to this day, was the first to pay the entrance fee. He was followed a close second by me. Then the two of us just stared at the third member of our party.

We asked, “Aren’t you coming with us to see the temple?”

“No, the admission fee is too much.”

The two of us just looked at each other and then at him. This guy had spent over two hours traveling. He had paid who knows how much in bus fare; and suddenly, the 3,000 won entrance fee (at least in 2003) was too much?

“But you came all this way. Don’t you want to see it?” I asked.

“Nah…I’ll just wait for you guys out here.” And he just wandered off towards the parking lot without looking back.

Even looking back on it ten years later, I still can’t believe someone would travel that distance and pay all that money in bus fare just to wander around the Bulguksa Temple parking lot. What didn’t come as a surprise is that the same guy was fired six months later from our hagwon for being a bit strange.

For more information on Bulguksa Temple.

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What was missed at Bulguksa Temple.

The Story Of…Seondosa Temple

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The famous Amita-bul sculpture at Seondosa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

This past spring, I had the great opportunity, and fortune, to travel around the western part of Gyeongju with David Mason and his friend. We visited temples, hermitages, shrines, and tombs. We even enjoyed a nice lunch together. But what we were unable to do was visit the peak of Mt. Seondosan. We travelled all around it, but the day was drawing to a close when we finally got around to it. So to make up for it, I finally found myself in Gyeongju again this past fall to hike up Mt. Seondosan.

There are numerous ways that you can hike to the top of Mt. Seondosan, but I chose the trail that is on the eastern face of the mountain. In fact, there are two trails on this eastern side of Mt. Seondosan. To be clear, I chose the wrong one, which will become clearer soon.

In total, the hike up to the top of Mt. Seondosan, and Seondosa Temple in turn, is a kilometer in length. You’ll first start off just west of four tombs, one of which is the famed King Jinheung’s tomb. While walking this trail, you’ll pass by numerous tombs and a scorched landscape laid bare by a recent forest fire. There are quite a few places you can catch your breath during the hike up to the top of Mt. Seondosan, which stands at 390 metres in height. Take your time and enjoy some amazing views of this haunting landscape, but don’t do what I did when taking a rest. As I lowered myself onto a burnt out log, I accidentally put my hand in a bush of thistles. Ya, ouch!

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An eerie picture from where I put my hand in the thistles

However, as haunting, and painful, as this landscape is in parts, it was also hard to travel because the trail has become overgrown with bushes and fallen debris. The kilometer hike to the top of Mt. Seondosan felt at least double the initial length.

It wasn’t until I got to the top of the mountain, just below Seondosa Temple, that a four-wheel motorcycle went speeding by me on a narrow dirt road. Onboard this bike was an older Korean man and woman, who waved to me as they parked at Seondosa Temple. Before I had even seen them as they turned the corner, I was kicking myself for not having taken this much easier dirt road; instead, I had chosen the much harder bushwhacking trail. Usually, I do a lot of research into a temple before I visit it, but there was so little out there to help me this time. Doh!

I guess the moral of this story is look before you leap. But then again, the adventure is part of the journey.

For more on Seondosa Temple.

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One last look at the completely disfigured face of Amita-bul

The Story Of…Samneung Valley in Gyeongju

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 The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul up Samneung Valley.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sometimes, a temple adventure isn’t always amazing, or adventurous for that matter. However, Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju was both amazing and adventurous; but it was also something else: embarrassing.

I had been enjoying all the sites along the Samneung-gol Valley like the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face, the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads, the Seated Stone Buddha, and Sangseonam Hermitage, where I was able to take a bit of a rest and enjoy the amazing views that Mt. Namsan offers.

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The Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face mid-way up Samneung Valley.

The final destination was the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. I followed the trail that leads to the left of Sangseonam Hermitage, attempting to find perhaps the most important statue on Mt. Namsan. Somewhere along the way, I must have got lost because I ended up at Sangsaam Rock, which I knew was well past the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul; so either I had missed it completely, or it was well hidden.

Back-tracking down the mountain, I was finally able to spot the massive statue. However, everywhere I turned, it was roped off. I was finally able to figure out that the government ropes off the area in winter to protect hikers from the icy stairs. It must have been at this point that the Canadian in me kicked in, because I wasn’t going to let a little ice prevent me from hiking all that way and not see the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul.

So hopping the roped off area, and with the winter wind seeming a bit cooler, I finally saw the amazing Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more.

Finally back at home, after an amazing tour of Mt. Namsan, and Samneung-gol Valley in particular, I realized I had torn the crotch of my pants. Not only had I torn my pants, but I had completely blown a hole in them. Seeing this, I finally realized why it felt that much colder after hopping the roped off fence. But what is most embarrassing is that I’m sure there must have been at least a dozen Korean hikers watching me with amazement with a huge hole in the crotch of my pants! Sometimes, I’m just so embarrassing…

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 1

For more on Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt. 2

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 Said pants…

Seondosa Temple/King Jinheung’s Tomb – 선도사/진흥왕릉 (Gyeongju)

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 The triad of statues that you can find at Seondosa Temple in western Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This weekend, I decided to head back to Mt. Seondosan to visit Seondosa Temple. Originally, it had been part of the plan the day I toured around Gyeongju with David Mason; but it was late in the day, so it was scrapped for another day. Well, that other day turned out to be this past weekend.

Mt. Seondosan, which is on the western part of Gyeongju, was regarded as the Pure Land in Korean Buddhism by the Silla people. This was especially true of the peak area of the mountain, which is where Seondosa Temple is located.

You first approach the trail head area of the climb just north of four royal tombs, one of which is the Silla king’s, King Jinheung (more on him later). There are in fact two trail heads, one to the left and one to the right. I would suggest the much easier road trail to the right; but unfortunately (and unknowingly), I took the much tougher left trail. In total, the hike to the top of Mt. Seondosan, which stands 390 metres tall, is about a kilometer in length. However, if you take the overgrown trail, like me, it will seem twice that distance. As you take this trail, which leads past several laypeople’s tombs, you’ll quickly notice that much of the landscape has been scorched by a recent fire. This has made the mountain landscape haunting in parts.

When you finally do get to the top of the mountain, with whichever trail that you’ve taken, you’ll be greeted by a wall of buildings. The very first building of the set is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, which lies between a storage building and the monks’ dorms. This building looks a lot like the storage shed beside it, but don’t be fooled because there are three highly original paintings inside of this building. The first of the set, and the one hanging in the centre, is a Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. In the painting, there is a large ferocious tiger looking over Sanshin’s shoulder. And both Sanshin and the tiger are joined by a pair of white cranes and red pine trees. To the left of the Sanshin mural is probably the most original Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural I have yet to see at a Korean temple. Yongwang is joined by a pair of attendants and a pair of expressive dragons that swirl around in the mural. The final mural of the set lies to the right and is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Past the monks’ dorms lies the diminutive main hall at Seondosa Temple. Unfortunately, this hall was locked when I visited, so I was unable to see inside. But to the left of the main hall, and just around the corner, is the real highlight to Seondosa Temple: the Buddha Image Carved on the Rock Surface in Seoak-dong, Gyeongju.

This large rock triad is centred by a highly disfigured Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). In total, this central figure stands in relief at 6.85 metres in height. The face of Amita-bul has been split on either side (not sure if this was on purpose or through age), and Amita-bul’s face is now shaped like a V. In fact, Amita-bul’s entire body is well worn and almost indistinguishable in parts. Amita-bul is joined to the left by a crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Like Amita-bul, Gwanseeum-bosal is damaged on its left side. To the right stands Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Of the three statues, Daesaeji-bosal is the least damaged of the lot. It’s believed the triad dates back to the 7th century.

A bit smarter, and more aware, I decided to take the road trail back down the mountain. This allowed for some more amazing, yet haunting, views of Mt. Seondosan. When you finally do get near the base of the mountain, you’ll come across four royal tombs. The first, and perhaps most important tomb, as you make your way down the mountain, is King Jinheung’s tomb. King Jinheung reigned from 540 to 576 A.D., and he was the 24th king during the Silla Kingdom. King Jinheung was a strong advocate of Buddhism. He did this so he could strengthen the nation. He also founded the famed hwarang, who were a group of warrior youths. King Jinheung also annexed the neighbouring Gaya Kingdom, which further expanded Silla territory. The tomb itself measures 20 metres in diameter and 5.8 metres tall. And out in front of the tomb are two memorial tablets dedicated to the prominent king, King Jinheung.

For more on Seondosa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Gyeongju, if you want to see Seondosa Temple. From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch a taxi to get to the east side of Mt. Seondosan and Seondosa Temple. The taxi will cost you about 4,000 won, and it’ll take about 10 minutes. From where the taxi drops you off, you should be able to see the trail head markers that lead you towards Seondosa Temple. Take the road trail that is a much easier kilometre hike than the bushwhacking trail I took.


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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While a bit of a trek to get to, Seondosa Temple has a beautiful and ancient triad of reliefs waiting for you. The highly disfigured reliefs are unique in their own right, and different from most anything you’ll see in all of Gyeongju. Add to it the highly original shaman paintings and the view, and you’ll have a good reason to make the kilometre hike. Then, when you take into consideration the rest that Mt. Seondosan has to offer, like King Jinheung’s tomb, you’ll have an even better reason to visit this little traveled part of Gyeongju.

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 A kilometre that way to Seondosa Temple.

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 The golden fall colours of Mt. Seondosan.

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 And the haunting remains of a forest fire on Mt. Seondosan.

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Nearing the peak of Mt. Seondosan with a combination of burnt trees and autumn colours.

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The first view of Seondosa Temple.

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Both the triad of statues and the main hall at Seondosa Temple.

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A closer look at the triad of statues with Amita-bul in the centre joined by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal on either side.

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An up close and personal with the fractured Amita-bul.

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The view from the main hall down onto Gyeongju below.

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The storage shed-looking Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Seondosa Temple.

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Inside the Samseong-gak, and rather uniquely, this Sanshin painting hangs in the centre on the main altar.

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To the left is this highly expressive painting of Yongwang.

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The much easier road trail that leads to the base of the mountain.

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Along the way, you’ll come across the tomb of King Jinheung (to the right).

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The memorial tablets that rest in front of King Jinheung’s tomb.

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 One last look before completing the decent.

The Story of…Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju

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A successful climb of Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In total, I think I’ve explored Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, four or five times. I’ve explored the north, south, east, and west sides of the mountain; and most of them have been highly enjoyable. In fact, I enjoyed exploring Samneung-gol Valley so much that I thought I would explore the south side of the mountain a couple weeks later.

Well, let’s just say that exploring the south side of Mt. Namsan wasn’t as successful as hiking Samneung-gol Valley. Each little adventure isn’t always a success, and the south side of Mt. Namsan on this day was certainly added to that list.

So I took a turn down a country road, where the houses are literally placed right on the road without a curb or a milimetre of room for error. I wasn’t the least bit surprised as I made my way towards my next temple adventure with my map in hand. I’ve been up more remote roads in my travels.

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The view from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Then the road gave way, and I was next to a pig far; but the road kept going. Finally, the road gave way once again, and I was on a dirt road (which is putting it nicely). There was grass growing between the ruts in the dirt road with trees jutting out from the neighbouring mountain’s face. I thought, “Okay, any minute I’ll arrive at the temple, and everything will be okay…”

Well, my “okay” turned out to be a truck that was blocking the only lane as the occupants loaded their truck with rocks. I thought, “Okay, what do I do now?” One foot off the grassy road on either side would land me in a rice paddy. I didn’t want to do a U-turn into the unknown. So I decided to reverse my car back from where I came. In the process, I was giving up on seeing the temple that I thought once lay up the road. But at this point, as I switched into reverse, I’m pretty sure no temple ever existed up the road I was attempting to explore.

With tree branches whipping off my window with a twang, and my parking sensor beeping every two seconds warning me about any and all potential rocks, weeds and mountains, I made my way slowly back to the pig farm. Finally arriving, in what I hoped was in one piece, I got out to take a look at the damage. I had to get down on all fours to pick out the grass from both my front and back bumper, and I also had to bend my driver’s side mirror back into place. Not the best of situations, but it could have been a lot worse, too.

The lengths I sometimes go to to see the next amazing temple or hermitage in Korea.

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The stony face of Mt. Namsan on a more successful day.

Temple Stay: Golgulsa Temple (Gyeongju)

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The main hall and the 9th century carving of Seokgamoni-bul at Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Golgulsa Temple (Bone Cave Temple) was first established in the 6th century by the saint, Gwangyu. Golgulsa Temple is situated in the ancient, and beautiful, former capital of Gyeongju. The temple has a beautiful 9th century carving of Seokgamoni-bul on the face of Mt. Hamwol. And this carving is joined by 12 neighbouring grottos, which were former halls and residences at the temple. The most beautiful of these caves is the hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

But Golgulsa Temple is most famous for the practice of Seonmudo, which is a Buddhist martial art. The practice of Seonmudo dates back to the Silla Dynasty, when the priests Wongwang and Wonhyo taught the martial art of mind and body to an elite corp of military personnel. Seonmudo was passed on from generation to generation until it was finally suppressed by Japanese colonizers during their occupation from 1910-1945. Finally, in the 1970’s, Seonmudo was revived under the watchful eye of the head monk Yangik. Training people started in the 1980’s.  And in 1990, a practice studio was built for monks and people to learn the ancient martial art. Now, the health and practice of Seonmudo is stronger than ever.

The Temple Stay program at Golgulsa Temple is the most diverse program in all of Korea. It offers NINE different programs, and the program runs 365 days a year. For the more casual guest, you can enjoy the regular schedule, the day schedule, or a private relaxation schedule. For the more intense and specialized visitor, you can enjoy the instructor program, group martial arts learning, or training with Grandmaster Jeogun. It truly has something for everyone!

For more information on Golgulsa Temple.

(Courtesy of the Golgulsa Temple Stay website).

Directions:

First, you’ll have to get to Gyeongju. From Gyeongju, you can take either bus 100 or 150 that goes towards Gampo. You can catch this bus across from the intercity bus terminal. Get off at the Andong-ri intersection and walk the 20 minutes to the temple entrance. Keep your eyes open as there are only a couple signs that mark the way to Golgulsa Temple.

View 골굴사 in a larger map

General Schedule:

In total, Golgulsa Temple runs NINE different programs at the temple. Here are a few sample schedules for the three most popular Temple Stay programs at Golgulsa Temple.

A: The Golgulsa Temple Regular Schedule: This program runs from Monday until Saturday, and you can join it at any time.

Monday to Saturday Schedule:

4:00 – Wake Up
4:30 – Morning Chanting Service
5:00 – Sitting and Walking Meditation
6:30 – Breakfast
8:30 – Seonmudo Training
10:10 – 108 bows, meditation, and tea time
12:00 – Lunch
14:00 – Meditation (Mon/Wed/Fri) Archery (Tue/Thu/Sat)
15:00 – Community Work (every day except Sun.)
17:50 – Dinner
18:40 – Orientation
19:00 – Evening Chanting Service
19:30 – Seonmudo Training
22:00 – Bed Time (Lights off after 10pm)

Sunday Schedule :
4:00 – Wake Up
4:30 – Morning Chanting Service
5:00 – Sitting and Walking Meditation
5:50 – Barugongyang (Buddhist Ceremonial Meal)
8:30 – Tea and conversation
9:30 – Optional Excursion to local sites (extra charge-10,000 won per person)
12:00 – Lunch
15:00 – Seonmudo Demonstration
19:00 – Evening Chanting Service
19:30 – Seonmudo Training (only for those who stay 1 night)
22:00 – Bed time (Lights out at 10 pm)

(Courtesy of the Golgulsa Temple Stay website).

B: The Golgulsa Temple Daytime Schedule: In this program, there are three different kinds of schedules.

Program 1:

20,000 won, per person / in groups larger than 10 people / 2 hours in duration. Pilgrimage to the temple, watch Seonmudo performance and try Seonmudo training.

Program 2:
25,000 won per person / groups larger than 10 people / 2 and a half hours.
Pilgrimage to the temple, watch Seonmudo performance, try Seonmudo training and enjoy a temple meal.

Program 3:
30,000 won per person / group larger than 10 people / exceeding 3 hours.
Pilgrimage to the temple, watch Seonmudo performance, try Seonmudo training and enjoy a formal monastic temple meal (Baru-gong-yang).

(Courtesy of the Golgulsa Temple Stay website).

C: The Golgulsa Temple Relaxation Schedule: In this program, there is no set schedule; instead, people can stay at the temple just to relax or meditate.

Cost 70,000 won per night (private room)

1,500,000 won per month (private room)

30,000 won per night/per person (Normal room)

*(Temple Stay activities are not included. If you will want to join them you can always talk to us and choose some activities to attend after additional fees). Bedding is provided (bring your own towels and toiletries)
* Enquiries: 054-775-1689 d-kumkang@daum.net

Golgulsa Temple Information:

Address : San 304 Andong-ri, YangbukMyeon Gyeongju-si Gyeongsangbuk-do
Tel : +82-54-744-1689 / Fax : +82-54-745-0172
homepage : http://www.sunmudo.net
E-mail : d-kumkang@hotmail.com

Fees:

Adults: 50,000 won; Teens: 50,000 won; Under 13: 40,000 won (Regular Schedule)

Adults: 20,000 won; Teens: 20,000 won; Under 13: 0 won (Daytime Schedule)

Link:

Reservations for the Regular Schedule Program at Golgulsa Temple.

Reservations for the Daytime Schedule Program at Golgulsa Temple.

Reservations for the Relaxation Schedule Program at Golgulsa Temple.

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The 9th century carving of Seokgamoni-bul at Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju.