Updated: Seokguram Hermitage – 석굴암 (Gyeongju)

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Inside Seokguram Grotto.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seokguram Hermitage, which is located on top of Mt. Tohamsan, is known as “Stone Cave Hermitage,” in English. And alongside Bulguksa Temple, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The hermitage was first called Seokbulsa Temple (Stone Buddha Temple). And it was originally constructed under the guidance of then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The temple was completed in 774 A.D. just after Kim’s death. It’s believed that Bulguksa Temple was constructed by Kim for his parents in his present life, while Seokguram Hermitage was built for his parents from his previous life. The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage is designated National Treasure #24.

Through the Iljumun Gate, and winding around the side of Mt. Tohamsan, you’ll make your way towards Seokguram Hermitage. As you first approach the hermitage grounds, you’ll notice the monks’ dorms, facilities, and visitors’ centre to your right. It’s up on the hillside, where two shrine halls reside, that you’ll find the world famous Seokguram Grotto.

So up a long set of uneven stairs, passing by the remnants of a failed Japanese reconstruction of the grotto from 1913-15, you’ll make your way towards the breath-taking grotto. And when you finally do get to the top of the stairs be prepared to see the very best that Korean Buddhism has to offer the world in artistic achievement!

You first enter the outer wooden chamber that allows you to look in on the Seokguram Grotto that is now shielded by protective glass However, you still get an amazing feel for the sophisticated artistry that resides inside the grotto.

The first thing to catch your eye is the centerpiece: a 3.5 metre tall statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He looks out over the East Sea, while striking the Touching the Earth mudra. The elegant statue sits on a 1.34 metre tall lotus pedestal. With a serene look in his eyes, the Buddha welcomes all visitors to the Seokguram Hermitage.

After having your fill of what artistic serenity looks like, look around the rectangular antechamber. At the very front, there are a pair of Vajra warriors that guard the ancient entry. These two figures are very visible because they are muscular with clenched fists and grimaces adorning their faces. The next stone images that appear inside the narrow entry chamber are the Sacheonwang, or the Four Heavenly Kings. These four images are meant to ward off any evil from entering the inner chamber.

Looking a little deeper inside the octagonal chamber, and around the imposing image of Seokgamoni-bul, you’ll notice that he’s surrounded in back by two rows of stone figures. The bottom row are the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). The upper figures are images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The most interesting image inside this vaulted chamber, other than the serenely seated Seokgamoni-bul, is the partially hidden stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Hidden behind Seokgamoni-bul stands the eleven-headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. This statue stands 2.18 metres in height and holds a vase containing a lotus blossom.

Just below the grotto is another shrine hall: the Geukrak-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). It’s joined by a guardian mural and metal reliefs of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Admission to the hermitage is 4,000 won

For more on Seokguram Hermitage, please follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: Much like Bulguksa Temple, you’ll need to catch a bus out in front of the Gyeongju Intercity Terminal. From this bus stop, you should board either Bus #10 or #11. You should get off at the Bulguksa Temple Bus stop. This part of the trip should take about an hour. From the Bulguksa Temple parking lot, you’ll need to catch Bus #12, which will bring you the rest of the way up to Seokguram Hermitage. The final leg of the trip up to the hermitage takes about 10 minutes, and the bus leaves every 30 minutes.

OVERALL RATING:  10/10.  With it being the most beautiful and crowning achievement of religious artistry in Korea, Seokguram Hermitage rates a perfect ten out of ten. In all of my travels throughout various temples in Korea, I have yet to be spell-bound as much as I am when I visit Seokguram Hermitage. Other temples and hermitages may be bigger in size and scope or have greater historical/cultural significance, but all pale in comparison to the simple beauty the hillside grotto radiates.

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A look towards the East Sea as you make your way towards Seokguram Hermitage.

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And a look towards Gyeongju.

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The Iljumun Gate at the hermitage.

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A look up towards the grotto.

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A closer look.

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Just before entering the grotto.

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Finally, a look inside the grotto.

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A closer looking at the amazing 8th century statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

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The view from the grotto towards the East Sea.

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The Geukrak-jeon Hall just below the grotto.

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Amita-bul sitting all alone on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.

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A mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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Two reliefs. To the left is Sanshin, while to the right is Dokseong.

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And the final relief inside the hall is dedicated to Chilseong.

Updated: Bulguksa Temple – 불국사 (Gyeongju)

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A look at Dabo-tap Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bulguksa Temple means “The Buddhist Country Temple,” in English. Alongside the neighbouring Seokguram Hermitage, Bulguksa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Bulguksa Temple was first constructed in 528 A.D. during the Silla Kingdom. Originally, the temple was known as Hwaeom Bulguksa Temple and/or Beopryusa Temple. It was later rebuilt in 751 by Kim Daeseong. It was finally completed in 774, during King Hyegong’s reign, and it was simply renamed Bulguksa Temple. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous repairs, renovations, and damage. During the Imjin War of 1592-98, the temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. It was quickly reconstructed in 1604. From that time, it was renovated and repaired about 40 times until 1805. After this period in time, the temple fell into a bit of disrepair and was often the target of robbers. Finally, in 1972, the temple was restored to its past splendour with 24 buildings being reconstructed over a three year period.

After paying your 4,000 won entrance fee at the southern ticket booth, you’ll make your way towards the main temple grounds. The first structure to greet you, besides the Iljumun Gate you pass through at the entry, is the Cheonwangmun Gate. The gate houses some of the more refined incarnations of the Four Heavenly Kings. Along the way, you’ll pass by a beautiful pond.

Finally arriving just outside the temple, you’ll be greeted by one of the most beautiful (and recognizable) front façades to any temple in Korea. To the right stands a set of stairs that leads up to the main temple courtyard. These stairs symbolize the ascension from the worldly to the spiritual. The first set of stairs are known as Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge”); whereas the stairs to the left are known as Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”). These bridges are considered National Treasure #22 and #23. Unfortunately, you can no longer climb these stairs, as they’re protected; however, there is a trail to the right that leads up towards the temple courtyard and the main hall.

Once you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll instantly notice the two pagodas towering over the grounds. The first is known as Dabo-tap, or “The Pagoda of Many Treasures.” The other, to the  left, is known as Seokga-tap, or ““Pagoda of Seokgamoni” (which is named after the Historical Buddha: Seokgamoni-bul). Dabo-tap stands 10.4 metres in octagonal height. With its intricate design, it’s meant to represent the feminine. Seokga-tap, on the other hand, stands 8.2 metres in height. It is three-tiers of symmetric simplicity, and it’s meant to represent the masculine. These 8th century pagodas are designated National Treasure #20 and 21, respectively.

Behind these two imposing pagodas is the Daeung-jeon, or the temple’s main hall. The hall was reconstructed in 1765 after it was destroyed in 1593 by the Japanese. In front of the main hall, and past the two pagodas, is the Jahamun Gate. From this vantage point, you can look down on the stairs and across at the amazing front façade.

Behind the main hall lies the Museol-jeon Hall. The word “museol” literally means “non-lecturing hall,” in English; however, the hall is used as a lecture hall and it has a beautiful bronze statue of a regally crowned Jijang-bosal, with staff in hand, on the right side of the hall.

Up a set of steep stairs, and behind the Museol-jeon Hall, is the Gwaneum-jeon hall that houses a slender statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Gwanseeum-bosal is then backed by a highly elaborate mural of herself with a thousand hands reaching out for those in need. It’s also from this vantage point that you get a great view over the rest of the temple grounds.

Through a door, and down a flight of stairs, you’ll come face-to-face with the Biro-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). This statue is striking the Diamond Fist mudra, and it’s designated National Treasure #26. This statue is believed to date back to the 9th century. Next to this hall, and slightly to the left, is the Bulguksa Sari-tap. While damaged by the Japanese, it was eventually retrieved in the 1930s. Dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the Sari-tap is beautiful in its lotus design and Buddha and Bodhisattva reliefs around its body.

The final building in the upper courtyard is the Nahan-jeon. Housed inside this hall are 16 wooden statues dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Surrounding the hall are hundreds of stone cairns left behind by visitors to the temple.

Finally back in the lower courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Geukrak-jeon Hall. Out in front of the hall is a golden boar that you can rub for good luck. And housed inside this hall is a statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is designated National Treasure #27, and it dates back to the 9th century. Surrounding this statue, and if you look close enough around the interior, you can see an older style Dragon Ship of Wisdom painting, as well as a wooden carving of a golden pig, as well.

For more on Bulguksa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, make your way to the main road and the bus stop that’s just out in front of it. From there, take either bus #10 or #11. Either one of these buses will take you directly to the Bulguksa Temple stop. The bus ride will last about one hour in length.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10.  With a half-dozen National Treasures, as well as being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, its reputation kind of speaks for itself. But if you need any more convincing, the stately pagodas, the amazing architecture, and the stunning halls and views are more than enough to keep you busy for the better part of a day. This temple is a must!!

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Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at Bulguksa Temple.
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 The  Cheongun-gyo (“Blue Cloud Bridge”) and Baegun-gyo (“White Cloud Bridge.”
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As you approach the temple courtyard.
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An up-close of Dabo-tap Pagoda.
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And a look over at Seokga-tap Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple.
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The long corridors at the temple.
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Some of the intricate artwork at Bulguksa Temple.
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The main hall at Bulguksa Temple.
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A look inside the main hall at Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
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Just a seat.
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The stairway leading to the upper courtyard.
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The Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
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The highly elaborate mural of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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The view from the upper courtyard.
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A look towards the cloaked Nahan-jeon.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon.
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The view as you make your way towards the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
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The golden pig that brings good luck.
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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at Amita-bul, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #27.
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 The Yeonhwas-gyo (“Lotus Bridge”) and Chilbo-gyo (“Seven Treasures Bridge”).

Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju)

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The oldest pagoda in all of Korea, which just so happens to be at Bunhwangsa Temple

Hello Everyone!

Continuing with our tour of Gyeongju, I’ve included a posting on Bunhwangsa Temple (분황사).  Bunhwangsa Temple has the oldest pagoda in all of Korea, so enjoy!

In total, I’ve visited Gyeongju probably about six times, and of those six, I’ve visited Bunhwangsa Temple three times.  Depending on how much time you have, how much energy you still have after walking all day, and how late you’re running in the day if you still want to visit Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Hermitage, you should visit Bunhwangsa Temple.

Bunhwangsa Temple (“Famous Emperor Temple”) is probably best known for its brick pagoda. Once one of the four most famous temples in the early Silla Dynasty, Bunhwangsa Temple is a lot smaller and in important in scope in present day Korea.   The aforementioned brick pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple is the oldest pagoda in all of Korea dating from 634.  Originally, the pagoda was nine stories high; however, the pagoda only has three in the present day.  At the base of the pagoda chamber openings, with doors that are slightly ajar, are the fiercely protective stone figures. Also, there are lions adorning the base of the pagoda.  There is only one worship hall at this temple with an out of place, supersized, Buddha.  There are future plans to expand the Bunhwangsa Temple grounds and return the temple to its past glory during the Silla Dynasty.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Buhwangsa Temple, you should walk down a country road that starts at the Gyeongju National Museum. The country road runs along a field.  This field is the former temple grounds for Hwangnyong-saji.  Cross over the railway tracks along this road and proceed for about a kilometer.

Also, if you don’t want to see Tumulus Park, Anapji, and the Gyeongju National Museum, and you simply want to go directly from the intercity bus terminal, you can catch a bus from the opposite side of Gyeongju Bus Terminal: take Bus #10 (15 minute interval), #11 (11 minute interval), #15 (3 times a day), #17 (6:20 am, only once a day), #18 (9 times a day), #277 (9 times a day) to get off at Bunhwangsa Temple (15 min ride).  Also, you can take a 10 minute taxi ride from the bus station.

Admission for adults is 1,300 Won.  And it’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m (except in winter when it’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

 

OVERALL RATING:  7/10.  This temple, simply for possessing the oldest pagoda in all of Korea rates a 7 out of 10.  Honestly, this pagoda is amazing, not only because it’s so old, but because it’s so beautiful, as well.  However, there is very little else to this temple besides this pagoda.  Let’s hope that the future temple additions will be as breath-taking as the historical pagoda!

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A look at the kilometre long field that you’ll have to pass to get to Bunhwangsa Temple.
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The first look at the 1377 year old pagoda (the oldest pagoda in Korea)
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One of the four corners of the beautiful pagoda.
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Another ancient angle.
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One more time.
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A look inside the slightly ajar doors with the fierce guards protecting its entry from any evil spirits.
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A little less open, but no less protected.
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A look at one of the ancient lions.
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This one has seen better days, and yet, it’s still as fierce as ever.
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The solitary worship hall at Bunhwangsa Temple with a view of the newly tidied courtyard.
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The rather large Buddha statue inside the worship hall.
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A painting of three Buddhas on the exterior of the worship hall.
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Another unique painting on the exterior of the worship hall.
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A faded painting depicting a court on the exterior of the worship hall at the temple.
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The temple’s university for monks at Bunhwangsa Temple.
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A faceless sculpture of a Buddha beside the temple’s university and behind the worship hall at the temple.
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And a newer looking sculpture of Buddhas in the main courtyard at the temple.
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Some beautiful irises were in bloom when we visited.
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 The restored bell pavilion with father and son paying 1,000 Won to bring the temple’s bell.
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An extremely unique wooden drum at Bunhwangsa Temple.
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A better look at the drum’s grotesque features.

Hwangnyongsa-ji Temple Remains – 황룡사지 (Gyeongju)

A look at the temple remains of Hwangnyong-saji in Gyeongju.

Hello Everyone,

Continuing with postings about Gyeongju, today’s temple is Hwangnyong-saji Temple remains  (황룡사지).  Unlike most temples that will be posted on this blog, Hwangyong-saji are the remains of a temple.  Following our geographic walk through downtown Gyeongju, you’ll come across these remains.

After wandering the downtown area of historical Gyeongju, passing such sights as Tumulus Park, Cheomseongdae, Wolsang Park, Anapji, and the Gyeongju National Museum, you can come across the remains of Hwanngnyong-saji Temple.  Walking east of the Gyeongju National Museum, towards a seemingly vacant farmer’s field, is Hwangyong-saji Temple remains. Cross over the railroad tracks and follow the path through the field; here, you’ll see the six metre high, three tiered, stone pagoda that rises out of a rice paddy.  Originally, the pagoda dates back to the 9th century, but was resurrected in 1980.  Where the pagoda stands is the former site of Mitansa.  Just north of this pagoda is the site of the largest temple of the Silla dynasty: Hwangyong-saji (“The Imperial Dragon Temple”).

From a mound in the middle of this compound, you’ll be able to see massive cornerstones to the former temple buildings.  From this vantage point you will also be able to tell that the former temple grounds were extensive and that the temple buildings were numerous. The temple was constructed in 553.  In fact, there was a bell four times the size of the famous Emille Bell at the Gyeongju National Museum.  Also, there was a nine-story pagoda in the temple courtyard that reached 70 metres in height! In total, this pagoda was destroyed five times over six centuries.  But finally, in 1238, during the Mongol invasions, it was burnt to the ground never to be rebuilt again.  Presently, there are 64 massive foundation stones on the lawn to indicate and highlight just how magnificent this temple formerly was.  Additionally, there are a tall pair of flagpole supports that stand on the northern side of the field.  From these flagpoles it isn’t much further to Bunhwangsa; probably, only a two minute walk.  So if you’re going to one, you might as well go to the other. If you’ve packed a lunch, like some of the other Koreans during lunch time; it’s a nice little picnic area, or even a nice place to rest for a few minutes.

Admission is free to the field.

OVERALL RATING: 2.5/10.  Because it’s more of an after-thought than it is the main reason you’re visiting Gyeongju, it rates so low.  Because there are only remains, and not really a temple per se, it rates so low, as well.  However, because it’s so close in proximity to everything else, and makes for a nice little mid-day break from your adventures, this historical site is worth seeing.  Also, it is a rare insight into the brutality of Korea’s past.  For all these reasons, Hwangyong-saji may not be at the top of your list for places to see in Gyeongju, but it should at least be on your list.

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A view of the field that houses the remains of the temple with elevated earth highlighting where the former buildings stood.
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A picture of two bases of destroyed pagodas at Hwangyong-saji Temple.
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The elevated outline of Mok Tap Ji at Hwangnyong-saji Temple.
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A better look at the remains at Mok Tap Ji.
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More remains at Hwangyong-saji Temple.  This time, the remains are from the elevated earthly remains from Geum Dang Ji.
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A better look at the remains at Geum Dang Ji.
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One final look at Hwangnyong-saji Temple, and the sprawling remains of the former temple spread out throughout a field.

Beopjangsa Temple – 법장사 (Gyeongju)

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One of the fierce guardians, Ha, on the entrance doors of Beopjangsa Temple.

Hello Everyone!!

In the next few postings I thought I would write about Gyeongju.  I thought I would post the postings as you geographically move through the city towards your final destination of Seokguram Hermitage.  That’s why, today, we’re starting off with Beopjangsa Temple (법장사); it’s the closest temple to the intercity bus terminal. So without any further ado, here’s Beopjangsa Temple!

Beopjangsa Temple is a rather unimpressive temple along the main road in Gyeongju.   In fact, if it wasn’t between where you’re dropped off at the bus station and the rear entrance of Tumulus Park, I don’t think I would have noticed it.  The temple is on small, cramped grounds.  This temple has one main hall, and that’s about it.  The one redeeming thing about this temple are the fierce guardian paintings of Heng and Ha on the entrance doors.

HOW TO GET THERE:  This temple is very easy to get to.  When you leave the intercity bus complex, you should walk straight towards Tumulus Park for about 300 metres.  Remain on the left side of the main road.  You’ll have to keep your eyes open for this temple because it’s really easy to pass it by without even noticing it, especially with all the beauty that surrounds you.

Admission to this temple is free.

OVERALL RATING: 2/10.  The one noteworthy attribute to this temple are the two fierce guardians, Heng and Ha, on the front doors that protect Beopjangsa Temple from evil spirits.  While this temple pales in comparison to the historical grandeur of Gyeongju, it’s worth a quick step inside the grounds to take a couple pictures of the impressive front door paintings of the temple guardians.

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The second fierce guardian, Heng, that protects the temple from evil spirits.
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And the main hall at Beopjangsa Temple.

Singyesa Temple – 신계사 (Geumgangsan, NORTH KOREA)

149290731207_0_BGA look at me at Singyesa Temple before we left the temple. (courtesy of T.H.)

NOTE:  After receiving an overwhelming response for my first posting about Singyesa Temple in North Korea, I thought I would update the posting with even more pictures and some observations.  I hope you’ll enjoy the update!

Hello Everyone, I decided to dig deep into the archive of Korean temples and find this gem.  This temple comes from my two day adventure to NORTH KOREA in 2007!!!

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Yours truly with a North Korean worker from the neighbouring hotel.  This picture was taken by his co-worker at the hotel.  In the background is Kim Il Seong and Kim Jung Il.  We were instructed that if we wanted to take pictures we couldn’t cut the painting in half with our cameras because the Kim’s are gods and that would be sacrilege.  So for most pictures the North Korean hotel workers took the pictures.

Recently, unless you’re Wolf Blitzer (of CNN fame), or Bill Richardson (former Governor of New Mexico), North Korea is virtually impossible to get into.  This all started  with the killing of a South Korean woman on July 11, 2008 when she was shot to death by a North Korean soldier.  This shut down the Gumgangsan Mountain complex to tourists. And then it worsened in 2010 with the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do.

So when it was still possible to visit Gumgangsan Mountains in North Korea, I decided to jump all over an invitation to join a few other co-teachers at the hagwon I was working at in March of 2007. I actually didn’t even know that such a thing existed until they asked if I wanted to go.  In total, there were six of us going.  After living in Korea, at that time, for three and a half years, this was going to be the most unique opportunity of my entire adventures throughout the Korean peninsula.

So after work  at seven on a Friday night in March, we made our way over to the Busan Station to catch a KTX (bullet) train up to Seoul.  We had to be up there by 11, so we were cutting it close.  But fortunately, everything ran smoothly and we got to the bus we needed to get to at a university in Seoul.  Overnight, we slept in the bus as we made our way from the north-west side in Seoul over to the north-east side near Seokcho.  We arrived at five in the morning outside immigration on the South Korean side of the border.  The instructions we received just before brokering the DMZ were unforgettable.  We were instructed to hand over all our cell phones, and that if we had cameras that zoomed past 5X we had to hand those over as well (I guess the North Koreans just don’t like to be checked out).  Also, we were told that bags that had either U.S. or South Korean flag patches attached to them couldn’t be carried over the border.  And we were instructed, when communicating with North Koreans, that we couldn’t smile, make eye-contact, talk politics (makes sense), and that our room and trails at the parks we would be visiting would be bugged.  Lastly, we couldn’t take pictures, besides in the areas that were approved by the North Korean government.  So this ruled out the road to and from the Gumgungsan complex we would be staying at.  In fact, we were told there would be soldiers standing along the road and countryside with red flags; if we were caught taking unauthorized pictures of North Korea, they would raise a red flag, our bus would pull over, and it would be a quick trip to and from North Korea.

With all that being said, you might be wondering why I decided to go to North Korea; well, I guess the quickest answer to that is that you only live once.  So with “Wonderwall”, by Oasis, playing on the bus radio, we crossed through the DMZ.  And like we were warned, there were a countless amount of soldiers with red flags waiting our arrival.  Looking around the barren landscape, I notice numerous missile silos up in the mountains pointing towards the south.  It didn’t get much more real than this.

Well the surreal severity of the situation became even more intense when we got to the “Immigration Office.”  And you might be wondering why I put that in quotes; well the “Immigration Office” was a massive wedding tent.  In the background were two massive paintings attached to a local factory.  And in the air was playing propaganda music.  Like cattle, we were told what line and number we had to go through immigration.  Sweating a bit, like all the other foreigners waiting to get into North Korea, it was finally my time to confront the immigration officer after I passed through the security check.  Slapping my passport and visa down on the desk, the man scanned both, and looking up with frog eyes (he must have had a medical condition, because both eyes pointed in opposite directions), he proceeded to ask me “Poost time Gumgangsan?”  I didn’t want to ask him anything, but I didn’t understand what he was asking, “Pardon,” I asked as politely as I could.  Again, “Poost time Gumgangsa?”  Scratching my head mentally for a second, I finally figured out what he was asking, “Yes, first time in Gumgangsan.”  And with that said he welcomed me to North Korea.  Now, almost in mockery of the all surreal situation, there were a row of portable toilets (I guess they were literally trying to make us crap ourselves) and a stuffed life-sized bear with a North Korean dancing inside.  Surreal!

Finally, with everyone through immigration without any problems, we were on our way to the green-fenced complex that would be housing us during our two day stay in North Korea.  After dropping our stuff off at the hotel (ie former palace of Kim Il Sung’s wife), we made our way over to the trail at Manmulsang.  After the early morning and the afternoon of hiking, it didn’t take me long to crash after dinner.

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The hotel we stayed at in North Korea.

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Inside the bugged hotel rooms.  (courtesy of T.H.)

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Manmulsang: the first trail we hiked when we got to North Korea.

The next day we had a fully booked day to Samilpo Lake, Kuryongyon countryside,and Singyesa Temple.  On the way to Kuryongyon we saw Singyesa.  Our tour guide promised us that on the way back from climbing around the North Korean countryside at Kuryongyon, we would go.

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The next day, in the morning, we visited Samilpo Lake.
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This graffiti promoting the Dear Leader and the Greater Leader were everyone.  Specifically, this one was located at Samilpo Lake.  In translation, it reads: Our Friend, Kim Il Sung, Hooray!

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And around lunch time we visited the trail at Kuryongyon.

 So after a 2 to 3 hour hike, we returned to Singyesa Temple. Singyesa Temple (신계사) was built in 519.  However, the temple was completely destroyed during the Korean War.  The only thing that remained was, and is, a stone pagoda.  In 2004, in collaboration with the Jogye Buddhist Order in South Korea and both Korean governments, the temple started to be resurrected. And in 2007 there was a lone South Korean monk/care-taker.  In 2007, a lot of buildings had been resurrected, but had still to be fully furnished with internal and external paintings, as well as altar pieces.  It must be noted that Singyesa Temple is more of a decorative piece than an active Buddhist temple.  There are no followers at this temple other than the South Korean monk/care-taker in North Korea.

 In total, there are 5 buildings at Singyesa Temple.  There is a bell tower, living quarters, prayer halls, and the main hall.  Some, in 2007, were incomplete, whether they were void of internal or external painting.  Also, most noticeably, there was no bell in the bell tower.  However, there were some gorgeously simplistic main altar pieces in the main hall.  The colour scheme was uniquely orange, something I have yet to see in South Korea. The most unique aspect of this temple is a stone tablet marking a visit from Kim Il Seong in 1947 and 1948.

 With a quick whirlwind tour of North Korea, and unforgettable moments along the way, it was time to get back to the South and work at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Admission is free and is only open when (and if, Gumgangsan is open up to foreigners again) the tour bus is willing to visit Singyesa.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10.  Just for being North Korea alone, and being scared the entire time I was there, this temple is rated so highly. The temple itself is rather non-descript, other than the uniquely orange colour scheme. Also, when you first enter the temple grounds, there is the granite marker indicating a visit from Kim Il Seong in 1947 and 1948.

 Enjoy the pictures of this temple, which is a rare inside look into North Korea from a foreigner’s perspective.

 **I would like to give a special thanks to a good friend for giving me permission to use some of her pictures.  Thank you T.H.!**

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 TRANSLATION: (left) National Heritage Sight 95: Shingyesa Temple.
(right) Our Great Leader Kim Il Seong, and our Dear Leader Kim Jeong Il and a communist revolutionary fighter/leader Kim Jeong Suk visited in Juche 36 (1947), on Sept 28th, and the Great Leader, Kim Il Seong visited here again in Juche 37 (1948), on Oct., where he taught us these meaningful words: that this temple was made with flying gable roofs and nice buildings and the three storied pagoda is worth being a national heritage treasure. Shingyesa Temple was a big temple which is amazing and graceful in its architecture. Shingyesa Temple used to have many treasures, but in our homeland’s liberation war, it was brutally bombed by America. So everything was burned and only the sights remain. Shingyesa Temple’s worth as a national treasure is to show Chosun’s history of architecture and progression.
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The Singyesa Temple grounds as we approached.
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Another look at the courtyard of Sinyesa Temple as we approached. (courtesy of T.H.)
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The future sight of the bell tower.  In 2007, and maybe still the same to the present day, there are no ceremonial bells common to all Korean Buddhist temples.
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The main hall with the only remaining artifact from the original temple: the ancient pagoda.
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Another look inside the main hall with a little peek at the main altar at Singyesa Temple (courtesy of T.H.)
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A better look at the pagoda that has seen numerous kings and queens, wars, and communist rule.
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A look out from the main hall towards the temple courtyard and with the Geumgang Mountains in the background.
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A look at another of the temple’s buildings.  This one is naked and without paint. (courtesy of T.H.)
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Another of the naked temple buildings at Singyesa Temple with roof tiles out front (courtesy of T.H.)
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A close-up of the tiles (courtesy of T.H.)
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A look across the main hall entrance and the uniquely coloured orange exterior.
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A close-up of the wood artwork on the main altar. (courtesy of T.H.)
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A better look at the ornately orange woodwork at Singyesa Temple.
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Another close up of the beautiful adorned orange exterior of Singyesa Temple. (courtesy of T.H.)
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Some of the artwork on the exterior of the main hall. This is Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) depicted on top of a white elephant.
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A painting from the life of Buddha.
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Another painting from the life of the Buddha decorating the main hall.
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One of the guardians of the temple.
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And just one more painting from the temple before I had to leave.  We only had about 30 minutes to look around the entire temple.  And for me, that’s not much.

Guryongsa Temple – 구룡사 (Busan, Buk-Gu )

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The massive and slender Buddha statue at Guryongsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Well, as promised, here is part two to my chilly adventure yesterday.  Today, as I hinted at yesterday, will be about Guryongsa Temple (구룡사) in the Buk-gu area of Busan.  It’s the twin temple to Suwolseonwon and just over the hill from it.  So sit back and enjoy Guryongsa Temple!

You can get to Guryongsa Templein two ways, all depending on whether you want to just visit Guryongsa, or if you want to see it as well as Suwolseonwon.  I would recommend seeing both, because both are literally minutes apart, but that choice is up to you.

If you decide to just go to Guryongsa Temple, instead of turning left at the Suwolseonwon  Temple sign across from the SK gas station, just keep going straight for about 5 minutes until you see the S-Oil gas station on your left.  If you pass the bridge overhead, you’ve gone too far. A one way trip from Sujeong subway station to Guryongsa Temple should take 15 minutes.

However, if you’re like me, you’ll want to see both.  So once you’ve visited Suwolseonwon Temple, turn left once you’ve hit the main road after walking down the entrance/exit to Suwolseon.  Walk for about 100 metres, pass a tire shop/garage on your right.  Straight ahead, you’ll see the main road that you exited from to originally see Suwolseonwon Temple.  Turn left on the main road and walk for about 5 minutes.  Much like if you’re going directly to Guryongsa Temple from the Sujeong subway stop (#234), you’ll see a S-Oil gas station on your left.  There is a sign just on the south side of the S-Oil on the wall leading you to Guryongsa Temple.

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The sign on the other sign of S-Oil, on a wall, leading you towards Guryongsa Temple.

As soon as you pass by this gas station and the Guryongsa Temple sign, there is a road that heads to the left: follow this (if you keep walking straight and pass under the overhead bridge in front of you, you’ve gone too far, so turn back.)  You’ll have to head straight up the road for about 50 metres.  There will be a new sign pointing you towards the grounds of Guryongsa Temple at the end of this road.

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The road that leads up to Guryongsa Temple.  To the right is the parking lot to the temple.

Follow it until you get to the temple.  As you approach the temple the path will fork in two opposite directions.  First, take the one that leads to the left, as it will bring you to the courtyard of the temple.  To the right, which I’ll talk about shortly, is a huge statue of a Buddha looking out over Busan.  In total, there are 5 major buildings at the temple.  As you approach Guryongsa Temple, the first temple building you’ll see, which is three stories, is the study hall for monks.  To the left is the parking lot.  In the parking lot is a visitor’s centre with a tree growing out of it (literally!).  Up the embankment, following the path, you’ll finally arrive at the main hall.  This main hall is stretched over the cliff that overlooks the rest of the temple courtyard.  To the right of the main hall, and still attached through a walk-way, is a prayer building.  And to the left are the monk headstones and the not so attractive bell tower.   The most impressive feature of this temple, besides the massive Buddha up the right path, are the psychedelic paintings about the Buddha’s life on the exterior of the main hall.  To put it mildly, I’ve never seen any paintings coming close to the uniqueness that are these paintings.

Once you’ve had your fill of the main courtyard, make your way back to the fork in the pathway leading up to the temple from the parking lot.  To the right is the impressively massive Buddha overlooking the Buk-gu area of Busan.  To get to the Buddha from this fork in the road it takes about 3 minutes uphill.

The slender Buddha is elevated on a mound of earth and stands 10 metres in height with a granite altar in front of it.  Below it is an ancient looking pagoda simplistic in design. If you’re still feeling adventurous, there is a path that continues up the hill and circles around the Buddha from on high.  There are a lot of great photo opportunities of the Buddha from these vantage points.

Admission is free to this temple as it is at Suwolseonwon Temple.

OVERALL RATING 5.5/10.  While almost equal in size to Suwolseonwon Temple, there are a couple features that separate it from its twin, and why it rates slightly higher.  First, are the extremely unique psychedelic paintings of the Buddha’s life on the side of the main hall.  Also, there is a massively slender Buddha overlooking Buk-gu.  When I first visited this temple in 2004, with my then girlfriend (now wife), there was no granite Buddha perched above the rest of the temple complex.  So if you have the time, visit both Suwolseonwon Temple and Guryongsa Temple; however, if time is in short supply, I would recommend Guryongsa Temple over its twin on the other side of the mountain in the Buk-gu area of Busan.

MAP TO THE TEMPLE:

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The parking lot welcoming you to Guryongsa Temple.  Just up the hill is the temple to the left.
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A statue of Buddha, and friends, along the way.
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Instead of heading right where the path forks, I first went left where the main temple grounds are.  The building (centre to right) is the study hall at Guryongsa Temple.  And the banner on the building reads (translated): Buddhist University.
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The visitor’s centre with a tree literally growing out of it!?!
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The main hall, as you head up to the path that overlooks the rest of the temple grounds.
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A look at the prayer buildings beside the main hall.
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A look left of the main hall towards the bell tower and monk headstones.
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The not so picturesque or statuesque bell tower at Guryongsa Temple, but that’s ok, because the rest of the temple makes up for this rather unimpressive structure.
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The monk stupas.
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As I looked over my shoulder, I noticed these psychodelic paintings about the Buddha’s life on the main hall.  They’re new because they weren’t there in 2004 when I first visited Guryongsa Temple.
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An up-close of the main temple’s paintings.  I’m not even going to pretend to describe them.  I’ll let your imagination do that.
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Another of the paintings.
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And another.
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Yet another.
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And the final one in the psychodelic series.
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Another look at the main hall as I was about to look inside.
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The main altar in the main hall.
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A look in the corner at the main hall.
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A close-up of the guardian painting in the main hall.
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This statue in the main hall use to be outside.
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A look up at this unique peacock painting on the ceiling of the main hall.
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A look at the shrine hall at Guryongsa Temple.
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The altar in the shrine hall with Chilseong in the centre, Sanshin on the right, and Dokseong to the left.
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A first look at the massive and slender Buddha on top of the hill at Guryongsa Temple.
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A better look at the Buddha with an intricately designed stone lantern.
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A view of what the Buddha sees: the area of Buk-gu in Busan.

Suwolseonwon Temple – 수월선원 (Busan, Buk-Gu)

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 The beautifully austere pagoda with a bird in full flight just to the right at Suwolseonwon Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

Even though today was one of the coldest this year in Korea, I decided to venture out.  After all, nothing can stop this Korean temple adventurer from Canada!  So today’s adventure brought me to two temples.  The first I went to was Suwolseonwon Temple, and the second was Guryongsa Temple.  For the purposes of this post, however, I’ll only be talking about Suwolseonwon Temple (수월선원).  A separate posting will follow about GuryongsaTemple.

So with all that being said, where, you might be asking, are Suwolseonwon Temple and Guryongsa Temple?  With a growing foreign population in Buk-gu, in Busan, I thought I would cover a couple temples from the area.  Both are fairly easily accessible from Sujeong subway station (#234) on the second line.  To get to Suwolseonwon Temple, you should take exit #2 and walk straight once you’ve exited.  On the hill, just to the centre-left you’ll see what looks to be a temple.  Well…that’s Suwolseonwon Temple.  So keep going straight for maybe a minute or two until you come to a crosswalk.  Go across the two sidewalks where the road forks and continue to go straight.  Continue to go straight until you see an SK gas station across the street to your right. The sign towards Suwolseonwon Temple is written only in Korean, but to I.D. it you’ll be able to tell that it’s the temple sign because it looks like this:

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The first sign pointing towards Suwolseonwon across from SK gas station

Head left, down the back alleys.  Don’t worry if you can’t see the temple anymore, it’s still there.  The great thing with trying to find this temple is that there are a lot of signs guiding the way.  So once you’ve turned left down the alley, continue to walk straight for about 50 metres. There will be another sign waiting for you pointing you right.  It looks like this:

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The second sign pointing you closer to the temple

After you’ve turned for the second time towards the temple, continue to walk straight for another 50 metres. On the left you’ll finally see the temple again.  The sign pointing the way to the temple is on a post beside the steep driveway leading up to the temple’s parking lot.  The sign looks as follows:

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And the final sign putting you up the steep driveway towards the temple parking lot

A steep staircase leads the way up to the temple grounds.  And while Suwolseonwon Temple is newer looking, it’s been there for a while.  In total, there are 4 major buildings including living quarters, a meditation hall, a prayer building just left of the main hall, and the double decker main hall.  This double-dekcer main hall is  unique because most Korean temples are usually tall in size, but usually only single floored in stature.  The pagoda to the right of the main hall is brand new, having been built in 2007.  It is simple in design, but austere.  The main hall has some unique paintings.  The paintings of note at this temple are all the paintings of Buddha’s life.  However, what is truly unique about this temple are its altar pieces both in the main hall and the adjacent prayer building.

The funniest part of this temple adventure came when I went to enter the main hall.  Like all temples, the main hall is well lit.  Well, not at this hall.  No one was home, as all the lights were out.  So I looked over my shoulders to make sure no one was around and promptly turned on the lights.  With a couple quick snaps of the main hall altar pieces, I just as promptly shut out the lights and left without anyone being any the wiser.

Admission is free and is only a 5 minute walk from the Sujeong subway station (#234).

OVERALL RATING:  4.5/10.  While not the most spectacular of temples, and paling in comparison to its twin temple, Guryongsa Temple, just over the hill, it’s a nice little get away in the Buk-gu area.  The unique main hall is well decorated, as is the temple building beside it.  However, what truly makes this temple memorable are the spectacular altar pieces at Suwolseonwon.  If you have the time, and find yourself running out of things to do, take the time to visit this temple.

MAP TO THE TEMPLE:

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The steep staircase welcoming you to Suwolseonwon Temple.
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The double decker main hall, with the newly built pagoda to the right, and a prayer building to the left of the main hall.
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A view from the first level of the main hall towards the pagoda and the monks’ living quarters.
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A view along the first floor of the main hall.
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A view back at the buildings from the second floor.  Straight ahead is the meditation building, to the left is the main hall, and to the right is the other prayer building at the temple.
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Now, a view across the second floor of the main hall.
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A better view of the main hall, as I make my way around the building to see the paintings illustrating the life of Buddha.
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Siddhartha Gatama as he flees the palace where he lived as a prince.
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Siddhartha in the process of becoming Buddha.
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Buddha, having gained Enlightenment.
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Gaining followers to Buddhism.
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A sick Buddha nearing the end of his earthly life.
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And death…
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and eternal life.
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A better view of the meditation hall.
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One last look at the main hall and prayer building before I enter into stealth mode and turn on the lights and snap some shots with no one any the wiser!
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 Without the flash, but with the lights on.
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With the flash on, and the main altar piece, Gwanseeum-bosal, in view.
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A close-up of one of the main altars aids.
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And a better look at Gwanseeum-bosal.
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Other artwork in the main hall. It’s of the guardians.
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The main altar piece in the adjoining building to the main hall.  On the right is Sanshin, in the middle is Chilseong, and to the left is Dokseong.
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 I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a painting like this at another Korean temple.
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Another painting unique to Suwolseonwon Temple:  A bengal tiger!
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Blue dragons, common enough at Korean temples, but beautiful enough at this temple to draw my attention.
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One last look up at the living quarters before heading off to Guryongsa Temple.

Updated: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

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The beautiful arched bridge at Songgwangsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple, which means Spreading Pine Temple, in English, sits on the western slope of Mt. Jogyesan, in Jogyesan Provincial Park. Songgwangsa Temple was first constructed at the end of the Silla Dynasty in the late 1100’s.  Bojo Guksa (1158-1210), otherwise known as Jinul, built the temple as a centre for furthering Buddhism studies. As one of the three treasure temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the seung (monk). In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, and it was also made an international meditation centre.

You first approach the temple up a long winding path that intersects some beautiful pine and cedar trees. This 15 minute walk that neighbours the Sinpyeong stream will take you past a beautiful wooden bridge and an artificial pond that is cloaked in colourful paper lanterns. You’ll know that you’re getting closer to the temple grounds when you come across a field of budos dedicated to former monks at Songgwangsa Temple.

Just to the left of the ancient Bulimun Gate is one of the most picturesque entrances to a Korean Buddhist temple in all of Korea. Protruding out of the Sinpyeong stream is a temple building, as well as the Woohwa-gak pavilion that spans the width of the stream. The mirror-like surface of the stream coupled with the dragon-based bridge make for quite the photo-op.

Having passed through the Woohwa-gak pavilion, you’ll make your way through the Cheonwangmun Gate with the Four Heavenly Kings inside. These recently refurbished statues make for quite the welcoming committee at the temple. It’s only after circumnavigating the Jonggo-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion on the second story, that you finally enter the main temple courtyard at Songgwangsa Temple.

Straight ahead is the beautiful Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple. This massive main hall is beautifully packed with Buddhist artistry both inside and out. The wooden latticework is second-to-none, as are the various Buddhist themed murals like the one dedicated to Wonhyo’s awakening. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are seven golden statues. Sitting in the centre of the set is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this triad is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And to the left sit Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The other buildings you can enjoy to the right of the main hall, and open to the public, are the Jijang-jeon, Yeongsan-jeon, and the Yaksa-jeon. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the Yaksa-jeon are extremely small in size. While the Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, the Yeongsan-jeon is a hall dedicated to eight paintings from the Buddha’s life. As for the Jijang-jeon, this cavernously wide hall houses a green-haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal, as well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld. As for the murals that adorn this hall’s exterior walls, they are amazing in their masterful beauty.

As for the buildings to the left of the main hall, there’s the beautiful Seungbo-jeon, which is the very embodiment of the “seung” aspect that Songgwangsa Temple stands for as a treasure temple. The exterior walls are beautifully adorned with some amazing renderings of the Ox-Herding murals. Sitting inside this hall are row upon row of smaller sized golden monk statues. As for the main altar inside this hall, there sits a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

In total, and rather remarkably, there have been some 16 national masters that had once studied at Songgwangsa Temple. In fact, the first of these, Jinul, has a budo dedicated to him behind the Gwaneeum-jeon. This budo dates back to 1213, and you get a commanding view of the more than 50 buildings at Songgwangsa Temple. As for the Gwaneeum-jeon hall itself, it’s beautifully surrounded on all sides by lush gardens. Sitting inside this hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal sitting all alone on the main altar. She is surrounded on all sides by beautiful murals, as well as a dragon altar that completely engulfs her.

Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From Suncheon, there is city bus #111 or an intercity bus from Suncheon to Songgwangsa Temple. Both are roughly 3,000 won. Also, from Jeonju, you can take local bus #806, #814 or #838 to Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING:  9/10. Songgwangsa Temple is beautifully situated in the mountain folds of Mt. Jogyesan. Its beautiful entry that spans the Sinpyeong stream with its dragon-based bridge is a feat of Buddhist artistry. With its numerous halls like the massive Daeungbo-jeon and Seungbo-jeon, Songgwangsa Temple has a little of everything for everyone.

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The beautiful trail that leads to Songgwangsa Temple.
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The Bulimun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.
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The gorgeous covered arch bridge and stream that flows down from the Jogye-San Mountains.
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As I promised, one of the greatest views within a temple grounds.
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A look under the dragon-based bridge.
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A view from inside the bridge.
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And a view outside.
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One of the four guardians of Songgwangsa Temple that you have to pass to get to the temple’s courtyard.
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The Jonggo-ru Pavilion.
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The main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.
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Wonhyo’s enlightenment.
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A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.
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The amazing view behind the main hall.
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A look inside the Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
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A look inside the Seungbo-jeon Hall.
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The Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
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A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon.
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The stairway that leads up to Jinul’s stupa.

Updated: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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 The AmazingTripitaka Koreana  at Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Haeinsa Temple is one of Three Treasure Temples in Korea alongside Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Haeinsa Temple represents the doctrinal aspect of Korean Buddhism. Haeinsa Temple was first founded in 802 by monks Suneung and Ijeong after their return from China. Legend states that the two monks healed King Aejang’s wife of her illness. As a show of gratitude, the king ordered the construction of the temple with royal funds. In total, the temple has been expanded numerous times including in the 10th century, 1488, 1622, and 1644. Unfortunately, the temple was burned to the ground in 1817 and was rebuilt a year later. In total, the temple has suffered from seven disastrous fires. But rather remarkably, the Tripitaka Koreana, for which the temple is best known, and all of its 81,258 wooden blocks, have been spared such destruction ever since their housing at Haeinsa Temple in 1398. Haeinsa Temple, and its Tripitaka Koreana and Janggyeong-panjeon, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The walk up to the temple grounds, alongside the Gaya River, is meditatively beautiful in its scenic simplicity. You’ll pass by four hermitages directly associated with Haeinsa Temple as you make your way towards the outskirts of the temple. The first thing to greet you at the temple is the stoic two-pillared Iljumun Gate. Up a column of towering trees, you’ll next be met by the Cheonwangmun Gate that houses four unique paintings dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.

After exiting out of this gate, you’ll see a steep set of stairs that pass through the Haetalmun Gate; however, don’t pass by the former Sanshin-gak before entering the temple’s lower courtyard. With Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) being exiled from the temple grounds sometime during the 90’s, this hall has been converted to a hall dedicated to a Guksa-dang, which houses a shaman spirit that protects the temple’s grounds from any unwanted or evil spirits.

Finally standing in the centre of the lower courtyard, you’ll see the massive Gugwangru Pavilion straight ahead that shields the upper courtyard from sight. To the far right is the understated Jong-gak, or bell pavilion, at Songgwangsa Temple.

After either going to the left or the right of the Gugwangru Pavilion, you’ll finally be in the midst of the upper courtyard with the Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library, framing the main hall. The Daejeokgwang-jeon, or main hall, is large in size and sports some beautiful Palsang-do murals around its exterior walls. In addition to these eight paintings, and because the main hall is so large in size, there are numerous other Buddhist motif paintings around the halls exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting squarely in the centre of the main hall, is a large, golden statue dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).

To the right of the main hall is the rather large Gwaneum-jeon hall, while to the left, just below the main hall, are a collection of monks’ dorms. It’s only on the upper tier, and next to the main hall, that you’ll find three more temple shrine halls. The first to the far right is the diminutive Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Myeongbu-jeon is the rather compact Nahan-jeon. To the immediate left is the newly constructed Daebiro-jeon, which houses three more incarnations of Birojana-bul. Perhaps the most peculiar shrine hall at the temple is the hexagonal-shaped Dokseong-gak that houses Dokseong, The Lonely Saint.

Perched above all other structures at Haeinsa Temple is Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, they were destroyed by the invading Mongols. It was later, from 1236 to 1251, and under the orders of King Gojong (r. 1213-1259), that the set of some 81,258 blocks were completed. It was only in 1398 that the set came to be housed at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana is Korean National Treasure #32, while the Janggyeong-panjeon is designated National Treasure #52. Unfortunately, any photography up in the Janggyeong-panjeon area, as well as the Tripitaka Koreana, is strictly prohibited.

Admission to Haeinsa Temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu Seobu Bus Terminal, you can take an express bus to Haeinsa Temple. This bus leaves every 40 minutes and the ride should last about an hour and a half.

OVERALL RATING:  9.5/10. Just for housing the Tripitaka Koreana, the temple rates a 9.5 out of 10. Additionally, Haeinsa Temple has a rich history and a lot of Korean cultural significance. It also houses a gorgeous main hall. There are numerous things to see at this ancient temple like the shrine halls, pagodas, and ancient relics. However, Haeinsa Temple is a bit of a chore to get to, and for that reason it rates slightly lower than a perfect score. With all that being said, Haeinsa Temple is well worth the effort to the Korean countryside.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
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 The path that leads up to the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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A closer look at the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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Just one of the paintings dedicated to a Heavenly King.
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The painting inside the Guksa-dang dedicated to the protective shaman spirit.
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The Haetalmun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
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The Gugwangru Pavilion in the lower temple courtyard.
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The expansive main hall in the upper courtyard at Haeinsa Temple.
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A look inside the well-populated main hall at Haeinsa Temple.
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The Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.
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A look inside the low-ceilinged Myeongbu-jeon.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon.
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The Daebiro-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
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Joined by the hexagonal Dokseong-gak.
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A look up towards the amazing Janggyeong-panjeon library that houses the Tripitaka Koreana.
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 Inside the Janggyeong-panjeon.
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The library is well organized and well worth the long trip to visit them.
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UNESCO had it right when designating Haeinsa Temple a World Heritage Site!