Cheonbulsa Temple – 천불사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The mysterious cave that houses Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

At first, I didn’t even remember visiting this temple because it was so long ago. For sure, I thought it was the first time I was visiting it. But slowly, I started remembering it more and more. The first time I visited it was with my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) in 2003. Neither of us had a camera, so this time around we were a bit better prepared.

Cheonbulsa Temple, in English, literally means “Sky Buddha Temple.” What this means in practical terms, at least to Buddhists, is that the temple gets its energy from the heavenly palace of Tushita. Like all Korean temples, Cheonbulsa Temple has an interesting origin story. The abbot of the future Cheonbulsa Temple held a memorial service for one thousand days in the cave at Yaksuam Hermitage, near Baekyangsa Temple, in Gwangju. During this service, he received a divine revelation. The divine revelation stated that he should go find a place where the peaks of three mountains meet and build a temple there where a white crane sits. Finding such a place, the head monk built Cheonbulsa Temple in its present location in 1974.

The first thing to greet you, as you approach from the parking lot, is a string of colourful paper lanterns and the temple’s gift shop. Strolling up the walkway that leads up to the temple courtyard, you’ll pass by a coy pond that is well stocked. Unfortunately, the pond is covered with a green mesh that protects the fish from inedible food thrown to them from people. Continuing up the walkway that is bordered by beautiful waterwheels that spin the streams water, you’ll first come to the lower courtyard of the temple. To the left is the two storied bell pavilion that is fronted by a stone pagoda that is decorated with an assortment of floral patterns. And to the right, you’ll see another large sized stone pagoda beside an information office. Behind both of these is a study hall at the temple.

As you continue walking up the walkway, you’ll climb a set of stairs that will gain you access to the main courtyard at the temple. The main hall is beautifully decorated both inside and out. Adorning the exterior walls of the hall are a variety of highly unique paintings. They are an expanded form of the Palsang-do paintings of the Buddha’s life. Also, the main hall has some of the most beautiful lattice work adorning the doors in all of Korea. Next to Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, I would have to say that these are the next best thing. Inside the main hall is a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that is centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). You can actually see this Buddha the entire time you’re making your way up to the main hall from the parking lot. Next to this triad is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). On the left wall is an amazingly large wooden guardian sculpture. And on the right wall is a standing statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with an eerie black mural behind him. Interestingly, growing on one of the triad Bodhisattvas is a miniscule flower. Fortunately, the temple has a camera and T.V. set up so that you can see it a bit better.

To the left of the main hall is a shrine hall dedicated to the Sea King, Yongwang. Until recently, I had rarely seen these shrine halls. But more recently, I have been seeing more and more of them. Inside this hall is a beautifully designed statue of Yongwang backed by a gorgeous mural of two twin dragons. Yongwang is hovering above a pond of water and surrounded by paintings of various Biseon. To the right of the main hall is a shrine set up for Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). There is also a very rare incense burner made from a large chunk of green jade. The more people rub it, the greener it has gotten.

To the rear of the main hall is another shrine with a row of white Buddhas. From here, you get an amazing view of the temple and the mountains that surround it. Up the hill a bit further, and past the twin burial mounds (which aren’t associated with the temple) is the Samseong-gak. This shrine hall dedicated to two of the more popular Shaman gods in Korea, Chilseong, San shin, and Dokseong, has a very unique design. Sitting in the centre is a statue of San shin. To his right is another statue of Dokseong (The Recluse). The left side of the triad is a window that looks on to a waterfall with another statue of San shin. You can get to this waterfall, that is to the rear of the shrine hall, from the left.

But what the temple is most famous for, and as a tribute to the founding monk, there’s a cave that houses a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the main hall. After passing the Yaksa-jeon hall dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, you’ll make your way through a path that’s surrounded by a bamboo forest. You’ll first be greeted to the cave by a corridor of various statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. These statues are delicately designed and are a tribute to what Korean masons can create. What you’re supposed to do when you walk is to pray every three steps. Finally, you’ll come to the crowning cave that sits at the top of this corridor of statues. Watch your head, as the ceiling is a bit low lying. When you appear on the other side, you’ll come to a beautifully built cave that is surrounded by various guardians, a Biseon that sits at the top of the vaulted ceiling, and a golden Gwanseeum-bosal at the centre. Words simply can’t describe just how beautiful this cave is, so I’ll let the pictures do all the talking.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are two ways that you can get to this rather hard to get to temple. The first way you can get there is by taking a bus from the Nopo-dong subway station in Busan (Bus #50 or 301). You’ll then have to get off the bus in Dukgye in Yangsan at the four way intersection (덕계사거리). There’s a Dunkin Donuts and a narrow street that you have to pass through to find the bus stop. From here, you can see a local bus stop in front of a raw fish restaurant. This local bus sign will read “Cheonbulsa” (천불사). This bus comes every 30 minutes.

The second way that you can get to the temple, and probably the easier way, is that there’s a temple shuttle bus from the Nopo-dong subway station in Busan. It leaves at 9:20 a.m from around the taxi stop at the subway station. I’m not sure if there’s any other time that this shuttle bus leaves from.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. This temple has a lot for the temple adventurer to see. The main hall is beautifully decorated with amazing lattice work and an altar triad that has tiny flowers growing from their bodies. There’s also a very unique Yongwang shrine hall and a man-made waterfall behind the Samseong-gak shrine hall. But what really sets this temple apart, and makes it a highly desirable temple to visit, is the amazing cave that houses Gwanseeum-bosal and the stone statues that guide you towards the entrance of the cave. The only thing about this temple is that it’s a bit tricky to get to unless you have a car.

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The colourful path that leads you up to the temple’s courtyard.
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A view of the beautifully decorated main hall.
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The florally decorated stone pagoda with a view of the two-storied bell pavilion in the background.
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The rather jovial Podae-hwasang that sits out in front of the main hall.
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The highly unique and original jade incense burner at the temple.
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The stunning lattice work that adorns the main hall at Cheonbulsa Temple.
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The altar inside the main hall. To the right you can actually see the TV and camera that’s zoomed in on the minuscule flower that sits on the ear of one of the Bodhisattvas.
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The large and ornately designed wooden sculpture of the various Buddhist guardians.
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The serenely standing Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with a beautiful, but eerie, black mural at his back.
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A view of the main hall, and neighbouring mountains, from the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang, the King of the Sea.
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A look inside the shrine hall at Yongwang.
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To the right of the main hall is the shrine hall dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine).
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The seven Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that stand inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall with Yaksayore-bul at the centre.
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The bamboo trail that leads the way to the temple’s famous cave.
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The entrance way to the corridor of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that lead the way to the Cheonbulsa Temple cave.
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A view of the stone corridor.
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A better look at just one of the beautifully designed granite statues.
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The narrow entrance to the Gwanseeum-bosal cave at the temple.
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And the equally narrow stone hallway that leads into the depths of the cave.
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The spectacular view inside the cave of the golden Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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And out through the beautiful indoor.
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The stately looking shaman Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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The unique and beautiful man-made waterfall behind the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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A view of the three peaks from behind the main hall.
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And one last look across the courtyard from beside the main hall.

The Recluse – Dokseong (독성)

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A look at Dokseong, the Recluse, the Korean shaman deity of long life and good fortune.

Hello Again Everyone!!

One of the more common shaman deities you’ll find around a Korean Buddhist temple is Dokseong, The Recluse. He is sometimes situated alone in a shrine hall, or he is together with Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) to form the shaman “Holy Trinity.” So who exactly is this shaman deity, and why is he so prominently featured at Korean temples?

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A look at one of the most vibrant murals of Dokseong found at Songnimsa Temple.

There seems to be a consensus amongst scholars that Dokseong was a Nahan (a disciple of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul). One suggestion along these lines is that Dokseong was one of Seokgamoni-bul’s four original disciples known as the “Pindola.” These Pindola were ordered by Seokgamoni-bul to remain on earth until the future appearance of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) as a form of punishment for carelessly performing miracles. As a result, Dokseong will be on earth for the next 5,679,997,989 years.

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A mural of Dokseong found at Beopjusa Temple.

However, while a fair amount is known about Dokseong’s Buddhist origins, very little else is known about this deity, like how he became such a prominent figure in both Buddhism and in shamanism. In Buddhism, he is one of three deities that is a permanent fixture at temples. And in shamanism, like Buddhism, he’s one of the most important objects of worship.

Uniquely, and unlike Yongwang, Chilseong, and Sanshin, it would seem as though Dokseong was absorbed by the indigenous Korean shamanism, and not vice versa, as is the case with the three other shaman deities.

Alongside Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong is also considered a Heavenly deity. Heavenly deities are known to give long life and general good fortune if you pray to them.

So what does this better known shaman deity look like? Since Dokseong has Buddhist origins, he appears with a shaved head. Additionally, he wears monk clothing, and he sometimes appears with a halo around his head. Also, he will have a larger shaped head. In a painting, Dokseong will appear with a mountain at his back.

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You can see the halo and monk clothing on this Dokseong wood etching that’s found at Okryeonam Hermitage.

Dokseong almost always appears in the Samseong-gak (The Three Stars Hall) shrine hall alongside Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) to form the shamanistic “Holy Trinity.” Customarily, the statue and mural depicting Dokseong will be situated on the far right of the altar with Chilseong taking up the central spot on the altar with Sanshin on the far left. The Samseong-gak shrine hall is usually situated to the left rear of the main hall. The positioning of this hall behind the main hall highlights its importance in modern day Korean Buddhism.

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A look at a Samseong-gak shrine hall that’s to be found at Dongrimsa Temple.

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A look inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall at Samyeongam Hermitage. You can see the Chilseong mural in the centre with Sanshin to the left and Dokseong to the right.

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The Samseong-gak shrine hall at Geumjeongam Hermitage. You can see the Korean writing that says 삼성각 above the entrance to the hall.

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And a look inside the hall at Geumjeongam Hermitage, and to the right, at Dokseong.

Occasionally, Dokseong will be housed in his own shrine hall, but this is the exception more than it is the rule like at Cheontaesa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. And just as rarely, Dokseong will appear alongside Chilseong if a temple has a hall solely dedicated to Sanshin.

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The shrine hall dedicated solely to Dokseong at Cheontaesa Temple.

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And a look inside the shrine hall at Cheontaesa Temple, where Dokseong sits all alone upon the altar.

Finally, Dokseong, The Recluse, can appear inside the main hall at a temple. Like Yongwang, Chilseong, and Sanshin, Dokseong appears in the popular “Shinjung Daenghwa” painting. This painting is known as the most Korean of Buddhist paintings because it depicts a wide variety of Korean shaman deities that protect the Dharma.

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A look at one of the more impressive Shinjung Daenghwa murals at Dongrimsa Temple. You can see Dokseong to the right and below the winged Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings).

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A better look at Dokseong.

So the next time you’re at a temple, and you enter into the shrine hall to the rear of the main hall, you’ll be able to see Dokseong, The Recluse, and know exactly what he looks like and why he’s there.

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A look at one of the larger and more beautiful paintings and statues of Dokseong, which can be found at Tongdosa Temple.

Dongrimsa Temple – 동림사 (Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 152 (1)The large statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) that stands in the main courtyard at Dongrimsa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had never heard of Dongrimsa Temple until my wife pointed out just how close it is in proximity to Eunhasa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do. But since it’s only 400 metres away from Eunhasa Temple, we decided that since we were in the area that we would explore Dongrimsa Temple as well.

When you first approach Dongrimsa Temple from the fork in the road, you’ll first encounter a beautifully painted Iljumun gate that greets you to the temple grounds. Next to the gate is a stately statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This statue of this Bodhisattva is the first of many that await you up the mountain.

A further 400 metres up the twisting and turning road that has sharp inclines at times, you’ll next come to the base of the temple. To the right you’ll see a strange second gate. This second gate is the Cheonwangmun that houses the Four Heavenly Kings. The only problem is that there are no residence inside this gate.

Continuing up to the temple, you can either continue up the road or take a mountain full of stairs to get to the temple’s courtyard. Either way, it’s a bit of a hefty last leg to get to the temple. Finally, when you arrive, you’ll be greeted by an imposing statue of Jijang-bosal that stands in the temple courtyard. This 10 metre tall statue is surrounded by six smaller statues of Jijang-bosal that stand two metres tall. And just like Eunhasa Temple, Dongrimsa Temple is surrounded by the same picturesque Sineosan Mountains.

From the temple courtyard, you’ll be able to see four buildings. The first building to your immediate left is the monk/nun dorms. This temple is a bit different in that both monks and nuns live together. To the far right is the temple’s diminutive bell pavilion, and straight ahead is the temple’s administrative office.

Now, slightly to the left, and facing the gorgeous granite face of Sineosan, you’ll see the stately main hall. This main hall is pretty large for the size of the small temple. When we visited, they were re-roofing the main hall, so we were able to see the mud mortar in between the tiles. Around the exterior walls of the main hall are paintings of faith and death. Outside, on the left side, is another uniquely grotesque painting of Dazu Huike cutting off his left arm to prove his resolve to the Bodhidharma. And on the right side of the exterior walls are two paintings depicting the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. The two paintings of this ship are unique. Usually there is only one that depicts the ship sailing across the Sea of Samsara (Yoonhwi, in Korean). But there is another painting at this temple that depicts the boat arriving on the shores of the Western Paradise.

If you couldn’t tell already, you will once you enter into the main hall, that this temple is dedicated to the dead. With the large statues of Jijang-bosal in the courtyard, the paintings of faith and death around the main hall, and now a large golden statue of Jijang-bosal sits on the altar. And to his left stands the most powerful of the 10 Kings of the Underworld: Yama Daewang. On the far left wall is a beautiful painting of Jijang-bosal. And on the right wall is the customary guardian painting that is an equally intricate and ornate as the painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that hangs beside it. One of the highlights to this temple is definitely the wood engravings that adorn the altar inside the main hall. You can see some gorgeous decorative etchings of owls, rabbits, and dragons underneath the paintings and statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, guardians, and saints.

Behind the main hall, and to the right, is a simple looking Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three Shaman gods that occupy most Korean temples: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse). However, inside this shrine hall are some of the most beautiful paintings of these gods (perhaps next to Songnimsa) in all of Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can catch Bus #98 from the Gimhae Intercity Bus Terminal, which is beside the King Suro Subway Stop. Ride the bus for 4.7 kilometres until you arrive at  Inje  University. From  Inje  University you can get to the temple in one of two ways: You can either walk the 3 kilometre hike up hill (which I don’t advise); or take a taxi for about 3,000 Won. When the road forks to the left towards Eunhasa Temple, you should head right towards the Iljumun Gate which is plainly in sight.

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OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10. There are a few highlights to this temple like the animal carvings that adorn the altar inside the main hall, the paintings of that surround the exterior of the main hall, the stoic 10 metre tall Jijang-bosal statue that stands in the temple courtyard, and the Samseong-gak Shaman shrine hall to the right rear of the main hall. While not nearly as beautiful as the neighbouring Eunhasa Temple, Dongrimsa Temple does have a few things that make the trip worth it in conjunction with Eunhasa Temple.

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The stately Iljumun Gate that welcomes you to Dongrimsa Temple.
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And next to the Iljumun Gate is this statue of Jijang-bosal, which is a precursor of things to come.
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Up the long stretch of road, you’ll finally arrive at the base of the temple.
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A look at the main hall with the six smaller sized statues of Jijang-bosal.
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To your immediate right you’ll see the off-limits dorm for monks and nuns at the temple.
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A better look at the beautiful statue of Jijang-bosal that strikes an imposing 10 metre tall stance.
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A look at the main hall with the mythical Haetae (fire consumers and controllers) on either side of the stairs.
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A look from the main hall out onto the temple courtyard.
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A view of the relatively disturbing painting of Dazu Huike and the Bodhidharma.
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One, of the two, paintings depicting the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. This painting has the ship in full sail across the Sea of Samara.
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And in this second painting, the people aboard the ship arrive along the shores of the Western Paradise.
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On the main altar sits this golden statue of Jijang-bosal with Yama Daewang to his left.
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In the left hand corner sits this beautiful rendering of a serenely seated Jijang-bosal.
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And on the right side of the main hall are the many helping hands of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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And next to Gwanseeum-bosal hangs an equally ornate guardian painting.
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Just one of the beautiful panel that adorns the altar inside the main hall.
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A different look at the beautiful main hall at Dongrimsa Temple.
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And to the right rear of the main hall, just slightly up the bank, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular Shaman gods.
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One is this painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
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And another is of Dokseong (The Recluse).
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And just one more look at the row of Jijang-bosals that stand inside the main courtyard at Dongrimsa Temple.

Yongwang – 용왕 (The Dragon King)

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A statue of Yongwang, the Dragon King, at Cheonbulsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

When you visit a Korean temple, you can see a wide array of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on display in various shrine halls spread throughout the temple grounds. You can also see various deities with shaman origins, like Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Recluse), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) either housed in a shrine hall collectively or individually. Another of the deities with shaman origins that you can spot is Yongwang, the Dragon King. So who is he, and why is he at a Korean Buddhist temple?

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An outdoor shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang at Cheontaesa Temple.

The idea of Yongwang, the Dragon King, comes from the long held belief that there is a world beneath the sea. And in this world, Yongwang rules over it in his Dragon Palace. Interestingly, there’s a Sanskrit equivalent to Yongwang in ancient India, and this ancient god goes by the name Magaraj. These two deities have similar characteristics and traits.

Yongwang is an indispensable deity to Korean shamanism. Alongside Sanshin, the Mountain Spirit, Yongwang is one of the Earthly deities. These Earthly deities are responsible for procuring descendants, national security, health, and rain.

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A look at Yongwang over a pool of water, which is symbolic of his Buddhist meaning.

And with the absorption of shamanism into Buddhism through the centuries in Korea, not only did Yongwang occupy a place of importance in the Buddhist pantheon, but his meaning was re-interpreted and re-defined. As a Buddhist deity, Yongwang is in charge of the rain, water, and he also controls storms. He’s also thought to protect the Dharma, as well.

So what exactly does this lesser known shaman/Buddhist deity look like? While not as prominently represented as the famous triad of Korean shaman deities (Chilseong, Dokseong, and Sanshin), Yongwang has unique features that allow him to stand-out. For one, he’s usually depicted as a regal figure with fierce looking eyes. He’s older in age with bushy white eyebrows, beard, and a moustache. Furthermore, he’s dressed in a royal robe with a crown on top of his head; and sometimes, he’s seated in a throne.

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The bushy browed and white haired Yongwang from Donghaksa Temple.

Another way that you can identify Yongwang, the Dragon King, is that he’s always in the presence of a dragon or dragons. Sometimes he’s situated next to them, and sometimes he’s riding one of them. If he’s riding one of them, this act symbolizes his dominance over them.

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One of the accompanying dragons behind Yongwang at Cheonbulsa Temple.

Sometimes, but rarely, you can also identify Yongwang with an unknown female figure. She too is depicted in traditional Korean clothes, with a small crown, riding (or alongside) a dragon. This figure can also be a Buddhist figure dressed in Chinese-Indian style clothing, and she is veiled. Whether it’s one female figure or another, it’s unknown whether she’s the queen of Yongwang or the Dragon King’s consort.

You can usually find Yongwang in one of two locations in a Korean Buddhist temple. One is in, or around, a shrine hall; while another is in paintings.

In the main hall, you can usually spot a painting with numerous figures in it. In Korea, this popular painting is known as the “Shinjung Daenghwa,” which roughly translates into English as the Guardian Painting. This painting depicts a variety of shaman deities that are believed to protect the Dharma. Alongside Yongwang in this painting is the centrally located, and sometimes multi-armed and faced, Dae Yejeok Geumgangshin. Below him is Dongjin-bosal, who is the wing helmeted Bodhisattva that protects the Buddha’s teachings from enemies. Surrounding these three can be  Sanshin, various spirit generals, and Cheseok Cheonwang and Daebeom Cheonwang at the top of the painting. In total, there can be either 24, 39, or 104 deities in this painting. The “Shinjung Daenghwa” painting is known as the most Korean of the Buddhist paintings at a temple because it depicts indigenous shaman deities that were common in Korea before the introduction of Buddhism to the Korean peninsula.

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Just below Dongjin-bosal (the one with the winged helmet) to the right is Yongwang from Banyaam Hermitage.

Another place you can find Yongwang, the Dragon King, is in a “gak,” or shrine hall, amongst the buildings at a Korean temple. He is usually housed with the other shaman deities (Chilseong, Dokseong, and Sanshin) inside the temple grounds to the rear of the main hall. However, he can also be found in a shrine hall called a “Yongwang-dang” next to the water supply at a temple or hermitage. Having him situated next to the water supply harkens back to his shamanistic origins of health, as well as the Buddhist symbol of water.

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 The shrine hall solely for the purpose of housing Yongwang at Baekunam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

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The open shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang at Cheontaesa Temple.

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And just outside the Yongwang shrine hall at Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

So the next time you’re at a Korean Buddhist temple, keep your eyes open for this lesser known, and lesser seen, Buddhist deity with shaman origins. You can find this bushy browed, regal looking figure almost anywhere, either in paintings or in shrine halls, all around the temple grounds.

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And finally, a look inside the shrine hall at Baekunam Hermitage with a pool of water under a plate of glass that’s overlooked by a statue of Yongwang.

Eunhasa Temple – 은하사 (Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The main hall at Eunhasa Temple with the looming mountain peaks from Sineosan Mountain in the background.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

I had last visited Eunhasa Temple (은하사) in Gimhae with a friend back in the summer of 2008; however, I had never visited the temple with my wife. And with the beautiful buildings and scenery, I wanted to show the temple off to her, so we decided to go.

Eunhasa Temple means Silver Water Temple in English. The temple is located on the side of Sineosan Mountain (which means Fish of the Gods, in English), and it’s one of Korea’s oldest temples. According to legend, the temple’s main hall dates back to the reign of the famous King Suro (?-199 A.D.), and it was built by monk Jangyuhwasang. What is probably more plausible is that there was earthenware found at the temple that dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period. The temple was originally called Seorimsa Temple. During the Imjin War in 1592, the entire temple was burned to the ground. The main hall, Daeung-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1629. Subsequently, the temple was restored three times; once in 1649, the second time in 1801, and the third in 2003.

You first approach Eunhasa Temple up a winding road for 400 metres. At the base of the parking lot, you’ll climb up an uneven set of large stone stairs to get to the temple’s lotus pond that houses a beautifully aged bronze statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Over the carp designed granite bridge, you’ll pass by a forested path to your right, and head straight up another steep set of uneven stone stairs. Passing through the gate that has three doorways, you’ll finally enter into the lower courtyard at the temple. On this level, and to your immediate right, is a gift shop and tea house. Straight ahead is another temple parking lot, and to the far left is the administrative office for the temple. But what is most memorable about this view of the temple is the stately bell pavilion that hovers over the lower courtyard, and the imposing Sineosan Mountain peaks in the background.

Up yet another uneven set of stone stairs (yes, there’s a lot of stairs to this temple), you’ll finally see just how picturesque this temple is with the beautiful temple buildings and the scenery that surrounds you at every turn. To your immediate left is the stately bell pavilion that first greeted you at the temple. The bell pavilion is adorned with several unusually designed dragon heads all over its exterior. Two of the more unusual dragon heads are perched on the arm rails that lead you into the bell pavilion. They’re simply dragon heads with wings. But the most unusual dragon fixture on the bell pavilion is the wooden dragon gong that has a double-headed turtle resting on the right side of the dragon gong’s flank.

Next to the bell pavilion, and up the last uneven set of stone stairs, is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall that houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The exterior walls of the hall are unadorned; however, the floral lattice work that adorns the doors to the Hall are gorgeous. Inside the hall sits Jijang-bosal. And on either side of him are the 10 Kings of the Underworld. There are also a couple guardians protecting both entrances to the Hall.

Sitting centrally located on the upper courtyard are three temple Halls. The one in the middle is the Daeung-jeon Hall, which acts as the temple’s main hall. This rather small main hall is beautifully decorated by paintings both inside and out. The exterior walls of the main hall have some of the more stunning Biseon in Korea, as well as beautiful Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and saints, adorning the gables. There are also some large and unique murals that surround the sides of the main hall, as well as a set of frightful Nathwi adorning the main entrance to the main hall. And as impressive as the main hall is on the exterior, the interior paintings are even more beautiful. Inside sits a solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). There are a couple paintings of this Bodhisattva adorning the right wall of the main hall with a gorgeous guardian painting on the left wall.

To the left of the main hall is the Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman gods to be found at a Korean temple; they are, Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San Shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse). The paintings of these three gods are stunning. And the exterior walls of this hall are adorned with flowers and a couple of chubby fellow talking on the right wall.

To the right of the main hall is, what looks to be, the Nahan-jeon, which is dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). There was a ceremony going on when we arrived, so it was impossible to get any closer, but from what I remember from my last visit, there’s a white Seokgamoni-bul statue sitting on the main altar of the hall with white flanking statues of the Nahan. And to the far right is the monk dorms and the temple office.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can catch Bus #98 from the Gimhae Intercity Bus Terminal, which is beside the King Suro Subway Stop. Ride the bus for 4.7 kilometres until you arrive at Inje University. From Inje University you can get to the temple in one of two ways: First, you can either walk the 3 kilometre hike up hill (which I don’t advise); or second, you can take a taxi for about 3,000 won.

View 은하사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The temple is beautifully located on the side of Mt.Sineosan with the gray granite peaks looking down at EunhasaTemple. The dragon adorned bell pavilion is a beautiful example of Korean craftsmanship as is the floral lattice work adorning the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. All the halls have beautiful paintings adorning the exterior walls, and the stately statue of a crowned Gwanseeum-bosal is second to none in all of Korea as are the murals that keep this Bodhisattva company inside the main hall.

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The view up at the temple and Mt. Sineosan from the lotus pond as you first approach Eunhasa Temple.
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The fish patterned bridge.
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And a better look at the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that stands in the depths of the right lotus pond.
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The three doored gate that allows you access and admittance to the temple.
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The stately bell pavilion that first greets you at Eunhasa Temple.
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A better look at the entrance-way to the bell pavilion with the winged dragon heads.
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Just one of the unique dragon heads that protrude out from the bell pavilion.
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And the wooden dragon gong that has a double-headed turtle resting on its right flank.
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A beautiful look up at the main hall and the towering Sinseosan Mountain up above.
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A look at the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Eunhasa Temple.
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It has some of the more beautiful floral lattice doors in all of Korea.
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Just one of the 10 kings that take up residence inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Another look at the main hall to the right with the Shamanistic Samseong-gak Hall to the left of it.
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This is one of the more unique paintings at Eunhasa Temple. It adorns the right side of the Samseong-gak Hall.
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Inside the Samseong-gak Hall is this painting of San shin (The Mountain god). He’s joined by two other paintings of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Recluse).
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Just one of the beautiful Biseon that adorns the walls of the main hall at Eunhasa Temple.
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There are also these beautiful paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas adorning the gables along the main hall at the temple.
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This is just one in a set of Nathwi that scare away evil spirits in front of the front entrance doors at the main hall.
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Inside sits this beautifully crowned statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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The monk dorms to the right of the main hall.
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And between the main hall and the monks’ dorms is the Nahan-jeon dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon Hall at a white Seokgamoni-bul on the altar. He’s flanked by equally white stone statues of the Nahan.

Gwangcheonsa Temple – 광천사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful view from the courtyard at Gwangcheonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Lately, I’ve been on a really big kick to explore Cheonseongsan Mountain after visiting a few temples and hermitages in the Naewon valley area like Nojeonam Hermitage and Naewonsa Temple. Gwangcheonsa Temple is another one of these temples located on the northwest side of this religiously important mountain in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The temple lies up a wandering country road that forks. Up the road to the right, with the two pillared Iljumun entrance gate, you’ll make your way up a side slope of Cheonseongsan Mountain. Initially, the temple doesn’t look all that impressive, with a modern building to the left and the monk dorms and visitor’s centre straight ahead. It isn’t until you take the chained off road to the left of the visitor’s centre that you finally arrive inside the main courtyard of Gwangcheonsa Temple.

There are numerous beautiful stone statues spread throughout the main courtyard at the temple. The first of these statues are a pair of ferocious lions on either side of the stairs that lead into the courtyard. Behind these two lions is a pair of unique looking stone lanterns. To the right is the temple’s kitchen, and to the left is a jovial Podae-hwasang that is seated on the banks of the forested mountain. Next to this, and further up the bank, is a serene looking Buddha. The most original statue in the set is a standing and robed dharma figure that stands about 4 metres in height. This mysterious looking dharma is surrounded by the twelve zodiac statues that are about two metres in height.

Straight ahead, and to the right of these beautiful statues, is the temple’s bell pavilion. While certainly not an impressive structure, the elaborate paintings that adorn the interior and exterior of this bell pavilion certainly are impressive. Behind this bell pavilion, and raised on a cement surface above a stream that rolls down from the mountains, is a white statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). It is only from this view of this angelic Bodhisattva that you finally see the myriad of shrine halls strewn throughout the temple hillside.

To the left of the bell pavilion and outdoor shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, is the main hall. The main doors of the main hall are adorned with lattice work that is intricately adorned with floral patterns. The exterior of the main hall is adorned with the Ox-Herding murals. And while these paintings certainly aren’t all that great, they uniquely only have eight of the ten murals leaving the final two out of the set. Inside, the altar has Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) flanked by two Bodhisattvas, Moonsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal). There is an amazing guardian painting on the right wall, and there’s an amazingly elaborate and beautiful painting of a 1,000 armed Gwanseeum-bosal mural.

Behind the main hall is a courtyard that houses a statues of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), which is appropriate since the temple is largely for funeral ceremonies. At the base of the mountain, and the stream that wanders down it, is a stone shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Inside, after you step over the stone bridge that spans the stream, is a granite statue of Yongwang.

Further up the mountain, and on the left, is the Chilseong-gak shrine hall that houses two older paintings of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Recluse). About halfway up the embankment, and on the right, is the shrine hall that houses 1,000 Buddha statues. Straight ahead is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) surrounded by hundreds of miniature statues of himself. On the right wall is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and on the left Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), both of which are equally accompanied by hundreds of miniature statues of themselves. Finally, the last hall on the side of the mountain is the San shin-gak shrine hall dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit, San shin. The cement base to the hall is illustrated with three fierce tigers, and inside the hall is an older looking painting and statue of San shin. While all of these shrine halls aren’t the most impressive that you’ll see, they are nice and there are a lot of them to get a feel for Buddhism in Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: By far, the easiest way to get to Gwangcheonsa Temple is to take a taxi from the Yangsan Subway stop, # 243, on the second line. From there, you can find a taxi to take you the rest of the way. The taxi will cost you about 14,000 won, and the ride should last you about 30 minutes. Just make sure, when you get there, that the taxi stays puts; otherwise, it’s a long way back to the subway station.


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OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10. This hall has a lot for the Korean temple adventurer to see. And while they aren’t the most impressive renderings and depictions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, there is a lot of variety that helps introduce you to the different aspects of Korean Buddhism. One of the disadvantages, by far, is that Gwangcheonsa Temple is difficult to locate and to get to it.

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The entrance to the temple with the cremation building to the left and the monks’ dorm straight ahead.
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A look at the main hall and the stacked shrine halls on the mountainside from the temple courtyard.
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A look at the first few statues that you see as you enter the temple courtyard.
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A look at a couple of the zodiac statues that stand in an enclave that surrounds the large dharma statue.
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A look at the mysterious-looking dharma statue.
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A better look at the main hall.
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A look inside the main hall at the altar. Sitting at the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s probably flanked by Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the far left wall is a mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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On the right wall is this mural of Gwanseeum-bosal with 1,000 arms. On the bottom left you can see Yongwang (The Dragon King).
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The eight Ox-Herding murals that surround the temple are rather plain; however, they are unique in that there are only eight and not ten.
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The ornately painted bell pavilion at Gwangcheonsa Temple.
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The white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that is situated behind the bell pavilion.
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And this statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) is located just behind the main hall.
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A look up at all the stacked shrine halls at Gwangcheonsa Temple.
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The stone Yongwang-dang shrine hall dedicated to the Dragon King, Yongwang.
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A turtle next to the pond that’s located under the stone bridge that leads into the Yongwang shrine hall.
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A look inside the Yongwang-dang stone shrine hall at a granite statue of the Dragon King.
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To the left of the Yongwang-dang shrine hall, and a little up the mountain, is this Chilseong-gak shrine hall.
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And inside the Chilseong-gak shrine hall is this painting of Dokseong (The Recluse), as well as another mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
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A look inside the hall that houses a thousand Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In this picture is a larger sized statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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In the final shrine hall on the mountainside is this statue and mural of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
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The view from the San shin-gak shrine hall of the neighbouring Mt. Chiseosan.
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And just one of the beautiful brass bells that hangs from the San shin-gak shrine hall.
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A look down at the temple from the highest point inside Gwangcheonsa Temple.
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And one last look at the reflective pond and the main hall at Gwangcheonsa Temple.

Myeongbu-jeon: The Judgment Hall

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The amazingly elaborate altar inside the Judgment Hall at Sinheungsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

At every major Korean temple there is a set of buildings that usually exist. One of these buildings is the Judgment Hall (Myeongbu-jeon, in Korean). The Judgment Hall is one of the more unique looking buildings at a temple because of its gruesome depictions of hell, the uplifting paintings of salvation, the ominous judges, and the serenely redemptive Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

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The Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Sinheungsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. It’s one of the most intricately decorated, both inside and out, in all of Korea.

The purpose of this hall, like in most other East Asian cultures, is for when someone dies. The family of the deceased holds memorial services, over forty-nine days, at seven day intervals. The purpose of this ceremony is for the family to help guide the spirit of the dead to the Buddhist Pure Land.

The word Bodhisattva is comprised of two words in Sanskrit. “Bodhi” means enlightenment, while “sattva” means sentient and conscious. So the word put together means an enlightened sentient being with consciousness. And in Korea the word Bodhisattva gets shortened to “bosal,” but in either language it contains the exact same meaning.

And it’s to this that the central figure, Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), is immersed in the Korean Buddhist tradition. Jijang-bosal is committed to remain on earth until no more people suffer in hell. In fact, Jijang-bosal was authorized by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to enlighten all sentient beings by delivering them from the suffering caused during the vast time between the passing of Seokgamoni-bul and Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Jijang-bosal will help alleviate the suffering of others even if this means he has to enter into the depths of hell.

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Jijang-bosal is the central altar piece inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall with shortly croped green hair at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Unaccustomly, he has neither his staff or pearl in hand.

Jijang-bosal is perhaps one of the easier manifestations of a Buddha or Bodhisattva to identify. He is either depicted with short croped black or green hair. In his right hand he holds a monk staff (or sistrum) with six rings at the top of the staff. This monk’s staff is used for opening the doors of hell. And in his right hand he holds a pearl (or “wish-fulfilling gem”). This pearl does one of two things: it can either light up the darkness of hell, or it can grant the wishes of selfless individuals. On the altar, accompanying Jijang-bosal, can be one of two pairings. The two more common ones are Dokmyang-jonja and Mudok Kweiwang, who are the two guardians of hell. The other pairing can be Yama Daewang (the overlord of the judges of hell) and Jijang’s mother who he offered to take to the lowest depths of hell with him.

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Jijang-bosal is accompanied by his mother inside the Myeongbu-jeon at Songnimsa Temple in Daegu. Uniquely, a golden Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Mercy) sits in the centre of the altar instead of Jijang-bosal, who is to the left.

Flanking these three central altar pieces are the Ten Judges (Shiwang). These judges are usually in statue form and can be seated or standing. Five judges are usually on either side of the altar, respectively. And in more elaborate Judgment Halls, these judges can be accompanied by their servants or Biseon. These Ten Judges determine the fate of the dead according to the deeds they committed in their earthly lives. Behind each of the ten judges can be a painting of the territory each judge governs. These paintings can be extremely elaborate. The altar itself is usually decorated with beautiful floral patterns, while the canopy usually protrudes out from the hall walls slightly. Behind Jijang-bosal is usually a painting depicting him and the Ten Judges with any number of assisting individuals.

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 Five of the Ten Judges to the left of Jijang-bosal at the Myeongbu-jeon at Unmunsa Temple.

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The other five Judges to the right of Jijang-bosal at Sinheungsa Temple in Yangsan.

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Just one of the amazing paintings that stands over the heads of the Ten Judges in the Judgment Hall at Sinheungsa Temple.

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The yet to be painted main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Haegwangsa Temple in Busan. However, you can still see the intricate beauty of this altar.

An interesting figure in the hall, other than Jijang-bosal, is Yama Daewang. Yama Daewang is the most powerful of the ten judges and he’s their overlord. He is a deity borrowed from Hinduism. In Hinduism, he is the Lord of Death. Various Hindu writings describe him as splendid, while others describe him as ugly and deformed. However, he is usually depicted as holding up a mirror to show us our reflection when the time for death comes. Some people believe Jijang-bosal to be an incarnation of Yama Daewang. Still others believe this to be false, as Jijang-bosal is committed to saving people and not judging them like Yama Daewang.

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A painting of Yama Daewang holding up a mirror to the judged from Unmunsa Temple.

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An up-close look at the mirror held up to the person being judged. In this picture, from Yongjusa Temple, the man is guilty of murder.

The exterior of the hall is just as elaborate and ornate as the interior of the Judgment Hall. As always, there’s a wooden name tablet written in Chinese characters above the main entrance to the hall. And architecturally the hall is minimally designed and understated. However, what makes this hall stand-out is the gruesome and grotesque paintings of people being judged and punished in hell. These paintings are amongst the finest on all of the temple grounds, so look for them!

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 One of the more graphic illustrations of hell from Songnimsa Temple in Daegu.

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And another from Songnimsa Temple. This temple has, perhaps, the greatest depictions of hell on a Myeongbu-jeon hall in all of Korea.

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One of the cruel and grotesque paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Yongjusa Temple.

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And another example from Yongjusa Temple of perhaps some of the best paintings found on any Judgment Hall in all of Korea.

One of the best examples of the Myeongbu-jeon (Judgment Hall) is at Songnimsa Temple in Daegu. In fact, this temple may be the best Judgment Hall in all of Korea with its finely painted illustrations of retribution and suffering. Another great example of this hall is at Sinheungsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. The interior has several unique paintings of the ten territorial realms, as well as a beautifully rendered painting of Jijang-bosal lauding mercy down in the deepest depths of hell. This painting is directly above the statue of Jijang-bosal on the altar. Yet another beautiful Judgment Hall can be seen at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The beautifully canopied altar is matched by the grotesquely painted depictions of hell along the exterior walls of the hall. And lastly, the two storied hall, with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall on the lower level at Yongjusa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do has equally amazing judgment paintings found at Songnimsa Temple. The paintings are realisticially and grotesquely rendered.

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Another graphically grotesque painting of hell from Sinheungsa Temple in Yangsan.

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A painting of Jijang-bosal saving the soul of someone in hell. This painting can be found at the famous Songgwangsa Temple.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, keep your eyes open for this unique hall. But at the same time, be respectful if there’s a ceremony taking place for the dead. This hall is almost always decorated with paintings of hell as a reminder to the living to watch what they are doing. It truly is one of the most original and unique halls at a Korean temple.

Jogyeam Hermitage – 조계암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 183An autumnal look from the courtyard at Jogyeam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had wanted to visit a few of the hermitages in the Naewon valley, but getting lost, and travelling additional mountainside kilometers, and that dream quickly faded. Instead, I first visited Anjeogam Hermitage, followed by Jogyeam Hermitage, which is to the rear of Anjeogam Hermitage.

You’ll approach Jogyeam Hermitage (조계암) down a country road, and next to a dirt field, to the rear of Anjeogam Hermitage. Jogyeam Hermitage is only 300 metres down this road that gradually inclines up the side of a mountain.

The first glimpse of the hermitage you’ll get is of the hermitage parking lot, and the visitor’s centre, which is slightly up the embankment with the rest of the hermitage buildings. Once squared to the upper courtyard stairs, you’ll climb this set to enter into the hermitage’s courtyard. Amazingly, especially for how secluded it is, Jogyeam Hermitage has a lot for the temple adventurer to see.

In front of the large main hall with a veranda, is the nine-tier pagoda that is simplistic in design. There are four large protective lions on each directional side of the base of the pagoda. Other than these lions, the pagoda is reminiscent of a pagoda from the Silla Dynasty. Behind the pagoda is the beautifully designed and decorated main hall. The exterior of the main hall is decorated with two sets of murals. On the upper tier are beautiful renderings of the Palsang-do paintings of the Buddha’s life. On the lower tier are various paintings that are significant to Korean Buddhism like the Wonhyo and Uisang mural, as well as the Dazu Huike and Bodhidharma mural. All the paintings are amazingly realistic in their composition. Inside, the main hall has a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And hanging on the left wall is the guardian painting.

Behind the main hall is a nicely designed Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Recluse), and San shin (The Mountain god). While these paintings aren’t anything that will blow your mind, they are well executed. On the exterior walls of this hall is a fiercely painted orange tiger symbolic of San shin. To the right of the main hall is a smaller sized shrine hall that was under renovation when I visited. So I’m not exactly sure who it’s dedicated to. And to the left is a beautiful water fountain that I replenished the supply of water at after the first 7 kilometres of my hike were complete.

Admission to the hermitage itself is free; however, you’ll have to pay an admission fee at the park entry of 3,000 won.

For more on Jogyeam Hermitage, check this out!

HOW TO GET THERE:  While Nojeonam Hermitage is a bit of an adventure to get to, Jogyeam Hermitage is even more difficult to find. From Yangsan, you can catch bus #12-1 from Yangsan bus terminal. This bus leaves every hour. From the bus terminal, you’ll ride the bus about 20 to 30 minutes in front of the  Naewonsa Temple entrance. Once here, you’ll have to walk an additional 30 minutes to the ticket booth. You can either walk the 30 minutes or take a taxi. Once you’re at the  Naewonsa Temple ticket booth, instead of heading right towards  Naewonsa Temple, you’ll have to head left and walk through a parking lot. Once you’re at the far end of the parking lot, and next to a washroom facility, you’ll see a green barrier fence in front of a dirt road. There’s an entrance to the right. You should head down this dirt trail for 2 kilometres until you arrive at Nojeonam Hermitage. Once you get to Nojeonam Hermitage, hang a right at the bridge. You’ll follow this trail for another 2 kilometres beside a cascading stream. Eventually, you’ll get to a map marker where the trails split in a couple of directions. You want to take the one that goes up the hill and that lies directly in front of the map. Head up this trail for another kilometer until you arrive at Anjeogam Hermitage. To the left, and for 300 metres, you’ll finally arrive at Jogyeam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While just as beautifully situated as Anjeogam Hermitage, the hermitage buildings at Jogyeam Hermitage are just a little bit more beautiful. With the beautiful exterior paintings on the main hall, the simplistic lion pagoda, as well as the compact Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, this hermitage rates slightly higher than the neighbouring one.

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The start of the long 12 kilometre hike towards Jogyeam Hermitage.
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The water rolling down the stream was still high from the rain from the day previous, and the fog was still surrounding the valley peaks.
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This is the map you’ll find at Nojeonam Hermitage. You’ll still have a long way to go from here.
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An amazing view up the cascading valley with a waterfall to the right.
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And now, a view of the cascading riverbed.
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From this sign, you’re almost there. Now, all you’ll have to do is head 1 kilometre straight up the mountain face!
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Finally, you’re almost there, just another 300 metres up an incline.
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The first look up at the Jogyeam Hermitage courtyard from the parking lot.
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A gorgeous view of the fall change from the courtyard at Jogyeam Hermitage.
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A look over at the uniquely designed stone lantern with the bell pavilion behind it. Next to both of these structures is a shrine hall.
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A look across the Jogyeam Hermitage courtyard at the nine-tier stone pagoda and the main hall to the right.
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A better look at one of the four fiercely protective lions adorning the base of the pagoda.
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A look inside the main hall with a centred Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with a flanking Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the far right.
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Just one of the amazing murals that adorns the lower tier of paintings around the main hall. This one depicts the encounter between Dazu Huike and the Bodhidharma.
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On the upper tier of murals are the Palsang-do murals. This one depicts the temptation of Buddha by Mara and his three daughters.
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A look up at the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman gods in Korea. This shrine hall is to the left rear of the main hall.
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A gorgeously rendered tiger that adorns the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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And to the left of Chilseong is this painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).

Gwaneum-jeon: Hall of Avalokitesvara

Picture 161Gwanseeum-bosal with his one thousand hands and eyes to help people at Girimsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

One of the most popular halls you’ll find at a Korean temple is the Hall of Avalokitesvara (or Gwaneum-jeon, in Korean). This hall is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. So who is Gwanseeum-bosal, and why is she so important to Korean Buddhism, and where does she appear in Korean temples?

The Sanskrit name for Gwanseeum-bosal is Avalokitesvara. Avalokitesvara, in Chinese, translates as either “one who observes/regards the sounds of the world,” or “the unimpeded observer.” In Korea, Gwanseeum-bosal translates as “the hearers of cries.” Either way, Gwanseeum-bosal was born from a ray of light emanating from Amita-bul’s right eye. As a result, Gwanseeum-bosal is closely related to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and assists those who request access to the Pure Land. Gwanseeum-bosal is thought to be the Bodhisattva manifestation of Amita-bul, and is often depicted to the left of Amita-bul as an assistant that brings enlightenment (a freedom from suffering) to sentient beings. That’s why Gwanseeum-bosal is also referred to as the Bodhisattva of Compassion because she responds to the cries of those in need of help.

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A seated Gwanseeum-bosal from Naewonam Hermitage.

Gwanseeum-bosal is one of the easier Bodhisattvas to identify. In India, Avalokitesvara (Gwanseeum-bosal) is clearly a male; however, in Korea, she more closely resembles a female, even though in some paintings she sports a small moustache. The reason for this transition from male to female is that emotions like compassion in Korea are thought to be feminine; and therefore, female. The most common representation of Gwanseeum-bosal in Korea is the one where she has a thousand hands, and eyes in each so as to reach out to those in need of help.

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A Gwanseeum-bosal from inside Suwolseonwon Temple in Busan.

Also, Gwanseeum-bosal can either have eleven or nine heads, which represent her all-understanding and accepting nature. In her eleven-headed form, the three heads to the left embody anger; the three to the right represent a serene smile; the three at the back bear an expression of compassion; the largest one at the front exudes a balance of serenity; and the eleventh one at the very back is laughing, which is a sign of her wisdom. There is also a miniature Buddha statue at the top of her head, this is a sign of the emanation of Amita-bul’s wisdom.

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A better look at the nine faces of Gwanseeum-bosal.

However, Gwanseeum-bosal can be depicted in 33 different incarnations. These 33 different forms occur so as to help save the different needs of sentient beings. Sometimes, Gwanseeum-bosal can appear seated or standing with a crown adorning her head. Also, Gwanseeum-bosal can be holding any number of objects in her hands. One such object is a bottle. This bottle is said to be filled with ambrosia for quenching the thirst of sentient beings, while also washing away their troubles. And in her other hand she can hold a willow spray. This willow spray represents her ability to sprinkle “sweet dew” on the needy. The willow, which has long been considered to have medicinal value, also symbolizes her role as a healer. In paintings, she is often depicted near water, which suggests her closeness to her paradise, Botala. In these paintings, Gwanseeum-bosal wears white clothes, and like other Bodhisattvas, she sometimes wears jewelry, including a regal crown.

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Gwanseeum-bosal giving a helping hand to someone at Unmunsa Temple.

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Gwanseeum-bosal saving a soul with a willow spray in his hand at Botaam Hermitage.

Inside the Gwaneum-jeon hall, it is very common to have either a statue or painting of Gwanseeum-bosal by herself with 1,000 arms and eyes or seated with a crown. And the Gwaneum-jeon hall usually appears at larger temples like at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju or at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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A painting of the merciful Gwanseeum-bosal from Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju.

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The solitary and serene Gwanseeum-bosal from the Gwaneum-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple.

 In smaller temples where Gwanseeum-bosal is in the main hall, the hall is called Wontong-jeon, or Hall of Perfect Interpenetration, in English. Temples such as Haeunjeongsa Temple in Busan, or Naewonam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan both have Wontong-jeon halls.

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Gwanseeum-bosal from the Wontong-jeon hall at Haeunjeongsa Temple in Busan.

Another way in which Gwanseeum-bosal is represented inside a temple hall is in a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In Korea, it is very common for Gwanseeum-bosal to be in a triad with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) as the central figure with a flanking Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal. Such examples of this triad can be seen at Samyeongam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do near Tongdosa Temple, or Jijangam Hermitage in Busan near Beomeosa Temple. Another popular one, as was mentioned before, is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to be in the centre. Usually, he is flanked by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal. This triad can be seen at Samyeongam Hermitage in near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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Inside the main hall at Banyaam Hermitage. Amita-bul is in the centre with a flanking Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.

Depending on the status of the hall, whether it’s the main hall at the temple, Wontong-jeon, or it’s another hall at a larger temple, Gwaneum-jeon, the altar will be vastly different in design. If it’s a Wontong-jeon hall, the altar will be ornate and elaborate. The canopy can be the Treasure Palace Type where the canopy appears to be a separate structure. The canopy is painted red and there are usually cranes flying around it. Also, there will be assistants next to the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Inside this hall there will be a guardian painting as well as a Yeongsan Assembly Painting. There can also be paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal in various acts of compassion at the front of the temple like at Gyemyeongam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

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Two, of the four, paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal on the main altar at Gyemyeongam Hermitage. If you look closely you can see Gwanseeum-bosal near her water paradise, Botala.

If the hall is a Gwaneum-jeon hall, the interior will be a bit less elaborate. There might or might not be a canopy. Also, the size of the hall will be much smaller as it’s not the main focal point of the temple. There will probably still be the beautiful paintings surrounding Gwanseeum-bosal up near the ceiling of the interior. The ceiling might be decorated with various incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal like at Tongdosa Temple.

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Inside the simple, but beautiful, Gwaneum-jeon hall at Unmunsa Temple.

The outside of the hall, once again, can be painted in a variety of ways depending on the status of the hall. If the hall is a Wontong-jeon hall, it will have intricate woodwork done up in the eaves. Around the hall there might either be the Palsang-do paintings (The Eight Scenes of the Buddha’s Life) or the Ox-Herding Paintings.

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The Wontong-jeon main hall at Haeunjeongsa Temple in Busan.

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The compact, but stately, Wontong-jeon hall at Naewonam Hermitage.

The exterior design of a Gwaneum-jeon hall can vary. Usually, there are paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal in various acts of compassion either lending a supporting hand or comforting those in need. It can also be adorned with no paintings at all. However, the intricate woodwork done on the eaves and lattice of the hall can be equal to that of the elevated Wontong-jeon hall. Also, there might also be paintings up in the eaves of saints or landscapes like at Bulguksa Temple.

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The plainly decorated Gwaneum-jeon hall at Bulguksa Temple.

A unique feature of Gwanseeum-bosal is that she’s prayed to a lot at Korean temples. As a result, not only are there halls dedicated to her, but there are also numerous statues and shrines outside and around the temple buildings. The statues range from being simple to complex in design. A beautifully big statue exists at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple by the sea in Busan. Another beautiful one appears at the remote Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

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 The beautifully massive Gwanseeum-bosal that overlooks the temple at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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The central rock icon of Gwanseeum-bosal at the remote Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple look around for the majestic appearing Gwanseeum-bosal. She is extremely popular, and as a result, she’s very easy to find on paintings, altars, or statues.

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Sometimes you’ll really have to look carefully like at Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju. This cave shrine hall is also dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look inside the cave shrine hall and the stone Gwanseeum-bosal that sits at the centre of the altar.

Anjeogam Hermitage – 안적암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 194Just one of the beautiful bridges that are situated in the Naewon valley on the way to Anjeongam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 Hello Everyone!!

Having visited the neighbouring Nojeonam Hermitage the weekend before, and realizing just how beautiful the autumn colours are this year, I decided I would visit Anjeogam Hermitage. The only problem is that the 9 kilometre hike turned into a 12 kilometre hike because I got lost inside the Naewon valley.

Much like Nojeonam Hermitage, Anjeogam Hermitage (안적암) is associated with Naewonsa Temple and it was built around the same time during the Silla Dynasty by Wonhyo-daesa. In 1646, during the Joseon Dynasty, the Great Priest Yeonghun reconstructed this hermitage after it had fallen into disrepair. At the time of this reconstruction, only the main hall and the Iljumun Gate remained. Finally, in 1978, the main hall was dismantled, reconstructed, and then repainted.

You can first see the hermitage on the other side of the embankment as you approach. Walking up a long road, you’ll finally arrive inside the hermitage grounds. The first thing to greet you is the ancient Iljumun Gate in front of you. The intricate woodwork adorning the gate is amazing. To your left is a beautiful view of the Naewon valley and mountains. This view was especially beautiful because of the changing colours of the leaves.

After passing through the bell pavilion, and up a stone staircase, you’ll finally arrive in the main courtyard to the hermitage. Immediately ahead is the uniquely designed main hall. Around the main hall are various paintings of monks at work and landscape paintings. Inside the hall, it almost seems as though the main hall use to be divided into sections. At least this was my guess, and after reading more information about this hermitage, my guess turned out to be the correct one. Formally, on the left side of the main hall, where the Chinese characters read “sajahu,” this part of the main hall use to be the monk’s quarters. Presently, there are two beautiful paintings: one is a guardian painting, while another is of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). In the centre section, which just so happens to be the largest section, is an ornate canopy that houses a triad of statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre. This part of the main hall has always been used as the main worship hall, and you can actually walk all the way around the main altar at the hermitage. On the far right, and the smallest section of the main hall, is a unique painting of a man struggling up a vine as an elephant looks on. In the past, this section of the main hall was used as the kitchen. This kitchen has now been transferred outside of the main hall, but it’s still attached to the right side of this building. Uniquely, there’s a shaman god painting and shrine in the kitchen area.

Besides the Iljumun Gate and the uniquely designed main hall, there are four other structures at Anjeogam Hermitage. To the far left is the monk’s dorm. Next to the unpainted dorm is the hermitages bell pavilion. Inside the bell pavilion is a beautiful bell with a red ring of rust around the neck of Poroe. To the far right of the main hall is a visitor’s centre. And next to the subterranean visitor’s centre is a shrine hall with unknown meaning. I believe it is the San shin shrine hall, but the head monk of the hermitage waved me towards the exit before I could go any further. This is the first time this has ever happened to me, and to say I was surprised is an understatement considering I’m always respectful and maintain the tranquility of a given temple or hermitage.

For more on Anjeogam Hermitage, check this out!

 HOW TO GET THERE:  While Nojeonam Hermitage is a bit of an adventure to get to, Anjeogam Hermitage is even more difficult to find. From Yangsan, you can catch bus #12-1 from Yangsan bus terminal. This bus leaves every hour. From the bus terminal, you’ll ride the bus about 20 to 30 minutes (depending on traffic) to the Naewonsa Temple entrance. Once here, you’ll have to walk an additional 30 minutes to the ticket booth. You can either walk the 30 minutes or take a taxi. At the Naewonsa Temple ticket booth, instead of heading right towards Naewonsa  Temple, you’ll have to head left and walk through a parking lot. Once you’re at the far end of the parking lot, and next to a washroom facility, you’ll see a green barrier fence in front of a dirt road. There’s an entrance to the right. You should head down this dirt trail for 2 kilometres until you arrive at Nojeonam Hermitage. Once you get to Nojeonam Hermitage, hang a right at the bridge. You’ll follow this trail for another 2 kilometres beside a cascading stream. Eventually, you’ll get to a map marker where the trails split in a couple of directions. You want to take the one that goes up the hill and that lies directly in front of the map. Head up this trail for another kilometer until you arrive at the hermitage. To say this hermitage is difficult to find and get to is an understatement. In total, you’ll have to walk 10 kilometres, and that’s if you don’t get lost along the poorly marked trails.

View 안적암동종 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. This hermitage rates just as highly as its neighbouring hermitage, Nojeonam Hermitage, but for very different reasons. The view from the main hall down on the valley below and the mountains around are especially beautiful in the fall. Add to it the uniquely designed main hall and the Iljumun Gate, and this only adds to the overall rating of this hermitage. There are a couple negatives to this temple: one is the crabby head monk, and the second is the distance you’ll have to travel to find it.

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It seemed like I was the only one in the Naewon valley as the sun cleared the mountains.
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You’ll see this sign about a kilometre up the trail directing you towards all of the valley’s hermitages.
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The long road that follows the long valley.
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This is the bridge that you’ll have to cross at Nojeonam Hermitage to get to Anjeogam Hermitage.
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Just one of the amazing views on your way to Anjeogam Hermitage.
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With the fall leaves changing, it only adds to the amazing views along the Naewon valley.
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The yellow leaves next to the cascading stream.
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Finally, after 7 kilometres of wandering in all the wrong directions, I arrived at the top of the mountain where Anjeogam Hermitage is situated.
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And the short, but seemingly long, road that leads up to the hermitage. I only say long, because everything seems long after 7 kilometres of hiking uphill.
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The ancient Iljumun Gate at Anjeogam Hermitage.
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A view up the stone stairs as I pass through the Iljumun Gate.
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A view of the monk dorm as I ascend the hermitage stone stairs. Next to me was the cranky head monk.
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And an amazing view of the colourful mountains. The view was almost worth the 12 kilometre hike. Almost…
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A look at the compact bell pavilion at Anjeogam Hermitage.
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With the red necked Poroe inside.
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A long look down the veranda at the unique main hall at the hermitage.
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Just one of the three name tablets that use to divide the main hall in three.
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On the right side of the main hall was the kitchen with this shaman god shrine situated over everything.
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Just one of a handful of paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
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The main altar inside the main hall. It appears as though Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) is sitting upon the altar.
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On the far left wall of the main hall is the guardian painting on the left and a mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the right.
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And one last picture about the struggles of life on the far right side inside the main hall.