Cheongryeonsa Temple – 청련사 (Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A view of the beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom as well as the bell pavilion at Cheongryeonsa Temple in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Because Cheongryeonsa Temple is so close to the neighbouring Gwanryongsa Temple, we decided to visit yet another of the beautiful temples located in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Just outside the gates for Mt. Hwawangsan Park, and along a beautiful riverside that houses several rows of cherry blossoms, is Cheongryeonsa Temple. Up a newly laid asphalt road that twists and turns is where the beautiful temple is located. And while there is a lot of construction further up the road, Cheongryeonsa Temple is well cared for and maintained.

As you first approach the temple, you’ll be greeted by a greenish looking stone statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light). He sits out in front of the temple in a little shrine pavilion. Further up the road, and to the right, you’ll finally arrive at the main temple compound. And the first thing to greet you, besides the towering cherry blossoms that were fully in bloom when we arrived, is an ornately decorated Cheonwangmun Gate dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings that are meant to protect the temple from evil spirits. The doors to this gate are decorated with fierce looking paintings of Heng and Ha. The open mouthed Ha is to the right, while the fully-flared nostrils of Heng are to the left. The same artist that painted the Heng and Ha murals probably painted the Four Heavenly Kings, as well. Unfortunately, when these doors are open, two, of the four, kings are hidden. But either way, you get a good glimpse of these kings that are atypically painted on the walls of the Cheonwangmun Gate. Above these Heavenly King murals are four floral totting and music playing Biseon. Around the exterior of this gate are various murals like Wonhyo-daesa and Uisang-daesa, as well as the Dharma.

After stepping through this gate, you’ll be greeted by a well-manicured courtyard. While there aren’t as many buildings as the neighbouring Gwanryongsa Temple, the grounds are just as pleasing to the eye. To your immediate left is the temple’s visitors’ centre and kitchen. And to your immediate right is the temple’s bell pavilion. Solitarily sitting in the depths of the bell pavilion is a large sized Brahma Bell, and on each of the four corners of the bell pavilion are four fierce looking, and protective, lions. The bell pavilion is joined by numerous neighbouring cherry blossom trees that hover over the roof of the pavilion, much like the imposing neighbouring mountain does to the west of the temple grounds. Next to this bell pavilion is a rather non-descript row of monks’ dorms.

The most impressive feature of Cheongryeonsa Temple is the main hall. Out in front of the main hall is a nice looking coy pond with beautiful bright red coy inside the pond. The only unfortunate thing about it is that there is an ugly mesh cover over the coy pond. As for the exterior of the main hall, it’s adorned with some nicely rendered Palsang-do paintings of the Historical Buddha’s life. Sitting on the main altar is a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To his right sits Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and to the left of Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). These three statues date back to the late-Joseon Period and were transferred to this temple from their former location of Daeheungsa Temple. Backing this triad is a copy of the Yeongsan Hoehu Bultaeng of Cheongryeonsa Temple. The original dates back to 1863, and in the centre of the mural sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Perhaps the most amazing feature of this altar are the wood-engravings throughout the base of the altar that depicts various Bodhisattvas, Biseon, demons, tigers, and elephants. On the far right wall is a newer looking mural of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. And next to this, understandably, is a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far left wall is an elaborately painted, and masterfully executed, guardian painting. And with the same masterful brush, the neighbouring Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting is situated.

Up the hill, and up a newly constructed set of wooden stairs, is the equally newly built San shin-gak. This hall is soley dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Be careful when you visit because the floor of the shrine hall is littered with dead wasps. I guess there’s something that attracts wasps to the sweet wood smell of the San shin-gak shrine hall at Cheongryeonsa Temple. Resting on the altar, of the yet to be painted interior and exterior of this hall, is a large size San shin statue. The Mountain Spirit is resting upon his accompanying tiger. The statue is joined by two helpers. All of this is backed by a mural of just a tiger.

HOW TO GET THERE: Depending on where you’re coming from, you can arrive at Cheongryeonsa Temple in a couple ways. If you’re coming from Seoul, you can take a bus that leaves five times a day to Changnyeong. And if you’re leaving from Daegu, Busan, or Miryang, you can take a bus that heads to the city of Youngsan. The bus to Youngsan specifically says Youngsan-haeng (영산행) on it. During this bus ride to Youngsan, you’ll have to get off at Gyeseong. And from Gyeseong, you can take a local a taxi. You simply have to tell the taxi driver “Cheongryeonsa” and they’ll know the rest.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While not nearly as impressive as the neighbouring Gwanryongsa Temple, in conjunction with this temple, Cheongryeonsa Temple can make for a nice little visit to the small town of Changnyeong. The highlights of this temple are easily the statue of Birojana-bul out in front of the temple grounds. As for the temple itself, the highlights are the bell pavilion and accompanying cherry blossom trees, as well as the decorative main hall with the mural and triad of statues.

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The greenish looking Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) that welcomes you to the temple.
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The welcoming cherry blossoms.
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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at the main hall at Cheongryeonsa Temple.
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A look at one of the guardians that adorns the entrance gates at the temple. With nostrils flared, this one is Heng.
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Just one of the four Heavenly Kings that is painted inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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A mural that adorns the exterior walls of Cheonwangmun Gate. This one depicts Wonhyo-daesa’s enlightenment.
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The gorgeous bell pavilion is surrounded by cherry blossoms on all sides.
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A look up at a magnolia tree in bloom inside the temple courtyard.
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A look over at one of the guardian lions that ornamentallly adorns the bell pavilion. It’s backed by some beautiful cherry blossoms.
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The guarded coy pond in front of the main hall.
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Just one of the Palsang-do paintings that surround the exterior walls of the main hall.
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A look inside of the main hall at the triad of altar pieces.
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Just one of the rather impressive woodcarvings that adorns the base of the main altar inside the main hall at Cheongryeonsa Temple.
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And one of the wooden elephants at each corner of the altar’s base.
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The statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the right of the main altar.
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The gorgeous Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting to the left of the main altar.
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A look up at the newly constructed San shin-gak at Cheongryeonsa Temple.
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And a look down at the temple grounds from the heights of the San shin-gak shrine hall.
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The rather large San shin (Mountain Spirit) statue inside of the San shin-gak shrine hall.

Gwanryongsa Temple – 관룡사 (Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The photogenic front facade of Gwanryongsa Temple in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

As I continue to explore Gyeongsangnam-do Province, another city on the list was Changnyeong. While a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of larger cities in the area, Changnyeong certainly didn’t disappoint with its beauty.

Gwanryongsa Temple (관룡사) refers to Gwan, which means to “see” in Chinese characters, while ryong means “dragon.” This harkens back to when Wonhyo-daesa was praying on the neighbouring Mt. Hwawang with his 1,000 followers. On the last day of his 100 days of prayer, he saw nine dragons spring forth from wells and fly around the peaks of Mt. Hwawang. As a result, this temple is famous for being one of eight locations that Wonhyo preached Hwaemgyeong to his followers. Interestingly, the temple has two foundation stories. The first states that the temple was first built in 349. The other foundation story states that it was first built in 583 by Jeungbeopguksa.

As you pass the entrance gate to Hwawangsan Park, and make your way up through the gorgeous cherry blossoms, you’ll see a pair of granite guardian spirit poles in a farmer’s field. This set of guardian spirit poles date back to sometime during the Joseon Dynasty, and there are perhaps only about one hundred of these original guardian spirit poles still in existence. The one on the left is male, while the one on the right is female. They are both fiercely baring their canine teeth. The exact meaning behind their existence is unknown, there are at least three different theories that try to explain them. The first is that they were boundary markers for the Gwanryongsa Temple land, so that people wouldn’t hunt or fish on Buddhist land; the second states that they were meant to ward off evil spirits; while the third theory states that they were used to help counteract any possible geomantic weakness on the land. Whatever the reason that they were first built, keep a sharp eye open for these extremely rare, and original, granite guardian spirit poles.

Finally, having made your way up the beautiful cherry blossom road, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful face of the temple’s front facade. The most noticeable aspect of this front facade is the protruding bell pavilion that houses a nice looking bell and an ancient looking Dharma drum. To the right of this protruding bell pavilion is the stone entrance way; and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to watch your head. To the right of this entrance way, and greeting you to the temple, are four stele.

Having finally passed by all that Gwanryongsa Temple has to greet you with, you’ll pass through the Cheonwangmun entrance gate. Unfortunately, there’s no paintings or statues dedicated to these four Heavenly Kings. Passing through this gate, you’ll finally enter into the well populated temple courtyard. To your immediate right is the monks’ dorm, while straight ahead is an older looking meeting hall for monks. Between these two buildings is the temple’s main hall. The main hall is largely unadorned on the exterior, all but for some beautiful floral patterns up on the eaves of the hall, and it dates back to 1618 after the original main hall was burnt down to the ground during the Imjin War of 1592. However, this hall, framed by the neighbouring Hwawang mountain range, makes for a postcard-like picture. As for the interior of the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a central Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to his right and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to his left. This hall also has a beautiful floral ceiling that dates back at least a hundred years. On the far right wall is the main hall’s guardian painting. And on the far left wall is a painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by a neighbouring, and equally older looking, mural of Amita-bul. But the most amazing feature of this hall is the 5 metre tall older looking painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the wall behind the main altar. It is both highly original and amazing!

To the immediate left of the main hall is a compact Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as by helpers and guardians. Uniquely, each of the Ten Kings individually have their Korean name written on paper next to each individual statue. Slightly in front of the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall, and to the left, is the Yaksa-jeon Hall dedicated to Yaksayore-bul. This building was the only hall not to be burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War, and it is estimated to date back to the 15 century. The exterior is adorned with some gorgeously old floral patterns. Inside this hall is a statue of Yaksayore that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. And while the pedestal dates back to 772, the statue itself was made at a different date during the Goryeo Period. But with that being said, it’s estimated that it was also built some time during the 8th century. This hall is filled with beautiful scenes from nature, as well as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas filling the trim between the ceiling and the walls of this hall.

To the right of the main hall are three equally interesting buildings. Just behind the temple watering hole, is a hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The painting of Yongwang, while stunning, is also one of the fiercest of this king that I’ve seen in Korea. And the painting of Chilseong is both beautiful and old. To the left of this shrine hall is an extremely compact shrine hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Recluse). The older looking painting of San shin is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen in Korea. The third and finally hall is the Nahan-jeon, which is dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. Much like the Myeongbu-jeon hall, all of the Nahan have their Korean names placed in front of each of their statues. And sitting on the altar is a statue of the past, present, and future Buddha and Bodhisattvas (Jaehwagara-bosal, Seokgamoni-bul, and Mireuk-bosal).

Surrounding the temple are some unique items. First, there are numerous stone stupas housing the remains of the prominent monks at the temple. And if you still have enough energy after seeing all that the temple has to offer, you can make your way up, and to the left of the temple compound, to Yongseon-dae. Sitting on this rock outcropping, roughly 500 metres up the mountainside, is a statue of Buddha from the Unified Silla period. It looks a bit like a lesser version of the same statue at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju. The only difference between the two, besides craftsmanship, is that this statue is exposed to the elements non-stop.

HOW TO GET THERE: Depending on where you’re coming from, you can arrive at Gwanryongsa Temple in a couple ways. If you’re coming from Seoul, you can take a bus that leaves five times a day to Changnyeong. And if you’re leaving from Daegu, Busan, or Miryang, you can take a bus that heads to the city of Youngsan. The bus to Youngsan specifically says Youngsan-haeng (영산행) on it. During this bus ride to Youngsan, you’ll have to get off at Gyeseong. And from Gyeseong, you can either take a local bus or a taxi. Again, I would suggest a taxi after such a long bus ride. You simply have to tell the taxi driver “Gwanryongsa” and they’ll know the rest.

View 관룡사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. Gwanryongsa Temple, if you couldn’t already tell, has a lot to offer the Korean temple adventurer. From the guardian spirit poles, to the 5 metre tall Gwanseeum-bosal mural in the main hall, to the 15th century Yaksa-jeon, to the 8th century stone statue of Yaksayore inside of this hall, to all the shaman paintings, and finally to the stone Buddha statue on the neighbouring cliff side, this temple has it all and so much more. While it’s a bit out of the way, it’s most definitely worth the effort to find this off-the-beaten-trail temple.

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The beautiful cherry blossoms were in full bloom all along the road that leads up to the temple.
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And next to the road is this neighbouring stream, mountains, and cherry blossoms.
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The two guardian spirit poles that first greet you at Gwanryongsa Temple.
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A better look at the male guardian spirit poles on the left.
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A look up at the bell pavilion that protrudes forth from the front facade of Gwanryongsa Temple.
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And the ancient looking Dharma drum that resides inside of the bell pavilion.
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The stone archway that greets you to the temple grounds.
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A beautiful look at the main hall and surrounding Hwawangsan mountains in the background.
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And sitting on the altar is this triad of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), and he’s flanked by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the right and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the left.
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The gorgeous Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) behind the main altar.
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The Myeongbu-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
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Inside sits a stately Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the ten accompanying Kings of the Underworld.
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The oldest building at the temple is the Yaksa-jeon. It dates back to the 15th century.
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At the rear of this hall is this fading floral mural.
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And inside of the Yaksa-jeon hall is a stone statue of Yaksyore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The statue dates back to the 8th century.
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On the left side of the interior wall inside of the Yaksa-jeon is this older looking mural of a hummingbird.
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A nice little picture of one of the dragon zodiac statue next to the watering hole at the temple.
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The shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
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Without a doubt, the Yongwang mural is perhaps one of the fiercest and best looking in all of Korea.
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The diminutive shaman shrine hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) on the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) on the right.
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The San shin painting inside of this shrine hall is one of the more unique ones I’ve seen.
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The altar inside of the Nahan-jeon hall with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He’s flanked by Jaehwagara-bosal (The Past Bodhisattva) to his left and Mireuk-bosal (The Future Bodhisattva) to the right.
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An older looking budo that dates back to the early Joseon Period (1392-1910).

Daebisa Temple – 대비사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The sunlit Seokgamoni-bul looking out over the stupa cemetery.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having visited all the other major temples in the Mt. Gajisan area, which include Unmunsa Temple, Seoknamsa Temple, and Seokgolsa Temple, I decided it was finally about time that I visited the fourth and final major temple in the area: Daebisa Temple.

The exact meaning of the temple’s name, Daebisa Temple (대비사), is a bit of a mystery. It’s believed that its origins stem from a story related to a Silla Dynasty queen. Supposedly, the temple is named after this queen that stayed at the temple for an extended amount of time. Originally, it was located in Bagok-ri. It was moved to its current location sometime during the Goryeo Dynasty. Daebisa Temple was built by the monk Sinseung. He arrived in the Mt. Unmunsan area in 557. And in 560, during the 21st year of King Jinheung’s reign, he started to construct the temple. It was later expanded by the famous monk, Wongwang, who was the monk that taught the Five Rules to the Hwarang (Flower Boys) during the Silla Dynasty in 600.

You first approach Daebisa Temple down a long and winding asphalt/dirt road for about five kilometers. Nearing the end of the road, you’ll come across the beautiful Daebisa Lake. It’s a nice little reward at the end of a long hike.

Finally, you’ll come to the outskirts of the smaller sized Daebisa Temple. While it’s not anywhere close in size to either Unmunsa Temple or Seoknamsa Temple, it’s a little bigger than Seokgolsa Temple. The outskirts of the temple are surrounded by a traditional dirt and tile fence. Climbing up the first set of uneven stairs, you’ll arrive at the first set of temple buildings. To the right is the kitchen, and to the left is the monks’ dorm.

Continuing to the left, the expansive courtyard becomes visible. It houses a rather small main hall. Writing on the hall dates it back to 1685 when it was repaired. As a result of this history, the main hall is National Treasure 834. The exterior of the main hall is largely unadorned all but for a handful of fading paintings on the eaves of the main hall. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and to his left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far left wall is a nice looking guardian painting.

Behind the main hall, and to the right, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. You’ll travel up a rugged looking set of stairs to get to the Samseong-gak shrine hall. The hall is newer looking. On the left exterior wall is a beautiful mural of white cranes. And to the right is a uniquely painted tiger with a broad nose. Inside of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the most popular triad of shaman deities. In the centre, as they most commonly appear, is Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To this paintings right is Dokseong (The Recluse) and to the left is a gorgeously painted San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. In fact, all three murals are expertly rendered paintings. If you continue up the trail to the left of this hall, you’ll end up at the top of Mt. Gajisan.

To the far left of the main hall is another set of temple buildings. These are the monks’ dorms, and they are understandably off-limits to the general public. However, if you veer left down the trail before hitting these dorms, you’ll end up at the neighbouring stream. Over the uniquely adorned bridge, unique because each corner is adorned with an ornamental stupa, you’ll arrive at a courtyard that houses numerous stupas. In total, there are eleven stupas that contain the earthly remains of famous monks. This alone points to Daebisa’s rich history as a temple. Backing the set of stupas is a newly sculpted statue of Seokgamoni-bul. And in the morning, if you arrive at the right time, you’ll see the sun glistening over the shoulder of this statue.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: Daebisa Temple is one of the most difficult temples you’ll ever try to find in Korea. To say that it’s off the beaten track is to put it mildly. You first have to catch a train from Busan Train Station to Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbuk-do. From the Cheongdo Train Station, you’ll to make your way over to the Cheongdo bus station, which is conveniently located in front of the train station. At the bus station, you’ll have to catch the “Unmunsa Way”  or “운문사 행.” You’ll then have to ride this bus for about an hour, and it costs around 3,500 Won. You’ll have to get off at Donggok in Geumcheon. Finally, you can either take the local city bus to get to Daebisa Temple or you can take a taxi. After all this time, I would suggest a taxi from the Donggok stop. As I said, not easy, but not impossible.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Daebisa Temple is rather remotely situated. However, with a little effort, it’s well worth the time it takes to find it. The old main hall is simple, yet, beautiful. And the gorgeous Samseong-gak murals are something to behold, as well. Finally, the row upon row of stupas at Daebisa Temple is a bit of a rarity at temples, so take the time to explore this hidden courtyard at the temple.

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A look across Daebi Lake.
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 The first two buildings to greet you at the temple: the temple kitchen and monks’ dorm.
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The historical, and compact, main hall at Daebisa Temple.
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 A better look at the natural looking main hall.
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All but for these fading floral patterns up in the eaves, the main hall is unadorned.
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The uneven stone stairs that lead up to the newer looking Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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And a tiny jade Buddha figure sits at the base of a red pine on the Samseong-gak landing.
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 The trail that is left of the shrine hall that leads up, and onwards, towards the peaks of Mt. Gajisan. DSC_0957
The uniquely painted tiger on the right side of the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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A look across the front of the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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 A look at the beautiful San shin (Mountain Spirit) painting.
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And a look at the elaborate Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting.
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 A sure sign that spring is finally here.
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A look across the trail that leads to the stupa cemetery with a view of Mt. Gajisan in the background.
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The view from the stupa decorated bridge.
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 A look at just one of the stupas with the ever-present Seokgamoni-bul in the background.
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A better look at the beautifully designed and sculpted Seokganomi-bul.
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And one last look at the prominent stupa field.

Naewonam Hermitage – 내원암 (Busan)

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The beautiful main hall at Naewonam Hermitage, near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone,

The fourth, and final, hermitage we visited on the weekend was Naewonam Hermitage (내원암). It’s the temple that is furthest away from Beomeosa Temple to the temple’s right. It is also one of the smaller hermitages associated with the temple.

Naewonam Hermitage means Buddha’s Celestial Teaching Hall Hermitage. As you first approach the hermitage, you’ll notice a beautiful overgrowth of trees, shrubs, and flowers. To the right, as you first enter the courtyard, is the hermitage kitchen, and to the left is an administration office. As you continue to walk through the courtyard, you’ll see a mound of beautiful flowers.

Continuing along, you’ll first see the beautiful main hall that resides at Naewonam Hermitage to your right. The main hall is surrounded by two separate monk study halls. Down the path, and to the left, are a beautiful sounding stream, and an equally beautiful stone bridge that spans the width of the hermitage stream. The main hall is simple and compact in design. Inside the main hall, on the main altar, is an elaborately designed Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) statue similar to the one at Haeunjeongsa  Temple in the Haeundae area of Busan. Its multiple heads and hands make for a beautiful golden array. To the right of the main altar piece is a simplistic and older-looking Buddha painting. To the left of Gwanseeum-bosal is an extremely unique guardian piece of art. Instead of being painted, this piece of art is a golden sculpture depicting the various guardians, including Dongjin-bosal at its centre. Around the exterior walls of the main hall are neither the standard Palsang-do paintings, nor are there the Ox-Herding Murals. Instead, there is a painting of the Dharma and Dazu Huike, monks working, and paintings of rabbits and birds.

Up the hill, and to the left, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Inside, and in the centre, is painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To his right is a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse), and to his left is a painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Surrounding the exterior walls is very little. On the right side there is a fading painting of a fierce guardian. The views from the shrine hall of the valley and the mountains are nice.

Admission to the hermitage is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Naewonam Hermitage in one of two ways. In both scenarios you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to  Beomeosa  Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of  Beomeosa  Temple. Instead of walking left towards the Iljumun Gate, continue to hang right towards the hermitage. You’ll pass by Beomeosa Temple, which will be to your left. There will be a sign halfway between the temple and the hermitage, which will read 내원암, continue to follow these signs as they lead you right of the main temple. Eventually, you’ll come to a small parking lot. The path will fork like a “W.” Follow the trail that’s in the middle to Naewonam Hermitage. There’s a sign that reads 내원암halfway up the trail that will lead you to the hermitage.

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OVERALL RATING: 5/10. Naewonam Hermitage is located in a beautiful area with rolling streams and neighbouring mountains. Also, the hermitage is well kept. The highlight of the hermitage is definitely the main hall with the amazingly beautiful main altar piece of Gwanseeum-bosal. Also, the unique golden guardian sculpture is yet another highlight of the hermitage. Finally, there’s a lazy guard dog that did more sleeping than guarding. He only woke up when one of the people at the temple called to him: O-E, which means cucumber in English. If you’re in the area, visiting the other two hermitages in the area, I would also recommend taking a look at Naewonam Hermitage.

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The entrance way that leads up to Naewonam Hermitage.
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The beautiful pink flowers in the courtyard.
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The hermitage kitchen to the right.
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To the left are these monk study halls.
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In front of the study halls is the compact main hall at Naewonam Hermitage.
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The altar inside the main hall.
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Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) is the solitary statue that sits upon the altar. It’s elaborately designed with multiple arms and heads with eyes and hands of support and comfort. Gwanseeum-bosal sees all and helps all.
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To the right is this older looking Buddha painting. It’s completed in a simple design.
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To the left is this golden guardian sculpture. I’ve never seen this before. Usually, the guardian piece of art is a painting.
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Outside is the famous painting of Dazu Huike proving his devotion to both the faith and the Bodhidharma.
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Up in the eaves, on the left side of the main hall, were these rabbits. A rare painting at any hermitage or temple in Korea.
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A painting of two senior monks, as they watch a novice monk smash a lantern.
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Up the hill is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Along the way were a couple statues.
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Inside the hall, in the centre, is a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Recluse) to his right.
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The view from the shrine hall. To the right is the monk study halls and the main hall is to the left.
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And a view to the left of the entire main hall down below.
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And finally, a walk down the set of stairs that will eventually lead me home.

Geukrakam Hermitage – 극락암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful lotus pond at Geurakam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

As part of the five hermitage adventure my wife and I did a couple weeks back, we decided to include a hermitage we had yet to visit: Geukrakam Hermitage (극락암). It was the third of five temples, and the day was already getting long, but including Geukrakam Hermitage was ultimately a good hermitage to have included on our little mini-adventure.

Geukrakam Hermitage is 1.5 kilometres northwest of Tongdosa Temple. It is well known because the monk Gyeongbong, who was a religious dignitary, lived here. It was built in 1344, but no one knows who originally built it. And as a hermitage, Geukrakam Hermitage is much bigger than any other hermitage at Tongdosa Temple. At the entrance gate of the hermitage there is a pond. The pond is famous because you can see the reflection of Mount Yeongchui on the surface of the pond; which is comparable to the beautiful harmony of the bridge and the pond together.

When you first approach the hermitage grounds, you’ll first notice the imposing Mount Yeongchui around you. As you draw closer to the hermitage one of the very first things to greet you, besides the parking lot, is a beautiful bridge that spans the width of an equally beautiful lotus pond. This bridge is reminiscent of a bridge at Tongdosa Temple. When my wife and I visited, the lotus flowers were fully in bloom.  And for a pond that almost looks as though there is no water, but only the greenery of the lotus, you can imagine just how many beautiful lotus flowers there were. After passing by the lotus pond to your left, you’ll notice the kitchen to your right. Continuing through the Bulimun gate at the hermitage, there’s a beautiful open pavilion to your left. To your right, in a grassy open courtyard, are two plainly painted buildings. The view from the open courtyard and pavilion of the valley and surrounding mountains are some of the best in the Tongdosa Temple grounds. A four tiered water fountain sits to the right of the large main hall.  However, the main hall, even though it’s large in size, is plainly built, and the interior of the building is completely underwhelming with only one small-sized Buddha as an altar piece. The one redeeming aspect of the main hall are the massively sized, and finely painted, ox-herding murals. However, to the rear and left of the main hall are two more impressive and intriguing structures.

To the rear of the main hall is a beautifully built shrine hall pavilion. There were numerous people praying there, with a large sign (written in Korean) asking for silence.  So be on your best of behavior when visiting this shrine hall.  Inside of this hall is a statue of Dokseong (The Recluse). The exterior of this hall is also decorated with six simplistic paintings of Dokseong.

To the left of the main hall is the Susaejeon Hall (The Hall for Caring for Human’s Longevity and Fortune). Inside of this older looking hall are eight beautiful murals that depict the Seven Stars (Chilseong) and the Pole Star. Sitting on the altar inside this hall are equally beautiful statues of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and an apparent Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far right side of the wall, in the corner, is a beautiful painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Be careful when entering this hall, as you can only enter through the left door, and not the one that is deceptively open.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 Won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for 1.4 kilometres.  There are a cluster of hermitages that are well marked.  Follow the signs that read 극락암.

View 극락암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  5/10. The highlight of this hermitage, by far, is the beautiful lotus pond that you first see when approaching Geukrakam Hermitage.  Other highlights are the colourful Susaejeon Hall and the paintings of the Chilseong (Seven Stars), as well as the religiously significant shrine hall at the rear of the massively built main hall. If you have the time, and you want to explore all the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, make sure to check out the hermitage.  However, if you’re short on time, and can only see the very best of what Tongdosa Temple, and its hermitages have to offer, Geukrakam Hermitage can be saved for another time.

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The walk up to the hermitage grounds.
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The first look up at the stairs to the beautiful bridge at the hermitage.
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The beautiful bridge, and the equally beautiful lotus pond.
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One more look at the pond, bridge, and the neighbouring tree.
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The look at the open pavilion with the main hall in the background.
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The plainly painted buildings in the grassy open courtyard.
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A better look at the open pavilion with the Buli-mun gate.
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The four-tiered water fountain.
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Just one of the large ox-herding murals on the main hall at Geukrakam Hermitage.
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The walk behind the main hall that leads up to the shrine hall.
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The shrine hall with a quiet sign out in front of it.
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A walk across the wooden floor at the main hall.
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The Susaejeon Hall (The Hall for Caring for Human’s Longevity and Fortune) at the hermitage.
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The centre pieces inside the Susaejeon Hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), with Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the right.
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The colourful interior of the Susaejeon Hall.
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A better look at one of the Seven Stars paintings.
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A painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
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And one last look at the beautiful bridge and lotus pond.