Video: Chilbulam Hermitage

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The amazingly beautiful Chilbulam Hermitage in Gyeongju on Mt. Namsan. Not only does it have picturesque views, but it also houses to two cultural heritage properties that date back to the 8th century. The first are the Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face, while the other is the sculpture of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that’s carved on the face of Mt. Namsan on a narrow ledge.

Unheungsa Temple – 운흥사 (Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Unheungsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. The face of peace and love: Jijang-bosal. 

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Unheungsa Temple, in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do, is situated on the side of Mt. Waryongsan in a deep valley. It was first constructed in 676 A.D. by the famous monk, Uisang-daesa. It was also the base for the warrior monk, Samyeong, and his 6,000 monk soldiers during the Imjin War (1592-1598). A large portion of the temple was destroyed at this time. The temple was later rebuilt in 1651, and the main hall, the Daeung-jeon dates back to around this time when it was re-built in 1731. At the same time, the unique Yeongsan-jeon Hall was built, as well.

You’ll first approach Unheungsa Temple up a long valley road. This secluded road leads up to the secluded temple grounds. Presently, there is a bit of construction going on at the temple, with the front facade being renovated. Once you get past all this construction, and to the right, you’ll finally come to the compact temple courtyard.

The first building to greet you is the uniquely designed Yeongsan-jeon Hall that dates back to 1731. Presently, it seems as though this hall acts, in part, as the administrative offices to Unheungsa Temple. In addition to these duties, the hall also acts, yearly, as a place where ceremonies are held for deceased monks, as well as deceased warrior monks that fought in the Imjin War.

Once you make your way past this uniquely shaped hall, you’re instantly greeted by the large main hall at Unheungsa Temple. But before approaching the simple exterior of the Daeung-jeon, and to its immediate left, is a smaller sized hall that sits on an upper embankment. This hall is the Nahan-jeon Hall. Much like the main hall, the exterior walls of the Nahan-jeon Hall are only adorned with the Dancheong traditional paint designs. As for the interior, and sitting on the main hall, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The altar triad are surrounded by the sixteen Nahan statues, who were the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. While they are simple in design, they are still quite elegantly sculpted.

As for the main hall, and the real highlight to this temple, you’re in for a nice surprise once you enter it. When I visited, there was a memorial service taking place. At first, I wasn’t going to go in until one of the people attending the service invited me in. Sitting under a large ornamental canopy are three equally large statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined to the left by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), and to the right by Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine). To the left of this triad, and hanging on the wall, are three beautiful murals. The closest to the main altar is a replica of an ancient mural dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. Next to this painting is the Vulture Peak Assembly mural. The final painting in the set is the Shinjung Taenghwa guardian mural. To the right of the main altar, and perhaps the most interesting mural inside the main hall, is a funeral mural dedicated to the dead. Inside this mural, it shows the journey of the soul through the underworld. While I was there, a pair of nuns were chanting in front of it, as those attending the memorial service prayed in front of it. To the left of this unique mural is a newer, more vibrantly painted, mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This main hall is absolutely packed with both history and artistic beauty.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Much like the other halls at this temple, the exterior is only adorned with the Dancheong colours. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a solitary Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Uniquely, his hands strike a mudra, and are a void of either his customary staff or pearl. This cushioned statue is surrounded by ten large seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. And rather strikingly, the entrance door to this hall is protected by two fiercely carved guardian statues.

The only other hall at this temple is the Sanshin-gak. This hall is solely dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Inside this smaller sized hall, and hanging on the main altar, is a beautiful painting dedicated to this shaman deity.

For more on this temple, follow this link.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Unheungsa Temple from Busan, you’ll need to get to the Seobu Bus Terminal in Sasang, second subway line, stop #227. From here, you can purchase a ticket to Samcheonpo Intercity But Terminal. There are several buses that leave during the day, the first of which leaves at 6:00 a.m., and it should cost you 9,600 won. In total, the bus ride lasts two hours. From Samcheonpo, you can catch bus #30 to get to Unheungsa Temple. This bus goes directly to the temple. This bus says “Budu (부두) – Unheungsa (운흥사).” There is also the same numbered bus, #30, that reads  “부두-홀곡-운흥사”; this bus also goes to Unheungsa Temple, but it takes ten more minutes. In total, the direct bus #30 takes thirty minutes (and 16 stops), while the longer one will take forty minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. This temple is ripe with both historical and artistic importance and beauty. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the main hall date back to 1731, and the interior of the main hall is loaded with beautiful paintings including the unique funeral painting. Add to it the beautiful Sanshin painting and the large wooden carvings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld, and this extremely remote temple becomes a must for any temple adventurer.

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A look at the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, which is the first building to greet you at the temple.
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Next to it, and slightly up the embankment, is the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The main altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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Four, of the sixteen, Nahan statues inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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A look across the front facade of the main hall with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall off in the distance.
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The front doors, reserved for nuns only, at the main hall.
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The large main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
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The murals to the left of the main altar with a prayer mat in the foreground.
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One of the nuns residing over the memorial service in front of the underworld mural.
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The Sanshin-gak to the right of the main hall.
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All alone inside the Sanshin-gak sits this beautiful mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
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And book-ending the temple buildings is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Sitting on the main altar is this statue of Jijang-bosal.
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And he’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. In this picture are just four of the ten large seated statues of the kings.

Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site – 굴불사지 (Gyeongju)

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The west face to the four-sided sculpture at the former temple site at Gulbulsa-ji Temple in Gyeongju.

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While this may see a bit strange to be writing about a temple that no longer exists, the temple was left with a stunning, four-sided, piece of Buddhist artwork in the form of a large stone sculpture. Before I explain the significance behind the four-sided Buddhist sculpture, the former site of Gulbulsa Temple has quite the history. As the 35th king of Silla, King Gyeongdeok (r. 742 A.D. to 765 A.D.), was making a short trek to the neighbouring Baeknyulsa Temple, which lies a little higher and further on Mt. Sogeumgangsan, he inextricably heard a noise coming from beneath the ground he was walking on. The king believed that these noises were the sound of a Buddhist monk reading Buddhist sutras. Immediately, he ordered servants to dig up the spot that he had heard these sounds. As the servants dug, the image of a four-sided Buddhist sculpture appeared. The king was so moved by this incident that he constructed Gulbulsa Temple; which, unfortunately, no longer remains. But the object behind this story still does. Incidentally, the name of the temple, Gulbulsa Temple, means “To Dig Up an Image of Buddha,” in English.

Now, back to the four-sided Buddhist sculpture that still stands on Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site. No more than a few metres away from the Baekyangsa Temple parking lot, and up a bit of an inclined pathway, you’ll see the four-sided sculpture off to your left. Immediately, your attention will be drawn to the images that reside on all four sides of the large rock that stands 3.9 metres at its highest point. This large rock is meant to symbolize the Buddhist Paradise in all four directions.

The first side of the large stone that you’ll encounter, as you cross over a bridge and near the barrier that protects the ancient artifact from visitors, is the west side. On the west side stand three large stone statues. Two of the three statues stand separate from the central statue, which is a part of the four-sided stone sculpture. The central figure, rather understandably, is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He is joined by a large crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right, and the mangled figure of Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Power and Wisdom) to the left. And the only reason I say mangled when referring to Daesaeji-bosal is that very little of his face remains all but for a gnarled stump at the end of his neck. Amita-bul is the largest figure attached to the four-sided sculpture, and he stands 3.9 metres in height. Interestingly, the head of Amita-bul was carved separately from the stone and then later attached to the sculpture. And just as interesting is that the Gwanseeum-bosal statue appears to be placing all of her weight on her right leg. This posture is called Sam-gul, where all of one’s weight becomes balanced. This type of posture was popularized during the Unified Silla Period (668 A.D. to 935 A.D.).

To the left, and as you approach the image that appears north side, you’ll see a set of Bodhisattvas. The one on the right raises his hand to the sky. This sculpture is defined in high relief, while the sculpture to the left is always unrecognizable. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that the image appears to be another Gwanseeum-bosal with eleven faces and six hands. And continuing clockwise around the four-sided stone sculpture, and on the east side of the rock, you’ll next see a beautiful stone sculpture of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine), who also just so happens to be the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise. Yaksayore-bul appears in a seated position with a medicine bowl in his left hand, while his right hand appears strike the mudra of fearlessness. The final side in the set is the southern side of the stone sculpture. Appearing on the south side are two more Bodhisattvas. The one to the left has suffered from extensive damage, while the one to the right seems to have fared a little better. They are both wearing robes that are finely designed with creases in them. And sculpture to the right, which I assume the one to the left did at one point in history, stands 1.6 metres in height.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site is to take a taxi from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. It’ll take 13 minutes, but it’ll cost you around 5,000 won. The cheaper way to get there is to take city bus # 70 from out in front of the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. However, the bus ride will take about 40 minutes to get to Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. It’s sometimes hard to measure a stone sculpture that stands all alone, so the best thing you can do is compare it to other sculptures in the area. And the two that come to mind first are Bucheobawi and Bucheogol Halmae. The Gulbulsa-ji four-sided sculpture is more impressive to Bucheogol Halmae, but a little less than Bucheobawi. And for that reason, I split it up the middle and give the sculpture the rating I do.
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The four-sided sculpture as you approach it from the parking lot trail. Look at the size of the sculpture in comparison to the people to the left.
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An even closer look as you approach.
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The west side of the sculpture with Amita-bul in the centre. He’s flanked on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal to the right and the headless Daesaeji-bosal to the left.
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A closer look at Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).
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And a closer look at the crowned Gwanseeum-bosal.
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To the left, and on the north side of the sculpture, is this sculpture of a Bodhisattva.
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The Bodhisattva is joined by this hard to find image of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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A look at the north and east side with the image of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) on the left.
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A good look at the medicine bowl holding Yaksayore-bul.
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And an even closer look at the serene eyes of Yaksayore-bul.
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And the two Bodhisattva sculptures on the south side of the four-sided sculpture.
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And one last look down at the sculpture before I was headed up Mt. Sogeumgangsan.

Video: Seokbulsa Temple

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Recently, I visited the hidden gem temple in Busan: Seokbulsa Temple. It’s a hidden gem for a couple reasons like the view and the stone halls, but the real reason this temple is truly a hidden gem amongst the clouds are for its stone sculptures of Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, guardians, and Nahan; some of which stand ten metres in height. So follow me as I explore Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

Buljosa Temple – 불조사 (Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The view of the rolling mountains out in front of the main hall at Buljosa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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This temple has a bit of a back story to it. The first time I attempted to visit this temple, I was told, at the entrance, that I wasn’t allowed in by the head monk. There was something about the monk worrying that people were spying on him. So after a quick phone call from my wife, he invited me back. Well, it’s a year later, and I was finally able to tour around the temple without any sight of the paranoid monk. So just be aware, at least if you’re visiting Buljosa Temple, that you may be denied entrance.

This temple was first constructed, in 1995, to commemorate the monk, Jangyu, who first arrived on the Korean peninsula in 46 A.D. Jangyu, whose original name was Heo Bo-ok, was the brother of Queen Heo. And Queen Heo was the wife of King Suro, who was the first king of the Gaya Kingdom (42 A.D. to 532 A.D.). Jangyu, in his own right, was a prince from Ayodhya in India. He, alongside twenty servants, sailed with his sister, Queen Heo, to the Korean peninsula. It’s believed that Jangyu introduced Buddhism to the Gaya Kingdom; and therefore Korea, upon his arrival. In later life, Jangyu lived and meditated on Mt. Bulmosan and Mt. Jirisan, where he trained the seven sons of King Suro in the doctrine of Buddhism. In fact, he was so successful in his training that after two years the seven sons became Buddhas at Chilbulsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

You first arrive Buljosa Temple up a countryside road that runs north of Gimhae, in Gyeongsangnam-do Province. Eventually, the temple comes into sight. The first thing to greet you, besides a long set of stairs that lead you towards the temple courtyard, is the monks’ quarters to the right. This is where the head monk first headed me off.

Up the long set of stairs, you’ll notice a mountainside filled with Buddhist halls. Straight ahead is the main hall at Buljosa Temple. Out in front of the newer looking main hall is a rather detailed three tier stone pagoda. Around its based are the twelve zodiac generals, and around its body are stone reliefs of Buddhas. Past this pagoda, and up a flight of stairs, you’ll come to the main hall. Uniquely, and beneath the main hall’s name plate are a pair of fish with a golden pearl between the two of their mouths. Wrapped around the exterior walls to this hall are a pair of paintings. The first set, which stands above the other, is the Palsang-do murals that illustrate the eight stages from the Buddhas life. And the second set, which are painted above the first set, are the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, you’ll find a triad of statues beneath a large red canopy and backed by a golden relief with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre surrounded by various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. As for the triad itself, and sitting in the centre, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul, who is joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar is painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the left is the guardian mural, the Shinjung Taenghwa.

To the right of the main hall, and on the same lower courtyard, is a hall solely dedicated to the monk, Jangyu. Painted around the exterior are various murals of monks, as well as the Dazu Huike and Bodhidharma encounter. As for the interior, there is a solitary painting of Jangyu resting on the altar. This painting, which is predominantly uses black and gold colours, is skillfully executed, and it rests under a compact canopy.

Just up the stairs, and to the right rear of the hall dedicated solely to Jangyu, is the Sanshin-gak. The hall is surrounded by pastoral paintings, as well as a fierce tiger painting on the left side of the hall. As for inside, there is a large sized Sanshin Taenghwa painting dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit. Have a look at this rather original painting with the sun shrouded in mountain clouds.

The final thing to see at Buljosa Temple is a stone sculpture dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine). This sculpture, and corresponding shrine, crown the heights of the neighbouring mountain. To get to the image of Yaksayore-bul, you’ll have to follow the trail that starts to the immediate right of the Sanshin-gak. Follow the trail for about 250 metres until you come to a mountainside ledge that steeply looks out over the temple compound, as well as the rolling mountains that appear on the horizon. The sculpture of Yaksayore-bul stands at least five metres in height, and it’s skillfully rendered with a medicine bowl appearing in his left hand and his right hand raised in the symbolic mudra of fearlessness.

For more information about Buljosa Temple, please check out The Story of Buljosa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gimhae Intercity Bus Terminal, which is called the 외동터미널 (Oedong Terminal), you can either take bus #71 or #72. You’ll then have to get off at the Gwangjae bus stop, which is 40 minutes away, or 24 stops. From the stop, and as you’re looking away from the bus stop, you’ll have to head right for about 100 metres on the main road. At this point, you’ll see the sign for Buljosa Temple that leads you up the mountain and towards the temple. Be careful on this road because it’s busy and there’s no side-walk.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10Buljosa Temple has a lot of original aspects to it, which includes the rather strange head monk. If you’re able to avoid him, you’re in for quite a treat with beautiful paintings of Sanshin and Jangyu. Also, the golden main altar inside the main hall and the crowning sculpture of Yaksayore-bul that protectively looks out over the temple compound, make the gamble to visit Buljosa Temple worth it. But again, be on your toes for you know who.

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The main hall at Buljosa Temple.
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The pagoda out in front of the main hall in the temple courtyard.
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The unique pair of fish below the main hall nameplate.
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The final mural in the Shimu-do set.
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The main altar inside the main hall.
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The guardian mural, the Shinjung Taenghwa, inside the main hall.
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Both the Jangyu Hall to the right and the Sanshin-gak to the left.
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The painting of the influential monk, Jangyu.
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Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside the Sanshin-gak.
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The amazing view from the Sanshin-gak.
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And a look towards the main hall from the Sanshin-gak.
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The trail that leads up to the Yaksayore-bul sculpture.
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The first look at the sculpture as you turn the bend in the trail.
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 A better look at Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine).
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And an even closer look.
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And then it was time to get out of Dodge before the head monk showed up.

Baeknyulsa Temple – 백률사 (Gyeongju)

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The bell design that memorializes the significance that Baeknyulsa Temple has on the history Korean Buddhism.

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Unlike most temples or hermitages in Korea, Baeknyulsa Temple in Gyeongju, on Mt. Sogeumgangsan, is vital to the birth of Buddhism in Korea. Originally, the temple was called Jachusa Temple, and can be found in the historically important text: the Samgukyusa. In English, “Ja” means pine seeds, while “chu” means chestnut. Not long after the temple was named Jachusa Temple was it changed to Baeknyulsa Temple. It was common at that time in Korean history, during the Silla Period, that if a temple had the same sound or meaning, the whole temple name could change. With this in mind, “Baek,” in English, means pine seeds, while “yul” means chestnut. So the name of the temple, Baeknyulsa Temple, means Pine Seeds and Chestnut Temple, in English.

Historically, and drawing on the vital importance of the temple’s importance to the growth of Buddhism in Korea, is the story that revolves around the death of Ichadon (이차돈), (501-527 A.D.).

During the early reign of King Beopheung (r. 514-540 A.D.) wanted to establish Buddhism as the state religion in the Silla Kingdom. However, state officials opposed him. Finally, in the 527, Ichadon, who just so happened to be a monk, as well as an advisor to the king, came up with a way to circumnavigate court opposition. Ichadon and King Beopheung came up with a plan, whereby Ichadon would suggest that the king had officially granted that Buddhism would become the state religion. Of course, the king would deny this. By denying this, Ichadon would accept the punishment of death for such treacherous behaviour. Before his execution, Ichadon prophesied to the king that a wonderful miracle would occur at his execution that would convince the court of the power of Buddhism. Ultimately, the court did see Ichadon’s supposed act of treason as that: treason. As a result, he was sentenced to death. At his execution, the earth shook and the sun darkened, while beautiful flowers fell from the sky, as Ichadon was beheaded. Ichadon’s head flew all the way to Mt. Sogeumgangsan, as milk poured forth 100 feet in the air from his neck, instead of blood. Ichadon prophecy was seen to be fulfilled, and the power of Buddhism was accepted as the state religion of the Silla Kingdom in 527 A.D. Ichadon’s body followed its head, and Ichadon was buried on Mt. Sogeumgangsan. And it’s around this burial site that Baeknyulsa Temple was established. Unfortunately, the size and scope of the temple was greatly reduced during the Imjin War (1592-99), when the temple complex was heavily damaged. The temple was reconstructed during the reign of King Seonjo (r. 1567 to 1608). Now, there are only four structures that stand at Baeknyulsa Temple: the main hall, the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, the monks’ dorms, and the bell pavilion.

You can approach Baeknyulsa Temple in one of two ways, which is situated about 300 metres up Mt. Sogeumgangsan behind the four-sided Buddha sculpture. The first way you can go is to the left, up the path, and through a bamboo grove. That, or you can take a steep set of side-winding stairs to the right of the temple complex. If you go to the left, you’ll approach the main hall from the rear; and if you approach from the right, you’ll approach the main hall from the front.

Approach from the stairs, you’ll see Baeknyulsa Temple appear over the folds and forest of the mountain. Having gained the temple courtyard. You’ll notice the bell pavilion to the left, and the monks’ dorms are to the rear of the bell pavilion. Have a close look at the bell inside the bell pavilion, because it has an image of the miraculous beheading of Ichadon on it.

To the right of the bell pavilion, and up a small set of stairs, is the main hall at the temple. The exterior walls are all but unadorned, all but for the dancheong traditional colours. As for the interior, and sitting on the main hall, you’ll see a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). All three appear under a large unpainted, all natural, canopy. To the right, and rather interestingly, is a compact shrine with statues and paintings dedicated to the Nahan. And to the left of the main altar is a fierce guardian mural, as well as a elegant painting of Ichadon that sits in the corner.

Behind the main hall, and a up a long set of stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The exterior walls are adorned with Shinseon (Daoist Immortals), as well as an intense mountainside tiger. As for the interior, there are three large sized paintings of shaman deities. In the centre is an understated painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). He’s joined to the right by a rather relaxed looking Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). And to the left is Dokseong (The Recluse), who sits under a large sized red pine).

If you’re so inclined, and from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, you can make your way up the rest of the mountain to the top of Mt. Sogeumgangsan, which stands a very reasonable 280 metres in height. At the top of the mountain, which is little with beautiful boulders, is a guard post for mountain fire prevention. It’s also from this mountain that you get a stunning view of downtown Gyeongju, as well as the neighbouring Mt. Namsan off in the distance.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Baeknyulsa Temple is to take a taxi from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. It’ll take 13 minutes, but it’ll cost you around 5,000 won. The cheaper way to get there is to take city bus # 70 from out in front of the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. However, the bus ride will take about 40 minutes to get to the temple parking lot. From the temple parking lot, you’ll have to walk about 500 metres up a steep path, and past Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site, to get to Baeknyulsa Temple.


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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. For its importance in the spread of Buddhism in the Silla Kingdom, but its future influence in the spread of Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula for generations and millennia to come, Baeknyulsa Temple rates as high as it does. Add into the mix the beautiful bell that memorializes Ichadon’s sacrifice, the unique Nahan shrine inside the main hall, as well as the gorgeous views from the top of Mt. Sogeumgangsan, and you know why this little known temple is a must in the Gyeongju area for any temple adventurer.

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The trail that leads to the left of the main hall.
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And a view up the stairs that lead to the front of the main hall.
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The beautiful main hall at Baeknyulsa Temple.
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The bell pavilion and beautiful bell.
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A closer look at the artwork that adorns the bell and the monumental moment it captures in Korean Buddhism of Ichadon.
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A look inside the main hall at the main altar and the triad that sits upon it.
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The guardian painting, the Shinhjung Taenghwa, that’s to the left of the main altar.
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And a painting of the famous martyr, Ichadon.
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A look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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Inside is this large, but rather plain, painting of Chilseong.
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And to the left of Chilseong is this rather relaxing painting of Dokseong.
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Behind the main hall, on the way up to the peak of Mt. Sogeumgangsan.
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A part of the trail that leads to the top of the mountain.
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A beautiful view along the way down at downtown Gyeongju.
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Nearing the peak of Mt. Sogeumgangsan.
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Finally at the peak, as I look down at Gyeongju and Mt. Namsan off in the distance.

Bucheogol Halmae – 부처골 할매 (Gyeongju)

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The statue of the Bucheogol Halmae on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

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Up a trail that leads through a bamboo grove, and a secluded trail that goes for about three hundred metres, you’ll finally arrive in a clearing and see the Bucheogol Halmae (or the Bucheogol Grandmother).

Sitting all alone in a clearing that’s surrounded by a forest of bamboo trees, and perched on top of a cascade of boulders on the northern portion of Gyeongju, is the serenely seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The statue dates back to the 7th century.

The seated carved statue that appears inside of large rock is 1.4 metres in height. The entrance to the shrine is shaped like an arch, and during the early morning hours, when the sun appears in the east, it somewhat shades the face of the slightly concealed face of the statue. The face of the statue is slightly bent and its hands are placed inside the sleeves of its robe. And because of the way the statue’s head protrude, it almost appears to look like an older women with her hair tied back, instead of Seokgamoni-bul. And that’s why the statue has become known as the Bucheogol Halmae.

The statue was once located near a temple, but because of the passage of time, the temple no longer remains; instead, all that remains is the Bucheogol Halmae. In fact, the statue is so old that it’s the oldest Buddhist statue that remains on Mt. Namsan, which is saying a lot considering the vast amount of Buddhist artifacts, temples, and former temples that remain on the mountain. Presently, the statue is designated Treasure #198.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Bucheogol Halmae, you’ll have to get to Gyeongju first. From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to hail a taxi. From the bus terminal to the shrine, it’ll take about 15 minutes, and it’ll cost you about 6,000 won. And from this shrine to the neighbouring Bucheobawi Rock, as you head south down the road you approach on, it’s about 700 metres.

View Larger Map (Just to the east of this marker lies Bucheogol Halmae)

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. This statue of the Buddha is a bit hard to rate because it’s all by itself and without a neighbouring temple nearby. However, for its age alone, it deserves to rate slightly higher than the average statue. Add into the mix the divine beauty that the statue exudes, and I came to the conclusion that Bucheogol-Halmae rates a seven out of ten. And because it’s so closely situated to both Borisa Temple and Bucheobawi, it’s definitely an area of Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, that should be explored.

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Through the swirling bamboo forest that leads to Bucheogol Halmae.
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And up the last bend in the path that gives way to a clearing.
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And the clearing gives way to the ancient shrine.
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A look at the rock enclosure that houses the “grandmother” and the pine forest that surrounds the clearing that she’s housed within.
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A closer look as the rock outcropping on the shrine shades the face of Seokgamoni-bul from the eastern approaching sun.
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A look at the ancient shrine in full.
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A closer look at the face of serenity that’s looked out over the north-eastern portion of Mt. Namsan ever since the 7th century.
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Just one more look…
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And then it was time to go.

Bohyunsa Temple – 보현사 (Goseong, Gyeongsangnam)

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The beautiful view of the East Sea from Bohyunsa Temple.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Just a kilometre down the road from Munsuam Hermitage, with perhaps an even more impressive view of the East Sea, is Bohyunsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Up an equally side-winding road that leads to the south lies the crowning Bohyunsa Temple. This temple is named after the Bodhisattva of Power, Bohyun-bosal.

From the large parking lot, you’ll approach the Iljumun Gate that greets you at the temple. Past this gate is the solitary hall that resides at the temple. And hovering over this three story modern looking main hall is a golden statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

Up a long gravel path, you’ll come to the main doors at the temple’s main hall. On the first floor, and inside the first floor’s main hall, is a solitary picture of a famous monk that resided at the temple. This picture is bookmarked by a pair of statues, both medium and small in size, of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Before you enter this hall, however, there are a pair of paintings framing the entrance to this hall of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal.

To the left or right of this first floor hall are a set of stairs. Up the right set of stairs are a pair of paintings. The first is of Dazu Huike and the Bodhidharma, while the second illustrates Wohyo-daesa and Uisang-daesa. The left set of stairs simply illustrates the Dharma all by himself. And after ascending either set of stairs, you’ll come to the second floor hall. Inside this hall, at least when I was visiting this temple, was a nun doing the morning chant. Sitting on the main altar inside this hall is the centrally located Yaksayore-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by the familiar pairing of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left. The entire altar is backed by a beautiful Buddhist mural, and to the left of the main altar is a shrine for the dead.

And to the left and the right of this second floor hall are two more sets of stairs that lead up to the third, and final, floor that houses the massive Yaksayore-bul statue. Through the right side set of stairs, you’ll first run into an atypical painting of a Shinseon (A Daoist Immortal), as well as a vibrant painting of Jijang-bosal. To the left, you’ll encounter first an angelic Biseon painting and then another vibrant painting, this time, of the Dharma playing with children, as well as Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings).

Finally, when you do get to the third floor, you’re first greeted by some very beautiful Nahan and Palsang-do murals that surround the circular third floor. In addition to these paintings, you’ll also notice, that unlike the other two floors, this one is open. And surrounding the walls, on the outer walls, are numerous miniature ornamental bronze bells. Approaching from the right side of the statue, you’ll notice just how large the Yaksayore-bul statue truly is. Fronting this massive Buddha with a Manja and the East Sea at his back, is a smaller sized statue of himself, as well as a pair of bronze incense burners. There is, in opposition to the open idea of the third floor, an enclosed area where you can pray in relative warmth during the winter months.

Outside of this enclosed area, there are a pair of doors that lead to an outlining observation area that you can have the most spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, Munsuam Hermitage off in the distance, the silky black waters of the East Sea, as well as the tiny islands that dot the horizon. Surrounding the walls of this observation area are the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. Take your time and enjoy the sites and sights, because they really are second-to-none in all of Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Goseong from Busan, which is where Bohyunsa Temple is located, you’ll first have to get to the Dongbu Intercity Bus Terminal. You can easily get to this terminal from the Busan station system, if you get off at the Nopo-dong subway stop, #134, on the first line. The earliest bus leaves at 7:45 a.m., and the ride takes you two hours and twenty minutes. The bus ride will cost you 10,100 won. After arriving in Goseong, you’ll then have to take a taxi to get to Bohyunsa Temple. You’ll have to do this because there’s absolutely no bus that goes to the temple from Goseong. In total, the taxi should cost about 12,000 won, and the ride should last about twenty five minutes.

View Larger Map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While the sights of the sites are equal, if not a little better than the ones that can be viewed from the neighbouring Munsuam Hermitage, the temple structure itself at Bohyunsa Temple isn’t even close to its sister hermitage. And that’s why this temple rates a little bit lower than Munsuam Hermitage. With that being said, this temple is a must see if you’re in the area, and even if you’re not. And in combination with the kilometre away Munsuam Hermitage, well…you get the picture.

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A look down at Bohyunsa Temple and the East Sea.
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The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you to the temple.
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A look off at Munsuam Hermitage from the entrance of Bohyunsa Temple.
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The path that leads up to the main hall with the hovering Yaksayore-bul in the background.
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A better look at the lone hall at the temple.
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The first floor of the main hall.
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The second floor of the main hall with Yaksayore-bul in the centre and a flanking pair of Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.
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A painting of Jijang-bosal on the way up to the third floor.
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On the bottom is the final painting in the set of Palsang-do murals and on top a Nahan painting.
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The open courtyard on the third floor.
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And a look up at Yaksayore-bul as you enter the open courtyard.
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Finally, a good look at the massive statue of the Medicine Buddha and the East Sea off in the background.
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A look at Munsuam Hermitage and the Z shaped road that leads up to it.
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A look down at the village below.
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The view from the observation area of the third floor off at the beautiful Munsuam Hermitage.
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One from the Ox-Herding mural set.
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The miniature bronze bells on the third floor.
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And the view of both the East Sea and the temple together.
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 Through the trees and you see…
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…the East Sea.
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One final look up at Yaksayore-bul who is bathed by warm sunlight on a chilly winter day.

 

Munsuam Hermitage – 문수암 (Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The spectacular view from Munsuam Hermitage in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

You first arrive at Munsuam Hermitage up a zig-zagging road that winds up Mt. Cheongryangsan. When you finally do arrive at the hermitage, you’ll first realize that Munsuam Hermitage buildings are precariously placed on the very face of the mountain that it resides on. The second thing, or perhaps even the first thing, you’ll realize are the spectacular views of the East Sea, the tiny islands that dot the horizon, and the neighbouring Bohyunsa Temple, which is named after the Bodhisattva of Power: Bohyun-bosal. And all of this can be seen from the hermitage parking lot.

After zig-zagging the final road that leads up to the delicately placed temple courtyard, and after passing by a cute wooden carving with travelers’ rocks placed all around it, you’ll first be greeted by the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas that lies to your immediate left. Underneath this hall is the administrative office, but it’s really the second floor that houses wall-to-wall Buddha statues that really stands out. Sitting under a bright red canopy on the main altar are a triad of statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right. Other than the beautiful one thousand Buddha statues, the ceiling is painted with portraits of various Nahan figures.

As you make your way from this lower courtyard, to the upper courtyard, where a handful of other hermitage buildings rest, you’ll pass by a supply building and an observation deck. It’s from this observation deck, which also houses the earthly remains of the renowned monk, Cheongdam, that you’ll get the best view of the sights off in the distanct. Joining these remains are a turtle based stele and a stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul that looks out onto the ocean with you.

Further up the path, and now on the upper courtyard at Munsuam Hermitage, you’ll see the main hall to your right. This hall is surrounded by beautiful Shimu-do, Ox-herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting all alone on the is a seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, who is backed by a red mural of herself. To the left of the main altar is a standing statue of Jijang-bosal, who is backed by an elaborate mural of himself. And on the far left wall hangs a rather uniquely coloured guardian mural. And to the right of the main altar is a statue of an attendant riding a blue lion. This statue is backed by a glass window that looks out onto a neighbouring mountain crevice. And on the right wall is a memorial shrine for the dead.

To the right of the main hall is another observation deck that looks out more towards the rolling mountains and the valleys that part them. And to the left of the main hall is the monks’ quarters. It’s from out in front of this building that you get another great view of the ocean and temple down below.

The final hall at the hermitage is the Dokseong-gak, which is dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse), and lies up a treacherous mountainside path. In fact, a portion of the mountain’s face has been cut away to allow access to this hard to reach hall. Once you do arrive at the Dokseong-gak, which crowns the heights of the hermitage, you’ll be greeted by a solitary statue of Dokseong inside this hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Goseong from Busan, which is where Munsuam Hermitage is located, you’ll first have to get to the Dongbu Intercity Bus Terminal. You can easily get to this terminal from the Busan station system, if you get off at the Nopo-dong subway stop, #134, on the first line. The earliest bus leaves at 7:45 a.m., and the ride takes you two hours and twenty minutes. The bus ride will cost you 10,100 won. After arriving in Goseong, you’ll then have to take a taxi to get to Munsuam Hermitage. You’ll have to do this because there’s absolutely no bus that goes to the temple from Goseong. In total, the taxi should cost about 12,000 won, and the ride should last about twenty five minutes. Just make sure you hang onto your taxi, because it’s a long walk back to the terminal.

View Larger Map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. The stunning ocean side sights are similar to Boriam Hermitage in Namhae, and yet Munsuam Hermitage is a lot less crowded. Also, the hermitage buildings, like the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas, the crowning Dokseong-gak, as well as the colourful main hall allow this hermitage to slightly edge ahead of Boriam Hermitage. That, as well as the mysterious Buddha that lies off in the distance along the mountain folds of Mt. Cheongryangsan make this reclusive Goseong Hermitage a must for the temple adventurer!

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The warm sunshine view of the ocean that greets you at Munsuam Hermitage.
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A look up at the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.
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And the wooden mask that greets you as you make your way up to the hermitage.
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The view from the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas.
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A look inside the hall. It’s obviously earned its name.
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A look around the observation deck.
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The view from the observation deck down on Bohyunsa Temple and the East Sea off in the distance.
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A closer look at Bohyunsa Temple and the large statue of Yaksayore-bul that sits in its midst.
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The islands that dot the crystal seaside.
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A look at the main hall in the foreground with the monks’ quarters in the background.
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A look inside the main hall.
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An even closer look at the guardian mural.
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As well as a closer look at the main altar with Gwanseeum-bosal sitting all by herself.
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The blue lion riding attendant with a window at his back.
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The window looks out onto a crevice where the statue of Munsu-bosal miraculously appeared to Uisang-daesa, the founder of the hermitage.
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The set of stairs that lead up to the Dokseong-gak.
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The Dokseong-gak.
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A look inside the Dokseong-gak at a statue of Dokseong (The Recluse).
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The breath-taking view from the Dokseong-gak.
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And one last look through the trees at the Hall of 1,000 Buddhas before I head out.

Video: Munsuam Hermitage

Hello Again Everyone,

It had been a while since I last visited Goseong, in Gyeongsangnam-do, and what better reason than to visit the little known Munsuam Hermitage. So this video is from the breath-takingly beautiful Munsuam Hermitage. Off in the distance, besides the dark ocean waters, in Bohyunsa Temple with a large sized statue of Yaksayore-bul on the horizon. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend this unknown hermitage in a lesser travelled part of Korea.