The beautiful blue sky and the intricate roof of the main hall at Geumseonsa Temple in Gyeongju.
Hello Again Everyone!!
A couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with the preeminent expert on Korean Buddhism and Shamanism, Mr. David Mason. He brought along a friend, Alex, and the three of us headed off to explore Mt. Seondosan in Gyeongju. While not as well known as some of the other mountains in the area like Mt. Namsan, it was still rich in Korean and Buddhist history and culture.
The first temple we visited was Geumseonsa Temple. Out in front of this temple were a collection of meditation centres, which the name of the temple, potentially suggests: “Golden Seon (Zen) Temple.” And out in front of them was a bust and stele for the founding monk of Geumseonsa Temple.
As for the temple grounds themselves, and as you ascend the stairs that lead to the courtyard, you’ll notice a compact bell pavilion to your left. And to the right, as well as an adjoining hall, are the nuns’ facilities. The main hall is a newer looking structure with the Shimu-do, or Ox-Herding, murals surrounding the exterior. Rather uniquely, the 8th and 9th paintings have been combined. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a common enough combination with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He’s flanked on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
Up the embankment lies the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. And while the interior is rather plain, the paintings inside are anything but. Most noticeably, the emaciated painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) is rather unique. Next to the Samseong-gak is a silver sprain painted statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). And next to it is a beautifully sculpted statue of Gwanseeum-bosal with eleven heads. It’s unfortunate that this statue lies under an ugly green protective structure.
After Geumseonsa Temple, David Mason suggested we visit the neighbouring Seonwonsa Temple. A bit further up the hill, and a little less tidy, we arrived at the temple. And when you first arrive at the temple, you’re greeted by the temple’s vegetable garden and a couple well-worn monks quarters. While it looks a bit run-down, looks can be deceiving.
Uniquely, there is grass growing on top of the main hall, and the Palsang-do murals that surround the main hall are rather juvenile in composition (to put it mildly). Out in front of the main hall is a tilting five tier pagoda. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined by two smaller statues of Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal. To the right of the main altar is an older looking Chilseong (Seven Stars) mural. And to the left is an equally older looking guardian mural.
But the true hidden gem of this temple can be found in the Sanshin-gak, which is to the left rear of the main hall and up some slippery stone stairs (especially when it’s humid or it’s just rained). Inside this hall, you’ll find two highly unique paintings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong. Sanshin is uniquely reading a book. Mr. Mason said that he’s only ever seen this 7 times, and he’s visited over 1500 temples in Korea; while Dokseong, clad in a yellow robe, looks a bit dour.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus #30 to get to Seonwonsa Temple. After two stops, you can get off at the Seorabeol University dormitory stop. (서라벌 대학 기숙사). After being dropped off, you’ll need to walk about 600 metres to get to the temple. And to get to Geumseonsa Temple from Seonwonsa Temple, you’ll need to head back to the main road and head north. From there, you’ll eventually run into a sign directing you towards the temple.
OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. These two temples are rather hard to rate for a couple reasons. First, the temples themselves aren’t really that impressive; however, the shaman paintings that reside at both temples are uniquely impressive. So with that in mind, I rated the two as I did. With that being said, if you enjoy shaman paintings, perhaps the rating should be a bit higher; but if you don’t enjoy them, perhaps the temples won’t be your cup of tea.
The bust and stele dedicated to the founding monk at Geumseonsa Temple.
The main hall straight ahead with the nuns’ quarters to the right.
The beautiful stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the left of the main hall.
A closer look at the eleven-headed crown of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The silver spray painted statue of Yaksayorae-bul to the left of the Samseong-gak on the upper courtyard at Geumseonsa Temple.
The Chilseong painting inside the Samseong-gak.
The emaciated painting of Dokseong to the right of the Chilseong mural.
The bell pavilion to the right as you first enter the temple grounds. In this case, we were just leaving.
The main hall and pagoda at Seonwonsa Temple (the next stop in the tour).
The triad of statues on the main altar inside the main hall at Seonwonsa Temple.
The older looking Chilseong painting to the right of the main altar.
And to the left is this guardian mural.
The child-like Palsang-do murals that adorn the main hall at Seonwonsa Temple.
The view from the mountain behind the monks’ quarters.
A trail leads up to this Sanshin-gak behind the main hall.
The rather rare looking mural with Sanshin reading a book.
And the colourful, but sad looking, Dokseong.