Large Buddhist Banner Painting – Gwaebul (괘불)


 The large-sized Gwaebul painting at Tongdosa Temple during Buddha’s birthday.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In yet another article on little seen or known items at a Korean temple or hermitage, I thought I would talk about the Gwaebul painting just in time for Buddha’s birthday.

The largest paintings in Korea are known as Gwaebul (괘불), which means “Large Buddhist Banner Painting,” in English. These paintings are extremely hard to find throughout Korea because they are usually only put on display once a year. So what do they look like and what is the meaning behind them?


 People bowing to the Gwaebul painting at Tongdosa Temple during Buddha’s birthday.

Throughout Korea, there are nearly one hundred known ancient Gwaebul. Most of these paintings were produced between the early 17th century and the late 19th century. The Gwaebul painting can sometimes be as large as 15 metres tall and 10 metres in width. The reason they can be so large is that they were created for outdoor usage in front of hundreds, or even thousands, of people. The painting is hung from tall poles in an outdoor ceremony on a special occasion. Most commonly, you can see them during Buddha’s birthday or the Vulture Peak Ceremony (Yeongsanje) in a temple’s main courtyard. Traditionally, the Gwaebul was only shown once every year. And at some temples, they were only ever put on display every ten years. When the Gwaebul isn’t being used for special ceremonies, they are rolled up and stored inside a temple hall. Most often, they are hidden somewhere in the main hall; and usually, under the main altar.


 A closer look at the face of Seokgamoni-bul front and centre on the Gwaebul painting.

Because the Gwaebul painting is so large, it’s filled with a lot of intricate details. Typically, a large Buddha is the dominating central figure in the painting. He is then surrounded by Bodhisattvas, Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), and various guardians. They are often depicted in a scene from an important sutra. The central figure can either be Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), or even Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) in some special cases. The earliest Gwaebul paintings often depict the Assembly on Vulture Peak, as they were meant to represent the Buddha in a contemporary world. In this painting, he is preaching the Lotus Sutra.


 The massive Gwaebul painting at Geumdangsa Temple.

Specifically, the Gwaebul at Geumdangsa Temple in Jinan, Jeollabuk-do, which dates back to 1682, was said to help end droughts. Legend states of this painting that villagers performed rituals in front of the Gwaebul and rain fell, which successfully ended a long standing drought in the region.

Great examples of the Gwaebul painting can be found at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, and the Gwaebul at Ansimsa Temple in Cheongwon, Chungcheongbuk-do that is National Treasure #297 and dates back to 1652.


 A closer look at the face of Gwanseeum-bosal on the Gwaebul painting at Geumdangsa Temple.

Geumdangsa Temple – 금당사 (Jinan, Jeollabuk-do)


 The Goryeo-era pagoda and golden roofed main hall at Geumdangsa Temple.

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Geumdangsa Temple, which means “Golden Hall Temple,” in English, was first built in 814 A.D. It’s well known as a place where the Goryeon monk, Naong-hwasang, practiced his form of Buddhism. In fact, if you look closely up in the mountains, you can find Naongam Hermitage, which is a secluded grotto where Naong once meditated. More recently, in 1894, General Jeon Bongjun’s daughter sought refuge at the temple. Gen. Jeon Bongjun led the anti-foreigner campaign, mainly against the Japanese, for the brutal punishment meted out to Korean farmers during the Donghak Peasant Revolution. Geumdangsa Temple also acted as a base for Korean guerrilla troops in the Jinan area during Japanese Colonial rule from 1910-1945.

When you first arrive at the temple, which is about a kilometer west of Tapsa Temple, you’ll first be greeted by the gift shop/visitors’ centre to the right. Just a little further along and there are a pair of mythical Haetae that bookend a set of stairs that leads into the main temple courtyard.

To the far left is a golden statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) behind a beautiful artificial pond. Just before you reach this pond, you’ll notice a large collection of stacked stones that travelers have left behind for good luck and a safe journey.

Just to the right of this golden statue and pond is an all-new, yet to be painted, hall dedicated to the historic Gwaebultang painting. In the centre of this large sized painting, which dates back to 1682, is a solemnly faced Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This dominant figure in the painting is surrounded by twenty images of the Buddha in a multi-coloured fiery nimbus. In the past, the painting would be carted out and the monks would offer up prayers for rain during droughts. It is said to be one of the three most important historic murals in Korea alongside the ones at Tongdosa Temple and Muryangsa Temple. This painting is masterful in its execution.

Next to this hall, and to the right, is what looks to be the Yeongsan-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with the Palsang-do murals. As for the interior, and uniquely hanging on the main altar, are a triad of paintings. It’s unique because there are usually three statues and not just paintings. In the centre is a painting dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two elaborate paintings of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just up the embankment, and to the right, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are two newer paintings of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). These vibrant paintings flank the older looking mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Strangely, between the main hall and this hall is a stone with an inscription on it with a large golden tiger crawling at the top of it.

The most unique hall at the temple is the golden roofed main hall. This newly built shrine hall has some rather crude Palsang-do murals surrounding the exterior walls. Inside the barren interior of the main hall sits a triad of statues on the main altar. The reason I say barren is that there is no large mural backing the triad of main altar statues. Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by familiar company: Bohyun-bosal and Munsu-bosal. On the far right wall are a collection of wooden Nahan statues, as well as a guardian mural.

The final hall at the temple is the Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this all-natural exterior is a stately looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on either side by some extremely unique yellow based murals. The one to the left is a mural dedicated to the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, while the one to the right is dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

The final thing you can see out in front of the main hall is the smaller sized five-tier pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty.

Admission to the temple, by way of Tapsa Temple, is 2,000 won. However, if you pay 3,000 won, you can see three temples: Tapsa Temple, Geumdangsa Temple, and Eunsusa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Jinan Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take a bus bound for Maisan Provincial Park. These buses leave every 40 minutes and start at 7:30 in morning and run until 18:00. Once you’re dropped off at the entry to Maisan Provincial Park, you’ll need to walk up the path that leads to Tapsa Temple. A couple hundred metres up the path, and just beyond the restaurants and stores, you’ll see Geumdangsa Temple to your left. It only takes about 5 minutes from where the bus lets you off to get to this temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Surprisingly, for a smaller sized temple, there’s a fair bit to see at Geumdangsa Temple. The two main attractions are the large sized mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as the five-tier historic pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Other highlights are the extremely unique murals inside the Myeongbu-jeon, the vibrant shaman murals inside the Samseong-gak, the tiger crawling stone monument, and the golden roofed main hall. It’s a nice little stop along the way, as you head up towards the much more famous Tapsa Temple.


The beautiful sites that greet you at Geumdangsa Temple.


The collection of stacked rocks left by travelers to the temple.


The large golden statue of Mireuk-bul, which backs a beautiful artificial pond.


The hall that houses the historic Gwaebultang painting.


A look at the beauty of the amazing painting.


An even better look at the face of Gwanseeum-bosal.


To the right of the former hall is the Yeongsan-jeon hall.


Just one of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the Yeongsan-jeon hall.


A unique look between the two halls to the left of the main hall.


The murals, and not statues, that hang on the main altar inside the Yeongsan-jeon.


The rather plain, and stout, Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


A close look at Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.


And a look at the equally vibrant mural dedicated to Yongwang.


The golden tiger topped stone monument with the Samseong-gak in the background.


The golden roofed, and newly built, main hall at Geumdangsa Temple.


One of the amateurish looking Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.


A look inside at the main altar. Uniquely, there’s yet to hang a mural behind this triad.


A collection of wooden Nahan to the right of the main altar.


To the right of the main altar, and in between the monks’ dorms, is the Myeongbu-jeon.


The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.


The beautiful and unique yellow mural dedicated to the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.


Off in the distance is the grotto where the monk Naong used to meditate.

The Sweet Dew Painting – Gamno-do (감로도)


Two monks discussing the Gamno-do painting at Yeongsanjeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The next entry about rarities to be found at a Korean temple or hermitage is the extremely hard to find Gamno-do painting. In fact, I’ve only ever seen it publicly displayed at three temples in my three hundred plus temples I’ve visited throughout Korea.

The meaning behind the name of the Gamno-do painting is a bit difficult to explain. “Gamno” relates to how the Buddha’s teachings fall to us like sweet dew, while “do” means painting. So the best name for the Gamno-do painting in English is the “Sweet Dew Painting.”

The Gamno-do painting depicts the Ullambana Sutra, or Bulseoluranbun-gyeong in Korean. Other names for this type of painting is “Gamnowang-do” or “Gamno-taenghwa.”


A nun at Unheungsa Temple performing a ritual in front of the famed Gamno-do painting.

So what exactly does this complex painting look like? Where can you find it? And what is the meaning behind the complexity?

The Gamno-do painting is a painting that depicts the formal worship of ancestors and other spirits in a Buddhist context. The Gamno-do is a taenghwa altar painting that depicts the ritual offering of food to hungry ghosts to nourish or save those spirits of dead people that are suffering in hell. So the ritual for the dead is performed in front of this painting usually inside the main hall at a Korean temple. Specifically, the Gamno-do painting is used in the Sweet Dew Ceremony for the dead, where those remaining pray for the comfort of the deceased souls in the Western Pure Land, which is a form of heaven.

The Gamno-do really has two purposes. The first is to console the suffering spirits of the hungry ghost realm. The second purpose is to serve the living in their fear for the suffering and hunger in the afterlife as may be caused by greed in the present. It also provides people with a warning about their potential future, which causes a form of repentance. Ultimately, the object of the ceremony, and the Gamno-do painting that people worship in front of, is to nourish the greed of these ghosts, while assisting all to find peace in the Buddhists realm so that they don’t haunt the living.


The upper portion of the Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The painting is usually horizontal in composition, and it’s typically composed in three sections. The top section consists of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) welcoming the sentient beings, along with five to seven other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Amita-bul is sometimes called “King Gamno.” The Bodhisattva with a flagpole leads the dead to the Western Paradise, while Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) descend from clouds.


A pair of angry Agwi inside the Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple.

The centre portion of the painting is dominated by one or two over-sized hungry ghosts called “agwi,” in Korean. These spirits are people who have died without the proper memorial rites being performed for them. These hungry ghosts have small mouths but giant bellies. They are breathing fire or fighting over food in front of the ancestral rites table. On the other side of these ghosts, monks are performing a ceremony for the spirits of the dead. Typically, they are chanting or playing Buddhist instruments like the drum, hand bell, or cymbals to comfort the spirits.

At the bottom of the painting is the third section. It displays a realistic and detailed display of the six realms of existence: the realm of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras (deities), and heavenly beings. All are portrayed as though they were alive today.

Great examples of the Gamno-do painting can be found at Jikjisa Temple, Tongdosa Temple, Unheungsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Yeongsanjeongsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do, and Boseongsa Temple near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.


The amazing and intricate Gamno-do painting at Boseongsa Temple.

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)


 The beautiful scenery at Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do.

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Baekyangsa Temple is located in Naejangsan National Park in the northern most part of Jeollanam-do. It was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty. When it was first established, it was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was then changed to Baengmasa Temple. Finally, during the Goryeo Dynasty, the name of the temple changed to its present name: Baekyangsa Temple. The name of the temple, in English, means White Sheep Temple. This name refers to a legend from the Goryeo Dynasty where white sheep would come down from the mountains to listen to sermons. After listening, they gained enlightenment and were able to ascend to heaven. During Japanese occupation, the temple played a key role on the Korean peninsula. And currently, it’s the 18th regional headquarters for the Jogye Order. It has an important role in educating monks in the Jeolla area.

The walk up to the temple is one of the prettiest you’ll see at a temple. In fact, the temple is situated in one of the most scenic and beautiful locations in all of Korea: Naejangsan National Park. As you make your way towards the temple grounds, large red maples lead the way. You’ll pass by a dammed off area of a stream that flows down from the Naejangsan mountain peaks. During the winter, it freezes over with both the Ssanggyeru pavilion and the mountain range as a framing backdrop.

Around a bend in the path, and over a bridge, you’ll come to the Cheonwangmun Gate. Unusually, this gate doesn’t lead straight into the temple courtyard. Instead, you’ll enter from the side. The outside of the gate is adorned with a beautiful mural of the temple layout. As for the interior, there are some surreal looking Heavenly Kings. Finally, you pass by the two-story bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion to gain entry to the temple courtyard. Immediately to your right is the temple’s main hall, the Daeung-jeon. The main hall was rebuilt in 1917 and the exterior walls have Nahan and Buddhist motif murals adorning it. Behind the main hall is a uniquely designed nine-tier stone pagoda. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two slender standing statues of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar hangs a descriptive painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). And rather uniquely, to the left, is a Nahan shrine dedicated to the Historical Disciples of the Buddha. Besides the seated statues of the Nahan, and just behind them, hang eight beautiful Palsang-do murals that describe the life of the Buddha.

In front of the main hall, and to the left, is a sectioned hall that is divided in two. The first shrine area is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Interestingly, and a first for me, the image of the Buddha is joined to seven images of the Chilseong statues with a golden string. The next shrine area to the left, but still in the same building, is the Josa-jeon, which houses numerous murals of former monks that once lived at Baekyangsa Temple.

Next to this unique hall is the historic Geukrak-jeon. The hall dates back to 1574, when it was built by the monk Hwaneung. While the hall is compact, it is rich with detail like the butterfly door hinges. As for the interior, and immediately when you enter the hall, you’ll be greeted by the large sized statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the right wall is the guardian mural, while in the back corner is a white-tigered mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The only other hall on the temple grounds that you can visit is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Underworld).

Admission is 2,500 won for adults.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Baekyangsa Temple, you can get there from the Gwangju Intercity Bus Terminal. Buses run from 6:35 in the morning until 19:50 at night. The buses leave at an interval of 60 to 80 minutes between buses, and the bus ride will last about an hour and twenty minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Without a doubt, the highlight to this temple is the Naejangsan National Park backdrop, where Baekyangsa Temple is located. The towering craggy peaks frame the temple with flowing streams to the east of the temple grounds. Also, the combination of halls that act as more than one shrine, as well as the historic Geukrak-jeon hall make for a beautiful outing in any season.


 The trail that leads up to the temple.


 The damned off stream with the beautiful mountains in the background.


 The pavilion that overlooks the frozen pond.


 The Cheonwangmun Gate at Baekyangsa Temple.


 The mural of the temple on the Cheonwangmun Gate.


 Inside the gate is a blue faced Heavenly King.


 The bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion you’ll have to pass by to get to the temple courtyard.


 The Daeung-jeon main hall.


 One of the more unique paintings that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.


 The triad of statues that rest on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.


 The Nahan shrine to the left of the main altar.


 The nine-tier pagoda behind the main hall.


 The Chilseong-gak/Josa-jeon shrine hall.


 Inside the very unique Chilseong-gak.


 And a look at one of the walls with a dozen paintings of former monks inside the Josa-jeon.


 A look at the Geukrak-jeon.


 With beautiful butterfly door hinges.


 The large sized statue of Amita-bul inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 The Sanshin mural that takes up residence inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 With the Myeongbu-jeon to the left of the Geukrak-jeon.

Universal Salvation Pavilion – Boje-ru (보제루)


The Boje-ru Pavilion in the background behind the Cheonwangmun at Donghwasa Temple in Daegu.

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The next entry in the series of postings on rarely seen things you might encounter at a Korean temple or hermitage is the Boje-ru Pavilion.

The Universal Salavation Pavilion, or the Boje-ru Pavilion (보제루) is the fifth, and final, gate in the set of gates that potentially can be found at a larger sized temple. It’s positioned after the Bulimun Gate, and it usually hides the main temple courtyard that’s situated behind its rather long length.

So what does a Boje-ru Pavilion look like? Why is it located where it is at a temple? And what is the meaning behind it?


 The massive Boje-ru Pavilion at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.

In Korean, the word “Boje” means universal salvation. This refers to the casting of a net across the Samgye, which is desire, the realm of form, and the formless realm. This net is cast to rescue all sentient beings. The final character in the name, “ru,” is a Chinese character that means a raised pavilion or building of two or more stories.


 A fine example of the pavilion at Naesosa Temple in Buan, Jeollabuk-do.


 A look under the pavilion at Naesosa Temple with paper wishes hanging from the ceiling.

First, the Boje-ru is a pavilion, unlike the other four structures that potentially welcome you to the temple grounds. It is made up of two stories. The first story serves as a passageway, and final entrance, to the main temple courtyard. Instead of supportive beams, there can be two storage areas to the right and left of the stairway that leads up to the main temple courtyard. On the second floor, there rests an open pavilion. The exterior walls are typically very colourful with winged-shaped roofs.


 The large-sized Boje-ru that welcomes you to Pagyesa Temple in Daegu.


 The corridor and stairs that lead up to Pagyesa Temple.

Some of the meaning behind this temple building rests on the first floor of its design. In older Boje-ru designs, the ceiling can be quite low. This is deliberately done so that visitors to a temple or hermitage have to stoop. This is done as a gesture of humility, as they pass through the pavilion. On the second floor of this structure is where monastic lectures and non-ceremonial dharma assemblies (beophoe) are conducted simply because they are too large to be done inside the main hall. Also, in some smaller sized temples, Buddhist musical instruments can be housed in the second floor pavilion. And some Boje-ru were used as protection against armed forces like the Japanese after the Imjin War (1592-98). A great example of this can be found at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Specifically, it was used for military training and guarding the temple buildings from invaders.

Great examples of the Boje-ru, or the Universal Salvation Pavilion, can be found at Donghwasa Temple, Geumsansa Temple, Dasolsa Temple, Pagyesa Temple, Naesosa Temple, and Buseoksa Temple.


 The militarized Boje-ru at Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.


 And a look inside the second floor open pavilion at Okcheonsa Temple.

Dogapsa Temple – 도갑사 (Yeongam, Jeollanam-do)


 A beautiful view of the temple grounds and halls at Dogapsa Temple.

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Dogapsa Temple, which is located on the western portion of Wolchulsan National Park, was first established in 881 A.D. by Doseon-guksa. However, more recent excavation dates it to the Baekje Period in Korean history which lasted from 18 B.C to 660 A.D. Under the watchful eye of monk Sumi, who was an adviser to the king, the temple continued to grow and prosper. And by 1597, there were over 780 monks and 12 neighbouring hermitages directly associated with the temple. However, most of Dogapsa Temple was destroyed during the Imjin War. After the war, Dogapsa Temple was rebuilt and continued to grow. But once more, in 1950, during the Korean War, several fires damaged a large portion of the temple. Then, between 1995 and 1999, there were four excavation digs which helped aid in understanding the original layout of the temple. As a result, and more recently, a large scale restoration project to rehabilitate Dogapsa Temple to its former glory is currently underway. Now, there are currently over ten halls and shrines to visit at Dogapsa Temple.

You first approach Dogapsa Temple up a beautiful trail. Eventually, you’ll come to the large sized Iljumun Gate and the ticket booth. Just a little further up the path, and just left of a calm flowing ravine, is the historic Haltaemun Gate, which means Gate of Deliverance, in English. It was first constructed in 1493. Of note, it’s National Treasure #50 in Korea. As you step inside this gate, you’ll be greeted by two of the happiest guardians. Next to these two standing guardians, on opposite sides of the gate, are the elephant riding Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and the blue lion riding Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom).

After exiting this gate and making your way through the large pavilion, you’ll emerge on the other side in the spacious temple courtyard. In front of the large sized two-story main hall stands a five-story stone pagoda that dates back to the early Goryeo Dynasty. The exterior walls are adorned with some of the most beautiful, and large, Palsang-do murals in all of Korea. As for the interior, and sitting in the centre of the large main altar is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). On the left wall is a wooden guardian relief while to the right is an unpainted Yeongsan Taenghwa. There are several other paintings throughout the main hall including Sanskrit lettering above the main altar triad.

To the right rear of the main hall is the Josa-jeon hall, which is dedicated to prominent former monks that resided at the temple. Just to the right of this hall is a stele dedicated to Sumi-wangsa. Have a look at the gargoyle-like face base of the stele.

To the left rear of the main hall are three more halls. The first of the three is the Cheonbul-jeon hall. Inside are a thousand bronze incarnations of the Buddha, as well as a large sized statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) centering a triad of statues on the main altar. To the left and right of the main altar hang a guardian mural and a Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. Next to the Cheonbul-jeon is the Sanshin-gak. Hanging on the main altar is a wooden relief of the Mountain Spirit. He’s joined by wooden sculptures of elderly men. The final hall in this area is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. The exterior walls are adorned with depictions of the Underworld, as well as a set of murals depicting life from infancy to adulthood. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, there’s a green-haired rendering of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s surrounded by older looking seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Along a trail that runs between the Sanshin-gak and the Myeongbu-jeon are a pair of smaller sized waterfalls. The two together are called Yongsu-pokpo. And there’s a small pavilion that you can sit in to enjoy the view as you relax.

Just beyond the falls, and over the stream that feeds these falls, are two sectioned off areas. The first is an area for stupas for prominent monks from Dogapsa Temple. Beside, and to the right, is stele dedicated to Doseon and Sumi, who rebuilt Dogapsa Temple. It was completed in 1653. Uniquely, there are rolled lotus images on the back of the turtle base. And to the left, and a little further up the trail, is the Mireuk-jeon, which houses a three metre tall stone statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won. And if you bring your car, it’ll cost you 2,000 won more at the Wolchulsan National Park entrance.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Yeongam, which is where Dogapsa Temple is located, you’ll first have to go to the city of Mokpo. From Mokpo, you can catch a bus that goes to Yeongam. From Yeongam, you can catch a bus or take a taxi. There are only two buses that go to Dogapsa Temple throughout the day: 09:30 and 16:10. For a taxi, the ride should cost you just a little over 10,000 won and take about 30 minutes depending on traffic.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. There are a few highlights to this temple. The first is the Haltaemun Gate that was first constructed in 1493. Beyond this, everything about the main hall is amazing and big including the altar statues and the Palsang-do murals. In addition to these two structures, there are several other structures to keep the temple adventurer busy. So enjoy and take your time while exploring the large sized temple grounds.


 The Iljumun Gate at Dogapsa Temple.


 The Haltaemun Gate that welcomes you to the temple.


 A Vajra Guardian inside the Haltaemun Gate.


 Bohyun-bosal riding his six-tusked elephant.


 The Boje-ru that you’ll pass under to enter the temple courtyard.


 The view of the temple courtyard and just some of the halls.


 The massive two-story main hall at Dogapsa Temple.


 Just one of the massive Palsang-do murals that adorn the exterior walls of the main hall.


 The equally massive main altar statues that is centred by Birojana-bul.


 The beautiful Sinjung Taenghwa relief inside the main hall.


 The Josa-jeon that houses paintings of prominent monks that formerly took up residence at the temple.


 The head of the stele dedicated to Sumi-wangsa.


 The three halls to the left rear of the main hall.


 First is the elaborately decorated Cheonbul-jeon.


 Another is the Myeongbu-jeon with its judgment murals.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with a green-haired Jijang-bosal.


 Finally, the larger sized Sanshin-gak.


 Inside is this colourful relief of the Mountain Spirit.


 Just past the Sanshin-gak is this tiny waterfall.


 Up this embankment is the temple’s stupa field, as well as a pavilion is housed in this area.


 The pavilion is dedicated to Doseon and Sumi.


 The entry to the Mireuk-jeon.

The Diamond Gate – Geumgang-mun (금강문)


 The Diamond Gate at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

The next article about lesser seen things at Korean temples or hermitages is about the Geumgangmun Gate, or the Diamond Gate in English. So what exactly does it look like, where is it found at a temple, and what is its meaning?

Like all the other gates at a temple, it’s situated out in front of the main temple courtyard. It is placed behind the Iljumun Gate but before the Cheonwangmun Gate. So it’s the second in the collection of five gates, if all the gates are located at the temple. This gate can also be called the Inwangmun Gate (Benevolent King Gate), or Haetalmun Gate (Liberation Gate).


 How the Geumgangmun appears from the outside at Daeheungsa Temple in Haenam, Jeollanam-do.

So what is the meaning behind this gate? If this gate is called a Geumgangmun, which it’s most commonly referred to as in Korea, then its origins are in Hinduism. Geumgang means diamond, which is the hardest possible substance. It can’t be harmed by any other material, but it can cut or break other material. So it’s a symbol of the Buddha Dharma as the supreme truth or wisdom that can’t be contradicted by other ideas. Also, the Diamond Gate symbolizes how a diamond can cut through any delusions that cause suffering.

However, if the gate is called a Haetalmun Gate then the name implies that by passing through this gate one moves from the human world and into the Buddhist world. This inspires an individual to seek liberation from worldly suffering.


 The plain looking Haetalmun Gate at Dogapsa Temple in Yeongam, Jeollanam-do.

The Geumgangmun Gate is similar in appearance to the Cheonwangmun Gate. It’s a large gate that is closed in design. There may be various Buddhist-motif paintings adorning the gate, or it can be left unadorned. One such motif is the depiction of two guardians. One of these fierce-looking guardians is called Ha because his mouth is open and forming a “ha.” This is the cosmic syllable symbolizing the beginning. The other guardian is called Heng. He has his mouth closed and his nostrils are flared. He’s called Heng because his mouth is formed like it is making a “heng” sound. This is the cosmic syllable representing the end. So together, Heng and Ha form the sound “om,” which means the absolute. A great depiction of these two on this gate can be found at Naewonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.


The guardian Ha found on the door of the Diamond Gate at Naewonsa Temple.


Heng found opposite of Ha at Naewonsa Temple.

As for the interior of this gate, and much like the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll customarily find four figures inside this gate. The first two figures, either painted or statues, you’ll encounter, which can be fierce or even comical, are Vajra protectors. They protect the temple and those visiting the temple. They are connected with the Vedic mythological concept of a vajra, the thunderbolt of Indra, who is a great energetic power that can blast through all worldly delusions.


 A cheerful Vajra guardian found at Dogapsa Temple.


 A whole lot fiercer looking Vajra guardian at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.


 And a slightly chubbier looking Vajra guardian at Magoksa Temple.

The other two images, again, either in painted or statue form, are Bohyun-bosal and Munsu-bosal. Bohyun-bosal will appear on the left side of the gate, while Munsu-bosal will appear on the right. Inside this gate, they appear as infants. They both appear as boys because they symbolize innocent wisdom and eternal youth. Specifically, Bohyun-bosal rides a six-tusked white elephant. He is the Bodhisattva of great vows, great conduct, and benevolent actions. Also, he’s associated with the virtues of Buddhist practice and meditation. Munsu-bosal, on the other hand, rides a blue dragon or haetae (mythical creature that controls and consumes fire). He embodies the perfection of wisdom. Also, he inspires Buddhists to become wiser through study and clear thinking. So the reasons that these two are housed inside this gate are pretty self-explanatory for those wanting to worship at a Korean temple.


 Munsu-bosal at Daeheungsa Temple.


 Bohyun-bosal found at Magoksa Temple.

Great examples of the Diamond Gate can be found at larger temples throughout the Korean peninsula. Some great examples can be found at Magoksa Temple, Dogapsa Temple, Geumsansa Temple, Daeheungsa Temple, and Beopjusa Temple.

Muwisa Temple – 무위사 (Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)


The amazing and historic interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa Temple. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Muwisa Temple is located on the south side of Wolchulsan National Park near the city of Gangjin. The temple is first believed to have been established in 617 by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa. It was known at that time as Gwaneumsa Temple. It was later expanded in the early 10th century by the equally famed monk, Doseon. It was at this point that the temple changed its name to Muwigapsa Temple.

You make your way up to the rather open temple by way of the Iljumun Gate. The next gate to greet you is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which houses some pretty intense Heavenly Kings. Uniquely, this gate is painted simple brown and white colours. Finally, you’ll pass through a pavilion to gain access to temple courtyard.

Straight ahead lies the Geukrakbo-jeon hall that dates back to 1430. It’s reminiscent of the main hall at Buseoksa Temple in Gyeongsangbuk-do. This hall is National Treasure #13. Inside this main hall, and sitting on the main altar, are three Buddha statues. Sitting in the centre is an earthen made statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). It’s believed that this statue dates back to the 15th century. It’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). These were not constructed at the same time as the central statue, as they are made of wood; however, they are similar in design. Behind the triad of statues, and on the reverse side of the central altar, is painted a famed white mural of Gwanseeum-bosal. This hall is packed with historic paintings. In fact, there used to be 29 historic murals inside this hall. Now, most of them reside inside the temple museum. There are, however, still two remaining murals up near the eaves of the hall. The first, and to the west, are a collection of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Nahan. Below this painting is a modern day painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). On the east side is, perhaps, the more famous triad dedicated to Amita-bul. This fading mural is National Treasure #313, and it was painted in 1476. This hall is one of a kind for its historic beauty both architecturally, but artistically, as well.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Just as you step into the hall, you’ll be surprised by two eye popping guardians. Trust me! A little further into this hall, and you’ll be greeted by a green-haired Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

To the left of the main hall are a collection of halls, a pagoda and a stele. The three-story stone pagoda is believed to date back to 946 and is rather plain in design. It’s joined by a stele dedicated to Supreme Master Seongak, who lived from 864 to 917. He was key in the re-establishment of Muwisa Temple, and the stele is well kept with its tortoise base and life of the monk written on its body-stone.

Behind these two structures, and to the left, is a rather ordinary Nahan-jeon hall. Its plain exterior is matched by is rather sparsely populated interior. Behind this hall, and slightly to the right, are two smaller sized halls. The first one to the right is a hall with a larger sized stone image of the Buddha of unknown origins or date. To the left of this hall is the Sanshin-gak. Inside is a rather plain style contemporary painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

The final hall to visit at Muwisa Temple is the Cheonbul-jeon hall that lies between the Nahan-jeon and the Sanshin-gak. Up a small trail and over a small bridge, you’ll find this newly constructed hall. Well populated with a thousand bronze coloured images of the Buddha, and fronted by a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul, is the beautiful interior to this hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Muwisa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Gangjin Intercity Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From there, a bus leaves at 06:40, 08:35, 10:30, 15:00, 16:00, 17:20 to get to the temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. By far, the main highlight to this temple is the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa temple. The date of this hall, 1430, combined with the historic paintings that also date back to the 15th century are truly unsurpassed in Korea. Additionally, there are several other halls, gates, and a historic pagoda and stele to see at this beautifully situated temple in Jeollanam-do.


 A look through the Iljumun Gate at the Cheonwangmun Gate.


 A closer look at the plainly painted Cheonwangmun Gate.


 A look at the side-wards glancing Heavenly King.


 A look back at the Iljumun Gate as the sun rises in the early morning hours.


 The pavilion you pass through to get to the temple courtyard.


 The famed Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Muwisa Temple.


 The beautiful statues that adorn the main altar. In the centre is the 15th century statue of Amita-bul.


 Behind the main altar is this famed painting of Gwanseeum-bosal.


 A collection of Buddhas inside the historic painting.


 The Amita-bul painting that dates back to 1476 and is a National Treasure.


 To the right of the main hall lies the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The frightening guardian that welcomes you to the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.


 To the left of the main hall is this collection of halls.


 The face of the stele that bears the history of the Supreme Master Seongak.


The rather plain interior of the Nahan-jeon.


 The contemporary Confucian-style painting of Sanshin.


 A large sized stone image of the Buddha.


 The Cheonbul-jeon hall that lies outside the main courtyard at Muwisa Temple.


 A look inside at the 1,000 Buddhas.


 And finally, it was time to head to the next temple.

The Fireplace King Spirit – Jowang-shin (조왕신)

Anjeokam2 - Jowangshin

A faded portrait of Jowangshin found at Anjeokam Hermitage in the mountains of Cheonseongsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In the next few articles, I thought I would explore some of the lesser seen or known sites at Korean temples or hermitages. These are rare finds that you might encounter during your travels and simply don’t know what they’re supposed to represent or even depict.

In this article, I thought I would talk about Jowangshin. Traditionally, Jowangshin (조왕신) was thought of as the shaman deity of the fire and hearth. They were customarily found inside a Korean house, but in the past several decades, they have disappeared. One place you can still find them, however, is inside a Buddhist temple’s kitchen.

Jowangshin was worshipped in Korea for over a millennium, since the Three Kingdoms Period in Korean history (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.).

Anjeokam1 - Jowangshin

Jowangshin inside the kitchen at Anjeokam Hermitage.

Traditionally, the way in which Jowangshin was embodied was in a bowl of water held on a clay altar above the hearth. The housewife would awake early in the morning and pour fresh water from a nearby well into the bowl. After doing this, she would kneel in front of the bowl and pray for good luck. Also, during important festivals, Jowangshin would be honoured with rice cakes and fruit.

There were five rules that a housewife would have to follow to ensure a happy and prosperous household. They were:

1. Do not curse while in the hearth.

2. Do not sit on the hearth.

3. Do not place your feet on the hearth.

4. Maintain a clean kitchen.

5. You can worship other deities in the kitchen.

Daewonam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin as seen inside the kitchen at Daewonam Hermitage.

Jowangshin would broadcast the happenings inside the house towards the heavens. If the rules were followed, Jowangshin would be a benevolent deity. However, if these rules weren’t followed, Jowangshin could be a vengeful deity.

In Korean Buddhism, Jowangshin is a shamanic tutelary deity. Inside the Buddhist temple, you’ll occasionally find this deity housed inside the kitchen. Jowangshin has a special altar inside the kitchen called a Jowang-dan. And you’ll often find a portrait on the wall above the altar depicting Jowangshin.

The kitchen was seen as being the symbol of prosperity for a home. A good fire signified a prosperous house, while a house without a fire represented poverty because traditionally all meals came from a fire. This also translated to a temple or hermitage.

As a shaman deity, he is considered a dharma protecting deity. But in the pantheon of shaman deities, Jowangshin is a minor folk-Buddhist deity below the likes of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King). Uniquely, there is a Jowangshin scripture that praises him in the Jowang-gyeong sutra (The Kitchen God Sutra).

Wonhyoam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin hanging inside the eating area at Wonhyoam Hermitage.

What does Jowangshin look like just in case you run across him? Jowangshin is middle aged, and he sports a long black beard. He holds it with his one hand, while either holding a fan or a wooden tablet in the other. He is dressed in royal-looking clothes, and he sits on a throne. Behind his throne are banners with Chinese text written on them. Of note, Jowangshin’s feet don’t touch the ground.

Examples of Jowangshin can be found at a few temples. There are beautiful paintings of him at Anjeokam Hermitage and Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Another example can be found at a hermitage at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do called Daewonam Hermitage.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you decide to have a meal there, have a look around the kitchen because you might just be able to see this lesser seen and known shaman deity.