Jajang-yulsa – 자장 율사 (590-658)


A portrait of the Silla monk, Jajang-yulsa.

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In yet another new series on the site, I thought I would finally bring attention to some of the spiritual leaders, Korean monks, that helped Buddhism not only survive, but flourish throughout the Korean peninsula.

For the very first article, I thought I would acknowledge one of the most prominent monks in Korean history that helped guide such luminaries as Wonhyo-daesa and Uisang-daesa. I thought I would discuss Jajang-yulsa.

Jajang was a precepts Buddhist master from the Silla Kingdom. As a result of this distinction, he’s known as Jajang-yulsa. He’s the only famous monk in Korean history that has the title “yulsa” attached to his name.  He’s also one of the key founders of Buddhism in Korea. Jajang helped nurture the newly developing Buddhist community in Korea. But he’s probably most famous for founding the five most famous, and ancient, Jeokmyeol-bogung that house the Buddha’s earthly remains. In addition to these five famous temples, he also founded other famous temples like Sinheungsa Temple and Magoksa Temple.


A picture of Magoksa Temple.

Jajang came from an important aristocratic family that ranked just below the royal family. He was born Kim Seonjong (김선종). Jajang was a bright student that started to study Buddhism at an early age. After the death of his parents, Jajang started to shun the material world. Later in life, he left both his wife and kids to practice meditation on mountains. During his meditative practices, or at least one story states, Jajang would focus on a skeleton, while having his hut lined with brambles to prevent him from dozing off and losing focus.

Jajang was called several times to serve the king, King Jinpyeong (r.579-632), as a palace official. He called him to office before he became a monk. However, Jajang declined the offer in a letter when he famously stated, “I would rather die keeping precepts for one more day than live a hundred years breaking them.” Eventually, the king relented, and Jajang became an ordained monk (bigu).


A portrait of Jajang from Jajangam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

After this episode in his life, Jajang traveled to Tang China in 636 at the age of 46. He did this to help further his Buddhist education that was not available in Korea at that time. He went on to study in the capital of Tang China: Zhongnan (now, Changan). He also studied at Mt. Wutai-shan (The Five Platforms Mountains). This monastery had a centuries old history devoted to Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). During his time at the monastery, Jajang had mystical visions of Munsu-bosal. He also received 100 sari (crystalized remains) of the Buddha, a fragment of his skull, a piece of his robe, as well as a piece of the Buddha’s begging bowl.


A portrait of Jajang-yulsa from Jajangam Hermitage.

Finally, Jajang returned to Silla Korea in 643. As soon as he returned, Queen Seondeok authorized Jajang to use the holy relics to help further establish Buddhism in Korea, while also founding new temples throughout the Silla Kingdom. She also appointed him as Supreme Buddhist Overseer (National Preceptor), which granted him authority to create structure and discipline throughout Silla Buddhism.

In addition to all the temples that Jajang helped found like Tongdosa Temple, Bongjeongam Hermitage, and Woljeongsa Temple, he also advised the Queen to build the famous nine-story wooden pagoda at Hwangnyongsa Temple in Gyeongju. And then, in 658, Jajang-yulsa, who had given so much to establish Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom, died.


Tongdosa Temple during Buddha’s birthday.

Gunwi Grotto (2nd Seokguram) – 군위 석굴 (Gunwi, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


The temple courtyard that houses the Gunwi Grotto in Gunwi, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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You first approach the temple grounds from the left (south). You’ll be welcomed by an intimidatingly large sized visitors’ and study centre that seemed unused and unoccupied after crossing a bridge with a small stream that runs under the bridge. Just to the right, and behind a shrine hall that you can’t enter, are both the temple’s bell pavilion and a biseok dedicated to a deceased monk from the temple. Further behind these structures are the long monks’ quarters that are strictly off-limits.

Just a little further right, once more, and you’ll come to another biseok, as well as a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) that sits in front of a shallow artificial pond. The statue of this Buddha is well preserved considering it dates back to the 9th century.

Just past the bamboo grove that surrounds the statue of Birojana-bul is the main temple courtyard. Immediately, you’ll notice the hole in the sheer mountain face that houses the triad of Buddhist statues. This grotto, the Gunwi Grotto, predates the much more famous Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju by 100 years. The cave hovers twenty metres above the ground. And the dimensions of the naturally occurring cave measure 4.25 metres by 4.3 metres. Inside this cave are three statues. In the centre sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in a lotus posture. He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Unfortunately, you can’t climb the stairs to get a closer look at these amazing statues; however, you can still get a pretty good look at them from a relatively close distance. The Gunwi Grotto is National Treasure #109.

Just before this grotto, and to the left, is the temple’s main hall. Out in front of the hall are a pair of statues of a child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Surrounding the exterior walls of this hall are some masterful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. Inside this hall, and resting in the centre of the main altar is a statue of Birojana-bul. On the far left wall of the main hall is the guardian mural, and the interior walls to this hall are lined with paintings of various Bodhisattvas like Gwanseeum-bosal, Munsu-bosal, and Bohyun-bosal.

Out in front of the main hall, as you make your way towards the Samseong-gak that rests behind the main hall on the mountain, is one of the more peculiar pagodas that you’ll see in Korea. It’s a one story pagoda made of white bricks that dates back to Unified Silla Period (668 A.D. – 935 A.D.). As for the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, it rests precariously on the face of the mountain. Inside, there are three rather ordinary-looking paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to the Gunwi Grotto, you’ll need to get a bus from the Gunwi Bus Terminal that heads towards Mt. Palgongsan. Just make sure with the bus driver that the bus crosses path with the grotto. Buses from the terminal start at 8:25 a.m. in the morning and run throughout the day until 7:10 p.m.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. This temple is a bit of a tough one to rate. It doesn’t have many temple halls, but what it does have is pretty good. Add into the mix the grotto, and Gunwi Grotto becomes pretty special. But the difficulty of getting to this temple takes a bit away from its overall rating. Either way, if you have an opportunity to see the Gunwi Grotto, I recommend you make the trip, especially if you’re in or visiting the Daegu area.


The stream that flows next to the temple grounds.


The massive study hall at Gunwi Grotto.


One of the biseok that welcomes you to the temple grounds.


The bell pavilion that’s well hidden in front of the monks’ dorms.


The ancient statue of Birojana-bul at Gunwi Grotto.


The beautiful main hall at Gunwi Grotto.


A statue of Munsu-bosal beneath a pine tree.


One of the masterful Shimu-do murals that’s painted on the main hall’s walls.


The triad of statues that take up residence on the main altar inside the main hall.


The wooden guardian relief inside the main hall.


The strange looking one-tier white brick pagoda in the temple courtyard.


A look up at the naturally occurring grotto.


A closer look at the triad of ancient statues housed inside the Gunwi Grotto.


A look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at the temple.


The paintings inside Samseong-gak.

The Sermon on Vulture Peak Painting – Yeongsan Hoesang-do (영산 회상도)


The famous Yeongsan Heosang-do at Gimryongsa Temple that dates back to 1703.

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The English name for the Yeongsan Hoesang-do is “The Sermon on Vulture Peak” painting. It is a highly symbolic painting that most people see at a Korean temple, but they simply don’t understand its meaning. So what does the Vulture Peak painting look like? And what is the meaning behind it?

During the Goryeo Period (918-1392), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) was the most popular Buddha throughout the Korean peninsula. However, during the early Joseon Dynasty, which started in 1392, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) became the most popular main altar Buddha. And this popularity has continued to the present day. The most common triad to be found on the main altar of the main hall at a Seon (Zen) Korean temple or hermitage are the sculptures of Seokgamoni-bul flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal. Behind this triad of statues, and on the wall, hangs the Vulture Peak painting.


The intricate Vulture Peak Painting inside the main hall at Naesosa Temple.

In the Vulture Peak painting, the central and dominating figure is Seokgamoni-bul. He’s seated on a lotus pedestal and his hands are forming the “Touching the Earth” mudra, where his right hand is touching the earth and his left hand still rests in his lap. In the painting, he’s flanked by both Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) who both wear large crowns. The painting, depending on how elaborate it is, will be filled with varying Bodhisattvas and Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) that back Seokgamoni-bul. Guardians also inhabit the painting like the Four Heavenly Kings (Sacheonwang) that are positioned in the bottom right and left corners.

The reason that the painting is so well populated and centred by Seokgamoni-bul is that it’s supposed to represent the Lotus Sutra, where the Buddha first preached it on Vulture Peak. This sutra; and therefore, the painting, is meant to represent the essential teachings of Seokgamoni-bul. Specifically, the Yeongsan Hoesang-do, or The Sermon on Vulture Peak painting, is meant to represent the opening chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which tells who participated in the assembly. This chapter also describes what happened before the lecture by the Buddha.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple or hermitage, have a close look inside the main hall at the main altar. If you look close enough, perhaps you’ll be able to correctly identify the highly elaborate and beautiful Yeongsan Hoesang-do, the Vulture Peak painting.


The Vulture Peak Painting from inside the main hall at Baekyangsa Temple.

Baekjangam Hermitage – 백장암 (Namwon, Jeollabuk-do)


National Treasure #10 housed at Baekjangam Hermitage in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do.

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Baekjangam Hermitage lies a kilometer up a mountainside road. Baekjangam Hermitage is a small hermitage with only a couple shrine halls to visit. Immediately, you’ll see the newly built main hall standing front and centre. Hidden behind this beautiful structure is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that is joined by the monks’ dorms to the far right.

Out in front of the main hall is the highlight to Baekjangam Hermitage. The three-story stone pagoda is National Treasure #10, which is quite extraordinary for this out of the way hermitage to house. But that’s the charm of Korean temples: the hidden treasures that are tucked away throughout the Korean countryside. This pagoda dates back to the Unified Silla Period in Korean history, which lasted from 668 A.D. to 935 A.D. This pagoda is unconventional in its design with its base being as wide as the body. The pagoda is well preserved with various Bodhisattvas and guardians carved on its base. In addition, a lotus design is carved just below the finial, which is also well preserved. Behind the pagoda is an equally old stone lantern that dates back to the 8th century. While rather plain in comparison to the neighbouring stone lantern at Silsangsa Temple, it does have a nice lotus-shaped design just below the open chamber. In front of the pagoda and stone lantern are four stupas and a top to a stone lantern.

Behind this collection of stone monuments is the main hall. Painted on the exterior walls are guardian murals, as well as painted depictions of both the stone lantern and the famed pagoda. Sitting inside the main hall are a triad of statues upon the altar. The shiny statue in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the right of this altar is the older looking guardian mural, and the interior walls are painted with Nahan murals. Between both the guardian mural and the statues sitting on the main altar is a painted representation of the altar statues.

Just to the right rear is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. This low ceilinged, and natural wood exterior, has a couple of beautiful shaman paintings inside. To the right is the vibrantly painted Dokseong (The Recluse) mural. And to the left hangs an older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), who holds a large green leafed fan in hand. This hall is backed by a lush bamboo forest.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, whether you live in Seoul or Busan. From the Namwon Terminal, pretty much the only way you can get to Baekjangam Hermitage is by taxi. It will take 40 minutes, and it’ll cost you 28,000 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. Without doubt, the main highlight to this temple is National Treasure #10. This 8th century stone pagoda is well preserved with vivid depictions of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas around its body. It’s joined by ancient stupas and an equally older looking stone lantern. The cavernous main hall houses a shiny new collection of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas on the main altar. And the paintings inside the shaman shrine hall are certainly something not to be missed. So if you’re visiting the neighbouring Silsangsa Temple, make sure you drop by and visit Baekjangam Hermitage, as well.


The mountains where you can find Baekjangam Hermitage.


All of the hermitage halls and stone structures.


One of the stupas in front of the historic pagoda.


Another well preserved stupa.


Both the historic stone lantern and pagoda housed in front of the main hall.


A closer look at some of the Bodhisattvas carved onto the pagoda.


Another image of the guardians etched near the top of the pagoda.


The front facade to the colourful main hall.


A painted representation of the pagoda on the right side of the main hall.


Two of the statues sitting on the main altar: Seokgamoni-bul and Gwanseeum-bosal.


They’re joined by Jijang-bosal.


The older looking guardian mural hanging on the right wall.


To the right rear of the main altar is a painted representations of the statues.


The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


A vibrant mural of Dokseong.


 The older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin.

The Guardian Mural – Shinjung Taenghwa (신중 탱화)


The elaborate Shinjung Taenghwa at Naejangsa Temple.

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In English, the Shinjung Taenghwa is called the “Altar Painting of Guardian Deities” or the Guardian Mural for short. This painting is a highly intricate painting that most people have seen if you’ve been to any temple or hermitage throughout the Korean peninsula. However, what is less known about this painting is all of its rich detail and meaning. So what exactly does a Guardian Mural look like? And more specifically, what is the meaning behind it all?

The Guardian Mural, or the Shinjung Taenghwa, is relatively large in size. It can either be a painting or a wooden-relief. They are always found inside a temple’s main hall; however, they can also be found in another temple hall, as well. The mural is typically placed above an altar with incense on the right-hand side of the hall, but they can really be anywhere. The Guardian Mural can feature anywhere from five to one-hundred and eight crowded figures. All figures inside the Shinjung Taenghwa are considered deities outside the core deities that are usually found at a Korean temple.


The Guardian Mural at Bogyeongsa Temple.

So who exactly are these figures, and why are they included in the Shinjung Taenghwa? The most domineering figure in the painting is the centrally located, and multi-armed, Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin protective demon that comes from the Vajrayana (Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism) tradition.


The fierce Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Hongryongsa Temple.


A stone relief of Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Samgwangsa Temple.


The wooden-relief of Dae-Yejeok Geumgangshin at Sujeongsa Temple.

He stands above a figure with a winged helmet. This large figure is Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings). Dongjin-bosal is believed to be the son of Shiva in Hinduism. Buddhist legend states that after the Buddha’s death, a demon stole one of the Buddha’s teeth. Dongjin-bosal chased down the demon and retrieved the tooth from it. For this, Dongjin-bosal became a protector of both the Buddhist community, as well as the Buddha’s teachings. With the growth of Seon (Zen) Buddhism throughout North-East Asia, he was promoted from a deva to a full-fledged Bodhisattva. The wings on his helmet, which makes him easy to identify, are believed to come from Siberian shamanism. The wings signify an ability to fly up to the heavens or down into the deepest depths of hell. In addition to his winged helmet, Dongjin-bosal also wears a Chinese Tang Dynasty general’s uniform, while holding a large multi-bladed vajra sword.


Dongjin-bosal at Baekjangam Hermitage.


The multi-headed wooden relief of Dongjin-bosal at Wonhyoam Hermitage.

Flanking the two central figures of Dae-yejeok Geumgangshin and Dongjin-bosal are a pair of beautiful figures with red and white crowns. The one with the crown with the white orb on it is Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva). The one with the red orb in his crown is Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). These four figures are then surrounded by an assortment of various guardian deities. They include folk deities and historical figures that can be shamanic, Taoist, Confucian, or even Hindu in origin. They are all believed to have volunteered to protect the Buddha’s teachings, the temple, and the Buddhist community with whatever spiritual force they can employ. These deities often include the most popular shaman figures like Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Yongwang (The Dragon King). They can also be heavenly spirits, earthly spirits, or dongja (attendants). On the bottom row of the painting is an array of military general spirits.

All of these deities in this mural are believed to reside in the realm of pleasure, but they can’t attain enlightenment. Often, you will see monks chanting the Heart Sutra in front of the Shinjung Taenghwa to help these deities attain a human form so that they can potentially attain enlightenment in their next lives. And just as frequently, you’ll see lay-people bowing in front of the guardian mural as a sign of respect and understanding.


The Shinjung Taenghwa at Daeheungsa Temple.

So the next time you’re at a temple and you see the Shinjung Taenghwa, which you will if you look close enough, have a look and give a bow or two of your own as a sign of respect for those spirits that protect both the Buddha’s teachings and the Buddhist community.

Hungry Ghosts – Agwi (아귀)


A couple of monstrous-looking Agwi.

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You’ve probably seen an Agwi, or Hungry Ghosts/Spirits, in English, a hundred times at a temple but just didn’t know exactly what it was supposed to mean or represent. So what is an Agwi? Where can you see one? And what are they supposed to mean?

An Agwi is a ghost or spirit that is perpetually hungry. They were a former human who now suffers from hunger and thirst as karma for their greed, selfishness, or jealousy (or a combination of the three), while they were alive. They have bulging eyes, open mouths, their giant bellies exposed, and they have hardly any clothing on their bodies. Their eye-brows are angry and rigid, while they are either bald or losing their hair. Additionally, they wear a lot of jewelry like ankle and wrist bracelets, and their ears are typically pierced by gold earrings. But probably the easiest way to identify them is that they have red wings behind their ears.


A couple of Agwi from an ancient painting at Seonamsa Temple.

Buddhist scriptures describe Agwi as beings with throats as small as needles and having bloated bellies. They are called “Preta” in Sanskrit, which in ancient India simply meant spirits of the dead. In East Asian Buddhism, Agwi are called “burning mouths” because when they put food in their mouths, the food bursts into flames so that the Agwi can’t consume the food.

The realm where the Agwi live is believed to be located far beneath the earth’s surface, but above hell. Agwi are reincarnated in one of the three evil destinies. This belief comes from the “doctrine of the ten worlds and their mutual possession.” Because they lived a past life as someone that consumed with insatiable desires or were tormented with relentless cravings, they have been reborn as an Agwi in one of the three evil realms.


A couple mischievous Agwi.

So who are these Agwi? Well, they were once humans. And technically, they could even be a deceased member of your family. A good example of this is a Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), Mokgeollyeon (Mahakalika), who saved his own mother from the realm of hungry ghosts. Ceremonies are performed at Korean temples to “feed” Agwi. They are held by lay-people for their own deceased family members, or they can be held by monks for all those spirits that are suffering. This ceremony is typically held inside the main hall or the Myeongbu-jeon Hall in front of a Gamno-do painting. Typically, the ceremony involves chanting and the performing of Buddhist instruments like a drum, hand bell or cymbals, so as to comfort the Agwi.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple or hermitage, have a look around to see if you can spot a suffering Agwi. They’re pretty easy to spot in a painting, but it can be very hard to find a painting that depicts them.

Silsangsa Temple – 실상사 (Namwon, Jeollabuk-do)


 The amazing gaze of the Unified Silla-era Yaksayore-bul statue at Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

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Silsangsa Temple was first constructed in 828 by the monk Jeunggak. Upon returning from Tang China, Jeunggak built this temple and it was one of nine special seon (zen) temples, better known as the Gusan Seonmun (The Nine Holy Seon Buddhist Mountains). The temple was built in its location to allow for Korea’s good spirit to take root and prosper and so it couldn’t be taken away to Japan. The temple faced a period of decline when it was destroyed during the Imjin War in 1597. The temple was reconstructed and restored in 1700. Silsangsa Temple was almost completely destroyed once more in 1882 as a result of a fire. Bad luck continued when it was partial destroyed, once more, during the Korean War.

Rather remarkably, the temple is surrounded on most sides by rice fields and beautiful views of Mt. Jirisan. You first enter the temple through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside are some of the happiest and non-threatening Heavenly Kings, you’ll find inside this type of gate. As you enter, and just to your right, is a three-tier pagoda made of roof tiles. Just behind it is the temple’s compact bell pavilion. Just to the right of these two structures is an elevated portion of land. Formally, a nine-story wooden pagoda once took up residence at Silsangsa Temple. Standing over twenty metres in height, it must have been something pretty special; unfortunately, all that remains now are some of the foundation stones.

In the back right corner of the temple complex looks to be a newer-looking temple hall. Inside this minimally painted hall is one of the most amazing iron statues of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) in all of Korea. From the Unified Silla Period, the iron statue stands 2.69 metres in height. While it’s undergone a few repairs throughout the years, it stern determination still rests on its face with enlightenment in its eyes. Have a look and take your time, because there are very few others that compare in age and artistry to this statue at Silsangsa Temple.

Slightly to the left, and back towards the leveled pagoda, is the Myeongbu-jeon. Again, there is very little colour on the external walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is an older looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on either side by standing statues of Domyeong-jonja (The Disciple of Jijang-bosal) and Mudok-gui Wang. Mudok-guk Wang, who is a king, was a guide for Jijang-bosal in his former life. Of note, he captured the key to hell in a box. As a result, he manages hell. He also gets rid of evil thoughts in people. This triad on the main altar is surrounded by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

In the open courtyard stands a pair of pagodas and a uniquely designed stone lantern. Both three-story stone pagodas date back to the Unified Silla Period and stand 5.4 metres in height. Of note, both are in remarkably great shape for their age. Between these pagodas, and slightly behind them, is the round based stone lantern. With lotus designs and a set of portable stairs, you can light a candle in any one of the eight long openings around it’s centre.

Behind this collection of stone monuments is the understated main hall. Plain in colour, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sits in the centre of the main altar. He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). In the back right corner is a rather simple painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the left of the main hall is a compact shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

The final hall you can visit is the Geukrak-jeon, which is to the far left of the main hall and beyond the monks’ dorms. You’ll need to cross a bridge to get to this hall. In fact, you’ll have to enter into a compound with monks’ dorms to your right. Inside the only vibrantly painted hall at Silsangsa Temple sits a solitary statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the far right wall is an older guardian mural with an interesting depiction of Yongwang (The Dragon King). The Geukrak-jeon dates back to the 19th century, when its predecessor was burnt to the ground by Confucian scholars attempting to take the temple by force.

In front of the Geukrak-jeon compound is a stele dedicated to the memory of Jeunggak. While slightly the worse for wear, you can still see its smooth turtle head and face. And just to the left rear of this stele and the Geukrak-jeon compound is the intricate stupa that houses the earthly remains of monk Jeunggak.

Just as I was leaving, and because I didn’t see it when I first arrived, I took the time to take a look at the three stone spirit poles that date back to 1725. Uniquely, all three are male and wear caps. Instead of being fiercely designed to ward off evil spirits, these three poles seem more humourous than anything. Near the ticket booth to the temple, there remains only one with the other being washed away by water. The other two are just over the bridge as you make your way to the temple grounds.

Admission to the temple is 1,500 won, but there was no one at the booth when I visited, so it was free. I assume admission just depends on when you go.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, which is the closest city to Silsangsa Temple, you’ll need to take a bus to Inwol Bus Terminal (인월버스터미널). From Inwol Bus Terminal, take a local bus bound for Sannae (산내). Get off at the Silsangsa Temple stop. Perhaps even ask your bus driver if they’re going to Silsangsa Temple just to be sure.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While Silsangsa Temple is a temple with a more glorious past than its present, it still has some pretty unique highlights.The iron statue of Yaksayore-bul is one of the best examples of artistry from the Unified Silla Period. Also, the rarely seen stone spirit poles are humourous in design. Finally, the remnants of the temples past glory found in the foundation stones of an ancient pagoda, the near perfectly preserved pagodas and stone lantern, as well as the stupa and stele dedicated to Jeunggak are just some of the stone features to the strangely located Silsangsa Temple.


 The Cheonwangmun Gate that first greets you at Silsangsa Temple.


 One of the rather jovial, and not so intimidating, Heavenly Kings.


 The amazing view from the Cheonwangmun Gate at neighbouring Mt. Jirisan.


 The temple’s bell pavilion and roof tile pagoda.


 A view across the leveled wooden pagoda at the foundation stones and Mt. Jirisan off in the distance.


 The newly built hall that houses the amazing Yaksayore-bul.


 A first look at the iron Buddha that dates back to the Unified Silla Period.


 A better look at its serene, yet stern, expression.


 The intricacies of design: Look at the feet curled up in the lotus position.


 The plainly painted Myeongbu-jeon with the twin pagodas to the right.


 The triad of statues inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.


 A better look at the well preserved stone pagodas from the Unified Silla Period.


 And the matching stone lantern with the main hall in the background.


 A look inside the main hall with a monk conducting morning prayer.


 The Chilseong-gak to the left of the main hall.


 The painting of Chilseong inside the shrine hall sporting its own name.


 The well-worn stele dedicated to Jeunggak.


 The stupa dedicated to the founding monk with the Geukrak-jeon framing it.


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


 One of the bulbous nosed spirit poles at the entrance of the temple.


 Yet another. This one has a pretty good set of bulging eyes.


And finally, across the river lies this tall hatted spirit pole.

Revolving Scriptures Library Pillar – Yunjangdae (윤장대)


 Inside the Daejang-jeon Hall at Yongmunsa Temple. The Yunjangdae is to the left with the oldest main altar relief to the right.

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The Yunjangdae is one of the rarer things to see, or even find, at a temple or hermitage in Korea. So what exactly is its purpose? And what does it look like? In English, the Yunjangdae (윤장대) is known as the Revolving Scriptures Library Pillar. The Yunjandae is colourfully painted. It’s rooted into the ground with a rotating base. It can also be fastened to the ceiling with a spindle pole, as well. The design goes from slim to large from the base of the library pillar to the top. In the body of the Yunjangdae are multiple florally designed doors. And at the top of the Yunjangdae rests a colourful red canopy. In addition to all this, the Yunjangdae can also be adorned with dragons, Nathwi, or flowers.


 A closer look at perhaps the oldest Yunjangdae in all of Korea at Yongmunsa Temple.

So what exactly is the purpose behind the Yunjangdae? Well, the Yunjangdae is a spinning bookcase used in Buddhist ceremonies. It enshrines Buddhist scriptures and sutras inside. It’s believed by Buddhists that if you turn the Yunjangdae while attempting to gain positive karma that you’ll attain it without having to study all the Buddhist sutras. The reason you won’t have to read all the Buddhist texts is that by spinning the Yunjangdae, it’s like you’ve read through all of the sutras. This idea is similar to many Vajrayana (Tantric or Esoteric) Buddhist practices such as the prayer wheels in Tibet and Mongolian Buddhist beliefs.

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 The colourful Yunjangdae at Gapsa Temple.

There are a couple great examples of the Yunjangdae. One such example can be found in the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Gapsa Temple in Gonju, Chungcheongnam-do. Another, and perhaps the oldest in Korea, is the Yunjangdae found at Yongmunsa Temple in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, which dates back to 1173 A.D.

Eunsusa Temple – 은수사 (Jinan, Jeollabuk-do)


 The beautiful scenery that surrounds Eunsusa Temple in Maisan Provincial Park.

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Eunsusa Temple, which means “Silver Water Temple,” in English, is located just above Tapsa Temple on the ridge. The temple was first known as Sangwonsa Temple in the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It later changed its name to Jeongmyeongam Hermitage. Finally, the temple changed its name to its present name, Eunsusa Temple, when King Taejo (the founder of the Joseon Dynasty) visited the temple. After he made the comment that the water flowing nearby was as clean and smooth as pure silver, the temple became known as Eunsusa Temple.

You first approach the temple up a short, paved path. Eunsusa Temple is situated under Sutmaibong Peak, which is better known as Elephant Rock, because it literally looks like an elephant. Finally, you’ll come to a clearing with the monks’ dorms to the right. Just behind the monks’ dorms is a shrine hall dedicated to Dangun Wanggeom, who was the legendary founder of Gojoseon (the first Korean Kingdom). The exterior walls to this hexagonal shrine hall are adorned with various shamanistic motifs like a sun and moon high in the sky above a red pine and four mountain peaks. Inside this hall, and adorning the ceiling to this hall, is a swirl of kaleidoscope colours. Below this ceiling are a collection of framed pictures. Straight ahead, and on the main altar, is a rather non-descript painting of Dangun. To the right is an all white-clad painting of Sanshin-dosa, who is often used as an icon for pass-spirits. On the left wall is a hierarchy of shaman deities.

Just up the embankment, and straight ahead, is Natural Monument #386, which is a collection of Cheongsil pear trees. They are thought to only grow at Eunsusa Temple on the entire Korean peninsula. Close to these pear trees is the temple’s bell pavilion. While completely underwhelming, it does house the largest wooden drum in Korea. It was made back in 1982 and is rather large in size.

Just behind these two features are a collection of temple halls. The first to the far left is the main hall at Eunsusa Temple. As you enter the main hall, you’ll notice a triad of smaller sized statues on the altar. In the centre sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the left by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And to the right rests Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). In the far left corner is a collection of statues which include various Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), as well as Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). And on the far right wall is a guardian mural, as well as an older looking painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Next to this hall is the Geukrak-jeon hall. Inside this hall, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined, as usual, in this type of hall by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). In the far left corner is an altar dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). He is joined by a large guardian mural.

The final shrine hall, and housed on the upper terrace, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Besides it being one of the lowest ceilinged buildings I’ve been in at a Korean temple, it’s also rather unique, as well. As you enter this hall, and to your left, is an older looking guardian mural that will welcome you to this shaman shrine hall. On the main altar sits a statue of Sanshin-dosa, as well as a statue of Sanshin. These two figures are backed by a red robed, almost Dokseong-looking, mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the right of this collection are seven statues that represent Chilseong (The Seven Stars). These seven figures are backed by one of the larger murals dedicated to Chilseong that I’ve seen in Korea.

To the right of this hall, and back on the lower terrace, is an earthen shrine for shaman rituals. Just to the side of it is a large bronze statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King), as well as some silvery mountain water that pours into a granite fountain.

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. Once at Tapsa Temple, after hiking the leisurely 1.5 kilometre trail, you’ll need to head up a steep set of stairs to the right of Tapsa Temple. Hike up this trail for 300 metres, and you’ll come to Eunsusa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. In combination with Tapsa Temple and Geumdangsa Temple, Eunsusa Temple makes for a pretty amazing day trip. On its own, Eunsusa Temple has quite a few unique features like the shrine hall dedicated to Dangun and Sanshin-dosa. Also, there’s the pear trees that only grow around Eunsusa Temple in all of Korea. Finally, the red robed Sanshin painting, the seven wooden figures that symbolize Chilseong, the largest wooden drum in all of Korea, and the Elephant Rock backdrop allow Eunsusa Temple to stand out on its own.


 The trail that leads up to Eunsusa Temple.


 The temple halls as you first approach the temple grounds.


The hexagonal shrine hall dedicated to Dangun.


 A look inside at the colourful ceiling and the mural of Dangun, the founder of Korea.


 The mural of Sanshin-dosa to the right of the main altar.


 A closer look at Dangun.


 The Geukrak-jeon hall beneath Elephant Rock.


 A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar.


 The guardian mural inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 The shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal inside the Geukrak-jeon.


 The fish gong which hangs next to the largest drum in all of Korea (so they say).


 The triad of statues inside the main hall.


 The assortment of statues to the left of the main altar inside the main hall.


 You’ll then have to pass by the Geukrak-jeon hall to get to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


Finally, a look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


 The red-robed image of Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.


 The mural and statues dedicated to Chilseong.

The Founder’s Hall – Josa-jeon (조사전)


A look across at the Josa-jeon Hall at Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.

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This is yet another article on little known or seen things you might encounter at a Korean Buddhist temple. This time, I thought I would explain the Josa-jeon Hall at a temple. While you might have seen this hall before, it may not be all that clear as to what purpose it serves. So what exactly is this halls purpose and what does it look like? In English, the “Josa” means “patriarch” or “founder; while “jeon” means hall. So the best name, at least in English, for the Josa-jeon Hall is “The Founder’s Hall.”


The understated Josa-jeon Hall at Daeheungsa Temple.

The Josa-jeon Hall is smaller in size. It’s usually to the side of a temple complex. The exterior walls are either plainly painted or they have the Ox-Herding murals, the Shimu-do murals, adorning it. As for the interior, the hall enshrines formal portraits of that temple or the Buddhist school that the specific temple may focus on. It can also house portraits of great monks that either lived or taught at the temple, including major disciples. More specifically, it can also house monks who led in the reconstruction of the temple or in its revival. Typically, older temples have larger sized Josa-jeon Halls filled with these portraits. And they are far more prevalent at Seon school temples because this type of Korean Buddhism focuses on lineage.


Portraits of prominent monks at Miraesa Temple.

A lot of the hall’s meaning is wrapped around its name. But a lot of meaning can also be discovered in the portraits themselves. The portraits are usually paintings that are highly formal and created after the monk in the mural has died. The portraits can also be copies of copies, repainted through the centuries as a result of decay. In the portrait, the monk is dressed in full “gasa” (the monastic robe). They are usually seated on a wooden chair and holding a ritual instrument like a “bulja” (fly whisk), which denotes their office. Additionally, they can also be holding a “yeomju” (Buddhist rosary beads). In some modern portraits, photographs of the deceased monks may be used instead of a mural. And in some rare situations, a statue might be used instead of a painting or a picture.


The wall-to-wall murals found inside the Josa-jeon at Baegyangsa Temple.

Throughout the year, various ceremonies are performed at the Josa-jeon Hall. Brief chanting ceremonies are performed daily at the hall to show respect and veneration for past monks and masters. Larger ceremonies are held every year on days that are dedicated to a specific master, such as the day that they passed or the day they gained enlightenment. The reason that these ceremonies take place is so members of the seungga (Buddhist community) can show respect to former teachers from the temple.


The view of the Josa-jeon Hall at Miraesa Temple from a distance.

Some great examples of this type of hall can be found at Daeheungsa Temple, Miraesa Temple in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Baekyangsa Temple, Seonunsa Temple, Samyeongam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple, and Seonamsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do.