Temple Stay: Naesosa Temple (Buan, Jeollabuk-do)

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The main hall at Naesosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Naesosa Temple was first constructed in 633 A.D. by the monk Hyegu. This was during the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C. – 660 A.D); presently, it’s on the southern outskirts of Byeonsan Bando National Park. At first, the temple was known as Soraesa Temple, but fell into disrepair. About a thousand years later, the temple was rebuilt in 1633 by the monk Cheongmin. It was also around this time that the temple changed its name to its current name: Naesosa Temple. The name of the temple roughly translates as, “Anyone who enters here can get a fresh start on all their problems.”

The Temple Stay program at Naesosa Temple offers a visitor a chance to enjoy the nature that surrounds the temple, as well as what life is like as a Buddhist monk in Korea. With community work built into the program, as well as a trip to a neighbouring waterfall, a visitor gets a first-hand view of what spiritual life must be like for a Korean Buddhist monk.

For more information on Naesosa Temple.

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Nature at its finest at Naesosa Temple.

Directions:

You’ll first need to get to Buan Bus Terminal in Jeollabuk-do. From this bus terminal, you can take a direct bus to Naesosa Temple. The bus will let you off 800 metres outside the temple grounds. You’ll need to make your way towards the entry gate and past all the stores and restaurants that line the way. You can take a bus or a taxi, which takes about 50 minutes from the Buan Bus Terminal, and it will cost you around 30,000 won. The official website says 30 minutes, but this just isn’t true, so be warned.

General Schedule:

Naesosa Temple runs a single Temple Stay program at its temple.

A: Naesosa Regular Schedule: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

14:30: Registration and get a room

15:00: Opening ceremony and an orientation towards temple customs

16:00: Information about Naesosa Temple and introduction to each shrine

17:10: Dinner

18:00: Striking the temple bell and the evening Buddhist ceremony

18:30: Tea ceremony and a conversation with a monk

21:00: Bedtime

Day 2:

04:00: Wake up time

04:20: Early morning Buddhist ceremony

05:00: 108 bows and meditation

06:00: Monks’ meal

07:10: Community work (clear a room, wash bowls, etc)

08:00: Trekking to Jick-so waterfall and have lunch

12:00: Writing about your impressions

13:00: Closing Ceremony

13:30: Good-byes

 

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(Courtesy of the Temple Stay website).

Naesosa Temple Information:

Address : 268, Seokpo-ri, Jinseo-myeon Buan-gun Jeollabuk-do

Tel : +82-63-583-3035 / Fax : +82-63-583-7280

homepage : http://www.naesosa.org

E-mail : naesosa@templestay.com

Fees:

Adults: 60,000 won; Teens: 40,000 won (Naesosa Regular Schedule)

Link:

Reservations for the Naesosa Regular Schedule Temple Stay program.

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The beautiful view of the Sanshin-gak at Naesosa Temple.

Now and Then: Bunhwangsa Temple

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Bunhwangsa Temple, in Gyeongju, during Japanese colonial rule.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bunhwangsa Temple, which means “Fragrant Emperor Temple,” in English, was first constructed in 634 A.D. under the auspices of the famed Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D). Bunhwangsa Temple is located in the heart of Gyeongju with the neighbouring Hwangnyongsa-ji Temple Site in the next field. During the height of the Silla Kingdom, it covered a large amount of land, and it was one of the four main temples during this time. Unlike today, where any and all visitors are welcomed to the temple, Bunhwangsa Temple was formerly not a place for commoners. In fact, Bunhwangsa Temple was used by the state to ask the Buddha to bless and keep the kingdom safe. Famed monks like Jajang-yulsa and Wonhyo-daesa have called Bunhwangsa Temple home. Sadly, Bunhwangsa Temple was completely destroyed in the 1200s by the invading Mongols. Nearly 500 years later, it was rebuilt in the late 1700s.

Bunhwangsa Temple is best known for its three-story stone pagoda, the Stone Brick Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, also just so happens to be National Treasure #30. There are many reasons why this pagoda qualifies as a national treasure, but one of them is its age. It dates back to 634 A.D., the same year that the temple was established, and it’s also the oldest datable Silla stone pagoda that’s still in existence. Amazingly, the pagoda’s bricks were all hand-made from black andesite stone. This was done to replicate the Tang China pagodas, popular at that time, that missionaries were describing to Queen Seondeok as they traveled through the Silla Kingdom. While the pagoda is currently three-stories in height, it was formerly thought to be nine stories in height and hallow inside. Currently, it has a solid centre with the bricks and debris from its former collapse. The interior used to be so large that it was once used to house Buddhist scriptures. Around the four corners of the pagoda’s base are four dog-like lions. As the pagoda was being refurbished in the 1970’s, only one of the original four remained. In the process, three were replicated and now stand on the pagoda alongside the one original lion.

In 1915, during Japanese colonial rule, the Japanese authorities decided to repair the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda. During this time, they found numerous relics housed inside the pagoda like a sari-box that contained the calcified remains of a cremated monk. In addition to this item, other relics like gold, scissors, coins, and a needle case were also found inside the pagoda. It’s unclear who these items might have belonged to, but because they were a woman’s items, it’s believed to have belonged to a royal woman.

While considerably smaller nowadays, both in size and importance, remnants of its former grandeur still remain. Up until recently, the temple grounds were under excavation. In total, the temple houses the aforementioned National Treasure #30, as well as three additional provincial Tangible Cultural Properties.

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Bunhwangsa Temple from 1914!

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Bunhwangsa Temple in disrepair. In the centre, near the bottom, you can see the one original dog-like lion.

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A closer look at one of the Diamond Guardians (Eumgang-yeoksa), near one of the pagoda’s entrances.

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What the temple grounds formerly looked like during the early 20th century.

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Bunhwangsa Temple in 1962.

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Bunhwangsa Temple in the 1970s after being repaired.

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And the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda today.

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And another angle of National Treasure #30.

Silleuksa Temple – 신륵사 (Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do)

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The beautifully scenic view at Silleuksa Temple in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silleuksa Temple in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do means “Divine Bridle Temple,” in English. While there isn’t all that much concrete information on the foundation of the temple, it’s believed by some that it was established during King Jinpyeong’s reign (r. 579-632), others believe it was founded by the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa (617-686). The name of the temple is related to a legend where an uncontrollable horse was reined in by the power of the Buddha. Throughout the years, it’s been expanded and destroyed by fires. In 1469, Silleuksa Temple became the prayer sanctuary to the royal mausoleum to the great King Sejong. Currently, the temple houses numerous treasures.

You first approach the temple grounds to the west of Silleuksa Temple. With the Temple Stay facilities to your left, you’ll pass through a guardian gate with two fiercely painted Vajra warriors on its entry doors. A little further along, and with the Han River to your right, as well as a pavilion that looks over the serene body of water, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the temple grounds.

The first thing to greet you at the temple is the rather wide Boje-ru pavilion. To the right of this pavilion, and past a stone marker, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Straight ahead is a beautiful seven-tier marble pagoda that dates back to the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It’s masterfully adorned with dragon and lotus carvings. This pagoda is framed by the Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Silleuksa Temple. The exterior walls are adorned with some recent, and amazingly rendered, Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for inside this main hall, there are a triad of statues that rest on the main altar. Seated in the centre sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by two standing statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).

To the rear of the Geukrakbo-jeon, and slightly to the left, is the Josa-dong. Unfortunately, the hall was under renovation when I visited; but typically, it houses the portraits of the famed monks Naong (1320-76), Muhak (1327-1405), and Jigong (d.1363). This hall is also the oldest at Silleuksa Temple.

To the left of the Josa-dong is the Myeongbu-jeon, which houses a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. He’s joined on all sides by seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Just outside this hall is an altar with a highly original piece of circular artwork dedicated to Jijang-bosal, as well. To the rear of this hall are a collection of stupas that house the remains of former monks at Silleuksa Temple, including the Naong’s stupa.

To the right of the main hall, and past the monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are some of the more original paintings dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea. Have a close look at the meditative posture Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) is striking, as well as the elfish-looking Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) who is joined by a massive tiger.

But perhaps Silleuksa Temple is most famous for its location. With it being one of a handful of river temples in Korea, it makes for some great pictures. As you approach the river from the hillside, you’ll pass by the six-tier brick pagoda, which is somewhat reminiscent of the brick pagoda at Songnimsa Temple in Daegu. Just to the rear of this pagoda at Silleuksa Temple is a memorial tablet to the Daejang-gak, which was a two-story library built during the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Just past these two treasures, treasure #230 and #226, is the Han River. Beautifully perched alongside a historic pagoda is a pavilion that people can enjoy the peace and quiet of the flowing river. This area of the temple also allows for some of the most picturesque photos that you’ll get at any temple in Korea.

Admission to the temple costs 2,200 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Silleuksa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal and take an intercity bus bound for Yeoju. The first bus leaves at 6:30 a.m. and the final one leaves at 22:30. These buses to Yeoju leave every thirty minutes. From the Yeoju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch Bus #980. You can catch this bus after leaving the terminal and heading right for about 100 metres. Cross the road and you can catch the #980 bus from this stop. Finally, you’ll need to get off at the Silleuksa Temple bus stop.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. There is so much to love about Silleuksa Temple. Probably its number one feature is its location amongst a park where the temple is located, as well as the beautiful Han River that flows just south of the temple grounds. Add into the mix the amazing paintings housed inside the Samseong-gak, as well as a handful of treasures including Naong’s stupa, and you have ample reason to get out and see the beautifully scenic Silleuksa Temple in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do Province.

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The guardian gate as you first approach Silleuksa Temple.

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One of the Vajra warriors protecting the temple.

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The park and pavilion you’ll pass by and through to get to the temple.

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The neighbouring Han River.

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The first view of Silleuksa Temple as you approach.

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The Boje-ru Pavilion at Silleuksa Temple.

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Some of the initial sites at the temple.

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The Geukrakbo-jeon main hall at Silleuksa Temple.

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The seven-tier marble pagoda.

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Some of the intricate artwork adorning the pagoda.

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One of the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals on the main hall.

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Another angle of the main hall at Silleuksa Temple.

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The Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.

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Some of the neighbouring artwork of Jijang-bosal.

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The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.

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The stupas behind the Myeongbu-jeon.

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The view from the stupas of Silleuksa Temple.

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A look towards the Samseong-gak.

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The amazing Sanshin mural.

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A look towards the six-story brick pagoda at Silleuksa Temple.

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A better look at both the brick pagoda and the neighbouring river.

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The tranquil river and the watchmen pagoda.

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 A better look at both.

Now and Then: Beopjusa Temple

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Beopjusa Temple in the early 20th century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beopjusa Temple was first established in 553 A.D. by the monk Uisin. The name of the temple means “The Place Where the Dharma Resides Temple,” in English. The reason that the temple was named Beopjusa Temple is that Uisin brought back a number of Indian sutras from his travels that he wanted to house at the temple.

During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Beopjusa Temple housed as many as 3,000 monks. At one point in the 1100’s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying national priest, Uicheon. Beopjusa Temple remained an important part of Buddhism throughout Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); however, the temple shrank in size as state support for Buddhism nearly disappeared in Confucian led ideology at this point in Korean history. It’s believed that King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, retired to a spot near Beopjusa Temple after tiring from all of his sons’ fighting. Like most other temples in Korea, Beopjusa Temple suffered from extensive damage at the hands of the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). A majority of the buildings at the temple were restored in 1624, including the famed Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

The temple is beautifully located in Songnisan National Park in Boeun County, Chungcheongbuk-do. In the 1960s, the temple underwent extensive repairs and refurbishment. In 1988 the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) that stands at 33 metres in height replaced the twenty year old cement statue that resided at the temple. Most recently, Beopjusa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay Program that’s conducted in English. In total, the temple houses three national treasures and twelve additional treasures. Of the three national treasures, the five-story wooden pagoda is National Treasure #55.

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The Iljumun Gate at Beopjusa Temple.

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The famous Palsang-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.

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A farmer to the side of the temple.

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Beopjusa Temple during the 1960s.

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Today, what the Iljumun Gate looks like.

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The Beopjusa Temple courtyard.

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With a closer look at the Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

Jangchunsa Temple – 장춘사 (Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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 The Yaksa-jeon at Jangchunsa Temple in Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located up in the mountains of Mt. Mureungsa, in Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do, is Jangchunsa Temple. Jangchunsa Temple was first constructed in 832 A.D. by State Priest Muyeum-guksa. King Heungdeok was rewarding Muyeum for repulsing the Japanese invaders using some sort of mysterious powers to throw off their eastern neighbours.

You first approach the temple up a long mountainous road, until eventually you reach the compact temple grounds. Slightly to the left, and through a low-hanging gate, lies the temple’s main courtyard. Standing in the centre of the temple courtyard is a slender five-tier stone pagoda. All around the pagoda are the temple facilities for the monks like the kitchen, dorms, and visitors’ centre.

Behind the five-tier pagoda is Jangchunsa Temple’s main hall. Rebuilt in 1979, the main hall’s exterior walls are decorated with simple, yet elegant, Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of white statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main hall hangs a painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well as a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). To the left of the main altar, and probably the most masterful painting of the lot, is the older-looking guardian mural. Unfortunately, while I was invited in to pray by two Korean women, they didn’t allow me to take pictures (which I completely respect, as they were praying).

To the right of the main hall is probably the smallest Yongwang-dang shrine hall I have yet to see in Korea. Housed inside the shrine is a framed mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King); while the exterior walls are painted with two separate dragon murals, as well as a flaming pearl. To the left of the main hall is the Josa-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to past monks that formerly called Jangchunsa Temple home.

Through a corridor between buildings, and up a set of stairs, you’ll come to the two final shrine halls that visitors can explore at Jangchunsa Temple. The first is the Yaksa-jeon, which houses a rather campy golden statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). While you wouldn’t realize it when you first look at the stone statue covered in gold paint, the statue of Yaksayore-bul actually dates back to the late Unified Silla Dynasty or the early Goryeo Dynasty. The exterior walls to this diminutive hall are adorned with murals that are dedicated to the life cycle.

A little further along the ridge-line, and you’ll come to the equally small Sanshin-gak. Careful when entering this hall, because the ceiling is extremely low. Housed inside this hall is a beautiful mural dedicated to the Mountain Spirit, Sanshin. It’s also from this vantage point that you get a beautiful look down the valley and down towards the city of Haman.

HOW TO GET THERE: Because Jangchunsa Temple is rather remote, the only way to get to the temple from the Haman Bus Terminal is by car. You can drive your own car, if you have one. The drive should take about 35 minutes. Or if you don’t have your own car, you can take a taxi from the bus terminal. The ride should cost about 35,000 won, one way.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by Jangchunsa Temple. Usually, if I’m going to travel over an hour to see a temple, I expect a little more. Unfortunately, between its rather small size and the underwhelming golden statue of Yaksayore-bul, this temple didn’t completely deliver. With that said, the interior to the main hall, with its unique statues and paintings, as well as the masterful Sanshin mural are nice in their own right. So if you’re in the area, and you want to do something on a weekend, perhaps Jangchunsa Temple could be an option; however, the neighbouring Neunggasa Temple is the better option of the two.

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The temple as you approach.

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The entry gate to the temple courtyard.

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One of the fierce guardians adorning the temple gate.

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A look up towards the temple’s main hall.

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The extremely compact Yongwang-dang.

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One of the beautiful paintings adorning the Yongwang-dang.

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One of the Ox-Herding murals decorating the exterior walls to the main hall.

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The corridor that leads past the Josa-jeon and up towards the upper courtyard.

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The stone stairs that lead the way with the Yaksa-jeon in sight.

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One of the life-cycle paintings adorning the Yaksa-jeon.

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The one thousand year old, golden Yaksayore-bul.

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The neighbouring Sanshin-gak.

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With a look inside at the mural dedicated to Sanshin.

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And the beautiful view from the Sanshin-gak.

Neunggasa Temple – 능가사 (Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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 The amazing riverside view of Neunggasa Temple in Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

On the southern banks of the Nakdong River is the scenically located Neunggasa Temple in Haman, Gyeongsangnam-do. As you first approach the temple from the temple’s parking lot, you’ll notice a large granite statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). This shrine area is fronted by equally beautiful stone lanterns, as well as a recently constructed stupa.

A sharp left from this ten metre tall statue is the temple’s main courtyard. To your left is the recently built bell pavilion. Straight ahead, and elevated over top the temple’s visitors’ centre, kitchen, and monks dorms, is the temple’s main hall. The main hall is beautifully decorated with Palsang-do murals that adorn the hall’s exterior walls. Stepping inside the rather spacious main hall are a triad of statues that sit on the main altar. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined to the left and right by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Hanging on the walls are a collection of masterful murals. To the immediate left is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Hanging to the right, and by the same artist, are two murals. One of these murals is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), while the other is the rather long guardian mural.

To the right of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with various murals dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Most memorable of the lot is the painting of two parents praying for the loss of their child. Seated inside this hall, and all alone on the main altar, is Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left of the main altar hang two older, and unique, shaman murals. The first is dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), while the other pays homage to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the right of the main altar hangs an equally older looking mural, no less original in composition, dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King), who appears to be surrounded by protective spirits.

But perhaps the most striking feature to Neunggasa Temple is its amazing location. Rarely will you find a temple located next to a river. Of course there are exceptions like Oeosa Temple, but these are the exceptions, and not the rule. Stepping outside the temple grounds, and hanging a left, you can make your way across a blue pedestrian bridge that you can enjoy some amazing views of both the Nakdong River at one of its wider berths, as well as the crowning Neunggasa Temple on the neighbouring hillside.

HOW TO GET THERE: You’ll first need to make your way to the Changwon Intercity Bus Terminal. From this terminal, you’ll need to take either Bus #705 or #707 and get off at the Masan Post Office stop. From there, you’ll need to board Bus #113-1 and get off at the Namji Bus Terminal. From this terminal, take a taxi the rest of the way to Neunggasa Temple. The fare should be about 4,400 won and the ride should last about seven minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Neunggasa Temple is one of the most beautifully located temples you’ll find in Korea. With the commanding view of the neighbouring Nakdong River, it’s a bit of a surprise that Neunggasa Temple isn’t better known. With that being said, and as a compliment to all its natural beauty, the shrine halls, shaman paintings, and the towering Yaksayore-bul statue can only help elevate the temple’s little known reputation. While the city of Haman isn’t that well known for its temples, Neunggasa Temple definitely takes a bit of a bite out of that reputation.

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Yaksayore-bul that welcomes you to Neunggasa Temple.

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The temple courtyard.

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The Gwaneum-jeon at Neunggasa Temple

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The consoling Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon.

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The older-looking Sanshin mural in the Gwaneum-jeon.

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As well as Yongwang inside the Gwaneum-jeon.

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A look towards the main hall at Neunggasa Temple.

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One of the Palsang-do murals.

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A look inside the main hall.

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The neighbouring bridge that allows for some amazing views.

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A picturesque view of the temple-by-the-river.

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 And a view of the neighbouring Nakdong River.

Now and Then: The City of Gyeongju

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Anapji, in Gyeongju, during the 1950s.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The city of Gyeongju, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, has a long and storied past that is closely tied to the Silla Kingdom. From 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., for nearly a thousand years of history, Gyeongju was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom. Formerly, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol and Gyerim. It wasn’t until 935 A.D. that the town became known as Gyeongju. During the 992 years that the Silla Kingdom reigned, it was the longest period of rule by a single dynasty in Korean history. During this period in Korean history, the Silla Kingdom would rise from a small tribal nation to unify the entire Korean peninsula.

Dotted throughout the Gyeongju cityscape are some thirty-five national treasures and a countless amount of treasures. When Buddhism came to the Silla Kingdom in the early 6th century, it reached its zenith with the establishment of Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Hermitage in the late 8th century. In addition to these internationally famed sites, there are a countless amount of lesser known sites spread throughout the entire city including Anapji and Cheonseongdae. Additionally, there’s Chilbulam Hermitage, Sambulsa Temple, Samneung-gol Valley, and Bucheobawi on Mt. Namsan. There’s also Baeknyulsa Temple and Gulbulsa-ji on Mt. Sogeumgangsan that visitors can see when enjoying Gyeongju. There really are an amazing amount of sites to experience when visiting the thousand year old capital of the Silla Kingdom.

More recently, Gyeongju is the second largest city by area in all of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province next to Andong. And as of 2008, it had a population of nearly 270,000 people whose major source of income revolves around the tourist trade. So by promoting their past, people of today can prosper from nearly a thousand years of history.

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Anapji in the early 1970s.

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Anapji during the 1975 excavation.

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Cheonseongdae Observatory

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Bucheobawi from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

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Another image of Bucheobawi.

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The amazing Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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The three Buddhas from Sambulsa Temple on the western side of Mt. Namsan.

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Yep, that’s someone standing on the shoulders of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan.

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The turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong on Mt. Seondosan.

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An older image of the stone sculpture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site on Mt. Sogeumgangsan.

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The stark landscape from Mt. Sogeumgangsan, and a look towards Baeknyulsa Temple.

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Anapji as it appears today.

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An up close of Bucheobawi.

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The three Buddhas at Sambulsa Temple. Now, they’re sheltered under a wooden pavilion.

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The seven stone Buddhas at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul as it appears today.

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The better protected Taejong stele from Mt. Seondosan.

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A more recent picture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.

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And a look over top the main hall at Baeknyulsa Temple.

Seongdeokam Hermitage – 성덕암 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The golden sunshine early on a Saturday morning over the port of Masan from Seongdeokam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located just west of the Masan port, and lying on the eastern slopes of a neighbouring hill, is the unassuming Seongdeokam Hermitage in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do. After navigating your way down some side-streets, you’ll finally be welcomed to the hermitage by a three-in-one cluster of buildings. Around the exterior walls to this multi-faceted building, at least at the entry, are various incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

It’s just to the left of this building, and taking a right in the bend in the road, that you’ll backtrack back towards the three-in-one hall. The first thing, rather uniquely, that is housed inside this building is the hermitage’s kitchen. Just a little further along, and you’ll come to a passage way that will lead you to the hermitage’s main hall. Before stepping inside the main hall, take a step out onto the terrace area that gives off amazing views of the shimmering port down below. It’s especially beautiful in the early morning.

As for the main hall, the exterior walls have remained in their natural finish. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll find a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting all alone on the main altar. He’s joined on either side, underneath their own canopies, by Gwanseeum-bosal to the left and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the right. But it’s the guardian mural and the Gamno-do mural that truly stand out. In fact, all the murals are highly unique inside the main hall. The guardian mural, for example, has a cartoonish feel to the shaman figures illustrated in the painting. As for the Gamno-do mural, which focuses on funeral rites, it, too, is highly modern in its composition with both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush appearing at the bottom of the mural.

To the rear of the complex sits the Gwaneeum-jeon. Just like the main hall, the Gwaneeum-jeon’s exterior walls remain unpainted. However, housed inside this hall, amongst the colourful, paper lotus flowers that hang from the ceiling, is a multi-armed and headed statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The final set of halls at the hermitage that can be explored by visitors are situated to the left, rear of the more modern building complex. Just past the monks’ dorms, and housed a little further up the hill, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, the Sanshin-gak, and the Yongwang-dang. The largest of the three is the Samseong-gak. Housed inside this hall are a triad of paintings. Sitting in the centre hangs an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This painting is joined to the right by a more modern painting of Chilseong. To the left of these two murals is the mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). This painting is both vibrantly painted and masterfully executed.

The final two halls, which are more like shipping containers with large, heavy metal entry doors that are difficult to pry open, is the Sanshin-gak and the Yongwang-dang. Housed inside the Sanshin-gak is an atypical painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. Uniquely, Sanshin looks more like an elf than a dignified Mountain Spirit. But you be the judge.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus #101, or city bus #122 at the Daeshin Bookstore, which is just outside the terminal. You’ll need to take either bus for ten stops and get off at the Burim Market stop. You’ll need to walk towards the hill for ten minutes from the stop to get to Seongdeokam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. This hermitage houses quite a few firsts for me in the 300 plus temples and hermitages I’ve visited throughout the Korean peninsula. One of those firsts is the hyper modern Gamno-do painting that is, at least in part, thematically based on 9/11. Another first is the elfish-looking Sanshin mural, as well as the bundle of halls that include the main hall and the Gwaneeum-jeon. And to help elevate this hermitage a little more are the beautiful hillside views of the Masan port down below. While not the easiest to get to or find, it’s well worth a visit to Seongdeokam Hermitage for something a little different from your typical Korean Buddhist temple.

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The initial view from Seongdeokam Hermitage.

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The multi-faceted building that includes the main hall and kitchen.

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The view from the main hall.

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The cartoonish guardian mural as you first enter the main hall.

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To the left of the main altar sits Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The main altar with a stout Seokgamoni-bul sitting on it.

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The amazing, and modern, Gamno-do mural at Seongdeokam Hermitage.

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A close-up of the 9/11 themed section of the Gamno-do mural.

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A beautiful bronze bell hanging from the main hall.

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An up-close of the meditative, and multi-arm and headed, Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A look towards some of the shaman shrine halls.

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The first is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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The central image of Chilseong.

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Who is joined to the left  by Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

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The shipping container-like entry to the Sanshin-gak.

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And a look inside the Sanshin-gak at the elfish Mountain Spirit.