Now and Then: Unjusa Temple


The mysterious Unjusa Temple in black and white.

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Unjusa Temple is located in Hwasun County, Jeollanam-do, and its origins are largely unknown. But whatever the date of its creation, it’s believed that master Doseon-guksa established the temple according to geomantic principles. In fact, the name of the temple, Unjusa Temple, can have two meanings. One meaning is “the place where clouds stay.”

Another meaning, and perhaps the more relevant one to the temple’s founding myth, is “Driving the Ship Temple,” in English. The reason this name is important to the principles behind the creation of Unjusa Temple is that Doseon-guksa, according to geomancy, believed that this part of the peninsula would be uneven, and potentially capsize, if it wasn’t righted. Compared to the eastern side of the Goryeo Kingdom, Yeongnam (which means “south of the passes,” in present day Gyeongsang Provinces), the western portion of the peninsula, Honam, had an apparent lack of mountains. So to counter this listing, Doseon decided to build one thousand Buddhist images and one thousand pagodas. By not listing, the ship could be brought back to port (and home).

To counteract this imbalance in nature, Doseon decided to call down stone masons from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas. However, before the final Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed as the night drew to a close. With this, all the heavenly masons were recalled back to heaven, leaving two incomplete statues left lying unfinished on the temple grounds. These two unfinished statues, which visitors are able to see on a neighbouring mountain top, are called Wabul in Korea, or “The Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha,” in English. In all probability, however, Unjusa Temple was created as a school for stonemasons.

Presently, of the original one thousand Buddha statues and pagodas, twenty-one stone pagodas and ninety-four Buddha sculptures still remain on the temple grounds. Of these stone structures, three are listed as Korean treasures, while Unjusa Temple itself is considered Historic Site #312. Among all the potential temples you can visit throughout Korea, Unjusa Temple definitely has a mysterious feel to it. More recently, and from 1984 to 1991, the Jeonnam National University Museum conducted four excavations and two academic studies to uncover some of the temple’s greater mysteries.


A closer, older, look at the valley of pagodas.


 The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine: Treasure #797.


A combination of both historic pagodas and statues.


The twelve metre long Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha.


A more recent photo from Unjusa Temple towards the valley of pagodas.


 The unique Hwasun Stone Shrine.


Some mountainside statues and a crowning pagoda.


A contemporary picture of the twelve metre long Lying Buddhas.

Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


The dragon’s head at Daewonsa Temple in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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Without a doubt, Daewonsa Temple in northern Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is one of the strangest and most unique temple’s you’ll visit in all of Korea. Located on the south side of Mt. Obongsan and just north of Chilpo Beach, you’ll find Daewonsa Temple.

You first approach the temple over the Chilpo Bridge and the stream that flows into the East Sea. Uniquely, Daewonsa Temple is divided into an upper and lower courtyard with the older portion of the temple in the lower courtyard. But it’s the snaking hundred metre long blue dragon that flows from the base of the temple up to its main hall heights that sets the temple apart. Approaching from the south, you can see the wide-open mouth of the dragon with a red exercise ball as the dragon’s tonsils. Across the bridge, and the pond that it spans, you’ll have to push your way past the dragon’s tonsils to enter the dragon. A little further ahead, you’ll find a door that gains you entrance to the temple’s lower main hall. As you enter the main hall, you’ll be welcomed by row upon row of various Buddhas. Next to these golden rows of Buddhas is a large shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Resting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). And to the right of the main altar is a simplistic guardian mural.

There are a couple other shrine halls in the lower courtyard like the Chilseong-gak, the bell pavilion, as well as the Sanshin-gak. But it’s in the Sanshin-gak that you’re in for the greatest surprise. Housed inside the shaman shrine hall is one of the most original murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). With a winged helmet, a mix of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin motifs, as well as Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal intermingling with donja (attendants), this style of painting is completely unheard of, so enjoy!

Back at the head of the dragon, and up a steep incline, is the temple’s upper main hall. Surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds, the upper main hall is adorned with the Zodiac generals around its exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the cavernous main hall, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And to the left and right of this triad, and resting on their own altar, are Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal. Adorning the remaining walls is a guardian mural and a Chilseong mural.

Just outside the upper courtyard’s main hall are a row of granite statues. Once more, the triad is centred by Birojana-bul. Interestingly, and at the base of the dragon’s tail, there’s a door with a Nathwi on it. It’s through this door that you can walk through the remainder of the dragon’s body. Housed inside the dragon’s body are various shamanic murals.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #510. After 34 stops, or about 50 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Chilpo 1-ri stop. From the stop, you’ll need to walk 500 metres, or 8 minutes, towards Daewonsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just because it is so different than all the rest, and it has a slight amusement park feel to it, Daewonsa Temple rates as highly as it does. Not only can you see paintings throughout the entire length of the dragon’s body, but you can also gain entrance to the lower courtyard’s main hall. In addition to this outlandish, yet strangely appropriate dragon, is the highly original Sanshin mural located just to the north of the side-winding blue dragon. There are quite a few customary things to explore at Daewonsa Temple, but it’s these to oddities that make the temple stand out.


The welcoming Podae-hwasang  at Daewonsa Temple.


The unique dragon’s head at the temple.


A closer look at the blue dragon.


In the jaws of the dragon with the red exercise ball as tonsils.


The entry to the lower courtyard’s main hall.


The welcoming rows of miniature Buddha statues.


The main altar inside the lower courtyard’s main hall.


A look from the exterior at the older main hall at Daewonsa Temple.


To the right of the older main hall is this amazing Sanshin mural.


The side-winding blue body of the dragon as you make your way up to the upper courtyard’s main hall.


A look at the newly built Daeung-jeon.


The main altar inside the newly built Daeung-jeon.


The Dragon Ship of Wisdom with Jijang-bosal at the helm.


The neighbouring statues with Birojana-bul to the far right.


And the entrance to the dragon’s body.

Now and Then: Jikjisa Temple


An aerial shot of Jikjisa Temple from the last century.

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Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, was first founded in 418 A.D, and it’s believed to be one of the oldest temples on the Korean peninsula. It’s believed to have been established by the venerable monk, Ado. In fact, one of the meanings behind the temple’s name has to do with Ado. The name “Jikji,” in English, means “pointing directly,” which is in reference to Ado when he pointed at a perfect spot to locate a future temple that turned out to be Jikjisa Temple. Another meaning behind the temple’s name is that it refers to a Seon expression where one is “pointing directly to the Original Mind.” One final meaning behind the temple’s name is that during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), temples weren’t built by using rulers; instead, they were measured by hand. In English, “Ji” means “finger.”

Monk Ado, a Goguryeo monk, is legendary in his own right. It’s believed that he was the first missionary monk to introduce Buddhism to the shamanic Silla Kingdom, which formally accepted Buddhism in 527. Originally much smaller in size when it was first established, Master Jajang-yulsa further expanded the temple to some forty buildings in 645 A.D. Jikjisa Temple enjoyed a further renaissance with major renovations in the 10th century under the geomantic recommendations of Master Doseon-guksa.

Like so many other famous temples throughout the Korean peninsula, Jikjisa Temple faced almost complete destruction during the Imjin War in 1592. Ten years later, in 1602, some twenty buildings were rebuilt. Jikjisa Temple faced repeated destruction by fires throughout the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), as well as further damage caused by fighting during the Korean War (1950-53). It wasn’t until 1966, with governmental support, that the temple was finally rebuilt to its former glory by 1981.

Today, Jikjisa Temple is the 8th regional headquarters for the Jogye-jong sect, which is the largest Buddhist Order in all of Korea. It was also the first temple to participate in the Temple Stay program in 2002. The temple continues to provide the Temple Stay program to any and all guests. In total, the temple houses a National Treasure and ten additional Treasures. The one National Treasure it does house, National Treasure #208, is the Gilt-bronze Sarira Reliquary from Sakyamuni Stupa of Dorisa Temple.


Another aerial shot.


A shot of the Mansye-ru Pavilion.


A look towards the temple’s main hall.


 A look towards the Biro-jeon Hall.


Another temple hall.


A picture from what looks to be Buddha’s birthday.


And one more look at Jikjisa Temple in all its splendour.


A look towards the Mansye-ru Pavilion, today, through the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The Biro-jeon Hall to the left with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the right.

Sudeoksa Temple – 수덕사 (Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do)


The oldest building in Korea is housed at Sudeoksa Temple in Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do.

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Located on Mt. Deoksungsan in Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do, the exact date of Sudeoksa Temple’s construction is unknown. Because of this ambiguity in its origins, there are numerous stories surrounding its creation. According to records at the temple, the Buddhist monk Sungje-beopsa built the temple during the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C to 660 A.D). It’s also believed that the temple was first established in 599 A.D. by the Buddhist monk, Jimyeong-beopsa. And later, the temple was repaired and restored by the famed Wonhyo-daesa. Either way, it’s believed that Naong (1320-76) repaired the temple during the reign of King Gongmin (r. 1351-74). Like Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Sudeoksa Temple was one of the very few temples to remain unscathed during the extremely destructive Imjin War (1592-98). As a result, it houses the oldest wooden structure in Korea, the Daeung-jeon main hall, which dates back to 1308. The main hall is also recognized as National Treasure #49. Throughout the years, the temple has undergone numerous renovations in 1528, 1751, 1770, and 1803. Currently, Sudeoksa Temple participates in the popular Temple Stay program.

You first approach the temple through streets of restaurants and stores. Eventually, you’ll come to the temple’s ticket booth, which is also where the four pillared Iljumun Gate stands. Further up the path, you’ll encounter the Geumgangmun Gate. The exterior green walls are painted with guardians, and the interior to this gate houses two muscular Vajra warriors. To the rear of the gate are two large painted images of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) riding his blue haetae and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) on top of his white elephant.

Thirty metres up the trail, you’ll next come to the wide Sacheonwangmun Gate. Like the Geumgangmun Gate, the exterior walls are adorned with four fierce guardian murals. Inside the boxy Sacheonwangmun Gate are four of the scariest and intimidating Heavenly Kings that you’ll find at any Buddhist temple in Korea. The entire path up to the expansive Hwanghajeong-ru Pavilion, you’ll spot a number of pagodas along the way including an elephant-based stone lantern, as well as a seven-tier pagoda and dharma.

Passing under the Hwanghajeong-ru Pavilion, and mounting the rather steep set of stairs, you’ll finally enter the temple’s main courtyard. Straight ahead, and framing the historic main hall, is a three-story pagoda whose finial is crowned by a golden top. The Geumgangbo pagoda was constructed in 2000. Contained inside the pagoda are three sari (crystallized remains) from the Historic Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul, that the temple received from Sri Lanka. To the right of this pagoda is the Beopgo-gak that houses the fish gong and the Dharma drum. To the left stands the Beopjong-gak that houses the temple’s large bronze bell.

A little further up and you’ll next come to another pagoda. This historic three-tier pagoda is believed to date back to the early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Behind this pagoda is the Daeung-jeon main hall, which is not only National Treasure #49, but it’s also the country’s oldest wooden structure. Dating back to 1308, the hall is almost unlike any other more modern building. Squarish in design, Sudeoksa Temple’s main hall is similar to the Geukrak-jeon hall at Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do and the main hall at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Unassuming on the exterior, the main hall houses five statues on the main altar centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the right hangs a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). Additionally, there are numerous Goryeo era paintings spread throughout the interior of this historic main hall.

To the right of the main hall stands the Myeongbu-jeon. Contained within this hall is a green haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s surrounded on all sides by beautiful wooden reliefs of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

To the left of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon. Out in front of this hall is a white granite statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is also joined by another greener incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal on the lower terrace. Housed inside this hall is a stout statue of Gwanseeum-bosal under a vibrant red canopy and a contemporary painting of this Bodhisattva.

There are numerous hermitages spread throughout the folds of Mt. Deoksungsan like Geukrakam Hermitage and Seonsuam Hermitage.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are a variety of ways that you can get to Sudeoksa Temple. From Seoul, you’ll need to get to the Nambu Bus Terminal and board a direct bus to Sudeoksa Temple. The bus ride lasts about two and half hours and should cost about 8,000 won. From anywhere else in the country, you’ll first need to get to the Yesan Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you can take a rural bus to Sudeoksa Temple. Here is a list of potential buses that you can take: Bus #553 (8:20), Bus #547 (9:40), Bus #558 (10:50, 17:35), Bus #551 (12:00, 15:00), Bus #557 (13:20), Bus #549 (14:00), Bus #555 (15:55), Bus #556 (19:15). These buses will take about an hour and forty minutes to get to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Beautifully situated in northern Chungcheongnam-do, Sudeoksa Temple lies just below the peak of Mt. Deoksungsan. With it housing the oldest wooden structure in Korea, there really is no better reason to visit this ancient temple. Besides this, the entry gates and the wooden reliefs inside the Myeongbu-jeon should be enough to pique your interest.


The welcoming Iljumun Gate at Sudeoksa Temple.


One of the adorning dragons on the Iljumun Gate.


The Geumgangmun Gate at the temple.


A decorative, yet fierce-looking, guardian on the gate.


One of the protective Vajra warriors inside the Geumgangmun Gate.


The elephant-based stone lantern.


The Sacheonwangmun Gate seen from behind.


One of the intensely fierce-looking Heavenly Kings.


The expansive Hwanghajeong-ru Pavilion


A look around the surrounding environs at Sudeoksa Temple.


The Geumgangbo pagoda and historic main hall.


The fish gong inside the Beopgo-gak.


A better look at the historic Daeung-jeon main hall that dates back to 1308.


The Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Sudeoksa Temple.


And to the left is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.


And then it was time to go.

Temple Stay: Hwagyesa Temple (Seoul)


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Hwagyesa Temple in Seoul (courtesy of

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Introduction to the Temple:

Hwagyesa Temple was first founded in 1522 A.D by the monk Shinwol. Tragically, the temple was destroyed by fire in 1618. It wasn’t until 1866, through financial support from royal elders, that the temple was rebuilt to its past glory. There are numerous buildings at the temple to enjoy like the Daeung-jeon main hall, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, as well as the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. In addition to these buildings, a visitor can enjoy a small spring to the rear of the temple, and up a valley, called Hwagye-gol. The spring water from Oktak-cheon is said to have curative properties for skin and stomach ailments.

Visitors to the Temple Stay program at Hwagyesa Temple can enjoy Buddhist services, meditation, a forest walk, a tea ceremony, as well as conversations with the numerous international monks that call Hwagyesa Temple home.


On the Seoul subway system, you’ll need to get to line #4 and get off at the Suyu subway station. After going out Exit #3, you’ll need to board local Bus #2 for an additional 15 minutes. You’ll need to get off at the Hwagyesa stop.

General Schedule:

Unfortunately, there is no information about the schedule on the Temple Stay website. You will need to contact the temple directly to gain more information about the program’s schedule.

Hwagyesa Temple Information:

Address : 487, Suyu 1-dong Gangbuk-gu Seoul

Tel : 82-2-900-4326 / Fax : 82-2-990-1885

homepage :

E-mail :


Regrettably, there is no fee information on the Temple Stay website. You’ll need to contact the temple directly.


To contact the temple directly to set an appointment, you can email them at: Or you can call the Temple stay administration office at: +82-2-900-4326


Another view of Hwagyesa Temple (courtesy of

Now and Then: Beomeosa Temple

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A bird’s-eye-view of Beomeosa Temple from the turn of the last century.

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Located in the northern part of Busan, on Mt. Geumjeongsan, Beomeosa Temple dates back to 678 A.D. The temple was founded by the famed temple-builder, Uisang. The name of the temple means “Fish from Heaven Temple,” in English, which is in reference to the creation myth that surrounds the temple. According to the myth, there is a well with golden water on top of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which is where the temple is located. Supposedly, golden fish rode a rainbow down from the heavens to inhabit the well.

Beomeosa Temple became known as one of the ten great temples of the Hwaeom sect in Korea, even though it is now part of the Jogye-jong Buddhist Order, which is the largest sect in Korea. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), there were more than a thousand monks that took up residence at the temple. During the destructive Imjin War from 1592-98, Beomeosa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. In 1602, the temple was reconstructed, but was destroyed a few years later in an accidental fire. So in 1613, the temple was rebuilt once more. And it’s from this date that a number of shrine halls and buildings were constructed. These structures include the main hall and the Iljumun Gate.

More recently, Beomeosa Temple is one of the sixth largest temples in Korea. And spread throughout the rolling hills of Mt. Geumjeongsan are an additional eight hermitages directly associated with Beomeosa Temple. In total, besides a dozen shrine halls that a temple visitor can explore, Beomeosa Temple also houses seven treasures within its grounds.

Beomeosa 1929

Another amazing view of Beomeosa Temple from 1929.

Beomeosa 1931

The Iljumun Gate from 1931.

Beomeosa1 1931

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1931.


A pavilion with the main hall to the right from 1931.


A more modern picture of Beomeosa Temple from 1970.


The Iljumun Gate from 1970, as well.


A 2013 picture of Beomeosa Temple.


A more recent picture of the Iljumun Gate.


The temple courtyard at Beomeosa Temple.

Yongjusa Temple – 용주사 (Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do)


An overcast sky at Yongjusa Temple in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do.

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Yongjusa Temple, which means “Dragon Jewel Temple,” in English, is located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do. Yongjusa Temple was first founded in 854 A.D. It was first known as Galyangsa Temple. During the 10th century, the temple was further expanded. The temple was completely destroyed in 1636 during the Manchu War. But in 1790, under the orders of King Jeongjo, the temple was rebuilt in honour of his deceased father, Prince Sado (1735-62). This was one of the few times during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), under the heavy influence of Confucian ideology, that the Joseon royal house supported Buddhism directly. It was also at this time that the temple changed its name to its current one: Yongjusa Temple.

You first enter the temple grounds through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Housed inside this gate are some of the fiercest Heavenly Kings that you’ll find in Korea. With their eye-popping intensity, they exemplify the intimidating poses these figures should make when welcoming visitors to temples.

Past the admission booth, and up a meandering pathway, you’ll next come to the Hongsalmun Gate at Yongjusa Temple. With two red painted poles connected by a top beam, this gate speaks to the temple’s royal ancestry. Typically, this style of gate is found at a royal tomb.

Through the neighbouring Sammun Gate that is adorned with some ancient stone statues, you’ll enter the outer courtyard that houses a five-story stone pagoda. It’s only after you get your fill of the natural beauty that surrounds the temple in this part of the grounds that you’ll pass through the Boje-ru Pavilion. It is only then that you stand inside the temple courtyard.

Sitting in the centre of the temple grounds is the Daeungbo-jeon. The exterior walls of the hall are painted with Palsang-do murals; but uniquely, there’s no pagoda framing the main hall at Yongjusa Temple. Inside, the main hall is highly elaborate. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The statues on the main altar are backed by a highly original platform painting. Measuring four metres in height and three metres in width, it was painted by Kim Hongdo, who was a famous Korean painter as well as the county magistrate. The life-like features of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are quite unique in their design. The older looking canopy, as well as the white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal and Gamno-do painting make the interior to this hall a must see at Yongjusa Temple.

To the left of the main hall is the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall are a thousand tiny white Buddha statues, as well as spherical golden lights that front the golden triad of statues that sit on the main altar. Behind this hall is the compact Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three of the shaman murals inside this hall are unique, but it’s the Sanshin mural that stands out the most with the big headed tiger protectively standing next to The Mountain Spirit.

To the right of the Samseong-gak, and across a bit of a field, is the elegantly designed pagoda. In front of this pagoda are two more shrine halls. One of the two is the Jijang-jeon Hall that houses a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with murals that illustrate the various stages in life. The other shrine hall, the Hoseong-jeon, houses the memorial tablets of Prince Sado. Out in front of this hall is a uniquely designed three-story pagoda with a black body that has Korean writing on it about filial piety.

In total, the temple houses National Treasure #120, as well as two additional Treasures.

Admission to the temple is 1,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Yongjusa Temple, you’ll first need to get to Byeongjeom Station on  Line 1 on the Seoul subway system. From there, you’ll need to take the bus from behind the station. You can take any number of green buses like Bus #34, 34-1, 44, 46, 47, or 50. The bus ride to the temple should take ten to fifteen minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. There are quite a few unique features to Yongjusa Temple which starts at the entry with the intense statues of the Heavenly Kings and continues towards the Hongsalmun Gate. Another amazing feature is the temple bell, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #120. In combination with these features, you can enjoy all the amazing murals around the temple grounds like the Sanshin mural and the murals inside the main hall. With the temple pagodas, you have more than enough reason to visit this royal temple from the 18th century.


The Cheonwangmun Gate that welcomes you to Yongjusa Temple.


One of the intimidating, and eye-bulging, Heavenly Kings.


The path that leads up to the temple grounds.


The Hongsalmun Gate at Yongjusa Temple.


Some of the decorative artwork in front of the Sammun Gate.


A look towards the Boje-ru Gate at Yongjusa Temple.


The five-story stone pagoda out in front of the Boje-ru Pavilion.


Passing under a ceiling of dragons and the Boje-ru Pavilion.


The Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Yongjusa Temple.


 One of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the main hall.


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


A look towards the Cheonbul-jeon and Samseong-gak.


National Treasure #120.


A look inside the Cheonbul-jeon at Yongjusa Temple.


The uniquely styled Sanshin mural.


The view from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


The white two story pagoda at Yongjusa Temple.


A closer look at the highly stylized pagoda.


A look towards the Jijang-jeon.


One of the life-cycle murals that adorns the Jijang-jeon.


And a look inside the Jijang-jeon at Jijang-bosal.


A look towards the neighbouring Hoseong-jeon and the three-story pagoda that stands out in front of it.


A look inside the Hoseong-jeon at the memorial tablets housed inside it.


One last look at the temple grounds at Yongjusa Temple.

Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple

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Hwaeomsa Temple from 1920.

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Hwaeomsa Temple is located in present day Gurye, Jeollanam-do, and it’s part of the famed Jirisan National Park. The name of the temple means “Flower Garland Sutra Temple,” and it relates to one of the temple’s most famous residents. The temple was first founded in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi, who may, or may not have, come from India as a missionary monk. Then, in the mid-600s, the famed Uisang returned from Tang China after ten years of study. With him, he returned with the Hwaeom sect teachings. So through his efforts, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt and expanded at this time with the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647).

And then, once more, the temple was further expanded and refurbished by Master Doseon-guksa in the late 800s. It was at this time that most of the temple’s stone monuments like the massive stone lantern and the stone pagodas were built.

Then, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed. After thirty years, the temple was finally rebuilt. Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples in Korea, and it’s also one of the most respected. Hwaeomsa Temple houses some of the most recognizable features in all of Korea like the Gakhwangjeon Hall and the Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions. In total, the temple houses four National Treasures and eight additional Treasures.


Monks out in front of the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67.


 A monk next to the massive stone lantern, which just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

Hwaeomsa 1914

National Treasure #35, The Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple, from 1914.


Gakhwang-jeon Hall, today.


National Treasure #12, today.


And the unforgettable Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Sammaksa Temple/Sangbulam Hermitage – 삼막사/상불암 (Mt. Samseongsan, Anyang, Gyeonggi-do)

Sammaksa Temple

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Giuseppe back, with my third temple and yet another mountaintop temple. This time, Sammaksa Temple, “Three Curtain Temple,” near the peak of Mt. Samseongsan, “Three Saint Mountain.”

Sammaksa Temple was first established in 677 during the Silla Dynasty as a small hermitage by the great monk Wonhyo. If this sounds familiar, it’s the same year that Uisang established what is now Yeonjuam Hermitage, just across the narrow valley, on Mt. Gwanaksan. The mountain is actually named after Wonhyo, Uisang, and Yeonpil, “three saints” who spent time here. It’s a well-known fact that Wonhyo and Uisang were close friends and travel companions, but I was not able to find any information at all about the monk Yeonpil, other then he was at the mountain. I don’t know if he was there with Wonhyo and Uisang or came at a later date. Other prominent monks who spent time at the temple during its history were Doseon-guksa, Seosan-daesa, and Muhak-daesa.

Snaking up the mountain road, with a few dramatic glimpses of the granite peaks, you arrive at the temple, which sits high up on a granite brick terrace. A steep set of stairs brings you up between the bell pavilion and the Jijang-jeon, into a tightly compact courtyard. An interesting floral pattern “mural” sits in the center of the courtyard. Straight and to the immediate left upon entering the courtyard is the Myeongbu-jeon, Cultural Property of Gyeonggi-do No. 60, housing the ten Yamas of the underworld, including Ksitigarbha (Jijang-bosal).

Front and center is the Yuk Gwaneum-jeon, the Six Gwaneum Hall, in which are enshrined, you guessed it, seven Gwaneum statues (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). No, six, but I accidentally typed seven and thought I’d make a bad joke about it… 😉 There actually isn’t a main hall at this temple, but the Yuk Gwaneum-jeon serves as the main hall. The temple was formerly known as Gwaneumsa Temple but was changed to Sammaksa Temple after the Joseon Dynasty renovations and the temple was said to resemble a Chinese temple name Sammaksa Temple. I was extremely impressed by the six statues. There isn’t anything specifically impressive about their features or artistry, but as a whole, and just their overall impression, is remarkable. Lined up along the long shrine, from right to left, are Yeoui Gwaneum (The Wish Fulfilling Avalokitesvara), Sibil Myeon Gwaneum (The Eleven Faced Avalokitesvara), Junjae Gwaneum (The Cundi Avalokitesvara), Cheonsu Cheonah Gwaneum (The 1000 Hands and 1000 Eyes Avalokitesvara), Seong Gwaneum (The Sacred Avalokitesvara), and Madu Gwaneum (The Horse Headed Avalokitesvara). I was especially drawn to the ones on the opposite ends, Yeoui and Madu, which also had opposing demeanors. The Yeoui Gwaneum sits relaxed, calmly posed, leaning an arm on her raised knee with her face equally calm and relaxed. The Madu Gwaneum is fierce, with a vicious expression. A small golden horse kneels at the front of Madu’s crown.

Passed the office building to the right is the Cheonbul-jeon, Thousand Buddha Hall. The statues inside weren’t of much interest, including the main trio, with a central Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). The only thing of note at all is that there were a thousand of them.

Up behind the Cheonbul-jeon, at the edge of a large, flat granite stone, is an old three-storey stone pagoda, Gyeonggi-do Tangible Cultural property No. 112, erected to commemorate victory over an invading Mongol army during the early 1200’s. Kim Yunhu, priest of the temple, let an arrow fly from an impossible distance and managed to drop the Mongol general dead in his tracks. As he fell from his horse, as if by a magical arrow, his army took it as an omen and they immediately turned back. If you’re at all like me, you may find it strange that a monk would take a life and stranger still that it would be celebrated; but if you consider the evil intentions of the Mongol invaders, taking the generals life certainly averted a whole mess of death and suffering. Needless to say, they weren’t dropping by for tea and scones!

Though the small complex is worth the visit on its own, following the trail that leads further up the mountain is where things get a little more interesting. The trail, starting just beside the Cheonbul-jeon, ultimately leads to the Samjon-bul. But taking a quick detour around a large traditional house leads to the Sanshin-gak, Mountain Spirit Shrine, carved into a large granite face. There is no roof or building covering it, just open along the mountain, it has a nice appeal. Looping back down to the main trail, there is one of the most interesting carvings on another granite formation. At first, I thought it was some sort of physics symbols, but after asking around, I discovered that it was actually three symbols representing a turtle. From right to left, the first is the Chinese character for turtle, the second is the ancient Chinese Oracle bone symbol, and the third is a combination of the two. Once I knew it was a turtle, it seemed pretty obvious!

Continuing another few minutes along the well constructed path, you arrive at the Samjon-bul, but the first thing you encounter are two prominent stones protruding from the edge of the slope. They are Nam Yeo Geun Seok, Male and Female Gender Stones, as they are said to resemble male and female genitals. They have been worshiped for thousands of years as fertility stones. People came from all across the country to make offers and pray for a safe delivery, long life and health for their child, and to have a son. The male stone, other than being certainly erect, is sort of, “Okay, if you say so…”, but the female stone, on the other hand… well that one is quite convincing! They are Folklore Cultural Treasures of Gyeonggi-do No. 3.

Beside the fertility stones, at last, we arrive at the Samjon-bul, a granite relief carving of Chilseong, the Big Dipper. The large, central figure is Chilseong Guang-yeorae-bul, accompanied by Ilgwang-bosal on the left and Wolgwang-bosal on the right, the Sun and Moon Bodhisattvas, respectively. It was made in 1763 and is Tangible Cultural Treasure of Gyeonggi-do No. 94. Originally an open shrine, it is now protected by a small but elegant structure, built on stilts. There were eight people crammed in it when I first arrived, and I have no idea how they were able to do their bows as when I came back later with just two other people it still felt crammed, but cozy. Looking at their noses, you can see that they’ve been damaged, and though this is often a sign of vandalism, it is (at least was) common belief in Korea that grinding down and consuming the noses of stone statues will lead to conceiving a son.

Now, you can return to the main complex or, as it was recommended by a friend who lives nearby, you can continue up the trail, about 400 meters, and over the ridge to just below the peak where sits Sangbulam Hermitage, a small hermitage with a cave shrine at the rear of the Daeung-jeon, Main Hall. There are great views of Anyang city down below and the surrounding mountains. I’m glad I made the effort for these reasons, but the true gem was the Samseong-gak, Three Spirit Shrine, that had stunning paintings of Sanshin (the Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (the Big Dipper), and Dokseong, (The Lonely Saint). The paintings are rendered with incredible detail and artistry and have a very interesting earth tone color scheme, opposed to the usual bright, colorful paintings you typically find. Even if temple paintings don’t usually interest you, these are works of art worth seeing.

Back at Sammaksa Temple, they were serving a simple bowl of noodle soup and kimchi and it amazed me that there were no more than a dozen people all morning in the halls but I counted at least 300 people lined up for lunch!

HOW TO GET THERE: First, take the Line 1 subway to Gwanak Station, one stop before Anyang if you’re Suwon bound. From exit 2, continue straight to the main road, cross, and find the bus stop for the 6-2  bus which will bring you to Gyeongin University of Education, the last stop. From there it’s about a 30-40 minute walk, at a good pace, following the paved road all the way up to the temple. There is also a hiking trail that turns off from the paved road not too far along after the parking lot. I haven’t taken it, so I can not comment further.

The easy way is if you can catch the temple shuttle bus directly across from Hanmaum Seonwon. The first shuttle leaves at 8:30 a.m. and is scheduled to depart about every 30 minutes in the morning and a few more times into the afternoon; but I found the schedule to be rather unreliable (at least after 8:30 a.m.). The shuttle is for temple-goers, not hikers, so you may have to tell them you are visiting the temple. The shuttle costs 1,000 won and fills up quickly. To find Hanmaum, again, leave exit 2, walk to the main road and cross (carefully!) at the large intersection. If you can’t see the massive Seon center, with the unique seven-sphere pagoda on the roof, you either plain well can’t see or it’s the worst yellow dust storm in history, and you shouldn’t be out in it, anyway! 😉 The shuttle is a white van and the sign is just down from the intersection. Keep an eye out and you can’t miss it.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Sammaksa Temple itself is not overly spectacular but does offer some objects of interest as well as a long history with great monks having stayed here. The setting is beautiful and the fertility stones along with the Samjon-bul give the temple something special to see while there.

Sangbulam Hermitage, I give a 4.5/10. As far as hermitages go, it’s a good one, but it is still a hermitage. Their value is mostly beyond what you’d experience as a visitor. Most of it’s rating is for the main hall cave and the Samseong paintings. Great view, too!

Sammaksa Temple photos!

The Myeongbu-jeon

The Yuk Gwaneum-jeon

Yuk Gwaneum-jeon to the left, office on the right and Cheonbul-jeon in the far center.

Side of Yuk Gwaneum-jeon and Myeongbu-jeon on the left.

Three-story stone pagoda



turtle, turtle, turtle

The path to the Samjon-bul and Nam Yeo Geun Seok

A small Yongwang-gak, Dragon King Shrine, on the way to Sangbulam Hermitage

Sangbulam Hermitage photos


Sanshin, Chilseong, and Dokseong

The view over Anyang valley

Back at Sammaksa Temple:

Day hikers lining up for lunch

slurp, slurp, slurp…

Firing up the noodles

Waujeongsa Temple – 와우정사 (Yongin, Gyeonggi-do)


The eight metre tall Buddha head that greets you at Waujeongsa Temple in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Waujeongsa Temple, which is located in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do, was first established in 1970 by the monk Kim Hae-Geum. Kim was a displaced monk during the Korean War. The temple is a reflection of this displacement, as Waujeongsa Temple’s stated goal is the reunification of North and South Korea. It’s also the birthplace and headquarters to the highly unique Korean Buddhist Nirvana Order.

You first approach the temple, which is beautifully located on the southern slopes of Mt. Eunesan. Having passed through the gravel parking lot, you’ll first notice the massive, golden Buldu (Buddha’s head) straight ahead of you. Eight metres in height, this wooden head is the largest of its kind in the world and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for this feat. Perched over top an artificial pond, this unique statue is an indication of things to come at Waujeongsa Temple.

Past the visitors’ centre, you’ll make your way up an incline towards the rest of the temple grounds. The first site to greet you is a collection of pagodas that are both unique in style and substance. These pagodas are made from stones from various religious sites throughout the world.

To the right of these pagodas is the temple’s Daeung-jeon main hall. Newly built, the main hall still lacks the typical dancheong paint scheme that makes Korean temple buildings so unique. Housed inside the main hall are a collection of five statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). To the right of the main hall is a twelve ton Unification Bell that is gold in colour and was struck at the start of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Spread throughout the entire temple grounds are over 3,000 statues, which starts with the twelve diminutive zodiac generals out in front of the main hall. They are also joined by a contemplative bronze Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) statue.

A little further along, and up the gradual inclines of the mountain, are a pair of fierce Vajra warrior statues that protect the entry to a cave that houses a twelve metre long statue of a reclining Buddha that was made from juniper trees from Indonesia.

To the right of the cave shrine hall is a cathedral like shrine hall that houses a Thai-influenced statue of the Buddha. The cathedral hall is beautifully adorned with intricate stain-glass windows. To the left of this hall, and past a collection of cairn pagodas reminiscent of Tapsa Temple, you’ll make your way up a path that leads you past a peeling collection of Palsang-do murals. While slowly losing their battle to time, these murals are some of the most beautiful that you’ll see at any temple in Korea.

Having made your way half-way up the slope, you’ll notice an enclave of stone statues that represent the five hundred Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). From this vantage point, you’ll notice a unique structure perched just above the tombstone-like statues of the Nahan. So make your way up the path to see yet another shrine hall housed inside a cave. The large pillars and the swirling Biseon artwork that adorns the bottom of the dome, welcomes you to the site where (I believe) some of the Buddha’s sari (crystallized remains) are housed at Waujeongsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are two ways to get to Waujeongsa Temple from Seoul. The first is from Jamsil Station (Line 2). After taking exit #6 or #7, board Bus #5600 or #5800 to Yongjin Intercity Bus Terminal. From this terminal, take a bus to Wonsam. You’ll need to get off at the Waujeongsa Temple stop.

Another way you can get to Waujeongsa Temple from Seoul is to catch a bus from Gangnam Station (Line 2). After taking Exit #10, you can take either Bus #5001 or #5002 to the Yongjin Intercity Bus Terminal. Again, board a bus destine for Wonsam. And again, get off at the Waujeongsa Temple stop.

All the buses bound for Wonsam come at about a 15 minute interval.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Just for its originally alone, it rates as highly as it does. The temple’s uniqueness starts at the entry of the temple with the eight metre tall Buddha head, Buldu, and makes its way up the winding paths that comprise Waujeongsa Temple. Other amazing features are the uniquely designed pagodas, the Unification Bell, the cathedral hall, the juniper tree Buddha, as well as the Buddha’s sari. If you want to see something a little different than your typical Korean Buddhist temple, have a look at Waujeongsa Temple.


The eight metre tall Buldu at the entry of Waujeongsa Temple.


The beautiful bell that stands out in front of the eight metre tall wooden Buddha head.


The pagoda made from various religious sites from around the world.


Some of the amazing statues strewn throughout the temple grounds.


A look towards the main hall at Waujeongsa Temple.


A look inside the Daeung-jeon.


The courtyard surrounding the main hall.


The contemplative Mireuk-bul.


A roof-tile pagoda and Vajra warrior.


The cave shrine hall that houses the juniper statue of the Buddha.


The Thai-like statue of the Buddha surrounded by stain-glass windows.


A look at the field of cairns at Waujeongsa Temple.


One of the masterful Palsang-do murals at the temple.


A collection of stone statues dedicated to the Nahan.


The second cave shrine hall at Waujeongsa Temple.


The entry to the shrine hall.


The ceiling painting at the entry.


A look inside the cave shrine hall with an emaciated stone statue dedicated to the Buddha.


The view of the temple grounds.