Bongrimsa Temple – 봉림사 (Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The main hall and Boje-ru Pavilion that welcomes you at Bongrimsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bongrimsa Temple in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do is known as “Phoenix Forest Temple” in English. Bongrimsa Temple is one of the Nine Mountain Zen-Gate temples in Korea, or the Gusan Seonmun in Korean. They were the original homes of Seon Buddhism in Korea. The original locations of the nine temples were spread throughout the Silla Kingdom away from Gyeongju, the capital of the kingdom. This radical form of Buddhism, at least at that time, first spread from Tang Dynasty China and made its way to the Korean peninsula during the 8th and 9th century. The reason that these temples were built on remote mountains throughout the kingdom was to avoid the governmental authority in Gyeongju that supported scholastic (Gyo) and devotional Buddhism. Unfortunately, after heavy shelling during the Korean War, there is only one relic that remains from the temple’s past: a three story Silla pagoda that is now housed on a local university campus.

Besides some foundation stones, Bongrimsa-ji Temple is no more. Instead, a brand new Bongrimsa Temple, which has undergone some new construction as of late, stands in its place 1,500 metres from its former home on Mt. Bongrimsan.

When you first approach the temple up a long, and somewhat steep, road, you’ll first be met by a building for devotees and monks. This modern building is joined by a large gravel parking lot and the yet unpainted Boje-ru Pavilion. To the far right, and just beyond the temple’s washroom, is the trail head that leads up to the former temple grounds of Bongrimsa-ji. Besides an older looking stone marker and a clearing once you arrive at the site, there really isn’t that much to see.

However, if you climbed the set of stairs that leads up through the plainly adorned Boje-ru Pavilion, you’ll be met by a large sized, and newly constructed, main hall. The main hall is painted with various Buddhist motif style murals of such luminaries as Wonhyo-daesa and Uisang-daesa. As for inside this massive main hall, there is a large seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

Next to the main hall, and to the right, is the temple’s rather dour looking visitors’ centre. There are future plans to construct a Sanshin-gak to the right rear of the main hall, as well as a Geukrak-jeon to the left, but these have yet to materialize. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, both of these halls will be built to bring Bongrimsa Temple’s past glory into the present.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Changwon Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take a taxi to Bongrimsa Temple. The ride should last 12 minutes and cost 8,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. Besides the main hall and the stately Boje-ru Pavilion that first greets you at Bongrimsa Temple, there really isn’t all that much to see. But being a bit of a temple fanatic, Bongrimsa Temple is well worth a visit to take a stroll down its famed past. For this, and this alone, Bongrimsa Temple gets the rating it does.

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The new building for monks and devotees.

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The old Bongrimsa Temple sign that marks the trail that leads up to Bongrimsa-ji.

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Part of the trail that leads up to the historic temple.

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The plainly coloured Boje-ru that first welcomes you to the temple grounds.

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The stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.

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The bell housed inside the Boje-ru.

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The large sized main hall with a statue of Seokgamoni-bul inside.

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Uisang-daesa reaching enlightenment.

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And Wonhyo-daesa gaining enlightenment in the most peculiar of ways.

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Some of the paper lanterns that lead to the Boje-ru from the main hall.

Seongbulsa Temple – 성불사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

DSC_0561 A first look inside the beautiful and modern main hall at Seongbulsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Up a side-winding road that hugs a dry riverbed is Seongbulsa Temple. This small temple to the south of Tongdosa Temple lacks in size, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in originality.

When you first arrive, other than being greeted by a barking dog that wanders, you’ll be greeted by a pond with a Buddha statue in the centre of a stone lotus pedestal. This statue is surrounded by all twelve of the zodiac generals. To the left of this rustic pond is a stone marker with red painting in both Korean and Chinese characters with the temple name written on it. To the right is the temple’s visitors’ centre.

To the right of the visitors’ centre is the modern looking main hall. In front of the main hall is an expansive deck that looks out onto the dry riverbed. Around the exterior of the main hall are rather amateurish looking paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). However, this amateurishness quickly fades away as soon as you enter the main hall. Sitting on the main altar, and in the centre of the triad, is a beautifully robed statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). On the left wall is a beautifully ornate black-backed guardian painting. To the left and right of the main altar are dozens of tiny Buddha and Bodhisattva statues. On the right wall, on the right hand side, is a beautiful statue and painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by a row of miniature statues of himself (green hair and all). To the left of Jijang-bosal is one of the more originally painted murals of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.

To the right of the main hall is really the hidden treasure to the entire temple. On the outside it appears to be nothing more than a Sanshin-gak shaman shrine hall; however, it’s really so much more. The Sanshin-gak is decorated with some amateurish murals that symbolize Sanshin. On the right is a painting of a monk with a tiger, and on the left is a fiercely rendered painting of just a tiger. Inside this hall, you’ll be greeted by a pair of paintings. The one on the right is Sanshin. Not only is there a big and beautiful painting of Sanshin, but there’s an even more impressive statue of Sanshin in front of the painting. To the left of Sanshin is a painting that is somewhat hidden by a couple of artificial bouquets. The painting is a rendering of Dangun Wanggeom. Dangun was the legendary founder of Gojoseon, which was the first Korean kingdom. He founded this kingdom in 2333 B.C. around Liaoning, Northeast China, and the Korean Peninsula. It is extremely rare to see Dangun inside a Buddhist temple. However, much like the neighbouring Sinbulsa Temple in south-western Ulsan, this painting seems to have been painted by the same artist.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangsan Subway Station walk to Emart. From there, you’ll find a bus stop where you’ll find Bus #10. This bus doesn’t come all that often, but when you do finally board it, ride it for 12 stops or 23 minutes. Get off at the Daewoo Marina Gamgyel maeul stop. Walk for about 10 minutes, or 675 metres, towards Seongbulsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. This temple is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s neither too close to Tongdosa Temple, nor is it too close to downtown Yangsan. As a result, this temple is a bit difficult to get to. But if you’re willing to spend the time to get to Seongbulsa Temple, you won’t be disappointed by some of the temple artwork. The highlight of this temple, by far, is the Dangun Wanggeom painting in the Sanshin-gak. It’s rare to find a painting of this founding Korean king; but when you do, it’s definitely a nice surprise. Added to this highlight is the beautifully robed statue of Amita-bul, the painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, as well as the pond at the temple.

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The temple grounds as you approach from the parking lot.

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A artificial pond at Seongbulsa Temple.

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The atypical-looking main hall at the temple.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar

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The shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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Next to it hangs this beautiful Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural.

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An up-close with the guardian mural.

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The temple courtyard. And yes, that’s a picnic table!

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A dried up creek bed next to the temple.

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The odd-looking Sanshin-gak at Seongbulsa Temple.

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A very unique tiger mural that adorns the exterior wall to the Sanshin-gak.

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A painting that adorns the main hall at Seongbulsa Temple.

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The Mountain spirit inside the Sanshin-gak.

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And he shares it with this unique pairing: Dangun Wanggeom.