Colonial Korea: Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This week, in the latest installment of the Colonial Korea series, I thought I would focus, instead, on a temple south of the DMZ. So this time, I thought I would focus on the famed Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Rather famously, Tongdosa Temple is part of the three Korean jewel temples (삼보사찰). Tongdosa Temple serves as the “Bul” or Buddha aspect of the three jewels. Tongdosa Temple is joined by Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do to comprise the three Korean jewel temples.

First founded in 643 A.D. on the southern slopes of the beautiful Mt. Chiseosan, Tongdosa Temple means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English. The temple was founded by Jajang-yulsa, and the reason that Tongdosa Temple is the “Bul” component of the three Korean jewel temples revolves around him. After traveling to China to further his Buddhist studies, Jajang-yulsa visited Yunjisi Temple. It was here that he obtained the holy relics of the Buddha. These holy relics included the Buddha’s begging bowl, a portion of his skull, as well as numerous sari (crystallized remains). After returning to the Korean peninsula, and through the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), Jajang-yulsa helped spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). A part of Buddhism’s growth throughout Korea was helped by the establishment of Tongdosa Temple to store the Buddha’s partial remains.

From the very moment Tongdosa Temple was established, it has thrived throughout the centuries and millennia. From state-sponsored Buddhism to the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Tongdosa Temple has always been at the forefront of Korean Buddhism. However, in 1592, and much like the rest of the Korean peninsula, Tongdosa Temple was laid to waste by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. Finally, in 1645, the temple was reconstructed, including the beautiful Daeung-jeon main hall. In more recent years, Tongdosa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds, which includes the new temple museum. Tongdosa Temple is Korea’s largest temple.

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The second of two Iljumun Gates at Tongdosa Temple as of 1933.

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The stately Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933

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The bell pavilion at Tongdosa Temple from 1933

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The Yeongsan-jeon Hall in the lower courtyard in 1933.

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A closer look at the intricate woodwork adorning the Yeongsan-jeon Hall.

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The compact Yaksa-jeon in 1933.

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A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall.

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The three tier stone pagoda in the lower courtyard in 1916.

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The Bulimun Gate in 1933, as you transition to the upper courtyard.

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A closer look at the Bulimun Gate.

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The highly popular Gwaneum-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The stone lantern in front of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 1916.

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A closer look at the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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The Seokong from 1917, which purportedly houses some of the Buddha’s relics.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall up close.

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The famed Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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A look at one of the entrances of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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Some of the beautiful latticework that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look around the eaves of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And a look inside the Daeung-jeon.

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How the second of two Iljumun Gates looks today.

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The view from the Geukrak-jeon towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look towards the temple’s bell pavilion.

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The view of the three story stone pagoda and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall backing it.

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The Yaksa-jeon Hall as it looks in 2015.

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The back of the Gwaneum-jeon with the Seokong behind it. The Bulimun Gate lies in the background.

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Both the Daeung-jeon Hall (right) and the Eungjin-jeon (left) together.

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The view from the left of the main hall.

Hongjeam Hermitage – 홍제암 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful view from the Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple in Gayasan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having recently revisited Haeinsa Temple, and Hongjeam Hermitage, as well, I thought I would do a re-write of the hermitage. I don’t usually do such a thing, but I think I might have understated the hermitage’s beauty because I overlooked half of what it had to offer. So with that in mind, this is the re-written article on Hongjeam Hermitage.

Hongjeam Hermitage was first built in 1608 for High Priest Samyeong by King Seonje. The King did this in appreciation for the Buddhist priest’s contribution in defending the country from the Japanese during the Imjin Invasion of 1592 by raising a Buddhist monk army. The famous priest would spend the remaining years of his life at Hongjeam Hermitage. And when he died a stupa and stele were made in 1610. The biography of the great priest is written on his stele. Stupidly, the stele was damaged by the Japanese police chief in Hapcheon during Japanese colonial rule in 1943. Fortunately, it was repaired in 1958. In total, the hermitage has been rebuilt seven times throughout the years; the most recent being 1979, when the hermitage was completely dismantled under the patronage of then president, Bak Chung Hee.

You first approach Hongjeam Hermitage from the east after passing by the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple. The first thing to welcome you at the hermitage are a row of stupas and steles. Of the nine stupas and steles, it’s the turtle based stele in the centre that belongs to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa. You’ll easily be able to identify it, because the body of the stele has been broken in the middle into four pieces. Amazingly, it was able to be repaired. To the right rear of these stone monuments, and lying on the hillside that overlooks Haeinsa Temple, is an courtyard memorial for those that fought in the Imjin War (1592-98).

When you approach the hermitage grounds either through the side or main entrance, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of buildings. The ones to the far left are the monks’ facilities like the kitchen and dorms; as to the right, there stands the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage. Stepping inside the elevated main hall, you’ll first notice the elaborate main altar that houses seven statues. Sitting in the centre is a large golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on his immediate right and left by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Rounding out the five larger statues are a pair of book-ending statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). The interior walls are lined with elaborate Palsang-do murals. Also, there hangs a painting that depicts three Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) images.

To the left of the main hall is a tucked away Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Immediately upon entering this hall, you’ll notice a diminutive statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar with a colourful altar mural backing this Bodhisattva. Hanging over top of the entry, and slightly to the right, is a Gamno-do mural. But the most interesting pair of murals hang to the left of the main altar. The first is an older guardian painting, while the other is an equally older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Now, this is where Hongjeam Hermitage gets interesting. If you exit the first hermitage compound to the left rear, you’ll come out on the other side next to a rolling stream and a large cabbage patch field. It’s to the rear of the cabbage patch and the building that backs this produce that you’ll come to an amazing Sanshin-gak. Resting inside this shaman shrine hall is a statue and painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. But what sets this apart from the hundreds of other Sanshin murals I’ve seen in Korea is that this Sanshin appears to be a Bodhisattva. In this painting and statue, the spiritual roots of Korea are blended between Shamanism and Buddhism. To the left of the Sanshin-gak are two encased rows of Nahan statues. In addition, and among the rocks that pop out from the ground, are a pair of granite statues dedicate to Jijang-bosal to the left and Yaksayore-bul to the right.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hongjeam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to find the trail that leads up to Haeinsa Temple for about a kilometre, which starts to the left of the temple museum. From the Iljumun Gate, which is the first gate at Haeinsa Temple, you’ll have to continue left as you face this gate. Head towards the parking lots on your left and cross the narrow stone bridge where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the monk cemetery at Hongjeam Hermitage. In total, it’s about 300 metres from the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While initially underrating this hermitage the first go around, I won’t make the same mistake the second time around. Hongjeam Hermitage is the eternal resting place to one of Korea’s most famous monks: Samyeong-daesa. In addition to such a unique claim, it also houses Korea’s most unique images of Sanshin. Finally, Hongjeam Hermitage is beautifully situated in Gayasan National Park next to the famed Haeinsa Temple.

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The entry at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The fall colours at Gayasan National Park.

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The entrance marker welcoming you to Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The shrine dedicated to the Imjin War dead at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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Another look with Haeinsa Temple and the colourful mountains framing the shrine.

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The collection of stupas and steles at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The stele dedicated to the famed warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa.

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The hermitage grounds as you approach the entrance gate.

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A closer look around the hermitage grounds and the main hall.

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The amazing view from the hermitage courtyard.

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The wooden corridor just outside the main hall’s entrance.

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The main altar inside the hermitage’s main hall.

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The Dongjin-bosal mural to the right rear of the hall.

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Just one of the beautiful murals that adorns the interior walls of the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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As well as this all-white incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the left of the main hall is this shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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The large Gamno-do mural near the entry of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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An aged Sanshin mural hangs inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The cabbage patch to the left rear of the main hermitage compound.

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The Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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With this spectacular statue and painting of a Bodhisattva-like image of Sanshin.

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The ceiling to the Sanshin-gak.

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The rows of Nahan statues at the hermitage.

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They’re fronted by these two beautiful stone statues of Jijang-bosal and Yaksayore-bul.

Colonial Korea: Anguksa Temple – 안국사 (Pyongsong, South Pyongan)

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Anguksa Temple from Pyongsong, South Pyongan, North Korea in 1932.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The second article in this series about Korean Buddhist temples during the Japanese colonial rule over Korea from 1910-45 is about another North Korean temple. This time, I’ll be focusing on the historic Anguksa Temple in Pyongsong, South Pyongan, North Korea.

Anguksa Temple was first constructed in 503 A.D. during the Goguryeo Dynasty. Throughout the years, Anguksa Temple has undergone renovation and reconstruction. First the temple was reconstructed in 1419, and then it was renovated in 1785 during the reign of King Jeongjo of Joseon.

The temple is scenically located on the slopes of Mt. Pongrin. While the temple was first founded in 503 A.D., all of the temple buildings date back to the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The Daeung-jeon main hall at Anguksa Temple is designated National Treasure #34. The Daeung-jeon is an impressive two story structure that measures 17 metres by 13 metres.

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The two story main hall at Anguksa Temple from 1932.

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The intricate eaves as seen from this photo from 1932.

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The backside of the main hall.

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The elaborate latticework that adorns the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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The interior of the main hall.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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And what Anguksa Temple looks like as of 2007 (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Simwonsa Temple – 심원사 (Seongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The mountainside view between the Daeung-jeon and Geukrak-jeon at Simwonsa Temple in Gayasan National Park just outside Seongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in beautiful Gayasan National Park, and just north of the much more famous Haeinsa Temple, is Simwonsa Temple. First constructed during the Unified Silla Dynasty (668 – 935), Simwonsa Temple was later expanded between 1522 to 1566. During the Imjin War, in 1593, Simwonsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire by some volunteer soldiers. It was later rebuilt some two hundred years after it had been abandoned. From the very day of its reconstruction, the temple has undergone numerous expansions and rebuilds.

You first approach Simwonsa Temple to the left of the eastern entry gate to Gayasan National Park. The entire temple grounds are beautifully framed by the surrounding mountains. Past a collection of nine stele, as well as a handful of temple buildings like the monks’ dorms, the kitchen, and the visitors’ centre, you’ll finally arrive in the centre of Simwonsa Temple’s courtyard.

Standing out in front of the main hall is the Jeongjung Sambotap, which is a three tier stone pagoda that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty. It also just so happens to be Cultural Property No. 116 of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. To the rear of this pagoda is the newly constructed main hall. The first main hall to stand at Simwonsa Temple dates back to the 8th century. The exterior walls to the main hall are decorated with murals from the life of Uisang-daesa, which also includes the enlightenment of Uisang’s friend, Wonhyo-daesa. Inside the Daeung-jeon main hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (the Historical Buddha). The interior walls are decorated with Palsang-do murals that depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. These paintings are joined to the right by an elaborate Nahan mural, as well as the traditional guardian mural.

To the left of the Daeung-jeon is the temple’s Geukrak-jeon. The exterior walls are filled with murals dedicated to the celestial. As for inside, and sitting on the main altar, is a statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is joined by a light-beaming mural of Amita-bul.

To the right of the main hall is the newly constructed, and uniquely shaped, Yaksa-jeon. The low-lying exterior ceiling is adorned with beautiful white crane murals, as well as various murals dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). As for the interior of this rather compact hall sits a solitary statue of Yaksayore-bul holding a medicine bowl.

But the main highlight of the temple, other than the scenery that surrounds Simwonsa Temple, is the Sanshin-gak that rests on the heights of the temple grounds. The entrance to the three doors of the Sanshin-gak are adorned with three signboards: 산신각, 숭모전, 정견각. The one farthest to the left refers to the Sanshin-gak, while the one in the middle, Sungmo-jeon, refers to a “Highly Admiring Worship Hall.” While the third, and closest to the right when first approaching the Sanshin-gak, refers to the name of the female Mountain Spirit, Jeonggyeon Moju, that occupies Mt. Gayasan. The exterior walls to this hall are beautifully adorned with various murals such as a pond, a persimmon tree, a tiger, and a vibrant mural of Jeonggyeon Moju. As for the interior, and sitting all alone, is a statue of the female Sanshin, Jeonggyeon Moju. It’s also from the heights of the Sanshin-gak that you get an amazing look down at Simwonsa Temple and the valley below.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Seongju Intercity Bus Terminal, (성주버스정류장), you’ll need to take a bus that says “송계 – 수륜 – 백운동” on it. Take this bus for 14 stops, which should last about 40 minutes. You’ll need to get off at Gayasan National Park. From the Mt. Gayasan stop, you’ll need to walk nearly 800 metres, or 12 minutes, towards Simwonsa Temple (just follow the signs).

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Beautifully located in Gayasan National Park, you get an amazing view of the sprawling valley down below from the heights of the temple. Add into the mix all the recent construction and artwork, and you have yet another reason to visit this little known temple. And finally, the exceptional Sanshin-gak, which is home to one of the very few female Sanshins in Korea, only adds to the overall beauty of Simwonsa Temple.

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The entire temple grounds at Simwonsa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon with the Sanshin-gak to its right.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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One of the murals from the Palsang-do set.

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The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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The Nahan mural inside the main hall, as well.

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A better look at the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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Wonhyo-daesa’s enlightenment, as illustrated on the exterior walls of the main hall at Simwonsa Temple.

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Just one of the celestial paintings adorning the Geukrak-jeon.

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The main altar painting and statue inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The beautiful view from the Geukrak-jeon.

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To the right of the Daeung-jeon is the Yaksa-jeon.

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A collection of paintings of Yaksayore-bul, Ilgwang-bosal, and Wolgwang-bosal all together.

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And the statue of Yaksayore-bul inside the Yaksa-jeon.

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A look up at the hillside Sanshin-gak.

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The view from the Sanshin-gak down on the rest of the temple grounds.

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The female Sanshin statue inside the Sanshin-gak.

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The beautiful persimmon mural that adorns the exterior wall of the Sanshin-gak.

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The painting of Jeonggyeon Moju, the female Sanshin, adorning the exterior wall of the Sanshin-gak.

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And these murals are joined by this beautiful pond mural.

Colonial Korea: Singyesa Temple – 신계사 (Kosong, Kangwon-do)

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Singyesa Temple in Kosong, Kangwon-do, North Korea in 2007.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the first article that photographically highlights Korean Buddhist temples from the period of the Japanese colonization of Korea that lasted from 1910 to 1945. In these pictures from the colonial period in Korea’s history, you’ll get a unique look into Korea’s religious and cultural past. Also of note, you’ll get to see pictures of temples from both north and south of the DMZ before the Korean peninsula was divided by the Korean War (1950-53).

In this first article, I thought I would focus on North Korea’s Singyesa Temple in Kosong, Kangwon-do. (It should be noted that I’ll be using the North Korean style of writing Korean words in English when it comes to the North Korean temples). I was fortunate enough to visit Singyesa Temple back in March, 2007. So with my personal biased in mind, here’s a little more on the history of Singyesa Temple.

Singyesa Temple was first founded in 519 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.E – 935 A.D.). The temple is beautifully located in the picturesque Mt. Kumgang, and it eventually became one of the four major temples on Mt. Kumgang. During Japanese colonization, Singyesa Temple became known as Sinkei-ji Temple. And it was a popular tourist destination.

Unfortunately, the entire temple complex, and the buildings housed on its grounds, were completely destroyed in 1951 by U.S. fighter planes. It was believed that soldiers from the North Korean Army were taking up residence at Singyesa Temple. Some fifty-three years later, in 2004, and with the financial support of the Jogye Order and the Korean Buddhist Association, Singyesa Temple was reconstructed. Construction would be completed in 2006.

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Singyesa Temple framed by the neighbouring Mt. Kumgang. This picture dates back to 1932.

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A better look at the main hall from 1932.

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The intricate latticework that adorned the main hall in 1932.

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And an interior look inside the main hall from 1932.

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A picture of the Silla-era three tier pagoda from 1916.

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A closer look at the sword bearing guardian that adorns the pagoda. This picture, as well, dates back to 1916.

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The Manse-ru Pavilion at the entry of Singyesa Temple in 2007.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall in 2007.

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The intricate latticework that accompanied the 2004 re-build.

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The only thing to remain from the 1951 U.S. bombing. The pagoda dates back to the Silla Dynasty.

Gwaneumam Hermitage – 관음암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Much like Biroam Hermitage, Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after the Bodhisattva of Compassion: Gwanseeum-bosal. The hermitage is actually the newest hermitage directly associated with Tongdosa Temple. Gwaneumam Hermitage was built 30 years ago. Originally, the land where the hermitage was built was used by a married Buddhist priest and his family. But the land was bought for building the hermitage. The one key feature of this hermitage, and it stands out when you visit it, is a five storied sari stupa. Purportedly, according to the Tongdosa Temple website, the stupa at Gwaneumam Hermitage houses the partial remains of the Historical Buddha. These remains were from Myanmar (Burma). It’s a remarkable history for a hermitage that almost seems underwhelming.

As you first approach the hermitage from a dirt road, you’ll first realize that the land where the hermitage now resides must have be a former rice paddy. The only reason I say this is because the hermitage is surrounded by rice paddies in all directions. Entering through the opening in the walled off hermitage compound, and by the black dragon heads that stand on each edge of the opening, you’ll enter into a non-descript hermitage courtyard.

To the left is the compact main hall with the beautiful pagoda with the purported remains of the Buddha inside. The paintings around the main hall are Buddhist themed in nature. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll see a large, red canopy hovering over top of the main altar. Underneath this elaborate canopy are a triad of statues. Sitting in centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the right of this altar is a large guardian mural.

As for the rest of the hermitage grounds, there’s the monks’ dorms, a visitors centre, and the hermitage’s kitchen. To the right of these buildings is a unique pagoda and a monk statue, as well as a pavilion that overlooks a beautiful garden. The pagoda strangely has rounded edges, instead of the typical sharp stone lines of a more traditional Korean pagoda. Also, the hobbitesque monk statue sports a stone straw hat. To the right of this monk statue is a wooden/straw pavilion for monks to meditate as they look over the beautiful garden that lays out in front of it.

HOW TO GET THERE: Gwaneumam Hermitage is a bit tricky to find. It’s not on the Tongdosa Temple grounds; instead, it lies in the neighbouring hills and fields. With your back to the main gate at Tongdosa Temple, head straight for about 200 metres. Turn left at the first major road. This road will head straight, beside the Tongdosa Temple parking lot, for about 300 metres. By this point, you may be able to see the top of the main hall. As the road forks, head left around a curved road for about 200 metres. You’ll then see a handful of taller apartments. Head down the back alley behind one of these apartments for about 100 metres. Hang a right at the edge of these apartments for another 100 metres, by then you’ll be able to see both the hermitage sign as well as the hermitage and rice paddies that surround Gwaneumam Hermitage. Unlike all the other hermitages that take up residence on the Tongdosa Temple grounds, Gwaneumam Hermitage is free to enter.

OVERALL RATING:  2.5/10. Unless you’re a die hard temple/hermitage adventurer like me, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this hermitage. However, if it’s true that the hermitage does house the partial remains of the Buddha, then this hermitage would obviously be rated a bit higher. But at this time it doesn’t seem all that clear if they do or don’t. The highlight of this hermitage is the beautifully painted compact main hall, purported stupa that houses the partial remains of the Buddha, as well as the atypically shaped pagoda and the hobbitesque monk statue. The garden is also a nice place to take pictures and gather your breath before finding your way back to the bus stop or the Tongdosa Temple gate.

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The drive up to Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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The lotus field at the hermitage.

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One of the hermitage’s walls with a decorative dragon adorning the entry to Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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The five tier pagoda out in front of the hermitage’s main hall.

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One of the aged haetae in front of the pagoda.

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One of the panels of protective guardians that adorns the base of the five tier pagoda.

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A look through the entry of the main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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One of the murals that adorns the main hall.

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The main altar inside the main hall. Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) is joined by a standing Jijang-bosal and a standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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An up close of the guardian mural that hangs inside the main hall.

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A better look at the elaborate main altar inside the main hall.

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The hermitage’s stone artwork and relaxing hut.

Bogaksa Temple – 보각사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The view of the city of Yangsan down below as you exit the main hall at Bogaksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Perched on Mt. Obongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, where the buildings give way to the forested mountain, is Bogaksa Temple. To get to the elevated Bogaksa Temple grounds, you’ll first need to trek your way up the narrow side-streets as you make your way to the all-new temple. In fact, from the base of the mountain, up to the temple grounds, you’ll need to climb 150 metres in altitude.

When you finally do arrive at Bogaksa Temple, you’ll be met by the front façade retaining wall and a standoffish Iljumun Gate. The two pillared Iljumun Gate is adorned with two fiercely painted guardians on both doors. Also, the ceiling of the gate is painted with decorative Biseon.

Climbing the side-winding set of stone stairs, you’ll pass by a masterful relief of a crowned Bodhisattva. It’s finally when summiting the stone stairs that you stand in Bogaksa Temple’s main temple courtyard. There are relaxing seats to enjoy the view, as well as some purple and pink water lilies. They are joined by the nuns’ dorms and a visitors centre. But it’s the newly constructed main hall that stands out above all the other structures at the temple.

First constructed in the spring of 2015, the main hall’s exterior walls are masterfully adorned with Shimu-do and Palsang-do murals. The Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals rest on the bottom of the two sets in a circular style of painting; while the Palsang-do murals rest above them and are much larger in size. Additionally, the colourful wooden lattices and Nathwi that adorn the front doors of the main hall are something to keep an eye out for, as well. Stepping in the side door of the main hall, you’ll first notice the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting on the main altar. To the right of the seated statue of the Buddha hang three paintings. The furthest is the large sized guardian mural. It’s joined by a vibrantly painted Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural, as well as an intricately painted mural of an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the left of the main altar hangs two more paintings. The one closest to the main altar is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by an equally animated mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Stepping out from the main hall, you’ll notice some amazing views of the city of Yangsan down below from the elevated foundation of the main hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Busan University Yangsan Campus subway stop, stop #241 on the second line, you’ll need to go out exit #3 and board a taxi bound for Bogaksa Temple. The ride should last about 10 minutes and cost about 4,000 to 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While not all that large in size, and not that old in age, Bogaksa Temple certainly has a few highlights to this modern temple. One is the views of Yangsan from the heights of the temple. Another are all the paintings housed inside and outside the main hall. And if you come during late summer and early fall, you’ll be able to see some beautiful water lilies in full bloom.

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The two pillared Iljumun Gate at Bogaksa Temple.

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One of the fierce decorative guardians painted on the doors to the Iljumun Gate.

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The view as you look through the Iljumun Gate.

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The crowned stone Bodhisattva relief as you climb the stone stairs.

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A look through the front door of the main hall at Bogaksa Temple.

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Some of the main hall’s floral latticework.

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The final painting in the Palsang-do set.

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Just one of the masterful circular Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.

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A look around the interior of the main hall.

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The guardian mural that hangs in the main hall.

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As well as a vibrant Sanshin mural.

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An intricate Gwanseeum-bosal mural.

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A seated Jijang-bosal mural.

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And a Chilseong mural.

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The view in through the out door.

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Some of the neighbouring temple buildings.

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The amazing view from the main hall.

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A pink water lily in full bloom at the temple.

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As well as a vibrant purple water lily.