Wongaksa Temple – 원각사 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The temple courtyard at Wongaksa Temple in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the central part of a wide eastern valley on Mt. Muhaksan (761 m) Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do lies Wongaksa Temple. In fact, halfway up the aforementioned valley, you’ll first see a rather plain looking Iljumun Gate with the name of the temple written on it. Passing through this gate, and past a collection of rundown buildings, you’ll eventually come to a paved clearing where Wongaksa Temple lies.

Immediately you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot the blue metal banner with the words “원각사” written on it. It’s behind this metal banner that you encounter yet another entry gate for the temple. This temple gate is a lot more refined than the first with beautiful floral murals adorning it, as well as a pair of fierce guardians painted on its doors.

Stepping inside the main temple grounds, you’ll immediately notice the temple bell pavilion straight ahead of you. Uniquely, there is a large bronze bell under the wooden structure with another equally good sized bronze bell exposed to the elements with only a neighbouring tree as protection.

To your immediate right is the temple’s visitors’ centre. It’s next to this building that you’ll find the unique main hall at Wongaksa Temple. Stepping inside the nearly square shaped main hall, which is all but unadorned except for the dancheong colours, you’ll first notice the main altar. The main triad consists of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On either side of this triad is a smaller wooden pagoda and a stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And all five statues are fronted by a much larger golden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. The interior of the main hall is lined with smaller statues of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Sitting all alone on the main altar is a seated black haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This older looking statue is backed by an equally older looking painting of Jijang-bosal. To the right of the main altar is a triad of older shaman paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Across the temple’s main courtyard, and over a bridge that spans a narrow stream, is the southern portion of the temple. Housed inside an unassuming brick façade is the temple’s Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall, besides pooling water from the neighbouring stream, is a tall granite statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.

While the Gwaneum-jeon Hall lies to the right, there is a small courtyard that houses a collection of stupas, stele, and a slender five tier pagoda.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, there are several buses that go to where Wongaksa Temple is located. One of these buses is Bus #707. After eight stops, or sixteen minutes, you’ll need to get off at the “Seowongok Ipgu” stop. From the stop, walk about eleven minutes, or 800 metres, to get to the temple. There are various signs leading you in the direction of Wongaksa Temple. You can take a bus or simply take a taxi from the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal. A taxi ride will set you back 6,000 won over the 15 minute ride.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are a few highlights to Wongaksa Temple. The first is the older collection of shaman paintings housed inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Another is the main altar inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple. The final highlight to Wongaksa Temple, besides the beautiful Mt. Muhaksan in all directions, is the unassuming shrine hall that houses an elegant statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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A spider lily outside the temple grounds.

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The first of two gates that welcome you to Wongaksa Temple.

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The shacks that line the route towards Wongaksa Temple.

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The blue metal banner and the second entry gate at Wongaksa Temple.

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The stream that divides the temple in half.

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The second entry gate at Wongaksa Temple.

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One of the guardian murals that adorns the second entry gate.

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As well as this beautiful floral mural.

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The temple bell pavilion.

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The main hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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The unique main altar inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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A look across the Myeongbu-jeon Hall towards the main hall.

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The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall with Jijang-bosal front and centre.

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The amazing and old shaman triad of paintings inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The view from the Myeongbu-jeon Hall out onto the the temple courtyard.

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Across the stream is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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Inside is this beautiful stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the left of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is this stupa and stele field.

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As well as this slender five tier pagoda.

Geumryongsa Temple – 금룡사 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The unique entry to Geumryongsa Temple in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Ever since visiting the neighbouring Seongdeokam Hermitage in the winter of 2015, and passing Geumryongsa Temple by, I thought I would revisit this temple as well as the eastern portion of Mt. Muhaksan in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

You first approach Geumryongsa Temple down some narrow side streets, until you eventually stumble upon the outskirts of the temple grounds and the welcoming Iljumun Gate. Besides the two pillar entry gate, and a steep incline to crest before entering the main temple grounds, you’ll also notice a golden three tier pagoda standing on the heights of the temple grounds to the left of the Iljumun Gate.

Walking up the paved incline, you’ll finally have a better idea of what Geumryongsa Temple has to offer a visitor. To your immediate right and left are the temple’s visitors’ centre and monks’ dorms. It’s also to your right that you’ll be welcomed to the temple by a jovial, golden statue of Podae-hwasang.

Straight ahead, on the other hand, is the Daeung-jeon main hall at Geumryongsa Temple. The exterior is painted with various Biseon either offering up fruit or playing a musical instruction. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll be able to see a main altar centred by a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on either side.

To the left rear of the main hall is a small overgrown pond with an even smaller granite bridge spanning its depths. It’s to the left of the main hall, and up a steep set of stairs, that you’ll next come to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are three newer, well executed, shaman paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

The final shrine hall to be visited at Geumryongsa Temple lies up another set of stairs; this time, to the rear of the Samseong-gak. Rather strangely, this diminutive shrine hall is a Gwaneum-jeon Hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), which is made apparent by the solitary golden statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

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

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. While certainly not as impressive as the neighbouring Seongdeokam Hermitage, Geumryongsa Temple has a few highlights of its own like the small pond and the shaman paintings inside the Samseong-gak, as well as the very entry to the temple. In combination with Seongdeokam Hermitage, or along the way, Geumryongsa Temple can make for nice little add-on to your temple adventure in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

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The cityscape from the entry of Geumryongsa Temple.

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The steep incline towards the main temple grounds at Geumryongsa Temple.

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The statue of Podae-hwasang that greets you at the temple.

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Part of the grounds at Geumryongsa Temple.

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The Daeung-jeon Hall.

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Some of the decorative Biseon that adorn the exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar and Seokgamoni-bul.

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The pond to the left of the main hall.

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The view as you near the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall with the city of Masan all around you.

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The previous pond down below as you continue to climb the stairs.

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A look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The painting of Sanshin that adorns one of the exterior walls to the Samseong-gak.

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The Chilseong mural inside the shaman shrine hall.

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As well as a mural of Dokseong inside the Samseong-gak.

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A look over top of the Samseong-gak.

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From the rather strangely placed Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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And inside the Gwaneum-jeon is this solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

Nawonsa Temple – 나원사 (Gyeongju)

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The five tier pagoda, which is also National Treasure #39, at Nawonsa Temple in northern Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the northern part of Gyeongju, and on the former site of a much older temple, is Nawonsa Temple. This newer temple points to a much older and glorious past in Korean history.

Along a few country roads and past the scenic Hyeongsan River is the well hidden Nawonsa Temple. When first approaching the temple, you’ll pass through the temple parking lot, which appears to be situated out in front of the old temple site. Passing through this clearing, you’ll notice an elevated pagoda to the rear. This nearly ten metre tall white pagoda, which dates back to the 8th century, is National Treasure #39. In the past, this pagoda appeared to the rear of the main temple building during the Unified Silla Period. Now, with the original temple no longer in existence, the historic pagoda stands alone. The body of the pagoda consists of one solid stone and stands five tiers in height. The most remarkable thing about the pagoda is that it’s retained its pure white colour for over a thousand years.

In a bend in the road to the left of the elevated pagoda, and at the base of a small mountain, is Nawonsa Temple. Straight ahead, and past a collection of temple facilities to your left, is the diminutive concrete main hall. The exterior of the main hall is unpainted, but there are a pair of stone lanterns out in front of the elevated main hall. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll notice a collection of white statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of the seven statues is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the far left wall is the temple’s guardian mural as well as a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The only other hall to be enjoyed at Nawonsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall. Up a set of innumerable stairs, you’ll finally arrive at this little hall. Housed inside the unadorned exterior are three paintings. Resting on the main altar is a simple Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the left of Chilseong rests a mural of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and to the right is a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you need to take Bus #232. After 21 stops, or 30 minutes, get off at the Nawonsa Temple entrance stop (나원사 입구).

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. By far, the main highlight to Nawonsa Temple is the ancient five tier pagoda that also acts as National Treasure #39. The interior to the Daeung-jeon main hall is rather inviting, as well.

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The five tier pagoda as you first approach it.

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The picture does no justice to just how massive this pagoda truly is.

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The bend in the road to the left where the newer Nawonsa Temple is located.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Nawonsa Temple.

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Some little trinkets that people have left behind out in front of the main hall.

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A paper Dragon Ship of Wisdom that hangs out in front of the main hall entrance.

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A look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar.

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To the rear of the main hall.

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Where this long flight of stairs rests on your way up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look at the underwhelming Samseong-gak.

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The Chilseong mural that rests on the main altar.

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With a mural dedicated to Yongwang to the left.

Seongjuam Hermitage – 성주암 (Gyeongju)

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The 8th century Amita-bul rock statue at Seongjuam Hermitage in south-western Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seongjuam Hermitage is located in south-western Gyeongju near the Yuldong train station. More specifically, the small hermitage is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Byeokdosan (437m).

You first approach the hermitage up some very rural roads in Gyeongju and eventually up a mountainside road. Standing in the remote hermitage parking lot, which has the feel that no one’s parked there for decades, you’ll find the head of the trail that leads up to the hermitage to the right of the parking lot retaining wall. Through a bend in the trail to the left and then to the right, you’ll see a sign that is the surest indication that Seongjuam Hermitage is up ahead. The sign describes the history behind what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.

Up the mountain trail for one hundred metres, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage. Uniquely, the first thing to greet you to the right is the hermitage’s Sanshin-gak. The diminutive shrine hall has a beautiful signboard that denotes the name of the hall above the entry. Stepping inside the Sanshin-gak, you’ll see that Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is making a mudra with his left hand, while the psychedelic eyes of his tiger companion stare out at you.

To the left of the Sanshin-gak, and up a set of uneven stone stairs, is the hermitage’s main hall. Both the main hall and the monks’ dorms are one. The L-shaped building houses the monks’ dorms to the far left, while the main hall is to the right. Inside this extremely small main hall are a set of red paintings that illustrate the guardian mural as well as the Sermon on Vulture Peak.

But it’s to the right rear of this L-shaped building that you come across what the hermitage is most famous for: the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad. This triad, which also acts as Korea’s Treasure #122, was first created in the 8th century during the Unified Silla Dynasty. The triad looks out towards the west and has a slightly smiling Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. This image is flanked on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul) to the left. The triad is reminiscent of the images found at Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site in central Gyeongju.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yuldong Train Station in Gyeongju, you need to exit the train station to the south. Along the way, follow the signs that read “경주두대리마애석불입상.” These signs are leading you towards the famed Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad at Seongjuam Hermitage. The trek is about one kilometre long.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While the temple buildings at Seongjuam Hermitage are largely disappointing outside of the beautiful painting housed inside the Sanshin-gak, a bit of the luster that is lost from them is regained by standing in front of the amazing 8th century Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad.

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The head of the trail that leads up to Seongjuam Hermitage.

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The actual trail that leads towards the hermitage grounds.

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The Sanshin-gak at Seongjuam Hermitage.

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The unique signboard that is placed above the entry of the Sanshin-gak.

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The amazing Sanshin mural housed inside the shaman shrine hall.

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A look towards the monks’ dorms and the main hall at the hermitage.

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A closer look at the L-shaped building.

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The plateau where the 8th century triad is located.

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A look at the amazing triad!

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A closer look at Amita-bul.

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Daesaeji-bosal.

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And Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The view from the stone platform out towards the Sanshin-gak.

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As well as some of the beautiful flowers that line that side of the hermitage trail.