Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple

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A look at Silsangsa Temple from the turn of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silsangsa Temple is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, and it was first established in 828 A.D. by the monk Jeunggak (Hongcheok). The name of the temple means, in English, “True Nature Temple.” In the early 800s, Hongcheok traveled to Tang China with Monk Doui to learn more about Buddhism. After a time, they returned to the Korean peninsula after both were certified in the new Seon (Zen) lineage. It was at this time that Hongcheok was named a National Master (Guksa) by the Silla king. In the same year as the temple’s creation, Hongcheok established the Silsang-sanmun, or the “True Nature Mountain Gate,” in English, as one of the Nine Mountain Schools. The reason that he decided to build Silsangsa Temple on the northern part of Mt. Jirisan was based on geomantic principles. Hongcheok believed that if he didn’t build a temple on this site that Korea’s spiritual energy would flow over and into Japan. Around the same time, Master Doui similarly constructed Borimsa Temple, which was another member of the Nine Mountain Schools (Gajisan). After the establishment of Silsangsa Temple, Master Hongcheok continued to spread the new Seon teachings throughout the Silla Kingdom. Uniquely, Silsangsa Temple is founded on an open plain and not up in the mountains like a lot of Korean temples. Currently, it’s surrounded on most sides by farmers’ fields.

Throughout the years, the temple has been renovated, re-built, and destroyed. In the early 900s, Silsangsa Temple was expanded under royal order according to the geomantic advice of master Doseon. Tragically, the temple was destroyed in 1597 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Slowly, the temple was rebuilt, when in 1684 the Geukrak-jeon was restored. Eventually, the temple complex would grow large enough to house thirty-six buildings by 1700. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple faced a period of decline, as well as a destructive fire. In fact, the temple was completely destroyed by fire in 1882. After this fire, the temple was restored to its current, much smaller, size. And during the Korean War (1950-53), parts of the temple were harmed by fighting forces that passed through this area of combat. Fortunately, most cultural relics were spared.

While visibly not quite as grand as its former glory, parts of that past still remain. In total, the temple houses eight Treasures. In addition to these eight Treasures, the neighbouring Baekjangam Hermitage, which is directly associated with Silsangsa Temple, houses National Treasure #10 in the form of a highly unique Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), three-story, stone pagoda. Silsangsa Temple also houses the largest steel statue of a Buddha in Korea in the form of a Unified Silla Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Also, the temple lies within the park limits of the picturesque Jirisan National Park.


One of the temple buildings at Silsangsa Temple.


 Another building at Silsangsa Temple.


The temple grounds around the turn of the last century.


One of the temple’s stone lanterns out in front of the main hall.


One of the original spirit poles that stands guard out by the entrance of the temple.


The ancient biseok dedicated to Hongcheok.


Silsangsa Temple’s main hall today.


The temple grounds at Silsangsa Temple.


The biseok dedicated to the founding monk, Hongcheok.


The exact same spirit pole as it appears now.

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