The compact but colourful temple compound at Sowonsa Temple in Gijang, Busan.
Hello Again Everyone!!
I thought for the upcoming Buddha’s birthday this Monday, I would post at least one extra posting this week. So having been out to this beautiful and picturesque part of Busan before, I thought I would visit the eastern part of the city by the sea once more.
When you first arrive at Sowonsa Temple (소원사), your eyes are met by a world of colours and Buddhist iconography. And while it borders on excess, it doesn’t go past it. Standing in the parking lot, you’ll make your way over a stone bridge that spans a diminutive pond that is filled with colourful carp. Over this bridge is a small shrine hall solely dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). This shrine hall is neighboured by a shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the left. And there’s another wall shrine dedicated to hundreds of tiny golden Buddha statues, which is a little bit further left of these other two shrines.
After viewing these two shrines and the shrine hall, you’ll make your way up a long entrance hall that leads up to the main temple courtyard. Along the way, there are two Buddha statues that monks pour water over their heads during Buddha’s birthday. Also, there are murals dedicated to the twelve Zodiac signs and the 10 Kings of the Underworld along the way. And just before you enter the temple courtyard, there are a set of very unique murals in the entranceway.
Finally, arriving in the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted once again by a tantalizing amount of colours, sounds, and structures. Immediately in front of the long set of stairs that leads up to the main hall is an amazing eleven tier pagoda. It’s beautifully adorned with various Biseon, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. To the right of this pagoda is a two storied building. On the first floor is a funeral home that houses various statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And depending on just how much money you’re spending on your dearly departed, is how large of a room and statue of Jijang-bosal you’ll receive. On the second floor is a large room that is filled with hundreds of gold statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And sitting on the main altar is a large multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal statue. Gwanseeum-bosal is joined by four larger statues in the sea of smaller ones. To the immediate left and right are Jijang-bosal and Seokgamoni-bul. And even further left and right are probably Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
To the left of this building is the main hall. Around the exterior of this main hall are some well composed paintings of the Palsang-do murals. As for the interior of this hall, and sitting upon the rather large main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Moonsu-bosal to the left and Bohyun-bosal to the right. To the right of this triad is an equally large sized mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the left of this triad is a mural of Jijang-bosal that is accompanied by a memorial wall for the dead. The most interesting part of this interior is the guardian painting that has a large golden statue of Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings). I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an accompanying statue of this Bodhisattva in front of a guardian painting before.
Up the embankment, and a large set of metal stairs, is the world famous San shin-gak. In fact, the sign leading up to the shrine says, in Korean, that it’s the largest sized San shin shrine in all of Asia. I’m pretty sure this isn’t true, but nothing wrong with a little self-promotion. Inside, what looks to be a man-made cave, is a shrine hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit). There is a large statue of this spirit with a fading mural of himself at the statues back. Interestingly, there is an adjoining cave with nothing in it inside the San shin-gak. To the right of the San shin-gak is the Dokseong-gak. It’s rather small and has a very simplistic statue and painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). Another interesting aspect to this temple, and nearby these two shrine halls, is a small display case that houses folded paper. Much like in the style of the Japanese, people write their wishes down on them and then fold them and place them in this display case so that their wishes come true.
To the rear of the temple is a small man-made pond. There is a nice little deck that looks out onto the entire temple complex. Also, there’s a nice little landing that you can step out onto to have a better look at the large sized golden Gwanseeum-bosal statue.
The final area of the compact temple complex that packs in so much into such a small area is probably one of the most unique areas I’ve ever seen at a temple. There are about half a dozen structures shaped like a spire and yellow in colour. On top of these spires are various Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, while inside of these structures are paintings and statues of various Buddhas and shaman deities like Seokgamoni-bul and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Strangely, it almost resembles a mini-golf area. Up above this area is a small shrine hall that houses a sari of unknown origins. And to the right of this shrine hall is a display case that houses all of the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha).
And just as you’re about to leave, and almost as though you couldn’t see anything more, there is an area that houses large statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The centralized triad in this group is Seokgamoni-bul, Gwanseeum-bosal, and Jijang-bosal.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Busan, you’ll have to take the subway to Beomeosa Subway Station, #133, on the first line. After exiting out of Exit #2, you’ll see a bus that says “Sowonsa – 소원사”. This bus only leaves from this subway stop at 10 A.M. And it arrives at Sowonsa Temple at 10:30. I’m not exactly sure when this bus returns to Beomeosa Subway Station, but I would guess when they had enough people to return to Busan.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10. This temple has so much to see in such a small area. It’s truly incredible from the small lotus ponds that greet you to the elevated main hall in the main courtyard. And when you thought that was all, all you have to do is climb another set of stairs to see the famous San shin-gak, the temple’s pond, and the yellow spires that almost look like a mini-golf course. Sowonsa Temple truly has something for everyone.