Now and Then: Unjusa Temple

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The mysterious Unjusa Temple in black and white.

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Unjusa Temple is located in Hwasun County, Jeollanam-do, and its origins are largely unknown. But whatever the date of its creation, it’s believed that master Doseon-guksa established the temple according to geomantic principles. In fact, the name of the temple, Unjusa Temple, can have two meanings. One meaning is “the place where clouds stay.”

Another meaning, and perhaps the more relevant one to the temple’s founding myth, is “Driving the Ship Temple,” in English. The reason this name is important to the principles behind the creation of Unjusa Temple is that Doseon-guksa, according to geomancy, believed that this part of the peninsula would be uneven, and potentially capsize, if it wasn’t righted. Compared to the eastern side of the Goryeo Kingdom, Yeongnam (which means “south of the passes,” in present day Gyeongsang Provinces), the western portion of the peninsula, Honam, had an apparent lack of mountains. So to counter this listing, Doseon decided to build one thousand Buddhist images and one thousand pagodas. By not listing, the ship could be brought back to port (and home).

To counteract this imbalance in nature, Doseon decided to call down stone masons from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas. However, before the final Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed as the night drew to a close. With this, all the heavenly masons were recalled back to heaven, leaving two incomplete statues left lying unfinished on the temple grounds. These two unfinished statues, which visitors are able to see on a neighbouring mountain top, are called Wabul in Korea, or “The Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha,” in English. In all probability, however, Unjusa Temple was created as a school for stonemasons.

Presently, of the original one thousand Buddha statues and pagodas, twenty-one stone pagodas and ninety-four Buddha sculptures still remain on the temple grounds. Of these stone structures, three are listed as Korean treasures, while Unjusa Temple itself is considered Historic Site #312. Among all the potential temples you can visit throughout Korea, Unjusa Temple definitely has a mysterious feel to it. More recently, and from 1984 to 1991, the Jeonnam National University Museum conducted four excavations and two academic studies to uncover some of the temple’s greater mysteries.

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A closer, older, look at the valley of pagodas.

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 The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine: Treasure #797.

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A combination of both historic pagodas and statues.

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The twelve metre long Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha.

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A more recent photo from Unjusa Temple towards the valley of pagodas.

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 The unique Hwasun Stone Shrine.

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Some mountainside statues and a crowning pagoda.

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A contemporary picture of the twelve metre long Lying Buddhas.

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