Gwanchoksa Temple – 관촉사 (Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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The amazing 18 metre tall Mireuk-bul statue at Gwanchoksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Situated on the eastern slopes of the diminutive Mt. Banyasan (elevation 100 metres) in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do, Gwanchoksa Temple was first established in 968 A.D. by the monk Hyemyeong at the start of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

You first approach the elevated temple grounds from the north passing through the two-pillared Iljumun Gate. After passing through this gate and making your way past all the local restaurants, you’ll next encounter the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside this hall are the shrunken-headed Four Heavenly Kings.

You’ll make your ascent up a zig-zagging set of stairs towards the temple grounds. After passing under the Banya-ru Pavilion, you’ll be greeted to the grounds by the massive two-story Daegwangmyeong-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall, uniquely, are decorated with various Nahan murals. Also, the front latticework is second-to-none. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll be welcomed by a long, slender main altar and canopy. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the left by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and to the right by Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). Hanging on the far left wall is a large guardian mural, as well as numerous, smaller golden Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) statues that will prepare you for the historic Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. With a staff pointed outwards sits a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) inside this hall. Up a set of wandering stairs, and next to twisted red pines, is the temple’s Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are a set of underwhelming murals dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea: Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

But let’s be honest, the main reason you’ve come to Gwanchoksa Temple is to see the famed 18 metre tall statue of the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple. And it’s from the heights of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that you get your first look at the iconic Goryeo Dynasty statue. Korean Treasure #218 was built over a 38 year period. From 967 to 1002, the massive statue was built. Known as the Eujin Mireuk Buddha, it’s the largest stone Buddha in Korea. With its elongated and capped head, Mireuk-bul looks otherworldly compared to other statues in Korea. According to legend, while a woman was picking wild herbs on Mt. Banyasan, she heard a baby crying. When she went to the spot where she heard the baby crying, there wasn’t a baby. Instead, there was a large rock sticking out from the ground. Learning this, the government ordered a Buddha statue to be made from this rock. And this statue would become, you guessed it, the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

In front of this statue is the Stone Lantern of Gwanchoksa Temple. Like the statue of Mireuk-bul, the stone lantern is a treasure: Treasure #232. These two are then joined by a four-tier stone pagoda and a stone worshiping square with a beautiful lotus pattern etched on it.

The final building at the temple that people can visit is the Mireuk-jeon, which is dedicated to Mireuk-bul. Interestingly, there are several paintings on this building dedicated to the discovery and creation of the famed stone statue on it. Stepping inside this hall, you’ll notice no statues on the main altar. Instead, there’s a golden ring painted on the front window that looks out onto the Goryeo-era Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple. To the side of the main altar, besides a rather plain guardian mural, is an altar for the controversial Park Chung Hee and his wife, Yuk Young Soo.

After seeing everything at the temple, you can pass through the historic Haetalmun Gate that’s believed to date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to leave Gwanchoksa Temple.

Admission to the temple is 1,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Nonsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can simply take a taxi to Gwanchoksa Temple. The ride should cost you about 4,000 won and last about seven minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. It’s surprising that the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple isn’t a National Treasure. There simply isn’t anything like it for its originality, age, and size. Take your time and get your fill of this unique statue because you’ll not see anything like it in Korea. Couple this statue with the other treasures around the temple, as well as the massive main hall, and you can have quite the nice visit to Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate as you approach the temple grounds.

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 A look back at some of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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A beautiful bridge that guides the way up to the Gwanchoksa Temple grounds.

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A beautiful view of the Banya-ru Pavilion.

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A closer look at the welcoming pavilion.

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The Daegwangmyeong-jeon main hall at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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The surrounding mountains up close against the temple’s main hall.

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One of the muscular Nahan adorning the main hall.

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The long, slender main altar inside the Daegwangmyeong-jeon.

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Some of the cute, miniature Mireuk-bul statues.

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The Myeongbu-jeon and Samseong-gak halls at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon at Jijang-bosal.

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And a look up towards the Samseong-gak.

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The Mireuk-jeon and four-story pagoda at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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One of the paintings dedicated to the creation of the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A look through the main altar glass inside the Mireuk-jeon out towards the Stone Standing Maitreya of Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A group photo at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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A closer look at the 10th century statue of Mireuk-bul.

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An opportunity to see the sheer size of the 18 metre tall statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul.

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And finally, the Haetalmun Gate that you can exit or enter through at Gwanchoksa Temple.

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