The sunlit Seokgamoni-bul looking out over the stupa cemetery.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Having visited all the other major temples in the Mt. Gajisan area, which include Unmunsa Temple, Seoknamsa Temple, and Seokgolsa Temple, I decided it was finally about time that I visited the fourth and final major temple in the area: Daebisa Temple.
The exact meaning of the temple’s name, Daebisa Temple (대비사), is a bit of a mystery. It’s believed that its origins stem from a story related to a Silla Dynasty queen. Supposedly, the temple is named after this queen that stayed at the temple for an extended amount of time. Originally, it was located in Bagok-ri. It was moved to its current location sometime during the Goryeo Dynasty. Daebisa Temple was built by the monk Sinseung. He arrived in the Mt. Unmunsan area in 557. And in 560, during the 21st year of King Jinheung’s reign, he started to construct the temple. It was later expanded by the famous monk, Wongwang, who was the monk that taught the Five Rules to the Hwarang (Flower Boys) during the Silla Dynasty in 600.
You first approach Daebisa Temple down a long and winding asphalt/dirt road for about five kilometers. Nearing the end of the road, you’ll come across the beautiful Daebisa Lake. It’s a nice little reward at the end of a long hike.
Finally, you’ll come to the outskirts of the smaller sized Daebisa Temple. While it’s not anywhere close in size to either Unmunsa Temple or Seoknamsa Temple, it’s a little bigger than Seokgolsa Temple. The outskirts of the temple are surrounded by a traditional dirt and tile fence. Climbing up the first set of uneven stairs, you’ll arrive at the first set of temple buildings. To the right is the kitchen, and to the left is the monks’ dorm.
Continuing to the left, the expansive courtyard becomes visible. It houses a rather small main hall. Writing on the hall dates it back to 1685 when it was repaired. As a result of this history, the main hall is National Treasure 834. The exterior of the main hall is largely unadorned all but for a handful of fading paintings on the eaves of the main hall. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and to his left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far left wall is a nice looking guardian painting.
Behind the main hall, and to the right, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. You’ll travel up a rugged looking set of stairs to get to the Samseong-gak shrine hall. The hall is newer looking. On the left exterior wall is a beautiful mural of white cranes. And to the right is a uniquely painted tiger with a broad nose. Inside of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the most popular triad of shaman deities. In the centre, as they most commonly appear, is Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To this paintings right is Dokseong (The Recluse) and to the left is a gorgeously painted San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. In fact, all three murals are expertly rendered paintings. If you continue up the trail to the left of this hall, you’ll end up at the top of Mt. Gajisan.
To the far left of the main hall is another set of temple buildings. These are the monks’ dorms, and they are understandably off-limits to the general public. However, if you veer left down the trail before hitting these dorms, you’ll end up at the neighbouring stream. Over the uniquely adorned bridge, unique because each corner is adorned with an ornamental stupa, you’ll arrive at a courtyard that houses numerous stupas. In total, there are eleven stupas that contain the earthly remains of famous monks. This alone points to Daebisa’s rich history as a temple. Backing the set of stupas is a newly sculpted statue of Seokgamoni-bul. And in the morning, if you arrive at the right time, you’ll see the sun glistening over the shoulder of this statue.
Admission to the temple is free.
HOW TO GET THERE: Daebisa Temple is one of the most difficult temples you’ll ever try to find in Korea. To say that it’s off the beaten track is to put it mildly. You first have to catch a train from Busan Train Station to Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbuk-do. From the Cheongdo Train Station, you’ll to make your way over to the Cheongdo bus station, which is conveniently located in front of the train station. At the bus station, you’ll have to catch the “Unmunsa Way” or “운문사 행.” You’ll then have to ride this bus for about an hour, and it costs around 3,500 Won. You’ll have to get off at Donggok in Geumcheon. Finally, you can either take the local city bus to get to Daebisa Temple or you can take a taxi. After all this time, I would suggest a taxi from the Donggok stop. As I said, not easy, but not impossible.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Daebisa Temple is rather remotely situated. However, with a little effort, it’s well worth the time it takes to find it. The old main hall is simple, yet, beautiful. And the gorgeous Samseong-gak murals are something to behold, as well. Finally, the row upon row of stupas at Daebisa Temple is a bit of a rarity at temples, so take the time to explore this hidden courtyard at the temple.