Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

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Some beautiful flowers enjoying a bit of springtime rain at Heungguksa Temple in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Heugguksa Temple, which lies just north of the Yeosu city centre, is situated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Yeongchwisan (Vulture Peak Mountain). The name of the temple, Heungguksa Temple, means “Temple of Flourishing Kingdom Temple,” in English. Heungguksa Temple was first built in 1196 by the famed monk Jinul. The temple was built in this location to fulfill a former monk’s prophecy. The prophecy stated that if a temple was built on the grounds that Heungguksa Temple now occupies, the nation would flourish. The temple was completely destroyed by the Mongol invasion during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After some of the temple buildings were rebuilt after this invasion, they were destroyed once more during the Imjin War in 1592 and 1597. Heungguksa Temple was rebuilt once more in 1642 by the monk Gyeteuk.

You first approach the temple grounds past the stately Iljumun Gate. The first sign that you’re approaching the temple grounds is a grouping of twelve stupas that also include the earthly remains of Jinul, as well as other prominent monks from eastern Jeollanam-do. A little further along, and just before you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate, is a turtle-based stele that dates back to 1703. The history of the temple’s reconstruction is written on the body of the biseok.

Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four descriptive statues of the Four Heavenly Kings that stand on an elevated enclosure. To the left of this gate is the temple’s museum which houses an 18th century Gwaebul painting of Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). The museum is joined by a weathered bell pavilion that houses an equally old looking collection of Buddhist percussion instruments.

Straight ahead of the Cheonwangmun Gate, and just before you enter the temple courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the Beopwangmun Gate. Originally constructed in 1624, the interior of this gate is rather spacious.

Having stepped inside the main temple courtyard, and straight ahead, lays the Daeung-jeon main hall at Heungguksa Temple. The main hall dates back to 1624. Out in front of the main hall is some beautiful masonry, which includes a turtle based stone lantern (which now looks more like a demon than a turtle), as well as some decorative reliefs on the stairs that lead up to the main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are pastoral paintings. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jaehwagara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues date back to 1628-1644. The masterful main altar painting that backs these statues dates back to 1693. In the back left corner is a historic all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal.

To the right of the main hall is the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) front and centre. These statues date back to the 17th century and are backed by elaborate paintings of the worlds that the Ten Kings rule over in the afterlife.

To the rear of the main hall is the Buljo-jeon, which houses some ancient artifacts from the temple. Unfortunately, this hall is locked at all times. To the rear of this hall, and slightly up an embankment, are a pair of halls. Passing under a low lying entry gate, the first of the two halls is the Palsang-jeon. This hall houses eight replica paintings from the Buddha’s Life (Palsang-do murals). To the left of the Palsang-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. Newly rebuilt, the hall houses replicas of original paintings of the Nahan.

The final pair of halls that visitors can enjoy at Heungguksa Temple lie to the rear of the temple grounds. The first is the Wontong-jeon, which houses a multi-arm and headed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Purportedly, the hall was first constructed in 1633, but judging from the architecture, it’s probably closer to the 19th century because of the brackets holding up the hall. Just below the Wontong-jeon is an artificial cave that houses a dragon-spout well, as well as two stone reliefs dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal and Yongwang (The Dragon King).

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #52 to get to Heungguksa Temple. The bus leaves every 40 minutes from the terminal, and the ride should take about an hour from the terminal to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Heungguksa Temple has a wide variety of shrine halls that visitors can enjoy while exploring the temple grounds. Beautifully situated under Mt. Yeongchwisan on large grounds, the stone masonry in and around the main hall is something to enjoy at the temple. The ancient buildings, as well as the artwork that adorns the halls both inside and out, are something to take your time with, too. There’s a little of something for everyone at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you at Heungguksa Temple.

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The pathway that leads you towards the temple courtyard.

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Part of the set of twelve prominent stupas at the temple.

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The large commemorative stele at the entry of Heungguksa Temple.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The hollow Beopwangmun Gate.

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A look through the gate towards the main hall at Heungguksa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon.

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The turtle-based stone lantern out in front of the main hall.

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A closer look at the turtle-based stone lantern. Looks a little more like a goblin these days.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon at the main altar and the 17th century statues.

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The uniquely supported dharma drum at Heungguksa Temple.

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A collection of dongja (attendants) that line the museum walls.

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The unpainted Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.

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A look inside at the 17th century statues of Jijang-bosal and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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A look past the Buljo-jeon towards the upper courtyard.

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The diminutive gate that welcomes you to the upper courtyard and the Palsang-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Palsang-jeon.

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And the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.

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The secluded Wontong-jeon at Heungguksa Temple.

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The Yongwang-dang at the temple.

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With a look inside the shaman shrine hall.

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Enjoying the rain and the view.

2 thoughts on “Heungguksa Temple – 흥국사 (Yeosu, Jeollanam-do)

    • I”m not sure who can tell you. However, the information provided at the temple states that this temple was founded by the famed monk Jinul, and not by Wonhyo. Wonhyo lives a full 500 years earlier than Jinul. What sources do you have that suggest that this temple was founded by Wonhyo? I’m curious.

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