Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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The extremely rare image of Samshin Halmoni at Sinbulsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

After being told about this place from a friend, and seeing a couple pictures, I couldn’t help but visit Sinbulsa Temple (신불사) on the southwestern part of Ulsan. I’m not too sure how the friend found it, because it doesn’t show up on any map on the trusty GPS in my car, but Sinbulsa Temple was well worth the treasure hunt to find for a couple of unique features that it houses.

When you first arrive at the temple, after wandering around the outskirts of the Samsung factory, you’ll first see a stone sign that reads “신불사.” Down the elbowed road, the road splits to the right and the left. To the right is the temple compound and to the left are a row of buildings (more on that later).

Straight ahead, on the right road, is a newly built bell pavilion that houses a really large sized bell, especially for how small the temple is. Adorning the bell are beautifully large Biseon and Korean poetic writing. Walking past the bell pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the main hall to the left, and straight ahead is the monks’ dorm.

The exterior walls of the main hall are rather plain in their decoration. The four paintings that adorn the exterior walls seem rather childish in composition. However, inside the main hall, the hall is both colourful and beautiful. Sitting on the main altar is a set of six Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the centre of the set is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the Buddha’s immediate right and left are statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And next to these statues are statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). And next to Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul). Left of this set of altar statues is a statue of a traditional looking Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And next to this statue is an even more unique statue of Jijang-bosal: this time, he’s seated on an elephant and backed by individual paintings of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. On the far right wall is another statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a beautifully large guardian painting.

Just past the main hall is the monks’ dorm. And next to that is a shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Inside this shrine hall is a seated golden statue of Yongwang with a beautiful mural behind him. This mural has Yongwang to the left and a blue dragon to the right. Just in front of the golden statue of Yongwang is an open pit where the mountain water flows, and to the immediate left are rows upon rows of green jade statues of Buddhas. Next to this shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang is an open outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse). Again, this shrine is large and golden, much like Yongwang, and the mural that backs this statue is beautifully rendered.

Across the creek, and over the bridge, is a courtyard with a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of the grounds. There are two beautiful flanking stone lanterns and a tiny stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the courtyard. It’s rather plain and cluttered, but the design of the stone sculptures and statues are beautiful.

Now, heading back through the temple grounds, and back to where you first began, you should now head left where the road originally forked. This part of the temple, and this row of shrine hall buildings, is definitely the highlight of Sinbulsa Temple. To the right of the shrine halls is an interesting little display case that opens. Inside is a painting of Samshin Halmoni. She is extremely rare to find at a Korean Buddhist temple, as she’s almost exclusively used in Korean shamanism. Inside the first shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak with a nice statue and painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Uniquely, there’s a large stone boulder from the neighbouring mountain inside the hall. To the left of the Sanshin-gak shrine hall is yet another highly unique painting of Samshin Halmoni with Dangsan Cheonwang. Inside the final shrine hall are some older looking paintings of guardians I am unfamiliar with.

HOW TO GET THERE: To say that this temple isn’t the easiest one to find in Korea is to put it mildly. First, you will have to take a bus to Yangsan. From the Yangsan Health Centre, near the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take either local city bus 63 or 67. The bus ride until your destination is about one hour. You will then have to get off at the SDI (Samsung Development Institute) factory. Take the first left that heads towards the main entrance gate at the factory. The road will fork to the left just before you arrive at the entrance gate. Follow this road, as it twists and turns for a good two to three kilometres. But don’t worry, there is good signage leading you towards the temple the entire way. On your way, you’ll pass by a forested area, as well as a few factories to the rear of the SDI facility.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While the temple buildings themselves and temple statues are rather unimpressive, it’s the statues and halls dedicated to the shaman deities that make this temple so special. So if you have the time and the energy it takes to find this temple, it’s well worth the effort.

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The entrance to Sinbulsa Temple.
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The view of the temple complex as you approach down the winding road.
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The view of the newly built bell pavilion as you head right towards the temple complex.
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A better look at the rather large bell at Sinbulsa Temple.
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A vibrant look up at the main hall at the temple.
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A look at the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang, as well as the outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong.
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Inside is this golden statue of Yongwang with an elaborate painting of Yongawang, as well.
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A closer look at a golden Dokseong.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) from the courtyard at the temple.
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Inside the beautiful and colourful main hall.
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A beautiful rendering of the guardian painting to the right of the main altar.
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A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the main altar.
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A unique statue of Jijang-bosal riding an elephant with all ten of the Kings of the Underworld behind him.
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And next to one Jijang-bosal, is another statue of a more traditional statue of Jijang-bosal.
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The buildings to the left of the main courtyard. Inside these halls are some extremely unique paintings.
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Like this one inside the first shrine hall.
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As well as this one.
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The entrance to one of the most unique shrine halls I’ve ever seen at a Korean temple. This one is dedicated to Dangsan Cheonwang and Sam shin Halmoni.
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A better look at the two holding hands.
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Another shrine hall is the Sanshin-gak shrine hall dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit.
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Accompanying San shin are these two paintings to the side of the altar.
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Yet another interesting part of this temple was this altar dedicated to Samshin Halmoni.
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A picture of the painting of Samshin Halmoni inside the altar.

3 thoughts on “Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

  1. dear Dale, thank you so much for sharing this information. today i was at the sinbulsa temple and i am really glad that i went there to pray to sanshin halmoni. without your advice i wouldnt know that there is this shrine so close to where i will spend the next months.
    for all who want to got there, there might be one possible disruption by frequent gun shooting close to the temple on a military ground…was disturbing as it is so close and with a tremendous echo from the mountain. as if the mountain spirit itself was talking to me…
    if you have any information of what time the paintings in the shaman shrines are, i would be glad to hear from you. if you have more information about the ulsan area in connection to shaman practise i would also be interested.
    best, Nadine (Berlin, Germany)

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