Cheonggoksa Temple – 청곡사 (Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The Sanshin-gak that houses three different images of the Mountain Spirit at Cheonggoksa Temple in Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located just east of Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do, and on the southern slopes of Mt. Wolasan, is the historic Cheonggoksa Temple. Cheonggoksa Temple was first established in 879 A.D. by the famed monk Doseon-guksa (826-898). Doseon picked the location for Cheonggoksa Temple because of its divine energy. After watching a blue crane, from the banks of Namgang River in Jinju, land on the present temple location, Doseon knew it was the proper place to construct a temple. The temple was later reconstructed in 1380 by the monk Silsang. Like so many other temples in Korea, Cheonggoksa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Rebuilt in 1612, Cheonggoksa Temple was renovated at the end of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

You first approach Cheonggoksa Temple past the temple parking lot and to the right. It’s up this wooded trail that you’ll find a serene pond to your left. From the pond side benches, you can get a great view of the temple beautifully framed by the surrounding mountains. A little further up the trail and you’ll pass under the stately Iljumun Gate.

Out in front of the stream where the blue crane once landed, and across from the front façade of the temple grounds, is the temple’s cemetery. In total, there are eight different stupas for those monks that once called Cheonggoksa Temple home. They are joined by a darkened three tier pagoda and a stone lantern at the entrance of the cemetery.

Climbing the side-winding stairs and passing through the uninhabited Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll finally pass under the Hwanhak-ru pavilion and enter the main temple courtyard. Straight ahead stands the Daeung-jeon main hall at Cheonggoksa Temple. The outside walls are largely unadorned, but the interior more than makes up for this shortcoming. Resting on the main altar are three large statues. In the centre rests Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the rear of the main altar is a smaller sized mural dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. But it’s to the left of the main altar that’s the greatest surprise inside the Daeung-jeon. To the left sits Jaeseok-cheonwang (Heavenly King Deity, Indra) and Daebeom-cheonwang (The Great Dharma Heavenly King).

To the immediate right of the main hall stands the Eopgyeong-jeon shrine hall, which is also known as the Myeongbu-jeon hall at other temples. Housed inside this shrine hall, and resting on the main altar, is a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This Bodhisattva is then surrounded on all sides by some fantastic wooden statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

To the right rear of the main hall sits both the Nahan-jeon and the Chilseong-gak. They are joined by the historic three tier pagoda to the right. Inside the Nahan-jeon, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of white statues centred Seokgamoni-bul. This triad is joined by sixteen highly masterful wooden sculptures of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). To the left is the Chilseong-gak which houses older, elaborate murals to each of the Seven Stars (Chilseong), which is quite unique to have them each divided into their own murals.

Finally, to the left rear of the main hall is a shrine hall that is separated into three sections, even though they share the same space (much like at a Beomeosa Temple shrine hall). The first of the divided shrine halls is dedicated to Dokseong. The picture that rests inside this shrine hall is a copy of a much older painting that hangs inside the temple museum. The shrine section to the left is dedicated to prominent monks that once called Cheonggoksa Temple home. In fact, a mural of Doseon-guksa hangs in the centre of the half-a-dozen pictures inside this section. As for the central section is one of the main highlights at the temple. Inside this hall hangs two murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The image to the left is a female Sanshin with more masculine features. To the right hangs a jocular male image of Sanshin, while in the centre sits a wooden statue of the female Sanshin.

The other things to be enjoyed at the temple is the bell pavilion with beautiful percussion instruments housed inside it. Also, the temple museum is something that shouldn’t be missed, as it houses a large Gwaebul mural from 1722.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board Bus #261 to get to Cheonggoksa Temple. After 27 stops, or 34 minutes, get off at the “Shingi maeul” stop. From there, walk 1.5 km to get to the temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Cheonggoksa Temple has so many rarities associated with it that it should keep a temple adventurer busy for quite some time. From its female Sanshin to the pair of seated Jaeseok-cheonwang and Daebeom-cheonwang, as well as the 18th century Gwaebul and the individual murals dedicated to Chilseong inside the Chilseong-gak, this temple has a laundry list of rarities which also includes the historic Dokseong mural. Take your time and enjoy this hidden gem east of Jinju!

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The path that leads up to the Iljumun Gate at Cheonggoksa Temple.

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The reflective pond out in front of the temple.

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The temple cemetery at Cheonggoksa Temple.

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The front facade at Cheonggoksa Temple.

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The uninhabited Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at the temple.

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The triad of statues on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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The mural on the backside of the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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The extremely rare Jaeseok-cheonwang and Daebeom-cheonwang inside the main hall.

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The mural of the two that backs the seated statues.

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The Eopgyeong-jeon hall to the right of the main hall.

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This fierce guardian awaits your entry at the Eopgyeong-jeon hall.

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The main altar inside the Eopgyeong-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.

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Just one of the eerie Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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The sectioned shrine hall to the left rear of the Daeung-jeon.

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A copy of the historic Dokseong mural.

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The amazing female Sanshin mural in the centre section of the shrine hall.

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The Josa-jeon section of the three part shrine hall.

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The temple museum at Cheonggoksa Temple.

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A look inside the bell pavilion at the temple.

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