Wonhyodae Temple – 원효대 (Gijang, Busan)

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The emperor-looking Sanshin statue inside the packed Samseong-gak at Wonhyodae Temple in Gijang, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Named for the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa (617 A.D. to 686 A.D), Wonhyodae Temple is located in Gijang, Busan. In a valley just south-west of the towering peak of Mt. Daleumsan, the temple is scenically situated alongside other smaller temples like Daedosa Temple.

You first approach the temple alongside an offshoot of the Ilgwang-cheon River. At the end of this offshoot, and down a country road, lies Wonhyodae Temple. Hanging a left towards the temple sign that reads 원효대, you’ll arrive in the temple parking lot. The first sites to greet you are a collection of three Podae-hwasang statues. The bronze coloured statues are joined to the right by a smaller sized collection of statues of the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul, teaching his disciples, the Nahan.

Straight ahead, and up a flight of stairs, is the Cheonwangmun Gate at Wonhyodae Temple. Inside the gate stand four crudely sculpted statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. But these statues are no way indicative of the rest of the temple. Passing through the slender Iljumun Gate, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard.

Straight ahead stands the rather boxy main hall. While understated on the exterior, as soon as you enter the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a row of nine large statues on the main altar. The three statues in the centre are of Seokgamoni-bul, Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This triad is joined to the right by another triad. This triad is centred by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). And he’s joined by Ilgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Sun) and Wolgwang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Moon). It’s also over in this part of the main hall that hangs the large guardian mural. And the triad of statues to the far left are centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). This triad is joined in the corner by a mural and statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Situated to the left of the main hall are two additional shrine halls at Wonhyodae Temple. The first, which can only be entered through a side entrance on the right, is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall. Resting on the main altar is one of the most elaborate multi-armed and headed statues of Gwanseeum-bosal that I’ve seen in all of Korea. To the right hangs a collection of prominent monk portraits including Wonhyo-daesa. And to the left sits a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul. This triad is joined by a black guardian mural.

The other shrine hall in this area of the temple is the Myeongbu-jeon. As soon as you step inside, you’ll notice the unique statues including several guardians, the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as Jijang-bosal on the main altar. Of note, there is a stunning, modern Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural hanging elevated on the left side of the shrine hall.

Between the Gwaneeum-jeon and the main hall is a glass enclosure that also acts as another shrine hall on your way towards the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that lies to the rear of the temple grounds. This glass enclosure acts as both a Yongwang-dang, which is dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King), as well as a shrine for an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal statue. The Yongwang shrine has a seated statue of the Dragon King, as well as one of the largest murals of the shaman deity that I have yet to see in Korea. To the right stands the large image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Both are joined by mountain water that flows in and out of the glass shrine hall.

The final shrine hall you can explore at Wonhyodae Temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Between the Gwaneum-jeon and Yongwang-dang, and up a bit of a wooded trail, is the Samseong-gak. The golden lettering at the front of the Samseong-gak is a sign of things to come. Stepping inside the Samseong-gak, you’ll be greeted by wall-to-wall multiples of the three most popular shaman deities in the Korean pantheon. Hanging on the right wall is a modern interpretation of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the left, on the main altar, hangs an older looking image of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), who is fronted by a statue of himself. Next, hangs a similarly styled painting of Chilseong as the Dokseong mural. In the centre of the main altar hangs a newer painting of Chilseong. To the left of the third Chilseong painting is a large statue of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), who is holding a large golden ginseng root. Sanshin is also wearing a large emperor’s crown. Rounding out the set is an older painting of Sanshin from the older set of three. And there is a peculiar guardian mural hanging on the left wall.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Jwacheon train station in Gijang, you’ll need to take a taxi to Wonhyodae Temple. The ride should last about 15 minutes and cost around 9,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Wonhyodae Temple is a hard temple to rate. There are several unique features like the loaded Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall with the ginseng bearing Sanshin inside, as well as the glass enclosure for the Yongwang-dang. Also adding to the temple’s overall rating is the expansive main hall and the amazing Gwanseeum-bosal statue. However, it’s harder to get to and it has a modern concrete feel to it in places.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate at Wonhyodae Temple.

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One of three Podae-hwasang statues at the temple.

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Out in front of the Cheonwangmun Gate is this collection of statues of the Buddha and his disciples.

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One of the rudimentary statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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The main hall at Wonhyodae Temple.

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A look across the well-populated main altar inside the main hall.

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The statue of Jijang-bosal to the left of the nine main altar statues.

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A closer look at Amita-bul.

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The glass enclosure that both acts as a Yongwang-dang and Gwanseeum-bosal shrine.

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The large painting and statue of Yongwang.

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And the all-white statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that keeps Yongwang company.

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The Gwaneum-jeon Hall to the right with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the left.

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The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The elaborate Dragon Ship of Wisdom painting inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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The mural of Wonhyo-daesa to the right of the main altar.

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A better look at the amazing multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The beautifully situated Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look around inside the Samseong-gak as you first enter the hall.

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The left corner that houses the unique statue and painting of Sanshin. Of note, there are three statues dedicated to the Mountain Spirit.

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And the view from the Samseong-gak.

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