Sujeongsa Temple – 수정사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

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One of the most impressive interiors to a main hall can be found at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another amazing temple was recommended to me by a friend. And after a few attempts to find it, we finally found Sujeongsa Temple. And the effort to locate this well hidden temple was well worth it.

After traveling down a narrow one lane road for three kilometres, we finally arrived at the Sujeongsa Temple (수정사) grounds. When you first arrive, a nun complex with the dorms and kitchen are to your immediate right, with a view of the main hall straight ahead. In front of the main hall, in a grassy courtyard, is a five metre tall statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue of Amita-bul is beautifully rendered with some equally amazing guardians at the base of the statue.

Straight ahead is the ornately decorated exterior of the main hall. Surrounding the exterior are the Palsang-do paintings that depict the life of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). In addition to these eight paintings are two paintings on the left side of people being judged by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. On the right side of the main hall are beautiful Biseon and triad paintings. There is gorgeous latticework at the front of the main hall. At the front of the main hall are all of the Spirit Generals (zodiac animals) adorning the latticework. And even though they are covered in a mesh to protect them from the elements, you can still see them to be able to recognize just how brilliant they look.

When I was outside photographing the latticework, I heard my wife exclaim “wow” inside. And when I stepped inside the main hall, I completely understood what she meant with her “wow.” Without a doubt, the interior of the main hall is one of (if not the) most beautiful interiors I’ve seen in all of Korea. The interior is completely covered in absolutely stunning wood carvings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. Luckily, the very kind head-nun at the temple came out and explained some of the designs inside the main hall. She told us how she had a dream, and later sketched her dream about how the interior of the main hall should appear. And with the assistance from a professor at the Dongguk University, she was able to finalize her planned design. Sitting on the main altar is a radiant Seokgamoni-bul in the centre, and he’s flanked by two equally radiant statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). These three statues sit upon a wooden altar that is gorgeously carved. The altar depicts the Palsang-do series, and will soon be an Ulsan city treasure. To the right of the altar is a beautifully carved statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Jijang-bosal shrine are sixteen statues of Gwanseeum-bosal, who is the Bodhisattva of Compassion (more on them later). On the far left wall is the guardian carving with over one hundred guardians that are depicted. Next to the guardian carving is another seventeen Gwanseeum-bosal wood carvings. We were told by the head-nun that she had a dream about the thirty-three Gwanseeum-bosals that inhabit Botasan Mountain in China. And finally, there is a beautiful octagonal dragon crest at the centre of the ceiling in the main hall. And the gorgeous pink lotus lamp that hangs from the ceiling is made from the same material as airplaines (yes, airplanes!). Again, the main hall is one of the most beautiful and spectacular main halls in Korea as a result of the gorgeously made wood carvings of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians.

The only other shrine hall at Sujeongsa Temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall to the left of the main hall. And much like the originality of the main hall, the Samseong-gak shrine hall is equally unique. There is a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of a Samseong-gak shrine hall. The head-nun, continuing with us on our tour of the temple, told us how she had another dream: this time, about San shin (The Mountain deity). Originally, the head-nun at the temple had planned on simply knocking down the 200 year old Samseong-gak shrine hall and building a new one in its place. However, San shin appeared to the head-nun in a dream three times. So the head-nun decided to build a cheaper quality protective building around the older Samseong-gak. Strangely, during a ceremony being performed at the Samseong-gak shrine hall the photographer captured a picture of a pine tree on the neighbouring mountain appear as though it was on fire. The head-nun took this as a sign and decided to build a beautiful new Samseong-gak shrine around the 200 year old original Samseong-gak shrine. She did this, as she explained, because she felt that if she didn’t “someone would die.” An amazing story that goes perfectly with an amazingly original design with the Samseong-gak shrine hall inside another Samseong-gak shrine hall.

Finally, there’s a Yongwang shrine dedicated to the Dragon king near a cascade of water beside the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Interestingly, the head-nun told us a story about a stone that sits out in front of the Yongwang shrine altar. She said that you can pick up the stone without first praying; however, once you do pray, you’re unable to pick the stone up off of its altar. Testing this story, it actually came true, as I was unable to lift the stone off of its altar.

For more on Sujeongsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: Without a mode of transportation, whether it be a scooter, motorbike, or car, as well as an amazingly accurate GPS system, this temple is next to impossible to both locate and find. This temple is located on the western side of Ulsan in the countryside. Other than that, it’s next to impossible to explain its location. In fact, I was the only the second foreigner ever to visit this temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Even though this temple only has two shrine halls and an outdoor shrine, for so many other reasons this temple rates as highly as it does. Starting with the zodiac latticework on the exterior of the main hall, and continuing inside, the extremely ornate and skillfully designed and rendered interior main hall, is just one reason this temple is worth the effort to find. Another reason is the highly original Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. And finally, the mind-bending prayer rock at the Yongwang altar, all make Sujeongsa Temple an amazing destination for a Korean temple adventurer.

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A look at the nuns’ dorms, kitchen, and the courtyard with a statue of Amita-bul to the left.
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A view of the very impressive main hall at Sujeongsa Temple.
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A look across the front of the main hall.
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The gorgeous latticework with the Spirit Generals (zodiac signs) depicted in each frame.
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And below the zodiac signs are these cross-eyed Nathwi.
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On the left side of the exterior walls on the main hall is this grotesque judgment painting.
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And wrapped around the entire length of the main hall are the Palsang-do murals depicting the Buddha’s life.
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And inside the main hall is one of the most impressively decorated interiors in all of Korea.
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Carved at the base of the main altar are the eight Palsang-do scenes from the Buddha’s life. In this panel, on the right, is the Buddha teaching, and on the left is the Buddha dying from his earthly life. Absolutely stunning craftsmanship.
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To the right of the main altar is the shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Just sixteen, of the thirty-three, Gwanseeum-bosal statues both to the immediate right and left of the main altar.
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An upclose of one of the Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Each of the altar statues is beautifully painted and carved.
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The amazingly elaborate one hundred plus guardian rendering.
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An upclose of the central figures in the mural, including the winged Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Dharma).
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The octagonal dragon crest that sits in the centre of the ceiling with the lotus lamps made from airplane material.
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A look at the unpainted Samseong-gak shrine hall side-by-side with the main hall.
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A closer look reveals a Samseong-gak shrine hall inside of another Samseong-gak shrine hall. This set-up is definitely a first for me.
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A look inside the interior Samseong-gak shrine hall at the main altar. A statue of San shin (The Mountain god) is in the centre, with a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right, and a wooden tablet depicting Chilseong (The Seven Stars) to the left.
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A better look at an older and atypical painting of The Recluse, Dokseong.
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An arrow points to the fire that appeared during a San shin ceremony. The nun was adamant that it was San shin making an appearance.
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The Yongwang (The Dragon King) shrine with the prayer rock out in front of the altar. Make a wish and see what happens.

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