The beautiful view of the valley that houses Cheontaesa Temple from the head of Yongnyeon Falls.
Hello Again Everyone!!
It was only by chance that I even found Cheontaesa Temple here in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. I was originally trying to find another temple on the Yangsan website, http://english.yangsan.go.kr/main/, when I found Cheontaesa Temple on the south western outskirts of the Yangsan city map. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The name Cheontaesa Temple (천태사) comes from the Cheontae Buddhist order that was established in the area during the 7th century. Also, Cheontaesa Temple is situated on the southern side of Cheontaesan Mountain, which also aids in the naming of the temple.
When you first approach the temple from Local Road 1022, you’ll make your way past some of the temple facilities like the washroom. Walk up the 500 metre long road, which also acts as an entry way to Cheontaesan Mountain, until you arrive at the temple’s office. The first thing that will greet you to the temple is a beautiful two-tiered bell pavilion that also acts as the entrance way to the temple as well. Passing under the bell pavilion, you’ll also pass by the painted Four Heavenly Kings, Cheonwang, that protect the temple from any evil spirits that rest on the walls under the temple’s bell.
Immediately to your left is a shrine hall dedicated to the Shaman spirit, Dokseong (The Recluse). This is a highly unique hall as Dokseong is usually housed with two other Shaman Spirits: San shin (The Mountain god) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). But this temple is a little different than other temples in Korea, as there is a greater emphasis given to the shaman gods.
To your immediate left you’ll see some of the monk dorms. At this time, you’ll also be able to see the second level of the bell pavilion. There’s a smaller sized bell in a wide open pavilion that you can see up close. A little further up the temple road, and next to the shrine hall dedicated to Dokseong, is the Nahan-jeon Hall. This hall is dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). On the altar of this hall sits Seokgamoni-bul. And all around him sit 500 of his Nahan disciples. Just be aware, when you first walk into this hall, there’s a large guardian immediately in front of you when you open the hall’s door. I was completely surprised when I saw this, and nearly wet my paints. So be aware!
Straight ahead is the main hall. The exterior of the main hall is adorned with some nicely painted murals of the Palsang-do paintings (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Inside the hall, you’ll meet all of the most popular Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas inside like Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) that sits in the centre of a triad upon the altar. On the left wall is a walled off area that acts as a shrine for the dead. Above the entry on the left side of the wall, understandably, is a painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the right of the walled-off shrine for the dead is a painting of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) riding his white elephant. And on the right side of the main hall is a large sized guardian painting. Above the entry is a painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And next to the guardian painting is a beautiful rendering of Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). As I said, the main hall at Cheontaesa Temple is packed with all the most popular Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Korea.
Out in front of the main hall, and to the right, is a little shrine dedicated to Yongwang, the King of the Sea. The figure is serenely standing with a stone dragon’s head spouting out water beneath him. Behind this shrine and the main hall, and still to the right, is a hall dedicated to two more Shaman gods, this time it’s San shin and Chilseong. The exterior of the hall is plainly painted. When you enter this hall, you’ll first be greeted by Chilseong who sits on the right side of the altar and then by San shin, who sits on the left. Both paintings are beautifully rendered and have accompanying statues that sit on the shrine hall’s altar.
There’s a lot of newer construction going on at this temple like the rocks that are being broken on the neighbouring left side of the mountain. It looks like another shrine will be created to match the one that lies on the right side of the temple grounds. To the right is an amazingly beautiful black sculpture of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) that is accompanied by two Bodhisattvas. The sculptures are sculpted out of the side of the Cheontaesan Mountain face. And these large 10 metre tall sculptures have a beautiful large red canopy that rests over their heads, and there are numerous headstones for those that are buried at the temple. As you first approach this graveyard, of sorts, you’ll be welcomed by an older looking Podae-hwasang statue that looks out on the mountains and valleys around you. Also, from this vantage point, you have a birds-eye view of all the temple buildings.
And if that wasn’t already enough, you can also explore Yongnyeon Falls that lays a further 15 to 20 minutes up the valley. The Falls are directly behind the temple; however, there are no signs to guide you. You’ll have to just keep heading up the temple road until it ends. You’ll have to climb a pretty rough trail of large rocks, so please be careful because it’s tough going in parts. There are some red spray painted arrows that guide you in the right direction so be aware of them. The best time to visit Yongnyeon Falls is in the spring. You can climb right up to the head of the Falls and look directly down into the gorge below; but again, practice restraint and caution. On the right day you can sit and catch a beautiful breeze from the height of the Falls. The view of the valley below and the gray faced boulders that make up Cheontaesan Mountain are breath-taking. So take your time and enjoy the relaxing view.
HOW TO GET THERE: You can reach Cheontaesa Temple and Yongnyeon Falls after going along Local Road 1022 by car or bus for 15 minutes from Wondong Station. From the gated entrance the temple is only 3 minutes away, and the Falls are another 15 to 20 minutes up the trail.
View 천태사 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While this temple is difficult to get to, it’s worth the effort to find. This temple is a bit different than most in that it houses a lot more shaman gods like Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Recluse), San shin (The Mountain Spirit), and Yongwang (The King of the Sea), while having very few halls for either Buddhas or Bodhisattvas other than the main hall. The large sculpture of Amita-bul, and the beautiful Yongnyeon Falls that lies directly behind Cheontaesa Temple, make this temple an amazing find.