The beautiful view from the courtyard at Gwangcheonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Lately, I’ve been on a really big kick to explore Cheonseongsan Mountain after visiting a few temples and hermitages in the Naewon valley area like Nojeonam Hermitage and Naewonsa Temple. Gwangcheonsa Temple is another one of these temples located on the northwest side of this religiously important mountain in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
The temple lies up a wandering country road that forks. Up the road to the right, with the two pillared Iljumun entrance gate, you’ll make your way up a side slope of Cheonseongsan Mountain. Initially, the temple doesn’t look all that impressive, with a modern building to the left and the monk dorms and visitor’s centre straight ahead. It isn’t until you take the chained off road to the left of the visitor’s centre that you finally arrive inside the main courtyard of Gwangcheonsa Temple.
There are numerous beautiful stone statues spread throughout the main courtyard at the temple. The first of these statues are a pair of ferocious lions on either side of the stairs that lead into the courtyard. Behind these two lions is a pair of unique looking stone lanterns. To the right is the temple’s kitchen, and to the left is a jovial Podae-hwasang that is seated on the banks of the forested mountain. Next to this, and further up the bank, is a serene looking Buddha. The most original statue in the set is a standing and robed dharma figure that stands about 4 metres in height. This mysterious looking dharma is surrounded by the twelve zodiac statues that are about two metres in height.
Straight ahead, and to the right of these beautiful statues, is the temple’s bell pavilion. While certainly not an impressive structure, the elaborate paintings that adorn the interior and exterior of this bell pavilion certainly are impressive. Behind this bell pavilion, and raised on a cement surface above a stream that rolls down from the mountains, is a white statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). It is only from this view of this angelic Bodhisattva that you finally see the myriad of shrine halls strewn throughout the temple hillside.
To the left of the bell pavilion and outdoor shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, is the main hall. The main doors of the main hall are adorned with lattice work that is intricately adorned with floral patterns. The exterior of the main hall is adorned with the Ox-Herding murals. And while these paintings certainly aren’t all that great, they uniquely only have eight of the ten murals leaving the final two out of the set. Inside, the altar has Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) flanked by two Bodhisattvas, Moonsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal). There is an amazing guardian painting on the right wall, and there’s an amazingly elaborate and beautiful painting of a 1,000 armed Gwanseeum-bosal mural.
Behind the main hall is a courtyard that houses a statues of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), which is appropriate since the temple is largely for funeral ceremonies. At the base of the mountain, and the stream that wanders down it, is a stone shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). Inside, after you step over the stone bridge that spans the stream, is a granite statue of Yongwang.
Further up the mountain, and on the left, is the Chilseong-gak shrine hall that houses two older paintings of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Recluse). About halfway up the embankment, and on the right, is the shrine hall that houses 1,000 Buddha statues. Straight ahead is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) surrounded by hundreds of miniature statues of himself. On the right wall is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and on the left Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), both of which are equally accompanied by hundreds of miniature statues of themselves. Finally, the last hall on the side of the mountain is the San shin-gak shrine hall dedicated to the shaman Mountain Spirit, San shin. The cement base to the hall is illustrated with three fierce tigers, and inside the hall is an older looking painting and statue of San shin. While all of these shrine halls aren’t the most impressive that you’ll see, they are nice and there are a lot of them to get a feel for Buddhism in Korea.
HOW TO GET THERE: By far, the easiest way to get to Gwangcheonsa Temple is to take a taxi from the Yangsan Subway stop, # 243, on the second line. From there, you can find a taxi to take you the rest of the way. The taxi will cost you about 14,000 won, and the ride should last you about 30 minutes. Just make sure, when you get there, that the taxi stays puts; otherwise, it’s a long way back to the subway station.
OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10. This hall has a lot for the Korean temple adventurer to see. And while they aren’t the most impressive renderings and depictions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, there is a lot of variety that helps introduce you to the different aspects of Korean Buddhism. One of the disadvantages, by far, is that Gwangcheonsa Temple is difficult to locate and to get to it.