Gakwonsa Temple – 각원사 (Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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A look up at the beautiful Amita-bul statue that stands 15 metres tall at Gakwonsa Temple.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

I had never really heard of Gakwonsa Temple until my wife suggested we go on the last day of our summer vacation trip to visit a few of the more remote temples from our home. After reading up on it a bit, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, and you’ll see why.

Gakwonsa Temple (각원사) has undergone so much recent reconstruction that it almost seems like a new temple. Gakwonsa Temple is located at the foot of Mt. Taejosan a few kilometres east of the downtown area of Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do. As you first approach the temple, you’ll first have to climb the 203 stairs to see what the temple is famous for. It’s a long sweaty walk, so be prepared. Once you arrive at the top of the massive flight of stairs, you’ll see an equally massive statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This massive statue was first started in 1976, and it was the largest statue in all of Korea until the statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) was constructed at Beopjusa Temple in 1988. And in 1994, it was surpassed by the tonnage of a statue in Korea by the bronze Buddha statue at Songgoksa Temple. However, the refinement of this aging green coloured bronze statue of Amita-bul is far more stunning than either one. In total, this serenely seated Amita-bul weighs a massive 60 tons of bronze, and it sits 15 metres in height. So large is this statue that its ears are nearly 2 metres in length. Having been completed on May 9, 1977, it was enshrined for the reunification of North and South Korea. The statue itself is serenely seated on an equally massive lotus-bud base. It’s  left arm lies on its lap as the right hand is raised. Its almond eyes and lightly draped clothes are delicately draped over the figure as it benevolently looks out on the city and valley below. It truly is one of the most beautiful statues of a Buddha that you will find in Korea, perhaps only surpassed by the Seokgamoni-bul stone statue at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.

From on high, you’ll see a great view of the expansive temple grounds at Gakwonsa Temple. But down the hill, as you descend, you’ll see all the halls that are also massively built as you, as though they were in competition with the statue to see who could be bigger. The first hall you’ll encounter is the Nahan-jeon Hall dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The inside of the hall is elaborately decorated with floral and Nahan paintings. The exterior of the hall is also decorated with floral and Nahan paintings, but it also has beautiful paintings of Biseon, and uniquely designed bronze fish wind chimes.

Directly across from this part of the temple is the massively built main hall. As you walk towards it, you’ll notice some beautiful artwork on tiles from people from all around the world that have visited the temple. Have a look because some of it is really well done. Much like the gigantic Amita-bul statue that overlooks the entire temple, the main hall is one of the largest wooden halls in all of Korea. Standing beside it, it almost seemed as though I had instantly grown shorter. Housed inside the temple massive main hall is an equally large triad Buddha and Bodhisattvas. In the centre of the triad is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha); he’s flanked by, what seems to be, the young Ananda (representing the intellect) and the aged Kasyapa (representing experience and wisdom). The exterior of the main hall houses some extremely rare paintings unique to Gakwonsa Temple that you’ll have to see to believe. Also, there is beautiful floral lattice work and Nathwi (Monster Mask) wood carvings on the doors.

In the last section of the compound that houses halls dedicated Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Shaman deities, you’ll first come across the San shin-jeon hall dedicated to the namesake of the hall: San shin. The inside of the hall is beautifully decorated with an altar painting of an eloquently rendered San shin (The Mountain Spirit). There are other paintings of saints in the hall. The exterior of this hall is beautifully decorated with unique paintings up near the eaves of the hall. There are gorgeous tiger drawings that are emblematic of San shin. There’s also a painting of what looks to be a Haetae (The mythical fire consumer and controller), but it’s a little bit different, which makes me wonder what it’s actually supposed to be. Next to this hall, to the right, is a hall that houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s surrounded by one thousand miniature statues of Buddhas in various poses and positions. On the exterior of this hall, there are eight beautiful paintings of the Historical Buddhas life that are called the Palsang-do Paintings. The paintings are a bit plain, but well executed.

The rest of the temple compound is a maze of dorms and study halls for both lay people and monks. There’s a large parking lot that can store up to 100 cars at a time. Everything at the temple is done on a grand scale, including the bell pavilion that is a bit obstructed by the parking lot that stands between the main hall and the bell pavilion.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the city of Cheonan, you can take city bus number 102, which connects the downtown area of the city with Gakwonsa Temple. The ride shouldn’t be too long in duration, certainly no longer than 20 minutes.

View 각원사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  8.5/10. This one took me a bit of time to think about. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to rate it, because it certainly has some highlights, but at the same time, it’s size is a bit much, much like Manbulsa Temple. The highlight of this temple, by far, is the beautifully built, and delicately designed, 15 metre tall Amita-bul statue. The main hall is equally beautiful in its size and decorative designs that adorn the hall both inside and out. The only drawback about Gakwonsa Temple, as I said, is the lack of refinement and modesty (at times). With all that being said, if you’re in the area, and you want to see a beautiful statue of Amita-bul, I would recommend that you go.

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The massive Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) that first greets you at Gakwonsa Temple.
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A better look at part of the 15 metre tall Buddha.
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A look down at the temple compound.
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Just one of the beautiful pink lotuses that was in bloom out in front of the Amita-bul statue.

Picture 717Heading down the stairs that leads to the rest of the temple. But before we did, just one last look back at the beautiful 15 metre tall seated bronze statue of Amita-bul.Picture 066The Nahan-jeon Hall is the first hall you’ll encounter after descending down the stone stairs. This hall is dedicated to the disciples of the Historical Buddha.Picture 701

A look up at the unique fish wind chime that adorns the exterior of the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The altar inside the Nahan-jeon. You can see small statues of the Nahan on the altar. This altar is flanked by paintings of the Nahan doing various things.
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A look up at the main hall at Gakwonsa Temple with a view of the beautifully painted tiles as you approach.
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A good look at just how massive the main hall is at Gakwonsa Temple.
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Just one of the unique Nathwi that adorns the doors of the main hall.
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And a look up at the beautiful floral lattice work that adorns the massive doors on the main hall.
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Just one of the unique paintings that adorns the exterior of the main hall.
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The altar inside the main hall with a massive Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre.
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A look over at the bell pavilion that is strangely placed in front of the parking lot.
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A look up towards the Sanshin-gak Hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain god).
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A look at the courtyard to the right of the main hall. To the right is the San shin-gak with the massive main hall straight ahead.
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A look inside the San shin-gak with a beautiful painting of San shin on the altar.
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This is just one of the unique paintings adorning the exterior walls of the San shin-gak Hall.
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This is yet another of the beautifully decorative paintings adorning the exterior walls of the San shin-gak Hall.
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This smaller sized hall to the right of the San shin-gak is dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).
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The Palsang-do paintings depicting the eight scenes of the Historical Buddha’s life adorns the exterior walls of the hall that houses Birojana-bul.
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Inside the hall, sitting on the altar, is Birojana-bul, and he’s surrounded by hundreds of smaller versions of himself.
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And one last different look up at Amita-bul before we headed back home to Yangsan.

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