Unmunsa Temple from the neighbouring mountainside.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Unmunsa Temple, which means “Cloud Gate Temple,” in English, is situated on Tiger Mountain along the Yeongnam Alps. The temple dates back to 560 A.D. where a Silla monk named Woneung built a hermitage and eventually gained enlightenment after three years of meditation. Originally, the temple was called Taejakgapsa (“Great Magpie Hillside Temple”). But in 937, King Taejo, the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, renamed the temple Unmunsa Temple. The temple has undergone numerous renovations, especially during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). And in 1958 an academy for monks was established. More recently, the temple has become a college for nuns. In total, there can be an average of 200 to 260 nuns at any given time at the temple.
You move towards the temple grounds under a beautiful canopy of twisted red pines. The five hundred metre long trail runs alongside the meandering Unmun-cheon River. Rather uniquely, you approach the temple from the rear with the main hall being the first thing you see as you approach. However, you’ll have to go the long way around to the left of the four foot high stone fence. It’s under the Beomjong-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion, that you’ll finally enter the temple grounds.
The gift shop is to the right, while a collection of Biseok stone memorials are to the left. The large Mansye-ru Pavilion lies straight ahead past the 500 year old weeping red pine. The Mansye-ru Pavilion houses a painting of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with children surrounding him on all sides. This pavilion also acts as a barrier between the halls in the upper and lower courtyard. To the right lies the upper courtyard, while to the left lays the lower courtyard.
Heading to the right, you’ll first encounter the rather large Eungjin-jeon. Just past the Eungjin-jeon is the Daeungbo-jeon, which acts as the main hall at the temple. It’s beautifully adorned with exterior paintings of the Palsang-do murals which commemorate the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. The newly built main hall is grand and cavernous all at the same time. Resting upon the main altar are seven seated and standing statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which include Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), Seokgamoni-bul, and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Buddha).
With the Mansye-ru Pavilion to your left, and passing by a beautiful stone eight spoke Buddhist wheel, lies the Biro-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this ancient hall have some of the most beautiful Palsang-do murals in all of Korea for both craftsmanship and age. As for the interior, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a beautiful Birojana-bul statue. While in this hall, have a look up towards the rafters and the intricate woodwork and paintings.
To the side of the Biro-jeon Hall is the Obaek-jeon hall that houses the 500 disciples of the Buddha joined by a golden Seokgamoni-bul statue on the main altar. The exterior walls have some of the more simplistic renderings of the Shimu-do murals; however, they are masterful in their artistry.
Past the Biro-jeon and the two ancient pagodas that stand out in front of it, are a handful of some more smaller sized shrine halls. The first is the Jakap-jeon, which houses a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul that either dates back to Late Unified Silla or early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). He’s joined by four equally old stone Cheonwang reliefs. To the right of this hall is another diminutive hall; this time, it’s the Gwaneum-jeon. A rather squat-looking Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sits all alone on the main altar. The interior walls to this hall are adorned with beautiful white-incarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The other two halls in this area are the Myeongbu-jeon and the Chilseong-gak. The Chilseong-gak is dedicated to the shaman deity Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The main altar mural is beautifully executed for all its intricacies. Rather uniquely, it has each of the seven stars in their own individual murals, as well as rather plain paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) to the far sides. As for the Myeongbu-jeon, it houses a large green-haired statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlief) on the main altar. And he’s joined by equally large-sized wooden statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.
The rest of Unmunsa Temple is off-limits to visitors, as the temple is a fully functioning Buddhist training school for nuns.
Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Unmunsa Temple from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. You can take a bus from this terminal towards Unmunsa Temple. This bus runs eight times a day. The first bus leaves at 7:40 in the morning, while the last leaves at 19:30.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Unmunsa Temple is filled with gorgeous buildings and surrounded on all sides by picturesque mountains. From the massive main hall to the beautiful Gwaneum-jeon, Biro-jeon, and Obaek-jeon, there’s a little of everything for everyone at this amazing nunnery. Take your time and spend the day, because with a handful of hermitages spread throughout the neighbouring mountainside, especially in the fall months, the temple setting can make for some pretty beautiful, and lasting, memories.