The west face to the four-sided sculpture at the former temple site at Gulbulsa-ji Temple in Gyeongju.
Hello Again Everyone!!
While this may see a bit strange to be writing about a temple that no longer exists, the temple was left with a stunning, four-sided, piece of Buddhist artwork in the form of a large stone sculpture. Before I explain the significance behind the four-sided Buddhist sculpture, the former site of Gulbulsa Temple has quite the history. As the 35th king of Silla, King Gyeongdeok (r. 742 A.D. to 765 A.D.), was making a short trek to the neighbouring Baeknyulsa Temple, which lies a little higher and further on Mt. Sogeumgangsan, he inextricably heard a noise coming from beneath the ground he was walking on. The king believed that these noises were the sound of a Buddhist monk reading Buddhist sutras. Immediately, he ordered servants to dig up the spot that he had heard these sounds. As the servants dug, the image of a four-sided Buddhist sculpture appeared. The king was so moved by this incident that he constructed Gulbulsa Temple; which, unfortunately, no longer remains. But the object behind this story still does. Incidentally, the name of the temple, Gulbulsa Temple, means “To Dig Up an Image of Buddha,” in English.
Now, back to the four-sided Buddhist sculpture that still stands on Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site. No more than a few metres away from the Baekyangsa Temple parking lot, and up a bit of an inclined pathway, you’ll see the four-sided sculpture off to your left. Immediately, your attention will be drawn to the images that reside on all four sides of the large rock that stands 3.9 metres at its highest point. This large rock is meant to symbolize the Buddhist Paradise in all four directions.
The first side of the large stone that you’ll encounter, as you cross over a bridge and near the barrier that protects the ancient artifact from visitors, is the west side. On the west side stand three large stone statues. Two of the three statues stand separate from the central statue, which is a part of the four-sided stone sculpture. The central figure, rather understandably, is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He is joined by a large crowned Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right, and the mangled figure of Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Power and Wisdom) to the left. And the only reason I say mangled when referring to Daesaeji-bosal is that very little of his face remains all but for a gnarled stump at the end of his neck. Amita-bul is the largest figure attached to the four-sided sculpture, and he stands 3.9 metres in height. Interestingly, the head of Amita-bul was carved separately from the stone and then later attached to the sculpture. And just as interesting is that the Gwanseeum-bosal statue appears to be placing all of her weight on her right leg. This posture is called Sam-gul, where all of one’s weight becomes balanced. This type of posture was popularized during the Unified Silla Period (668 A.D. to 935 A.D.).
To the left, and as you approach the image that appears north side, you’ll see a set of Bodhisattvas. The one on the right raises his hand to the sky. This sculpture is defined in high relief, while the sculpture to the left is always unrecognizable. However, upon closer inspection, you can see that the image appears to be another Gwanseeum-bosal with eleven faces and six hands. And continuing clockwise around the four-sided stone sculpture, and on the east side of the rock, you’ll next see a beautiful stone sculpture of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine), who also just so happens to be the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise. Yaksayore-bul appears in a seated position with a medicine bowl in his left hand, while his right hand appears strike the mudra of fearlessness. The final side in the set is the southern side of the stone sculpture. Appearing on the south side are two more Bodhisattvas. The one to the left has suffered from extensive damage, while the one to the right seems to have fared a little better. They are both wearing robes that are finely designed with creases in them. And sculpture to the right, which I assume the one to the left did at one point in history, stands 1.6 metres in height.
HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site is to take a taxi from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. It’ll take 13 minutes, but it’ll cost you around 5,000 won. The cheaper way to get there is to take city bus # 70 from out in front of the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. However, the bus ride will take about 40 minutes to get to Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.