Wonwonsa Temple – 원원사 (Gyeongju)

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A look up at the Wonwonsa Temple Site at the present Wonwonsa Temple in Gyeongju. 

 Hello Again Everyone!!

A sucker for anything historic, and since I was already in the Gyeongju area, I thought I would explore the double temple site of the present Wonwonsa Temple and Wonwonsa Temple Site. Sounds a bit strange, but it’ll become a bit more obvious later on.

You first approach Wonwonsa Temple up a dirt road that forks in several directions. The road is pretty well marked with signs along the way that guide you towards the temple. The first things to greet you at the temple are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. Passing by these rather large stone stones, you’ll next make your way through the parking lot, and up a set of stairs that lead you to the main hall at the temple. Just before you climb the uneven set of stairs, you’ll see a rotund stone statue of the dharma to the right.

Having finally climbed the set of stairs, you’ll be welcomed by a rather long main hall in the temple courtyard. The name of the main hall is called the “Cheonbulbo-jeon,” which means 1,000 Buddhas Hall in English. The hall itself is fronted by a pair of ferocious stone lions and a bronze incense burner. Also, there’s a tall stone statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, as well as an equally large stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right. The hall itself is adorned with some elegant Shimu-do murals. And rather uniquely, there’s a monkey/human statue sitting on top of a decorative dragon’s head on the left rear corner of the hall’s eaves.

As for the interior of this hall, you’ll be greeted by row-upon-row of gold, white, and bronze statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the main altar. As for the triad of statues sitting on the main altar, the triad is centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the left by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Rocana-bul to the right. The only other thing inside this hall is a nice guardian mural on the left wall.

To the rear of the main hall, and to the left past a rather unique tree trunk, is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are wood carvings of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse). To the immediate left of this hall is the Cheonwang shrine. Housed inside this hall is a solitary painting of what looks to be Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). These two figures in the centre of the painting are surrounded by various guardians and the twelve zodiac generals.

To the right of the main hall sits a simplistic bell pavilion equipped with the Brahma Bell, the Fish Gong, the Cloud Gong, and the Dharma Drum. To the right of the bell pavilion, and past the red peppers that were drying in the sun when I visited, is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The rear side of this hall is decorated with four frightening Judgment murals. As for the interior, there’s a solitary statue of Jijang-bosal sitting all alone on the main altar. He’s backed by a rather unique mural of himself with the Ten Kings of the Underworld. To the right of Jijang-bosal are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Amita-bul is joined by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Power and Wisdom). Hanging on the wall to the right of this triad of statues is another guardian mural.

The true highlight, however, to this temple is the former Wonwonsa Temple Site. Up a set of stairs that’s situated between the monks’ dorms and the Myeonbu-jeon Hall is the former temple site. Now, all that remains of the ancient temple site are a pair of pagodas that date back to the 8th century during Silla reign on the Korean peninsula. These seven metre tall statues frame, what looks to be, a stone alms bowl for the future Buddha, Mireuk-bul, much like the one at Tongdosa Temple. The pagoda to the right is adorned with sculptures of the twelve zodiac generals around its base, as well as four guardians around its body. The pagoda to the right is also adorned with stone sculptures of the twelve zodiac generals. The difference between the two is that there are the Four Heavenly Kings wrapped around its base. Strangely, there are a handful of burial tombs around the old Wonwonsa Temple Site.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Ulsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch city bus #1402 to the Taehwabangjik bus stop in Gyeongju. The bus ride lasts 34 stops and it’ll take you an hour and five minutes. After being dropped off at the Taehwabangjik stop, you’ll have to walk 3.3 kilometres up a twisting road, that is well-marked in places, to get to Wonwonsa Temple. Other buses you can take to get to the temple are Ulsan city buses #112, 402, 412, 702.

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OVERALL RATING:  6.5/10.  The star attractions to this temple are the twin pagodas that date back to the 8th century on the old Wonwonsa Temple Site. Another highlight at the temple are the thousand statues inside the main hall, as well as the Judgment murals on the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Finally, the very rare Cheonwang shrine is a must see at this temple. There’s a lot to see at this temple, so take your time and explore.

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A look up at the main hall, the Cheonbulbo-jeon, at Wonwonsa Temple.
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One of the Shimu-do murals that surround the main hall at Wonwonsa Temple.
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The bronze incense burner out in front of the main hall.
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A closer look revealed a praying mantis on top of a lion’s head out in front of the main hall.
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The view from the main hall over Jijang-bosal’s (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) shoulder.
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A view across the front of the main hall.
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The main altar inside the main hall. In the centre is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the left and Rocana-bul to the right.
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The 1,000 golden, white, and bronze Buddha statues that surround the main altar inside the main hall.
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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall behind the main hall. To the right is a rather unique tree trunk.
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A dragon and human/monkey adorning the eaves of the main hall.
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The Dokseong (The Recluse) wood carving inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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To the left of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the Cheonwang shrine hall with this mural inside it. In the centre, it looks to be Wolgwang and Ilgwang surrounded by shaman deities and the 12 zodiac generals.
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The Myeonbu-jeon Hall to the right of the main hall.
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To the rear of the Myeonbu-jeon Hall are four Judgement murals, which includes this one.
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On the main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall sits Jijang-bosal with a unique painting at his back.
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To the right of the main altar sits a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s flanked by Daesaeji-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.
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Up these set of stairs, and to the rear of the modern main hall, you’ll come to the old Wonwonsa Temple Site.
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The view of the new Wonwonsa Temple from the old site.
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One of the ancient pagodas that stands 7 metres in height and is adorned with the Four Heavenly Kings and the twelve zodiac generals.
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The pagoda to the right of the former pagoda. Similar in design, the only difference between the two is that this one is adorned with guardians, instead of the Four Heavenly Kings.
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A closer look at the pagoda with three, of the twelve, zodiac generals at the base with one of the guardians around the body of the pagoda.
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A look around at everything on the Wonwonsa Temple Site.
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One last beautiful look before heading home.

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