Naewonsa Temple – 내원사 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The temple grounds and surrounding mountains at Naewonsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’ve long wanted to visit a host of temples in and around the Jirisan National Park area. And it just so happens that Naewonsa Temple, on the east side of Mt. Jirisan, is one of these temples.

Naewonsa Temple, which means “Inner House Temple” in English, was established in 657 A.D. It was reconstructed by National Master Muyeom-guksa (801-888). Originally, the name of the temple was Deoksansa Temple, but later changed its name to Naewonsa Temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). However, like a lot of others Buddhist temples during the Confucian practiced Joseon Dynasty, Naewonsa Temple fell into disrepair. And it was later laid to ruin by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Naewonsa Temple was further damaged during the Korean War. It wasn’t until 1959, under the guidance of monk Hong Won Jong, that the temple was reestablished in its present incarnation as a small temple.

Presently, the temple is under even more renovation, with a bridge being installed on the south side of the temple, so it’s probably best to enter from the east. A creek flows to the left of the temple grounds, and it acts as a guide leading you towards the temple grounds. As you step into the temple courtyard, and to your immediate left, are a set of buildings such as the visitors’ centre. And to your immediate right are the monks’ dorms.

Straight ahead, and under a rounded mountain top, are a set of three buildings. In front of these three buildings, and one of the highlights to the temple, is a pagoda that dates back to 657 A.D. to the left of the main hall. The three storied pagoda is typical in its Silla design. During the 1950’s, the pagoda was damaged by treasure robbers. More recently, and fortunately for us, it was restored to its past glory by head-monk Hong Jin-Sik. The finial no longer exists, and the top of the body of the pagoda is damaged, but its splendour still stands.

Behind this pagoda is the main hall at Naewonsa Temple. The exterior of the hall is surrounded by a handful of fading Shimu-do murals and an assortment of other paintings that are fading just as fast as the Ox-Herding murals. As for the interior of this extremely compact main hall, and sitting on the main hall, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). All three sit on a narrow, yet extremely vibrant, main altar. To the left of this triad is an equally colourful Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) mural. What’s interesting about this mural, and extremely unique, are the scenes of judgment at the base of the mural. And the final mural inside of the main hall is the guardian mural that is no less vibrant than the other murals inside the main hall. The guardian mural is well populated and energetically executed.

To the left of the main hall is the newest of the three shrine halls. The exterior is unadorned all but for the dancheong patterns that enliven its walls. As for interior of this hall, and the second major highlight to this temple, is the Seated Stone Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) Statue of Seoknamam Hermitage. While the features have faded through weathering, it appears as though the statue dates back to 756 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty. It stands just over a metre in height and was built from granite. Additionally, it’s the oldest example of the Wisdom Fist mudra in Korea with the left hand fingers being surrounded by the right hand. It’s a fine example of Korean ancient artwork at its finest.

The final building in the set of three is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Like the other buildings at Naewonsa Temple, this shaman shrine hall is quite original. At one point, according to the ever knowledgeable David Mason, the Samseong-gak use to be divided into three separate rooms with each shaman deity occupying a room with its own signboard over its respective entrance. However, in 2007, these walls were taken down for a more open feel in the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Now, the configuration has changed a bit with a few more occupants inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall. When you first enter the hall, you’re greeted by an older looking, yet no less amazing, mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a stone statue of Cheonwang-bosalnim, who is better known as Cheonwang-bong Seongmo-halmae. To the right of Cheonwang-bosalnim is a bronze statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Next to Gwanseeum-bosal is a vibrant painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). This painting is unique for the mudra that the attendant is making to the right of Dokseong. The next painting in the row is the abstract painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). The final painting along the main altar is a common enough looking Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural. This Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is packed and perhaps one of the most original in Korea.

HOW TO GET THERE: The best, and easiest way, to get to Naewonsa Temple is from the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal. So first, from wherever you are in Korea, you’ll have to get to Jinju. From the bus terminal, you’ll have to catch the bus that reads, “Daewonsa Hang,” which means “Towards Daewonsa.” This bus comes every 40 minutes. And from this bus, you’ll have to get off at “Daepo.” From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal to Daepo, it’ll take you about an hour. From Daepo to Naewonsa Temple, you’ll have to walk about 2.6 kilometres to the temple, but the signs leading you to Naewonsa Temple are well placed and acted as a good guide.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. There are numerous highlights at this smaller sized temple. Two definite highlights are the Silla-aged pagoda and Birojana-bul granite statue. But a surprising highlight, which I was completely unprepared for, was the Samseong-gak with its folk-like San shin mural, its original Dokseong and Chilseong mural, and the extremely rare Cheonwang-bosalnim statue. While not as obvious as a temple like Ssangyesa Temple, Naewonsa Temple has a lot of treasures to offer the temple adventurer!

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The crane that welcomes you to the side entrance of the temple. Yes, the temple is under construction.
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The triad of shrine halls at Naewonsa Temple.
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To the left of the main hall is this ancient three-tier pagoda that dates back to 657 A.D.
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A look inside the main hall at the main altar and Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who sits in the centre of the triad of statues. To his left and right are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
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To the left of the main altar is this unique painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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And to the right is this rather interesting guardian mural.
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Surrounding the exterior walls of the main hall are these fast fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.
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Another look at the Silla pagoda with a newer looking shrine hall dedicated to the stone statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) in the background.
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The statue of Birojana-bul inside of the hall that dates back to 756 A.D.
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The view from the Birojana-bul Hall over at the main hall and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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A closer look at the Samseong-gak.
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The extremely unique pagoda that sits out in front of the Samseong-gak.
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And a mural of one of the Shinseon (Daoist Immortals) that adorns the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak.
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The older looking Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural that first welcomes you into the Samseong-gak.
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The extremely rare statue of Cheonwang-bosalnim that sits in the centre of shaman statues and murals.
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The strange statue and simple mural of Dokseong (The Recluse).
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The folkish looking San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural.
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And the rather customary looking Yongwang (The Dragon King) mural at the end of the row of murals and statues.
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And one last look at the main hall before it was time to head home.

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