Chilbulsa Temple – 칠불사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The courtyard at Chilbulsa Temple in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long wanted to visit Chilbulsa Temple, near Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do, for quite some time now. But for one reason or another, I was unable to visit the temple. However, I was finally able to visit this beautiful temple during this year’s summer vacation.

Chilbulsa Temple (칠불사), better known as The Temple of Seven Buddhas in English, was the place that the seven sons of King Suro, the founding king of the Gaya Kingdom, reached enlightenment and became Buddhas. According to this legend, the seven sons meditated under the guidance of their uncle, Zen Master Changyubook-seonsa, for two years until they each reached enlightenment. The temple is situated 800 metres in elevation, and according to geomancy, it has one of the most auspicious locations in all of Korea. Unfortunately, most of the temple was burned to the ground during the Korean War. More recently, in 1984, Chilbulsa Temple was both renovated and restored to its present-day appearance.

When you first approach the temple grounds, you’ll first pass by a large budo to your right as well as a stately Iljumun Gate. A little further along, you’ll come to the temple’s parking lot, and the base of a long set of stairs. The front facade of Chilbulsa Temple is rather stately with the conference hall and the bell pavilion looking out on the world.

Passing under the conference hall, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the golden altar inside the main hall, as you enter the temple courtyard. To your far right are the monks’ living quarters, kitchen, and office. And to your left is the historic Ajabang Hall. This hall dates back to King Hyogong (887-912). It was named this because of the shape of its floor plan. A cross-shaped central walking floor is raised above U-shaped platforms at each end of the hall for meditation. Each of the platforms are half a metre above the floor and heated by the Korean ondol system. And behind you, from where you came, you can see the compact bell pavilion and the conference hall that is illustrated with some stunning murals.

Straight ahead is the main hall at Chilbulsa Temple. Surrounding the exterior of this main hall are both the Palsang-do murals which depict the eight stages in the Historical Buddha’s life, as well as the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding) murals. Both sets are beautifully executed, while uniquely, the Palsang-do murals possesses two additional murals to make it a set of ten instead of the standard eight. Additionally, there are two beautiful murals of both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) near the side entrances to the main hall. As for the interior of the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is an amazingly ornate golden altar piece fronted by a triad of statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal on either side of him. This main altar sits under a large red canopy and intricate illustrations throughout the depths of the main hall. Another amazing feature to the main hall is the golden altar to the right of the main one. Posed all in gold are the seven Buddhas that the temple is named after: the seven sons of King Suro. Finally, and to the left of the main altar, is another golden mural; this time, a guardian sculpture.

The final hall of any interest at Chilbulsa Temple is the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall to the right of the main hall. Sitting on the main altar inside of this hall is a beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She’s backed by an equally beautiful red mural with various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Nahan, and guardians populating the mural. And to the left of the main altar is another red mural, this time, a guardian mural.

HOW TO GET THERE: Like a lot of remote temples, Chilbulsa Temple is a bit tricky to get to. From Busan, you’ll have to get to the Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal at the Sasang #227 subway stop. From Seobu, there are two ways to get closer to the temple. First, you can catch the bus to Hwagye at 11:20A.M. The trip will take you three hours and cost 11,200 won. This bus only leaves once a day from Busan. From Hwagye Bus Terminal, you’ll then have to take a bus to Beomwang. There are only two buses during the day that go in this direction at 10:20 and 19:15. After the bus drops you off, you’ll have to walk thirty minutes to get to Chilbulsa Temple.

The second way you can get to the temple from Busan is to get to the Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal, again. From the terminal, you can catch a bus to Hadong. Unlike the Hwagye bus, the bus heading to Hadong leaves four times a day starting at 7:00 A.M. From the Hadong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to catch either bus #35-1 or 35-2 to get to the Hwagye Bus Terminal. Once you get to the Hwagye Bus Terminal, you’ll have to do all the things you would have to do in the first option to get to Chilbulsa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. One of the highlights at this temple is the Ajabang Hall. Unfortunately, it’s off-limits to the public, or at least it was when I arrived, but you get a pretty good idea of what this hall offers if you look through the windows. The other highlight to this temple is the main hall and all the intricate artwork and golden statues that sit or hang on the altars inside of this hall. With its long history and aesthetic beauty, Chilbulsa Temple is well worth the effort to see, especially if you’re in the Mt.Jirisan area of Gyeongsangnam-do.

The foggy set of mountains that greeted me at Chilbulsa Temple.
The stately Iljumun Gate that welcomes you to the temple grounds.
The front edifice to Chilbulsa Temple.
The bell pavilion to the right of the conference hall.
And the conference hall you pass under to gain admittance to the temple grounds with a view of the golden main hall off in the distance.
The beautiful main hall at the temple.
The amazingly golden main altar inside of the main hall with Seokgamoni-bul (the Historical Buddha) in the centre.
A look up at the extremely ornate red canopy that stands above the golden altar.
To the left of the main altar is an equally golden guardian sculpture.
And the amazingly golden sculpture of the seven sons of King Suro that gained enlightenment at Chilbulsa Temple.
One of the Shimu-do murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
As well as one of the atypical Palsang-do murals.
To the left of the main hall is the slightly smaller Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
The statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that sits on the altar inside the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
To the left of the altar is this red guardian mural.
A look around the temple grounds from the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
A closer look at the extremely unique meditative Ajabang Hall.
One of the murals that adorns the conference hall.
And yet another of a tiger aiding what looks to be a monk.

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