The Story of…Samgwangsa Temple


The amazing Samgwangsa Temple in Busan during Buddha’s birthday.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I think Samgwangsa Temple, in Busan, was the third Korean temple I ever visited way back in 2003. The first two were Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do and Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. And throughout the years I’ve visited all three a countless amount of times.

It’s from these countless amount of trips that so many stories come back to me about Samgwangsa Temple. However, there really are three stories that really stick out in my mind about Samgwangsa Temple.


Near where I was approached by a crazy lady in the fall of 2004.

The first, and perhaps strangest, was when I visited Samgwangsa Temple back in the fall of 2004. I was just wandering around the temple grounds taking pictures of the bronze bell and the massive nine tier pagoda. When I approached the main hall, I was accosted by someone a little off their rocker. She started yelling at me, in Korean, not to take pictures. At first, I wasn’t sure what she was going on about, so I just wandered away and took pictures of Samgwangsa Temple away from her gaze. Well, it wasn’t far enough, or she simply followed me, because she started yelling at me again to not take pictures. This had never been a problem before around temple grounds just as long as you don’t take them inside temple halls (or so I thought). She kept going on and on until an older lady exited the main hall and told her to leave me alone. Now, it was her turn to be confused, as she disappeared from the temple grounds with a bewildered look on her face. And ever since then, in nine plus years of returning to the temple, I have yet to see her again.


Buddha’s birthday in 2006.

The second story comes from 2006, when I first visited the temple during Buddha’s birthday. By far, Samgwangsa Temple is not only the best temple to visit in Busan during Buddha’s birthday; but in my opinion, it’s the best temple to visit during this time in all of Korea. The entire grounds are canopied by a ceiling of beautiful and colourful paper lanterns. Also, there are twin dragons, a few statues of the Buddha, and a car that drives around with Buddhist imagery on it. Words simply don’t do this temple justice during Buddha’s birthday, and it’s even more the case at night, which I finally explored in 2013.


A picture of the canopy of paper lanterns during Buddha’s birthday in 2013.

So come this past Buddha’s birthday, my wife and I made our way over to Samgwangsa Temple. For the longest time, I knew that there was this angle that I wanted to capture of the colourful paper lanterns at night. So from the main auditorium that houses over 10,000 people at one time, I was able to get a great vantage point. As I climbed the stairs to gain the greatest angle, I passed by this older woman that was in a deep trance chanting “Gwanseeum-bosal” (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). But as she was saying these words she would start soft and then shout almost like an ambulance, “gwanseeum-bosal, GWANSEEUM-BOSAL.” Even after I couldn’t see her, I could hear her. And while we got there early, there were a few others that had the same idea as I did to see and take pictures of Samgwangsa Temple at night. So I had to crawl through a window and out onto a guardrail-free perch that looked out over the colourful temple courtyard. There were a dozen of us up there huddled together snapping pictures of the most beautiful Korean Buddhist temple during Buddha’s birthday.

So while Samgwangsa Temple often gets overshadowed by the other major temples in Busan like Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and Beomeosa Temple, Samgwangsa Temple is a must see, especially during Buddha’s birthday, just beware of a possible local crazy.

For more on Samgwangsa Temple, please follow this link.

One thought on “The Story of…Samgwangsa Temple

  1. Pingback: Samgwangsa Temple - 삼광사 (Seomyon Area, Busan) | The Korea Blog

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