Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Busan, Baekyangsan)

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The amazingly original pagoda dedicated to Jijang-bosal at Seonamsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

It’s amazing the things you can discover when you look close enough. I lived in the area of Gaegeum, in Busan, for nearly 4 years; and yet, I knew nothing about the amazing temple that sat on the neighbouring heights of Mt. Baekyangsan near the Mandeok Tunnel. By chance, I learned about Seonamsa Temple, and I was happy that I did.

At a bend in the road, and up a very long set of stairs, you’ll step into the large temple courtyard at Seonamsa Temple. Immediately, and directly in front of you, is the large main hall. When you enter the main hall, and to your left, is one of the largest and most intricately designed guardian murals. Sitting on the main altar are a large set of Buddhist statues. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the left of the altar is a statue of what looks to be Dokseong (The Recluse) holding a fan. Wrapped around the exterior walls are simplistic, yet elegant, Shimu-do murals. They are joined by some rather unique dragon-heads with the tiniest of claws protruding out near their outstretched necks near the main hall’s name plate.

To the right of the main hall are the monks’ quarters. And to the left of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall. Housed inside this rather long hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva). Situated under a low standing golden canopy is a beautifully designed statued of the bodhisattva with one of the more elaborate murals backing Gwanseeum-bosal.

Next to this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Sitting on the main altar of this hall is the green-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s backed by one of the more original murals of himself. Additionally, Jijang-bosal is surrounded by some of the finer sculpted statues of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. Surprisingly, the mural of the Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike adorn the right interior entrance to this hall. But the biggest surprise is just outside the doors to this hall. One of the most original pagodas dedicated to Jijang-bosal sits just to the left of the Myeongbu-jeon. The pagoda is adorned with various animals, Biseon, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Words simply pale when attempting to describe this pagoda.

The final two areas to the lower courtyard house various items. First, and a little further past the Myeongbu-jeon, is the temple’s bell pavilion. While lacking the typical dancheong paint scheme, it does have a interesting wooden figure carved into the eaves of the structure. As though she’s holding the entire weight of the world on her shoulders, she lifts the roof of the bell pavilion with all her strength. The other area of the lower courtyard that houses something of interest is a shrine area dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). This statue of Yongwang, much like the pagoda dedicated to Jijang-bosal, is one of the most original statues dedicated to this shaman deity that I have yet to see in Korea.

Up another long set of narrow stairs, you’ll come to the upper courtyard at Seonamsa Temple. To your immediate left is a three-tier pagoda that almost seems to be half buried in the dirt because the pagoda sits without the customary base. And to your immediate right is a large sized hall dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Wisdom and Power). The triad of golden statues that sit on the main altar appear to be surrounded by murals of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. As for the exterior of this large Geungnak-jeon hall, it’s adorned with more Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

To the left of the Geungnak-jeon hall is a hall dedicated solely to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This is a rather unique feature as he’s almost always housed with other shaman deities. Inside of this hall is a beautiful black mural of Chilseong. And the final hall housed on the upper courtyard of this temple is the shrine hall dedicated to both Dokseong (The Recluse) and San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Both murals inside of this hall are some of the better you’ll see at a Buddhist temple in Korea. And the angel-laid golden halo around the head of San shin is a nice, and unique, feature to his painting.

The final area to this vast temple complex is the upper, upper courtyard that solely houses one shrine hall. And it’s probably the most unique shrine hall at Seonamsa Temple. From what I can gather, it’s a shrine hall dedicated to ancestors. It’s also from these heights that you can get a pretty good view of this part of Busan.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Busan subway, line two (the green line), to Dongui University stop #222. From this stop, you can take a taxi to Seonamsa Temple, and it should cost you about 3,500 to 4,000 won. The trip should last you about 10 minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just for the amount of things alone that you can see at this mountainside temple in Busan, it’s well worth the trip to explore its grounds. But when you add into the mix the massive guardian mural in the main hall, the Jijang-bosal pagoda, the angelic San shin mural, the highly original Yongwang statue, and the ancestor hall that sits atop the entire temple grounds, and you’ll know why I rated this city temple as highly as I have.

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The long and steep set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.
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A look through the side entrance at the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
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A look at the main hall at Seonamsa Temple.
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A dragon that adorns the outside  walls of the main hall. This dragon is a bit unique because of the little claws it has at its sides.
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The triad of statues that sits on the altar inside the main hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
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What looks to be a Dokseong-figure to the left of the main altar inside the main hall.
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An up-close look at the unique guardian mural inside the main hall.
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The unpainted monks’ quarters.
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A look over at the Gwaneeum-jeon and up at the Geungnak-jeon on the upper courtyard.
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To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall is the unpainted bell pavilion and the Myeonbu-jeon Judgment Hall.
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A female figure up in the eaves of the bell pavilion.
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A look inside the the Myeonbu-jeon at the colourful altar.
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A better look at the very unique pagoda to the left of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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And equal to the unique Myeonbu-jeon pagoda is this seated Yongwang (Dragon King) statue.
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What looks to be a half-buried pagoda in the upper courtyard.
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A look over at the Chilseong-gak to the right and the shaman shrine hall that houses Dokseong (The Recluse) and San shin (The Mountain Spirit) in the background.
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A look inside the shaman shrine hall at San shin to the left and Dokseong to the right.
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A look at the Geungnak-jeon Hall, which stands to the right of all the shaman shrine halls.
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And a look inside the Geungnak-jeon Hall at the main altar with Amita-bul (The Bodhisattva of the Western Paradise) sitting in the centre of the triad. Amita-bul is flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Power and Wisdom).
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And up on the final terrace is what looks to be an ancestral shrine.
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The mural that sits inside of the ancestral shrine hall.

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