Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)


 The stunning three story pagoda that stands at Munsusa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Munsusa Temple, which is named after the Bodhisattva of Wisdom – Munsu-bosal, is situated up the long Munsu Valley. It was first constructed on Mt. Jirisan in 547 A.D. by a Buddhist monk named Yeongi. Such famous monks as Wonhyo, Uisang, Seosan, and Samyeong have practiced at this temple. Part of the temple was destroyed during the Imjin War (1592 to 1598), and the rest of the temple was burnt down during the Korean War (1950-1953). It wasn’t until 1984, when the monks’ quarters were built, that the temple started to be re-constructed.

Like any temple’s creation myth, Munsusa Temple has a rather fantasical one of their own. A young monk named Cheongheodang was meditating when an old monk approached Cheongheodang and asked if he could meditate with him. At first, Cheongheodang said no because there wasn’t enough food for two people, but eventually he came around after the old monk earnestly asked him to stay. The two meditated day and night, until one day the old monk threw his staff against the face of the mountain. The staff turned into a yellow dragon, and the old monk rode the dragon into the fog. With this story in mind, Munsusa Temple became known as a place where an individual can attain enlightenment through meditation.

You first arrive at the temple up the long and twisting road that runs its way through Munsu Valley. Finally arriving at the temple parking lot, you’ll gain an amazing view of the rolling peaks of Jirisan National Park. You’ll also pass by probably the most unique temple bathroom in all of Korea. You nearly have to crawl to go to the bathroom because the height of the bathroom’s ceiling is so low. Passing under the arched entrance and by the monks’ living quarters both to your right and left, you’ll finally enter into the temple courtyard.

Right away, you’ll notice the amazingly beautiful three story wooden pagoda straight ahead of you. Inside this beautiful structure sits Seokgamoni-bul on the main altar. To the right of the main altar is a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and to the left hangs a guardian painting. Out in front of this ornately painted wooden pagoda is a solemn looking stone statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Before seeing the three story wooden pagoda, you’ll first have to pass by a shrine hall that is divided into three sections. Of these three sections, only the middle section is open to the public. This plain wooden building has a handful of statues resting on the main altar including a statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

To the left of the pagoda, and the real highlight to this temple, are the four Asiatic black bears. Inside a red cage, all four black bears are housed. Initially, they had been kept in a cage, then, in 2001, they were given to the temple to be released. It’s unclear as to why they haven’t been released after 12 years, whether it be because they are too used to being fed by humans, or whatever else it might be. But whatever the reason, the bears are still housed at the temple, and they allow for one of the most unique trips you’ll ever take to a Korean temple.

Just up the hill, on an uneven set of stairs, lie three more temple structures. The first, and to the far right, is a meditative hall for monks to look out onto the Jirisan horizon. Straight ahead is the wooden Munsu-jeon hall, which is solely dedicated to Munsu-bosal. Inside sits a beautiful golden statue of the Bodhisattva, as well as a red painting.

Finally, and up the mountain to the left, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall, rather uniquely, hang only two shaman paintings. Straight ahead is the rather plain looking Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural, while to the right is an equally plain Dokseong (The Recluse) painting. However, the view of the Munsu Valley from this height is unsurpassed at the temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: More likely than not, you’ll first arrive at the Gurye Bus Terminal. From here, you’ll need to take a taxi to get to Munsusa Temple, because there’s no direct bus that goes to the temple. From the bus terminal, and to get to Munsusa Temple, it’ll cost about 14,000 won, and the ride will last about 40 minutes. There’s also a trail that leads from Munsusa Temple to Hwaeomsa Temple, so you can pack both into a nice day trip around Jirisan National Park.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. This is a tough one to rate. If you love bears, perhaps this temple easily becomes a ten out of ten; however, if your thing is temple buildings, then perhaps your rating is a little lower because outside of the wooden pagoda, there really isn’t all that much to enjoy. So splitting it up the relative middle, I thought I would give the temple a seven out of ten. But the things, by far, to be enjoyed at this temple are the four Asiatic black bears and the three story wooden pagoda.


 The entrance to Munsusa Temple.


 The rather quaint bathroom near the entrance of the temple.


 Part of the monk dorms at Munsusa Temple.


 The temple courtyard with the three story pagoda to the left and the main hall to the right.


 Inside the three sectioned main hall, and in the centre, is this bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul.


 This statue of Seokgamoni-bul sits on the main altar, on the first floor, of the three story pagoda.


 A better look at the amazing pagoda.


 Out in front of the pagoda is this solemn looking statue of Jijang-bosal.


 To the left of the pagoda stands the rather plain looking bell pavilion. Annoyingly, a mother was wrongly telling her son to strike it, while she took pictures of him.


 The cage that houses the four bears.


 A better look at the largest one.


 And another picture of another adult Asiatic black bear.


 Up a set of stairs stands the Munsu-jeon hall.


 Inside sits this very ornate statue of Munsu-bosal.


 A look as you ascend the stairs to get to the Munsu-jeon. A pretty amazing view!


 And the view from the Munsu-jeon hall.


A little further up the hill, and to the left, is the plain looking Samseong-gak.


 In the centre is a painting of Sanshin.


 And to the right is a painting of Dokseong.


 One more amazing view of Jirisan. This time, it’s taken from the Samseong-gak.

2 thoughts on “Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

  1. I have been in 2014 to Monsusa temple, while I visit Namwon and Gurye every year since 2010. I found this bear business, how they are kept there inhuman and more than cruel. I considered and still consider to report this type of keeping black bears to the International Animal Welfare to free them. I have visited almost every Temple in Korea and have never seen animals beeing treated like this and without any explanation, while they are kept in such small cage. They were biting the cage metal, and trying to get out, running like made the two meters from one end to the other. I was under shock, tried to find some monk or someone to explain this turture, but was unable. There was only one Korean there at the time not a monk, and did not speak to anyone about this. I don’t know how this “Temple” can be recommend to visit, and give it a 7 ranking, this is 0, and every one, who enjoys seeing these bears in these cages is inhuman. This Temple has nothing to do with Buddhism.

    • Hello Judy. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I completely agree with you that the housing of the bears is inhumane. From what I read, the bears had been abandoned, so the temple decided to raise them from cubs. There is some dispute as to why they haven’t released them back into the wild. As I’m not a Korean lawyer, and I don’t know the laws about re-releasing a bear back into the wild, you would most definitely have to voice your concerns to the Korean government. Best of luck in your endeavour.

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