Borimsa Temple – 보림사 (Jangheung, Jeollanam-do)

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The massive iron statue, which dates back to 858, is dedicated to Birojana-bul at Borimsa Temple in Jangheung, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Borimsa Temple, which means Precious Forest Temple, in English, is named after the ones in both India and China. While little known today, it has quite the past. It was first established in 759 A.D. Like all great temples of the past, Borimsa Temple has an interesting story around its creation. One day, when the monk Wonpyo was looking for a place to construct a temple after studying in both India and China, he visited Mt. Gaji in present day Jangheung, Jeollanam-do. While there, a fairy appeared to him telling him that nine dragons were creating mayhem around the pond where she lived. As a result, Wonpyo threw a spell into the pond, which expelled most of the dragons. The only one to remain was a white dragon. This dragon lost his tail in a nearby forest, and this forest soon became known as Yongmunso. Wonpyo claimed this area as a place to found Borimsa Temple. This creation myth is similar to that of Tongdosa Temple.

Another interesting part of Borimsa Temple’s past is that during the Unified Silla period, it was considered one of nine significant temples in the Gaji sect of Seon Buddhism. The temple was further expanded by the monk Chejing, who was encouraged to do so in 860 by King Heonan of the Silla Kingdom. It was also the home, at one point in his life, to Ilyeon, who was the author of one of the most prominent historical Korean texst: the Samguk-yusa. Unfortunately, most of the temple was destroyed during the Korean War as retribution against commanders that were suspected of housing rebels. However, and fortunately for us, Borimsa Temple has undergone extensive reconstruction and rebuilding since the divisive war on the Korean peninsula.

You first enter the temple through the recently refurbished Iljumun Gate, which has a handful of ornate dragons up around its rafters. Interesting, and unique to Korean temple gates, the Iljumun Gate doesn’t line up with the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are some of the larger Four Heavenly Kings that you’ll see at a Korean temple. Also, they are some of the oldest statues of these kings in all of Korea, and they date back to 1515. Just beyond the Cheonwangmun Gate, and you’ll enter into the spacious temple courtyard. You can tell just how large and well populated these grounds must have been.

Straight ahead is the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall. In front of this hall, which houses Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), lies a pair of pagodas that date back to around 860 A.D. In fact, these rather typical Silla designed pagodas are numbered National Treasure #44. The pagodas are joined by an equally ancient stone lantern. As for the Daejeokgwang-jeon that backs these stone testaments to time, the exterior walls are painted with various Buddhist motif murals. As for the interior, and the real highlight to this temple, is a massive iron statue of Birojana-bul that dates back to 858 A.D. Have a close look at this remarkable masterpiece. To the left and right of this massively seated statue are a pair of paintings. One is the guardian mural, while the other is an older looking painting dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

To the right of the Daejeokgwang-jeon hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall are housed three folkish paintings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Recluse).

To the right of the Samseong-gak, and the most prominent building in the temple courtyard, is the two-story Daeung-jeon main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with the Ox-Herding murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the rather wide main altar, sit seven statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two standing statues of Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). To the right of this triad sits Yeondung-bul and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the left sits Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far left wall hangs a large red guardian mural.

Behind the main hall lie two more smaller sized halls. The one to the right houses a stone statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) that is thought to date back to the Unified Silla period in Korean history. To the left of this hall is an equally diminutive Josa-jeon hall dedicated to prominent monks that formally resided at Borimsa Temple.

The final hall at Borimsa Temple is the understated Jijang-jeon, which houses a solitary bronze-coloured statue of Jijang-bosal. However, there are some amazing judgment murals adorning the exterior walls to this hall, as well as a masterful Dragon Ship of Wisdom that ferries the dead to the afterlife. It’s joined by the two storied bell pavilion. Just up a neighbouring trail lies the intricately designed stele and stupa dedicated to the temples founder, Chejing.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s a bit complicated to get to Borimsa Temple. First, you’ll need to get to the Jangheung Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, take a bus that says Jangheung-Yuchi (장흥 – 유치). After ten stops, get off at the Jangheung Dam Rest Stop. From there, board the Yuchi-Daecheon Bus. (유치 – 대천). Ride it for just one stop and get off at the Bongdeok stop (봉덕). From this stop, walk about 10 minutes to get to Borimsa Temple.


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OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. This temple, while not that well known in the expat community, perhaps because of its location, truly has something for everyone. It has a storied past, as well as a colourful present. The historic Four Heavenly Kings’ statues, the pagodas that date back to 860, as well as the massive iron statue of Birojana-bul have something for the temple historian. On the other hand, the two-storied main hall, the ornate stele and stupa for the temple’s founder, and the folkish-looking shaman paintings have something for the temple art-lover. So find a way to get out to Jangheung in Jeollanam-do.

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The newly refurbished Iljumun Gate at Borimsa Temple.

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A look at the unaligned Cheonwangmun Gate at the temple.

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Inside are these large, and historic, figures of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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The Daejeokgwang-jeon with the twin pagodas, National Treasure #44, out in front.

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A look inside reveals this amazing iron statue of Birojana-bul that dates back to 858.

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The Samseong-gak to the right of the former hall.

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The folk-looking painting of Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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A look towards the main hall from the stoic pair of historical pagodas.

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A better look at the two-story main hall.

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The collection of large sized statues that are situated along the rather wide main altar.

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The fiery red guardian mural inside the main hall.

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A look up at the intricate eaves work on the main hall.

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The smaller sized hall that houses the ancient statue of Amita-bul.

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A look at the statue of Amita-bul.

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A look towards the rather non-descript Josa-jeon.

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Behind these halls is this ornately designed stupa for Chejing, who was the founder of Borimsa Temple.

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Out in front of the main hall, and to the right, is the Jijang-jeon hall.

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Inside sits the solitary statue of Jijang-bosal.

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 The amazing view from the Jijang-jeon towards the main hall.

2 thoughts on “Borimsa Temple – 보림사 (Jangheung, Jeollanam-do)

  1. Thank you. It was cold when I went this past winter. The picture is definitely new. I look forward to your older pictures.

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