The pagoda that houses the purported remains of the Buddha at Naejangsa Temple.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Naejangsa Temple, which means Inner Sanctum Temple, in English, was first founded in 636 A.D. by Yeongeun-josa. It’s located in the northern part of Mt. Naejangsan National Park in the Jeollabuk-do portion of the park. It once counted over fifty buildings on the grounds, and it was much larger than its present size. Naejangsa Temple has suffered a destructive past. It was first burnt to the ground in 1539 through the Ordinance of the Abolition of Temples during the repressive reign of King Jungjong. Later, in 1567, it was rebuilt by his predecessor, King Myeongjong. It was then completely destroyed, once more, during the Imjin War of 1597. It was then rebuilt once more, only to be completely destroyed, again, during the Korean War on January 2nd, 1951. It was later to be rebuilt in 1958. In total, the temple has been rebuilt four separate times, and the main hall will have to be rebuilt once more after a fire that destroyed it once more October 31st, 2012.
You first approach the temple grounds after passing through the Iljumun Gate, which was reconstructed in 1973. You then make your way up a beautiful kilometer walk down a pathway lined with mature maple trees. These trees are especially beautiful in the fall months. Also, halfway up the path lie a couple dozen stupa of prominent past monks that took up residence at Naejangsa Temple.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds. The first thing to greet you is the boxy Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside this gate are four rather underwhelming Heavenly Kings. Beyond this gate, and before the pavilion you’ll pass through to gain admittance to the temple courtyard, you’ll pass by a frozen pond in the winter. In the middle of the pond sits a stone statue of an attendant.
Finally standing in the middle of the temple courtyard, you’ll notice a three-story stone pagoda that dates back to 1997. Inside this pagoda are the purported remains of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. The verification of these sari has been done by the British Archaeological Survey. They were then transported from India to Naejangsa Temple and the three-story pagoda. Beyond the pagoda is an equally new stone lantern. It’s just beyond these two stone structures that you’ll see a plastic bag-like structure that now acts as the main hall. Inside this area is a painting of the Buddha that devotees can pray to. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, they’ll rebuild the main hall because the plastic bag main hall just isn’t doing it.
Just to the left of the main hall is the Samseong-gak. Inside is one of the more original Buddha-style Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) murals. He is nearly completely bald and beardless, which is in sharp contrast to the standard bearded image of this shaman deity.
To the immediate left of the Samseong-gak is the Myeongbu-jeon. This rather long hall is populated by statues and paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. They are joined on the main altar by a tilting green-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The final structure in this area is the bell pavilion with beautiful percussion instruments inside. The reddish fish gong is especially stunning.
To the right of the main hall are the monks’ dorms and two other buildings that visitors can explore. The first, and the one that lays to the left, is a hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This standing multi-armed Bodhisattva is particularly thin and backed by a masterful painting of Gwanseeum-bosal. To the left is a guardian mural and to the right is a compact bronze bell that dates back to the late Joseon Dynasty. Next to this hall, and slightly to the right, is the Geukrak-jeon. Seated inside is a larger statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And he’s surrounded by a low ceilinged canopy overhead.
Admission to the temple and park are 3,000 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: First you’ll need to get to the Jeongeup Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From there, it’s rather simple to get to Naejangsa Temple. You’ll need to board bus #171 to get to Naejangsan National Park. From there, head in the direction that the signs are pointing you towards Naejangsa Temple.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10. The history of this temple reads like a bad comedy; yet, in spite of it all, Naejangsa Temple continues to rebuild itself. Unfortunately, right now, there’s only a plastic bag that protects a painting where the beautiful main hall formally stood. However, there are still highlights to this temple like its amazing location and the maple trees that line the path towards the temple grounds. Also, the painting of Sanshin, the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, and the purported remains of the Buddha inside of the newly built three-story stone pagoda have more than enough to hold your attention.
The Iljumun Gate that welcomes you to Naejangsa Temple.
The beautiful kilometre long walk to the temple.
The stupas and stele along the way.
A look at the boxy Cheonwangmun Gate at Naejangsa Temple.
A look at a rather plain Heavenly King.
The view from the Cheonwangmun Gate towards the neighbouring pavilion.
The frozen pond that lies between the two.
The imposing pavilion just before the temple courtyard.
The three-story stone pagoda that houses the Buddha’s sari.
The unfortunate fire that consumed the main hall a year and a half ago.
The painting that’s housed under the sheet of plastic that now acts as the main hall.
The Samseong-gak just to the left of the main hall.
The highly original Buddhist-style Sanshin painting.
Next to the Sanshin-gak is the Myeongbu-jeon.
The altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with a green-haired Jijang-bosal in the centre.
Some of the Ten Kings of the underworld with an attendant standing close-by.
A walk across the temple courtyard.
A look at the Gwaneeum-jeon across the temple courtyard.
The slim standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the Gwaneeum-jeon.
The front facade to the colourful Geukrak-jeon.
Inside the Geukrak-jeon sits Amita-bul all by himself.
The bell pavilion at Naejangsa Temple.
The red coloured fish-gong inside the bell pavilion.